Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease that affects over 50% of dogs at some point in their life. We have been successful in prolonging the length of our companions’ lives, but with that advanced age comes joint degeneration from prolonged wear and tear.
Osteo-arthritis, or degenerative joint disease (DJD), is the breakdown of the smooth cartilage in the joint that results in bare bone rubbing against bare bone. This results in DJD: lost cartilage, remodeling of bone surface, and subsequent stiffness, inflammation and pain. Common areas of arthritis in the dog are hips, knees, back, elbows and wrists. How can you tell if your dog is suffering from DJD? She may exhibit one or more of the following:
Decreased physical activity
Stiffness after sleeping or prolonged laying down, difficulty rising
Lameness/uneven gait, or favoring a certain joint, with limping or hobbling
Lagging behind on walks, a reluctance to walk, run or play
Difficulty going up or down stairs, or reluctance with jumping into car or onto a couch
Difficulty in urinating or defecating, possibly with ‘accidents’ in the house
Sudden whimpers or barks during play or exercise
Most of us who are in our mid-life or older can relate to the feeling of stiff and painful joints, and dogs can suffer in the same way. Veterinarians have the goal of reducing the pain of arthritis while improving a pet’s mobility and quality of life. New advances in veterinary medicine have made it possible to offer many options for the management of this common, often painful condition.
STEP ONE: There is no substitute for weight control and weight loss. Many pets today carry a few extra pounds. Any arthritis program must start with weight control. Frequently, it is the only step necessary in the early stages of DJD. Since our pet’s weight is 100% within our control, this can be the easiest change to make. One must, as a caring owner, have the will power to give your dog fewer calories on a daily basis. Sure, she would/could eat more, but she will pay for the short term food pleasure with long term pain and discomfort. Many senior and low-calorie commercial foods exist to help us reach and maintain that weight goal. Most of these foods will have the calories listed on the package or on the company webpage. If your dog gets a lot of treats or table scraps, you must count them as well in measuring her daily total caloric intake.
STEP TWO: Numerous supplements exist to help reduce the inflammation associated with DJD. The most common of these are glucosamine and chondroitin. Although no specific scientific tests verify their effectiveness, many human arthritis sufferers can attest to their benefits. Other important supplements include Omega-3 fatty acids and Microlactin, a milk protein that inhibits inflammation. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations on these supplements. Pain reduction medicine, like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are invaluable in helping relieve the pain and inflammation of DJD. Many safe and effective veterinary NSAIDs are available through your veterinarian. Human products can be unsafe for your pet, so avoid over the counter pain medications. Ibuprofen, for example, can be fatal in dogs. Another effective treatment option is Adequan, a polysulfated glycosaminoglycan that has been scientifically shown to lessen pain and inflammation from advanced DJD. This option involves a series of Adequan injections over a 4 week period. It’s important to remember that supplements and NSAIDs are not a cure-all. They work best combined with other concurrent treatment modalities to improve DJD in the senior dog.
STEP THREE: Your dog needs to exercise regularly, so get him off the couch and out on the trail. Start slow and work up your dog’s stamina. Exercise helps mobilize stiff joints and shed excess weight. Going up inclines aids arthritic hips. Stepping up and over obstacles helps problem knees. Advanced cases of arthritis may benefit from professional physical therapy and underwater treadmills. Both are available locally. After exercising or at the end of the day offer your dog soft and warm bedding. This avoids the hard, cold surfaces that exacerbate joint stiffness.
STEP FOUR: The most modern and perhaps most effective tool against arthritis is the therapy LASER. Like its bigger brother, the surgical LASER, the therapy LASER uses light energy to do its work. This progressive treatment tool is used by human orthopedists, physical therapists and all major league sports teams. Therapy LASER delivers diffuse photo-energetic light to penetrate deep tissues. Light energy can reach sore joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to receive LASER treatments, you can attest to the deep warmth in your joints during treatment, and the increased mobility and decreased pain afterwards. The LASER light energy reduces inflammation and blocks pain receptors. It aids tissue repair, increases blood flow and accelerates new cell growth. It inhibits scar tissue formation and improves nerve function. For more detailed information, as well as actual “before and after” videos, please log onto: www.litecure.com/companion/. Lite-Cure is the LASER we use in our practice.
The therapy LASER is non-invasive and requires no prior preparation or sedation. We use our therapy LASER for many other applications: skin and ear infections, itchy skin irritated by allergies, post operative pain relief, and to accelerate healing. Dogs and cats love the deep, warm feeling of the LASER. We observe them relaxing when the LASER does its magic on the treated area. Please feel free to speak to one of our staff members on the applicability of LASER therapy for your dog or cat. We are happy to provide an initial complimentary demonstration.
In summary, to keep Fido fluid and fit as he ages, remember these points:
Weight control - keep him lean!
Daily anti-inflammatory supplements & pain management
Movement - Provide daily, low-impact, low-to-moderate intensity walks
Treatments with joint lubricating injections of Adequan.
Soft, warm bedding.
Treatments with deep-warming and cell-stimulating therapy LASER.
Don’t give up! Fido and Fluffy are relying on you to help them age painlessly and gracefully.
We are here to assist you in that process.