Arthritis Remedies Abound: Today's choices and therapies mean your older dog doesn't have to stop enjoying life.
No worries. You have many options! It is important to recognize from the start that you are not "curing" arthritis. Your goal is to control symptoms and hope to slow down the progression of the disease.
Arthritis occurs when joints are damaged though trauma or simply "wear down" over time; the cartilage cushion that sits between bones ages and is slow to repair or replace. Causes include repeated strenuous physical activity, trauma, genetic predisposition, aging, and poor conformation. In rare cases, immune diseases act on the cartilage and cause pain and arthritis.
Editor's Note: In this article, we are focusing on supplements and medications that help slow arthritis. Many complementary therapies are available as well, including acupuncture (see July 2016), cold laser (see August 2017), and hydrotherapy.
Damage Control. Your goal is to slow the degradation of the joint cartilage and possibly halt it. For healthy cartilage, your dog needs hyaluronic acid, collagen, and glycosaminoglycans.
Glucosamine is a component of glycosaminoglycans, which is derived from shellfish. Clinical trials with humans, horses, and dogs help back up the claims that it is beneficial for joint problems. Glucosamine is often combined with chondroitin sulfate for added effectiveness and vitamin C, which is important for collagen formation. Your dog makes vitamin C in his liver so supplements of this vitamin are not usually necessary.
Hyaluronic acid (HA) is an anionic, nonsulfated glycosaminoglycan that is found naturally in the body. It's an integral part of joint cartilage. Until recently, it was believed that oral HA had no effect on the body's cartilage, but it is gaining strength as an oral supplement.
You may also see methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) combined with glucosamine and chondroitin. While it's a popular ingredient, Joe Wakshlag DVM PHD, Head of Clinical Nutrition at Cornell, points out there is no clinical proof of the effectiveness of MSM in dogs at this time.
This isn't a quick fix. Dr. Wakshlag notes, "Degenerative cartilage cannot be rebuilt--only maintained. In many cases, we are looking to maintain the cartilage that is still there. You can't build new cartilage beds. In general, the use of things like glucosamine and chondroitin are designed to help dampen the future degradation. There is often no real symptom relief with these products, only prevention." Many owners do report improvement anecdotally, but it could take six to eight weeks before you see it.
Omega 3 fatty acids--EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)--have been suggested as helpful in the prevention of arthritis and treatment of arthritis. "There are six blinded clinical trials using various forms of fish oil in diets or as supplements that have shown clinical benefits in lameness due to arthritis. As far as supplements are concerned, it is the one tried-and-true nutraceutical with benefits, however, if a dog is already on an NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) then the effects will be minimal, since it works in the same pathway of inflammation," states Dr. Wakshlag.
Choose Wisely. Joint supplements are available as liquids, capsules, and chewable tablets. You may need to experiment to find out which form your dog prefers and which ingredient gives you best results. If a loading dose is suggested by the label--a loading dose is usually double the maintenance dose for a set number of days--be sure you follow the instructions. If you skip the loading dose, you will not see the benefits of the product in the estimated six to eight weeks.
Always consult your veterinarian before adding any supplements to be sure there are no undesirable interactions between the supplement and any other medications your dog is on. Again, be certain it's truly arthritis.
You may see these supplements as ingredients in dog foods. In most cases, the amount added to these foods is not high enough to have a therapeutic effect. Discuss the amount in the food with your veterinarian and/or compare it to the doses in nutraceutical products.
Joint nutraceuticals are recommended for prevention, too; some studies have shown they're even more effective as a preventative. Start while the dog is still young, especially for large- and giant-sized dogs or sport dogs competing in physically demanding competitions.
"It is often recommended to start these nutraceuticals at the first sign of lameness or change in mobility. Many dogs that are diagnosed with trauma or problems like hip dysplasia will be started on nutraceuticals right away since the preventative effects are worthwhile to slow disease progression," recommends Dr. Wakshlag. Once a dog is showing clinical signs of arthritis--lameness and joint pain--he will require something stronger, such as an NSAID, to reduce inflammation and soreness.
