Dog Arthritis Treatment:
Lots of Options to Help
Your Best Friend

Many dog arthritis treatment options, including the combination of an anti-inflammatory drug and a natural supplement to build cartilage and lubricate joints, are available to ease the discomfort and pain of your best friend. Arthritis, also called osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease, is an inflammation of a dog's joint.

Snapshot: Dog Arthritis Treatment
Here's a quick overview if you're in a hurry. Come back later when you have time to read the complete guide.

  • Symptoms: Dog arthritis signs include limping or reluctance to move. Some forms of arthritis can be repaired with surgery before the disease advances. Take your dog to a vet immediately for diagnosis if you suspect arthritis.
  • Causes: Arthritis can be caused by a lifetime of wear and tear on the joints, congenital defects and injuries.
  • Diagnosis: Your vet may diagnose arthritis by moving the dog's joint and observing whether or not the dog shows pain and also by watching him/her walk. X-rays may be used to view the joint suspected of being arthritic.
  • Treatment: Traditional dog arthritis treatment includes pain relief, weight management and exercise. If arthritis is caught early, surgery may be an option to restore mobility.

Symptoms

A dog with arthritis, also called osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease, may limp or appear to walk gingerly, as if on egg shells. He/she may be "sitting it out" rather than taking part in activities they used to enjoy—which is why weight gain can also be a sign of arthritis. An arthritic dog restricts movement to minimize pain. Thankfully many dog arthritis treatment options exist. Those will be discussed later in this guide.

Causes

Arthritis is most often seen in older, overweight dogs, although it can also appear in young and middle-aged dogs. Causes can include a lifetime of wear and tear on the joints, which is often the case in senior dogs. Other causes include inherited defects, such as hip dysplasia, and injuries like a torn knee ligament. It is also possible that a lifetime of poor nutrition, especially inadequate protein, can cause arthritis in senior dogs. If you adopted your canine best friend as an adult, this means you had no nutritional influence on his formative years. Nevertheless, you can start influencing your dog's health today through a proactive approach to dog arthritis treatment.

Diagnosis

X-rays are the precursor to dog arthritis treatment. Your vet needs to confirm that arthritis is the culprit. This is normally accomplished through x-rays, which enable your vet to view the joint suspected of being arthritic. X-rays will show most, although not all, changes in a dog's joint affecting bone and some soft tissue. Most vets will recommend sedating your dog in order to take the X-ray. If you were having an X-ray taken of your own leg, you would be instructed to remain as still as possible. The same is true for your dog. Sedating or anesthetizing (putting your dog under), ensures your best friend will not move and the X-ray will be clear. This in turn will help your vet make an accurate diagnosis.

Conventional Dog Arthritis Treatment

Traditional dog arthritis treatment includes pain relief, weight management and exercise. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are usually a veterinarian's first choice for dog athritis treatment because they act quickly to relieve pain. Carprofen, sold under brand name Rimadyl and Vetprofen, is often prescribed. There have been some reports of dog deaths resulting from Rimadyl, but this is not a common occurence. You, as your dog's caretaker, must gather information on all options and make the choice that is best for your dog. Other anti-inflammatories include brand names Deramaxx, EtoGesic, Metacam, Zubrin and Previcox.

If your dog has been diagnosed with arthritis and he/she is overweight, even slightly, it is in your dog's best interest to go on a reduced calorie diet. Just like overweight people, overweight dogs are putting extra stress on their joints. Helping your dog lose weight is one of the best things you can do for your arthritic friend!

Weight management goes hand-in-hand (or paw-in-paw!) with low-impact exercise (walking or swimming) when it comes to effective dog arthritis treatment. Exercise prevents the dog from becoming stiff, and in turn, not wanting to move. It is also essential for the dog to keep moving in order to maintain strong and functioning muscles. Once muscle is lost, it can't be restored. Your dog should be exercised throughout the week, not only on weekends. Consistent, low-impact exercise is critical.

