By Dr. Sarah Wallace
As pets age, they start to develop chronic conditions that we have to actively manage. Arthritis in dogs is, unfortunately, a common one of these. The good news is that there are many different things you can do to keep your pup as comfortable as possible, from walking underwater to pain meds.
Make Your Home Comfortable
Ensure your pet has a good, thick padded bed to rest on in your home. You may not always get them to actually lay on the bed, but it’s good to give them a place to rest where their joints will not be in direct contact with the ground. You can also use Bag Balm or Dermoscent Bio Balm over areas that are prone to mild bed sores such as joints (especially elbows).
If your pet has problems with slipping around on the floor, it can be helpful to have rugs over the areas in your home on which your pet walks frequently. Some dogs may also benefit from using toe grips on their toe nails. These just slide over individual nails and help your pup grip slippery surfaces when they are walking.
Cold Laser Therapy
Cold laser is a safe, effective treatment for inflammation and arthritis in dogs and cats. It can be performed at home, with no risk to your pup.
Many pets with mild arthritis will benefit from joint supplements like glucosamine or chondroitin. Some also contain fish oil, which not only helps maintain healthy joints, but also keeps coats shiny and benefits the heart. Dasuquin and Welactin are some of our favorites, but there are many other great alternatives on the market.
Some pups will require prescription-strength intervention to improve their quality of life. If your dog seems to be very stiff or is limping more often than not, it’s probably time to consider prescription medications. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) are a common class of medication used to treat arthritis, pain, and stiffness. These medications are similar to human ibuprofen, but not toxic to our dogs like ibuprofen is!
The most commonly used NSAIDs in vet medicine are Carprofen, Meloxicam, Robenacoxib, and Grapiprant. Make sure your pup’s liver and kidneys are working properly before they go on an NSAID regimen. These organs are responsible for breaking down and excreting these medications. It is also important to regularly monitor liver values and kidney values during treatment so that your vet can adjust the dosage to maximize quality of life while minimizing side effects.
In some cases, other classes of drugs or additional drugs may be needed in order to keep your pet comfortable. Gabapentin is a medication that can help treat pain in dogs (especially nerve pain) and is generally well tolerated. Vets also sometimes recommend opioids such as Tramadol. Adequan is an injectable prescription medication that can help with maintaining healthy cartilage in joints. Chat with your veterinarian about pain management options, as your pet may benefit from different medications based on their particular case and medical history.
Rehabilitation + Chiropractic
Arthritis in dogs often leads to loss of muscle mass in the legs and back. Water therapy with resistance or an underwater treadmill can be very helpful in helping dogs maintain or rebuild their muscle mass, which in turn increases overall strength and comfort level. Tailored exercise plans can be helpful to strengthen target muscles to help support arthritic joints.
Similarly, chiropractic treatments help increase mobility in a dog’s joints and increase range of motion. It should be performed by a licensed veterinary chiropractor, and it’s usually most effective in conjunction with other treatments and medications.
Acupuncture for dogs is a thing! It can be particularly effective for spinal pain, arthritis, elbow and hip dysplasia. Like chiropractic, only licensed veterinary acupuncturists should perform this treatment. It is often used in conjunction with other treatments and medications. Acupuncture does require your pet to remain somewhat still!
Orthotics + Prosthetics
In some cases, dogs can be fitted for orthotics or prosthetics to support the joints they are struggling with. Unfortunately, orthotics are not available for every condition – chat about it with your vet!