More Options. Most dogs respond well to oral NSAIDs. Individual dogs tend to do better with different drugs so you may need to experiment a bit to find which works best for your. The choices include Deramaxx (deracoxib), Metacam (Meloxicam), Rimadyl (carprofen), and Previcox (firocoxib).
These drugs are only available with a prescription. Most are designed for fairly short-term usage but can be used long term if need be. They are ideal to help a dog over his discomfort while you try to heal the injured joint and cartilage with supplements. Common side effects include gastrointestinal signs, such as vomiting, diarrhea, not wanting to eat, or liver problems.
Oral steroids can also be used for recalcitrant cases and for immune-related arthritis problems. There are known side effects, such as increased eating and drinking, and increased frequency and amount of urination. The risks associated with steroids may be worth it to keep your dog mobile and comfortable.
There is an effective injectable polysulfated glycosaminoglycan, Adequan, available through your veterinarian. This is given twice a week for four weeks total, with a maximum of eight injections overall. It's an intramuscular injection, and most dogs show improvement within a month.
In severe cases of arthritis, your veterinarian may opt to inject steroids and hyaluronic acid. These products are injected intra-articularly--directly into the affected joints--for immediate relief.
Working to slow the progression of arthritis in your dog is a multi-pronged battle. Along with medications and supplements, you need to work on weight control and keep your dog fit. Consider a conditioning regimen. It might incorporate swimming, non-weight-bearing range-of-motion exercises, and a moderation of his regular activities, such as hikes and/or fetch. With care and dedication, you can keep your senior dog mobile and comfortable for the rest of his life.
STUDY HIGHLIGHTS GERMAN SHEPHERD DOGS' BREEDING AND ARTHRITIS
According to a recent study published in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, German Shepherd Dogs (GSD) may be predisposed to arthritis and other health conditions because of the way they've been bred for decades.
Data from 430 United Kingdom veterinary clinics showed the GSDs are most likely to die from complications due to the inability to stand (14.9%). The researchers found 263 disorders in the study dogs. The most common were inflammation of the ear canal (7.89%), osteoarthritis (5.54%), diarrhea (5.24%), overweight/obesity (5.18%), and aggression (4.76%).
Royal Veterinary College lead author Dr. Dan O'Neill said: "German Shepherd Dogs have previously been reported to have the second-highest number of health disorders exacerbated by breeding traits, with Great Danes occupying first place.
"It has been reported that German Shepherds are predisposed to conditions, such as abnormal formation of the hip joint, cancer, and degenerative spinal disorders, but the extent to which these conditions are prevalent in the population are unclear. However, by looking at primary-care data from veterinary clinics, we are able to get a much better picture of the real priority conditions affecting this breed." Points of concern include health complications that may arise from excessive angulation of the back knee and leg joints, a nervous temperament, and weak hindquarters.
"Interestingly, we found osteoarthritis to be one of the most common conditions reported, which may be caused, in part, by breeding for cosmetic traits, such as lower hindquarters or a sloping back," says Dr. O'Neill.
The study here presents the largest analysis of demography, mortality, and disorder prevalence in German Shepherd Dogs, based exclusively on primary-care veterinary clinical records reported to date.
A long-time belief has been that-glucosamine should not be fed to diabetic dogs because it contains some sugar. Studies have shown that the sugar in glucosamine does not raise blood sugar in humans, even if they are diabetic. There have been a few short-term studies with dogs, as well. If your dog is diabetic, discuss the use of this supplement with your veterinarian.
Be aware that glucosamine can come from shellfish. Avoid this nutraceutical for dogs with shellfish allergies. Chondroitin comes from either shark or bovine cartilage, so check to be sure before using it.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
* Be sure your dog's problem is truly arthritis
* If you try an over-the-counter product, give it four to six weeks to see a result
* If that fails, discuss medications with your veterinarian
* If your dog is overweight, get his weight down
* Exercise him every day (see November 2017 for bad-weather options)
DID YOU KNOW?
You should never give your dog your medication--whether it's prescription or an over-the-counter remedy--without your veterinarian's approval. Dogs metabolize many drugs differently than people, and your dog could develop life-threatening side effects.