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November 1, 2011 / Jackie H. Burns

Arthritis in Dogs

Arthritis or osteoarthritis is a term widely used to apply to degenerative changes of bones, ligaments, muscles and joints due to age, wear, injury and in some cases, inherited or developmental bone diseases.  It is important to understand that osteoarthritis results in a cycle of inflammation and often pain.  The degree of pain does not always correlate to the degree of osteoarthritis present on a physical exam or visible on x-ray images.

Dogs and cats are adept at hiding signs of pain, and are often not vocal about it.  Signs of pain may include limping, stiffness upon getting up and down, decreased activity, decreased appetite, panting and shaking and less interest in everyday events.

Treatment approaches to osteoarthritis are often multi-modal, with anti-inflammatories representing the main approach to treatment of most dogs.  In addition to treating pain, they address the cycle of inflammation that perpetuates itself and worsens with time.

Here are some of the medications and products we use to treat osteoarthritis at Holmes Veterinary Hospital:

  1. NSAID’s  (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) such as Novox/Rimadyl, Metacam, Previcox.  Dogs must have healthy liver and kidney function to be able to safely take these medications, so blood work is mandatory before prescribing them.
  2. Joint Supplements that contain glucosomine and chondrotin.  Our principal supplement here is a pleasantly flavored soft chew called Phycox.  An alternative is to feed a joint diet such as Hill’s Prescription Diet JD.
  3. Tramadol is used to treat pain.  Tramadol is not an anti-inflammatory but is similar to a narcotic pain reliever.  It lacks the usual negative side effects of narcotics.  Unfortunately, Tramadol is very bitter-tasting and difficult to administer to many dogs.  Often paired with Greenies Pill Pockets to make giving it easier, Tramadol is also available in flavored chews or liquids from compounding pharmacies.
  4. Adequan is a series of injections of a drug used to promote healthier joint surfaces and joint fluid.  Usually done weekly for about a month and then every 3 to 4 weeks as maintenance.

Other treatment modalities that are not available here include acupuncture, therapy laser and physical therapies such as underwater treadmills.

Treatment is very individualized for each patient.  Some may respond better to one NSAID than another.  And some dogs may develop (over long periods of time) some tolerance to one drug or another, necessitating switching to another medication.

Osteoarthritis cannot be cured.  Our goals in treatment are to make your dog’s quality of life the best that it can be for as long as we can.

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