60% of dogs over the age of seven suffer chronic discomfort from degenerative joint disease, more commonly known as arthritis. Dogs do not show pain like humans. They don’t cry unless the pain is acute like a broken leg, stomach distress or a too short toenail. Often owners don’t notice the subtle changes until a veterinarian, like our veterinarian in Burbank, points them out. The changes are subtle like slowing down, not running as far or as fast as they used to or taking shorter walks. Your pet may be stiff after lying down also. An uncomfortable arthritic dog often sleeps more, is grumpier and won’t play with their favorite games as much anymore if at all.
If you think your dog might have arthritis, one of the easiest ways to tell is with a trial of pain medication. Talk with your veterinarian about this and request two weeks worth of the medication. While on the medication, keep a diary and note the changes in behavior. People are often amazed at how youthful their older dogs act once the discomfort is relieved.
One of the easiest, most cost-effective and beneficial ways to reduce pain is to maintain dogs at a healthy weight. There have been cases where a dog had hip dysplasia and arthritis and needed surgery for the hip dysplasia. The dog was put on a diet first and when the dog lost weight, he improved so much the surgery wasn’t needed. He saved money all the way around. Less spent on food and no surgery needed.
Once the pain is controlled, rehabilitation exercises are excellent to maintain strength and mobility. Even one visit to a rehabilitation veterinarian for instruction in how to do these exercises with your dog is useful. Dogs can also be helped by alternative therapies like joint supplements, acupuncture and cold laser (our veterinarian in Burbank likes to try this on dogs, many but not all dogs can really be helped by this).
When it comes to medication, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the mainstay for canine arthritis. These drugs are relatively safe and generic forms (more inexpensive) are available. If a dog is on it long term, annual liver and kidney blood work tests may be needed. As with humans, one size does not fit all when it comes to NSAIDs. Most veterinarians start with carprofen which has been around a long time, is highly effective, more affordable in the generic formulation and tolerated well by most dogs. It may sometimes provoke an upset stomach or diarrhea and abnormal changes in blood work may be seen. In these cases, other NSAIDs may be tried by your veterinarian.
A newer NSAID drug has just been approved by the FDA last year and it is considered safer and specifically, targets arthritis receptors. It can also be used in dogs as young as 9 months which makes it a good drug for early onset hip or knee dysplasia but cannot be used younger than 9 months old. It is also expensive because it is brand new.
There are new treatments being studied and promising advances are being made in what are known as translational studies. Arthritic dogs are almost a perfect model for arthritic humans, which means that while researchers are developing new treatments for arthritis in humans, dogs also benefit (and vice versa). There are also new studies in resurfacing cartilage, partial joint replacements and transplanted ligaments and all are being actively explored at this time. They are also exploring new pain management techniques that are joint specific. Some new ones such as RTX (a targeted pain cell destroyer) might also help dogs with bone cancer as well as arthritis. There are many new and old ways to handle pain for your older pet