How to help dogs with arthritis plus listeners’ pet questions on the Pat Kenny Show

Arthritis – stiffness and lameness in dogs

Arthritis (technically called “osteoarthritis”, or “degenerative joint disease”) is caused by a combination of anatomic predisposition (genetics) and the daily wear-and-tear of daily activities on the joints.  If your dog goes lame, or is slow to stand up, or just seems creakier than usual, talk to your vet about how this can be helped.

How to treat arthritis

Weight control.

  • Extra body weight puts pressure on all of the joints, exacerbating joint damage, and making arthritis worse, and more painful.
  • Often weight loss is the most important aspect of treatment of this condition.
  • It isn’t easy, but it’s as effective as expensive drugs or surgery.

Exercise programme.

Sufficient exercise keeps arthritis joints mobile, and helps build up muscle tone around the joints, giving pets the strength to use their stiff joints more easily. Too much exercise is not a good idea: this can even make arthritis worse.

The general rule is short bouts of exercise frequently: twenty minutes twice daily is better than forty minutes once a day.
Other physical therapies, including hydrotherapy and physiotherapy help as well.

Nutritional treatments

The most simple form of treatment, which may always not need direct veterinary input, is “nutraceuticals” i.e. using dietary supplements to improve the health of the joints. The challenge for some of these products is that they may not be backed up by the rigorous clinical trials that are applied to veterinary treatments. My take on this is that it means that they may not work well in every case, but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that they do work well in individual cases. I’ve used some of these products in my own pets with arthritis and have been sufficiently impressed to carry on using them. Make sure that you do adequate research before using any of these, and preferably, talk to your own vet first.

Examples include:

  • Kelp extract from seaweed e.g. “Kelp Care” – costs around €9.50 per month for a large dog
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate (e.g. “Arthriaid”)
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate with added ingredients (e.g. “Forever Freedom” which includes Aloe Vera gel)
  • Essential fatty acid and fish oil supplements
  • Turmeric
  • Special diets designed to treat arthritis e.g. Hills J/D diet – which is already enriched with fish oil and glucosamine and chondrotin sulphate from natural sources. so that you don’t need to add these as separate supplements

Medication

Various drugs ease the signs of arthritis by relieving pain and improving the function of the joints.

There are at least three different groups of drugs in common use.

a) Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAID’s)

This group of drugs acts to reduce the inflammation around the body, including joints that are inflamed with arthritis. This anti-inflammatory effect includes significant pain relief. Aspirin is the best known drug in the broad group of NSAIDs, but there are now many other more effective and safer NSAIDs that have been proven, and are licensed, for the treatment of arthritis in dogs. Formulations include injections, tablets and easy-to-give liquids.

A regular dose of an appropriate NSAID can utterly transform an elderly pet’s quality of life. If you have an elderly pet which is becoming slow to move around, be sure to talk to your vet about the possible use of these drugs. The appropriate use of NSAIDS can give many animals months or years of extra good quality life.

Be warned: do not use human versions of these drugs. Inappropriate use, or incorrect dosage, can cause serious illness and death.

It’s highly important to liaise closely with your vet before using these potent medications.

b) Glucocorticoids (also known as ‘steroids’ or ‘cortisone’)

In specific cases, this potent group of drugs can help, but they may have more severe and challenging side effects in the long term.

They can be given as oral medication, or in some cases, an injection directly into the joint can be given.

c) Cartilage sparing and stimulating drugs.

This newer type of drug – pentosan polysulphate is  the best known version – promotes healing of damaged cartilage as well as having an anti-inflammatory effect. There are a number of treatment regimes: the standard approach involves once-weekly injections given for four weeks, repeated every 6 months. Talk to your vet about the possible use of this prescription only product.

Other treatments

  • Acupuncture has a proven track record for pain relief in arthritic dogs.
  • Joint replacement surgery e.g. total hip replacement is a more radical option that comes with a high price tag and does not suit every case.
  • The value of a soft bed should not be dismissed: I like the Orvis range of memory foam dog beds.

Summary

  • The best arthritis management programme has to be worked out on an individual basis for each animal.
  • It’s worth liaising closely with your vet, using a combination of the different options listed above, depending on the specifics of your pet’s situation
  • Elderly pets do not necessarily get slow and creaky because of simply “old age”. If the cause of their debility is arthritis, highly effective treatment is possible.
  • Please don’t write your old pet off: talk to your vet about how to help them.

Questions from Pat Kenny Show listeners

After our discussion about arthritis, callers phoned the show with some interesting questions, as listed below:

  1. “Where can I get Forever Living Freedom for my Labrador”, asked Jim in Dublin
  2. “Is the Dogue De Bordeaux prone to arthritis or hip ailments and should they carry much weight ? My guy appears thin but is well fed but definitely appears to suffer with his joints. Can you please advise”  asked Liam
  3. “My dog Susie is 6 and has been diagnosed with cruciate ligament disease. My vet said she has to have two operations with 12 weeks recovery after each. Seems so long for such a little thing, is this normal, and any advice on how she can recover quickly?” asked Ciara from Cabra
  4. “My 12 yr old dog hates small dogs and will try to attack them. I’m afraid to walk her as shes very strong (Wheaten terrier) what can I do?”
  5. “My beloved male Pug died 4 weeks ago. He had masticatory muscle myositis, and was prescribed a long dose of strong steroids. After 2 months and on the mend, he got sick and eventually died 2 days later from a torn oesophagus. I believe his kidneys were failing too. Could Pete tell me why & how did my Pug get this MMM which is apparently more prone to larger dogs?” asked by Dan
  6. Can cats fart? Last night, there was the most dreadful smell in the kitchen, and I think (but am not certain) that it was my cat farting. Eoin in Dublin

To hear the full discussion, and to find out the answers to the questions above, please listen to the podcast below.

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Please note that I am unable to answer veterinary questions in comments. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health it is always better to contact your vet.

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