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Treatment of Osteoarthritis in dogs

Osteoarthritis is a common disease in dogs causing pain and stiffness in joints. This form of arthritis is common in older dogs but can occur even in young dogs secondary to joint problems. Osteoarthritis is progressive and cannot be cured. Most dogs will require some form of ongoing Osteoarthritis treatment.

Fortunately, there are a variety of treatment options available to relieve the pain that dogs will suffer from arthritic joints and allow them to maintain an active life for as long as possible. None of these treatments can completely control the symptoms on their own and the best response will always be gained by employing a selection of treatments together. Severely affected dogs will benefit most obviously from this ‘multimodal’ approach, but there is a strong argument for early treatment.

The overall aim is to maintain good function of joints for as long as possible. The vet will be able to advise on the most appropriate Osteoarthritis treatment for your dog but the list of commonly used treatments is as follows:

Weight Loss

Many dogs with joint problems will have become overweight. This can greatly exacerbate the pain associated with an arthritic joint. It is often astounding just how much improvement can be seen by dieting to a healthy weight and it should not be underestimated how important weight control is in any treatment program. 10% weight loss can often result in 50% improvement in symptoms.

We understand that dieting your dog can be a difficult thing to do successfully and can be a battle of wills with a hungry dog. Our nurses can offer support with regular weigh ins and advice available free of charge. There are special diets available where weight loss is proving difficult.

Exercise

The aim of all treatment is to allow your dog to continue to enjoy exercise and a good quality of life. It may be necessary to moderate exercise to some extent as part of a treatment plan. There are no absolute rules but vigorous exercise such as ball chasing and playing with other dogs may need to be reduced and replaced with more regular walking and alternative exercise such as swimming (Hydrotherapy is a good option for some dogs to improve muscle strength and reduce stiffness). Long walks may need to be split into several shorter walks. We can arrange referral to a specialist Veterinary Physiotherapist for an assessment and more specialist advice.

dog running across a field

Prescription diets

Special diets are available that are proven to improve joint health, lessening inflammation, pain and lameness. We have seen good improvement with Hills j/d Prescription Diet (Joint Care) and studies have demonstrated an effect similar to treatment with anti-inflammatory medication in arthritic dogs. These diets rely mainly on high levels of EPA (much higher than can be achieved in supplements).

Joint supplements

There are lots of dietary supplements available to help dogs with joint problems. These are often referred to as ‘nutraceuticals’ and most will contain Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulphate as active ingredients. It is important to realise that the quality of these products can vary enormously and comparing labels can be misleading. We recommend what we consider to be some of the best available products such as YuMove and Seraquin.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture has long been recognised in humans as a useful treatment for chronic pain and we can often see good improvement when applied to animals. One of our vets, Kate Reeve, is an experienced practitioner of acupuncture on dogs and will be able to advise on the suitability of this treatment. Most dogs tolerate acupuncture extremely well.

Acupuncture for pets treatment for Osteoarthritis

Laser treatment

Treatment with our medical laser over individual joints can greatly reduce inflammation and pain. The treatment is performed conscious and most dogs appear to find the effects quite soothing, although they will have to wear goggles to protect their eyes from the laser light! The effectiveness of this treatment seems to be fairly individual: some dogs are vastly improved, whereas others are only slightly improved. We recommend an initial course of 6 appointments over 3 weeks before deciding if longer term ‘top-up’ laser treatments should be continued.

dog receiving laser treatment for Osteoarthritis

Cartophen injections

Cartrophen is a drug that is given as a course of four injections on a weekly basis. It has a number of effects on arthritic joints that can provide improvement for 6 months or more. We expect 4 out of 5 dogs to show a good to moderate improvement in lameness and the course can be repeated once the effects wear off. Side effects are possible, as with any medication, but very rare.

Anti-inflammatories

Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are still an essential part of treating the moderate to severe pain that can be associated with arthritis. These drugs are often prescribed to allow a dog to maintain a more normal level of mobility and are generally very effective. None of these drugs are without the risk of side effects and we would look more to the above treatments in mildly affected dogs. The benefits will outweigh the risks of long term treatment for most dogs where there is a real need to maintain mobility and comfort. We sometimes prescribe additional pain-killing medication to use alongside NSAIDs if there is a need to control more severe pain.

Arthritis is a painful and potentially debilitating condition. The above treatments will all provide some relief but it is the cumulative effect that will provide the best management of the condition and the best chance of your dog continuing a healthy life for as long as possible.