Arthritis in Dogs
Michael W. Stephan, D.V.M.
Juno Beach Animal Hospital
Just as in their older human companions, many dogs have a tendency towards the development of arthritis as they age. This painful, crippling disease of bones and joints closely mimics the human disease and, as in people, there is no known cause or cure. There are some things you can do to help keep an arthritic dog comfortable and happy for a longer period of time.
Anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen have long been used to relieve the pain of arthritis in people. Ibuprofen is highly toxic to animals and should never be given to your pets. Acetaminophen is very toxic to the liver, but is sometimes used in very low doses for relief of pain in dogs. Aspirin is generally safe for short term or intermittent use in dogs, but it can cause stomach irritation with long term use. There are two non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications presently on the market specifically for the relief of pain in dogs, Rimadyl and Deramaxx. Both of these products have had a profound effect on the return to function in arthritic dogs. Some dogs have shown sensitivity to these products which manifests itself as liver failure. This is usually not a problem if they are used to relieve pain following surgery or an injury, but your veterinarian may recommend blood work if you are going to use it for the long term relief of arthritis.
Many arthritic dogs have the added complication of being overweight or obese. As in people, extra pounds add to the stress and strain on joints. If your dog is overweight, consult with your veterinarian on establishing a diet to shed those extra pounds help your dog get around more easily.
If your dog has been arthritic or overweight for some time, they may have experienced a significant amount of muscle wasting. This causes weakness which leads to inactivity and further degeneration and stiffening of the joints. Physical therapy and exercise can help return strength to muscles and mobility to joints. Low impact exercise, such as swimming, can greatly enhance muscle and joint function without the pain that can occur with jogging or walking.
If the arthritis is associated with specific joints, for example the hip joints, secondary to hip dysplasia, or the knee joint from an old injury, surgery may help to eliminate the pain and restore function. Hip surgery may range from removal of a piece of the bone and the formation of a false joint, to total hip replacement as is done in people. Dr. Robert Roy in West Palm Beach, does arthroscopic surgery in which the roughened surfaces of arthritic joints can be smoothed and cleaned out to reduce the friction of bone on bone contact that causes much of the pain.
As you can see, reducing the pain and discomfort of arthritis may require an integration of multiple approaches. The advancement of our knowledge of this disease and the development of new medications has enabled us to make a significant difference in the lives of our canine friends who suffer from arthritis. If your pet has difficulty getting up and down, hesitates to climb stairs, or doesn't run and play the way he or she used to, consult your veterinarian. Together we can extend the life and comfort of your companion.