Alternative Treatment

A holistic or chiropractic veterinarian may be helpful in offering alternative dog arthritis treatment, including natural supplements, acupuncture or manipulations that complement and work in concert with conventional drugs. Here are several alternative veterinary organizations you may contact to find a member in your area.
The American Holistic Veterinary Association
American Veterinary Chiropractic Association
American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture

Prevention

The first step to dog arthritis treatment is prevention. If we work hard at prevention, we will reduce the likelihood of arthritis occurring, eliminating the need for treatment. The single most proactive task you can undertake in "preventative dog arthritis treatment" is to keep your best friend at a healthy weight. It's also important to feed your dog high-quality food. For unbiased food comparisons, consult sites like www.dogfoodanalysis.com. You will quickly discover that it is the smaller companies like Wellness and Blue Buffalo that offer premium nutritional food. The well-known companies with big advertising budgets, including Iams and Purina, do NOT offer nutritional food.

My experience

My husband Mike and I have enjoyed the company of over 40 dogs during over 30 years of marriage. Some of these were (and are) our own "kids," while others were stray dogs who found their way into our hearts and home while waiting to be adopted. We've learned firsthand about many dog illnesses and injuries.

Currently we have several dogs dealing with arthritis. We have approached this with a variety of dog arthritis treatments, based upon the specific needs of each dog:

Adequan is an injectable dog arthritis treatment.

Buddy is our 13-year-old, 90 pound German shepherd-husky mix. He has always been a very healthy boy. But in March 2014 he began having trouble rising when he was lying down, and was stiff when walking. Upon examining Buddy and watching him walk, our vet diagnosed arthritis. We tried the generic of Rimadyl, an oral anti-inflammatory, for 10 days, but Buddy did not improve. After waiting five days to ensure the first med was out of his body, we then tried another oral anti-inflammatory, Deramaxx for 10 days, again with no success. Around this time I read an article in Bark magazine by a veterinarian about Adequan, an injectable treatment that our vet had mentioned as an option. In the article, the vet was very cautionary about using Rimadyl and Deramaxx, which had been documented to cause unpredictable and extreme reactions in dogs--including death. The author was positive about Adequan, however, which she felt was safe and effective.

We decided to try Adequan. The protocol is one injection twice weekly for four weeks. If the medicine is going to help Buddy, we should see an improvement at that point. Since I have experience in giving injections, and because we live 50 miles from our vet, he suggested that I give the injections to Buddy. I agreed. While I was able to give the first injection, it was a difficult assignment--Buddy's thick fur, inherited from his shepherd-husky heritage, made me feel like I was trying give an injection through shag carpet. This problem was solved when we shaved a target area for Buddy's injection--a square patch near Buddy's shoulder blades (see photo).  

Shaving the injection site made giving Buddy's shots fast and easy.

Casey, an American Staffordshire Terrier, is another of our foster dogs. She tore her cruciate ligament and underwent surgery to repair it. She has fully recovered, but our vet advises that she should remain on a joint-supporting glucosamine/chondroitin supplement for the rest of her life. During her eight weeks of recovery, Casey received 1 Dasuquin chewable tablet 2x daily. After eight weeks we cut back to 1 tablet 1X daily. Casey will stay at this maintenance dosage for life. While our vet recommends Dasuquin, there are many other joint supplements to choose from.

Rambo is our 14-year-old white lab. One fall Rambo began limping, favoring his back left leg. We took him to the vet, who told us Rambo had a partial tear in his cruciate ligament. Earlier that year our Joe had surgery to repair a cruciate tear.

It was very expensive and a long recovery process. Our vet was not pushing for surgery, since it was a partial tear. He suggested restricting Rambo's movements and giving him the chance to recover on his own. He also said that many of his clients are not able to afford the expensive surgery and take this route instead, finding their dog will recover well, but slowly.

We went through winter and into spring with Rambo going out only on a leash. He was not allowed to run. We also put him on Six Flavor Tea Pills, prescribed by my friend Linda Mulholland, who practices Chinese medicine. Rambo gets four pills 2x daily. In the spring we let Rambo off the leash for about five minutes, then put him back on the leash and continued walking. Eventually Rambo graduated to be off-leash with our other dogs during their daily romp on our fenced acreage. While it took many months, Rambo recovered. Once again, traditional veterinary care and alternative care—in this case Chinese medicine—prove to be an effective combination for dog arthritis treatment.

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