Osteoarthritis is a chronic progressive disease often initiated by an event which causes inflammation in the joint. This inflammation creates a downward spiral and damage to the cartilage. It can be initiated by trauma , by ligament degeneration or by an abnormal conformation in a joint such as we commonly see in the front legs of breeds like basset hounds. The goal of management is to slow the rate of progression as well as improve pain so dogs can maintain daily activities.
In the early stages there may be no radiographic evidence of arthritis and the pain may be short lived or episodic. In this stage there may be inflammation in the joint causing damage but it is not apparent yet on an x-ray. In later stages of the disease, pain may still be intermittent but it is occurring more frequently or affecting some activities that used to be easily accomplished, like jumping into the car or walking up/ down stairs. Some people describe their dogs as “just slowing down”. We might be seeing changes on x-rays consistent with arthritis at this point but unfortunately x-rays frequently do not correlate with the changes people appreciate at home.
The approach to slow progression in the early stages really focuses on maintaining a lean body condition and daily low impact exercise. Exercise is a crucial component of prevention because it allows for maintenance of the muscle support that joints require and increases the blood supply to these joints. It also helps maintain a healthy weight.
Some of the damage that occurs from inflammation in joints is from oxidative stress. Omega 3 fatty acids and an antioxidant rich diet may help lower this type of stress in joints. There are other anti-inflammatory supplements that can prove useful in dogs with known risk factors for arthritis such as dogs that have had a cranial cruciate ligament tear or young dogs with hip or elbow dysplasia. One supplement that we find especially useful is Dasuquin Advanced. This product contains a potent anti-inflammatory called curcumin which is found in turmeric root. It contains green tea extract for antioxidant support and has recently added egg shell membrane to its lineup of ingredients that preserve cartilage and reduce pain.
Once arthritis has progressed to the point of daily discomfort, then nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, like Rimadyl, will need to be added intermittently or daily to control pain. Other treatment modalities that can help with pain include Adequan injections, cold laser therapy, acupuncture, physical therapy and pulsed electromagnetic field therapy.
In summary, the best approach to any stage of arthritis includes multiple modalities for slowing progression and reducing pain flare ups. The earlier we intervene in the process the more likely we are to accomplish this. Please contact us to schedule an appointment if you would like to discuss the best options for your dog.
The Drake Center for Veterinary Care is an AAHA-accredited animal hospital located in Encinitas, CA. The Drake Center loves being a source of information for all pet owners across the country however if you have any questions regarding pet care and do not live in Encinitas, CA or surrounding cities, we encourage you to contact your local veterinarian.