Seaweed or a special diet for dogs with arthritis?

Barney the Golden Retriever was this week's special guest on Ireland AM

Cats and dogs with arthritis are common. This week on Ireland AM, we discussed some novel treatments for arthritis in animals. I brought a dog called Barney with me – he is a fifteen year old Golden Retriever who is doing very  well on a full range of treatments for arthritis.

What is arthritis and how can you spot it?

Arthritis (osteoarthritis, or “degenerative joint disease”) is caused by the daily damage caused by wear-and-tear of different structures around and including the joints. Some degree of arthritis is inevitable in geriatric dogs and cats. There’s an strong inherited element to the problem, which is why it’s more common in certain breeds (such as Labradors, Retrievers, German Shepherds and others).

If your dog – or cat – is lame, slow to get up, or just a bit creaky, you should talk to your vet about the possibility of arthritis.

What treatments can be given?

Once the diagnosis of arthritis has been made, a treatment programme is usually put together by your vet. There are four main ways to minimise the aches and pains.

Weight control

If a dog or cat is carrying too much weight, this puts added pressure on the joints, causing more joint damage, and so more severe arthritis. Helping a pet reach its ideal weight is often the first stage of dealing with arthritis.

Exercise programme

The key here is “moderation”. Some exercise helps to keep stiff joints supple and mobile while too much can make arthritis worse. The precise exercise requirements depend on the individual, but in general,  ‘little and often’ is the aim. This means 15 – 20 minutes twice daily rather than one long 40 minute session every morning. Other physical therapies, such as hydrotherapy and physiotherapy are also now used to help affected dogs A soft bed can also help as a type of “physical therapy” for dogs – my dogs have an Orvis bed which is ideal.

Nutritional treatments

The most simple form of treatment is “nutriceutical” i.e. using nutrition to improve the health of the joints.There are three specific examples:

Kelp extract from seaweed  “Kelp Care”

Costs around €9.50 per month for a large dog

Glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate

Such as “Arthriaid”

Essential fatty acid supplements

Complete diets designed to treat arthritis e.g. Hills J/D diet

Already enriched with fish oil and glucosamine and chondrotin sulphate from natural sources. so that you don’t need to add these to the diet .

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.

Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

This group of drugs act to lessen the inflammation of damaged joints, and they also provide pain relief. Aspirin is the best known drug in this group, but nowadays there are many other, more modern and more effective NSAIDs that are commonly used to treat arthritic dogs. They may be in the form of injections,  tablets or liquids, and a regular dose can transform an old dog or cat’s quality of life. Human versions of these drugs can cause serious or even fatal results in dogs and cats, so owners need to follow the guidance given by their vet.

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

These drugs can provide a higher level of anti-inflammatory effect than NSAIDs, but with more severe and obvious side effects in the long term. They can be given as tablets, or in exceptional cases, an injection directly into affected joints may be used.

Cartilage sparing and stimulating drugs.

These drugs work by promoting healing of damaged cartilage. They do not seem to be effective in every case, but are often worth trying. Typically an injection may be given once-weekly for four weeks, repeated every  6 months.

There are other ways that arthritis can be helped, including special diets and acupuncture. Rarely, dramatic surgery e.g. to install a new metal hip can be carried out.

The ideal arthritis treatment programme is different for each individual dog or cat. Talk to your own vet to work out a plan for your pet’s individual situation.

Many people think that their elderly pets are getting slow and creaky whereas in fact, arthritis is often the cause, and it can be treated very effectively.

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