Arthritis can strike your dog at any age. Dog breeder, health expert, and RN provides solid information about canine arthritis and how to help your dog through joint disease treatment and diet.
by Geneva Coats, R.N. - TheDogPlace.org Genetics Editor
The term “arthritis” means inflammation of the joints. Any joint can be affected by arthritis, including hips, knees, elbows, shoulders, even toes and the spine. Arthritis has a devastating effect on the quality of life, making simple motions such as walking, jumping, and climbing painful or even impossible.
The ends of bones are covered with cartilage, a form of connective tissue. Cartilage acts as a “shock absorber” between the bones. These areas rub together with movement and can literally wear away. As cartilage wears away, calcium deposits can be laid down, which causes further pain and restricts movement.
Special thick fluid lubricates the joint space for ease of motion, and helps prevent cartilage from wearing away as a result of friction. However, as the body ages it may lose the ability to replenish joint fluid or maintain the cartilaginous surfaces on the ends of the bones. Cartilage repairs itself very slowly, due to poor nutrient supply and the fact that joints are seldom resting.
WHAT CAUSES ARTHRITIS?
A common cause of arthritis is degeneration associated with aging. Arthritis can also be the result of a traumatic injury, or it can be due to a deformity like hip dysplasia or patellar luxation. Autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are characterized by joint surface destruction and inflammation caused by a malfunctioning immune system. Arthritis may sometimes result from a systemic bacterial infection or from diseases acquired from tick bites. Gout is another form of arthritis caused by mineral or crystal deposits in the joints.
SYMPTOMS: Arthritis usually develops gradually over time. Cartilage does not contain blood vessels or nerves, so once the arthritic joint becomes painful, significant damage has already been done. Symptoms of arthritis can include pain, limping, stiffness, resistance to touch or reluctance to participate in activities that the dog formerly enjoyed. Sometimes a dog may be regarded as “lazy” when in reality he simply prefers to move around as little as possible to avoid pain. A radiograph can confirm arthritic joint changes.
PREVENTION: There are several things we as owners can do to help prevent and treat arthritis in our dogs. Throughout your dog’s life, keep him in lean, fit condition. Joint movement stimulates the production of beneficial lubricating joint fluids, so moderate low-impact exercise such as walking or swimming is recommended to maintain joint health. Being overweight stresses the joints, and exercise helps to prevent obesity. However, do not overdo physical activity because this can lead to fatigue and injuries. Also, too much stress to muscles or bones of a young developing body can cause deformity or damage, which may eventually result in arthritis. For this reason aggressive physical workouts are generally not recommended, particularly for the immature dog.
TREATMENT: Most treatments for arthritis center on resting the joint and reducing pain and inflammation. Providing your dog with a supplemental heat source can provide great relief. A heating pad or infrared heat lamp can be used for 15-20 minutes several times daily. Cold flooring should be avoided, and of course your arthritic dog would appreciate a nice soft bed. Many people buy or build ramps for their dog when navigating stairs or getting in and out of the car becomes difficult.
Consult your veterinarian for advice about the use of anti-inflammatory medications. Corticosteroids such as prednisone or dexamethasone may be prescribed in severe cases. Steroids provide quick relief to the inflammation and pain from arthritis, but they also have serious side effects such as GI upset, weight gain, elevated blood sugar level. With prolonged use, steroids cause loss of muscle mass, weakening of bones and depression of the immune system. Use of steroids can also make the problem worse by causing damage to cartilage. Their use is generally reserved for short-term treatment in cases of severe pain and immobility.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) are frequently recommended. If your veterinarian agrees, aspirin can be tried, using a dosage of 5-10 mg per pound. Do NOT use Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen).
Other NSAIDS used for the treatment of canine arthritis include:
These NSAIDs are very effective for relief of pain and inflammation, but there is also a high risk of adverse reactions. Side effects of NSAIDs may range from loss of appetite to ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding, liver disease, kidney problems and in some cases even death. These medications should only be used under careful supervision of your veterinarian.
Your dog should not take more than one type of NSAID at a time, and a NSAID should only be combined with a steroid very cautiously. Another important point to consider is that steroids and NSAIDs may temporarily relieve symptoms, but they do not improve the condition of the joint structure, and can actually cause further damage to the joint tissues. A holistic approach to arthritis is founded on nutritional joint support.
The tissues that depend on glucoasmine to remain healthy include tendons and ligaments, cartilage, synovial fluid, mucous membranes, several structures in the eye, blood vessels, and heart valves. Glucosamine has been used for a variety of problems including: breakdown and inflammation of the synovial fluids, damage to the tissues, ligaments and muscles, inflamed sciatic nerve, inflamed joints associated with aging, tracheal weakness and loss of elasticity in the intervertebral discs.
Chondroitin is a major component of cartilage structure. Supplemental chondroitin is believed to promote water retention and elasticity in the joints. Chondroitin enhances the effectiveness of glucosamine when taken together. Also, chondroitin inhibits the enzymes that break down cartilage. Natural chondroitin production declines with age and is disrupted by stress or injury. NSAIDs and corticosteroid drugs that are often prescribed for arthritis also contribute to joint damage.
When taking glucosamine and chondroitin for arthritis, start at a high dose and taper down when you notice improvement. Use at least 20 mg glucosamine per pound of body weight. Allow at least four weeks before expecting to see improvement, although often you will notice pain relief and improved movement after just a few days.
Most glucosamine and chondroitin supplements are produced from the chitinous shells of ocean crustaceans, or from animal cartilage such as bovine trachea. Consumerlab.com has tested various brands of glucosamine supplements marketed for pets, and found that many contained far less chondroitin that they claimed, and some were contaminated with lead. One reliable source recommended Cosequin and Dr Foster and Smith brand.
With a little TLC and nutritional support, your arthritic dog can remain active and comfortable well into his senior years!
(This information is presented for informational purposes only; please consult with your veterinarian for advice regarding treatment of your dog’s arthritis.)