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This lovely lady is Nikki a patient at Ocean County Veterinary Hospital (OCVH) . She is a very happy 11 month old lab who loves to eat and swim but is otherwise a bit lazy. One day a few months ago, she was outside playing with her “sister” and suddenly started limping badly on her right front leg. X-rays of her legs showed that she had an inherited condition called Elbow Dysplasia in both of her elbows, and sadly was already developing arthritis. Although surgery removed the congenital defects in her elbows and helped her tremendously, it could not reverse or prevent the early arthritis which will continue to get worse with time.
Stories like this are common, but not what most people think of when they think of arthritis. The sad truth is that many young dogs are at risk for developing arthritis, whether from developmental conditions like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia or injuries like torn ligaments (ACLs) in the stifles (knees). For pets that are in pain and having difficulty getting around, medications like NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, for example, Rimadyl) are needed to make them feel better. Fortunately, for long-term management of arthritis, there are many other things that can be done to improve the overall comfort and slow the progression of arthritis in both young and old dogs, particularly when the arthritis is diagnosed in its early stages. Unfortunately, many times it is not addressed until the arthritis has reached the point where the pet is consistently limping. The true goal of arthritis management should be focused on preventing pain and slowing progression of the process. Here are some ways to achieve this goal.
The single most important thing you can do as a pet parent with an animal with arthritis is keep their weight under control.
Extra pounds will not only make it even more difficult for dogs to get up and down but can also speed up the progression of arthritis. Decreasing caloric intake, whether by decreasing the quantity fed or by switching to a diet food (either lower calorie or prescription) and increasing exercise will help you to see results at home. Often the amount that your pet needs to eat to meet their metabolic needs is far less than you think they should be eating. The feeding recommendations on the bags of food are just generalizations and do not take into account individual variation in metabolism, and may be far too much for your individual pet, especially if they are not very active. What is your pet’s body condition? See the chart below. Ask your veterinarian for special diets that can help your pet lose weight more easily.
Adequan in a unique injectable medication the helps prevent the cartilage in joints from wearing away. The goal of this treatment is to keep the cartilage healthy and intact so that the bones in the joint cannot rub on each other. It is initially given twice a week for 4 weeks and then as needed. Owners can be taught to give the injections at home (very easy!). Most owners have noticed a drastic improvement in their pet’s mobility after starting Adequan and many have been able to decrease or altogether stop giving oral pain medications.
There are numerous oral supplements on the market that can help to improve mobility. Glucosamine and chondroitin are the most popular supplements on the pharmacy shelves and many owners have noted improvement in their pet’s comfort while on these. There are many companies making these supplements, which can be purchased both at veterinary hospitals and over the counter (OTC). Caution must be exercised with OTC products as they frequently do not have the levels of glucosamine and chondroitin that are claimed on the label, and some contain potentially harmful components such as salicylic acid (metabolite of aspirin) which increases the risk of stomach ulceration. We recommend using Cosequin or Dasuquin.
Another supplement recommended in animals with arthritis is Duralactin. This contains Microlactin, a dried milk protein from hyper-immunized cows that works at a cellular level to reduce inflammation and prevent subsequent tissue damage. It can be used in conjunction with a glucosamine and chondroitin supplement such as Dasuquin to reduce inflammation and improve overall mobility.
Proper exercise is essential for the arthritic pet, as it is crucial to maintain as much muscle mass as possible to support the abnormal joint. Massage and gentle flexion/extension exercises may also help. In later stages of arthritis, facilities specializing in canine rehabilitation and physical therapy can develop an exercise plan for your canine companion.
Nikki walking on the underwater treadmill.
Laser therapy utilizes the benefits of photobiomodulation to promote tissue healing and reduce inflammation. We have had a lot of success at OCVH with the K-Laser not only in managing arthritis, but also with infected wounds, soft tissue injuries, and post-operative healing.
Several other methods of promoting pain relief have been used in management of arthritis in pets, including acupuncture, transcutaneous electrical stimulation (TENS), shock wave therapy, and many others. Ask your veterinarian if you are interested in pursuing these alternative methods of reducing inflammation and pain associated with arthritis.
When pets with evidence of early arthritis are managed with the long-term goal of slowing down progression of the disease rather than simply immediate pain relief, we have the chance of giving them a better quality of life for much longer. As for Nikki, since her surgery she has been on a diet (3.6 pounds down so far!), and has started both Adequan and K-Laser therapy in addition to a glucosamine and chondroitin supplement (Dasuquin). Despite being in the early stages of arthritis, taking these steps now should significantly slow down the progression of the disease and keep her happy and comfortable for a long time to come.