Canine arthritis: Causes and treatment


By Tracie Korol

No one wants to see his dog getting older or struggling with pain. Osteoarthritis is a painful joint disease that can cause your dog to appear stiff and sore. He may slow down and restrict his typical activities, he may be less willing to jump up into the car or climb stairs or he may stop playing, develop a reduced appetite and depressed attitude. He may be grouchy.

Osteoarthritis is defined as a disease of cartilage destruction that comes with its own style of inflammation, the body’s response to injury or infection. In canine arthritis, there is damage to joint cartilage. Inflammation is the response to that damage and the body’s attempts to heal. If the cause isn’t removed, the damage, inflammation, followed by pain, will continue.

The cause of cartilage damage may be from excess force on the joints. Obesity is a very common cause of chronic trauma. The excess weight causes joints to be overused and more likely to break down. If the dog can lose weight in the early stages of arthritis, the disease may actually be stopped. Unfortunately, early cartilage damage does not cause pain, so early detection is difficult. By the time an overweight dog acts arthritic, the condition has probably been present for some time.

Another common cause is malformed joint disease such as hip dysplasia or “wobbler’s” disease of the cervical vertebrae. There are some surgical options that can improve these conditions. But even after surgery, eventually these dogs will become arthritic. Knee damage — usually to the cruciate ligaments — is another very common cause of canine arthritis.

Arthritis is considered a degenerative condition. There is no cure and it will inevitably progress. But there are many treatment options than can relieve pain, and may slow progression. Here is a brief list of the most successful treatments that I use in my practice when my dog friends are diagnosed with arthritis.

Weight loss. Get those pounds off that pooch!

Quality fish oil supplementation. The good stuff, not the cheap stuff in the big bottles.

A healthy diet. This is where it begins and ends. My clients have had success using diets of real foods with limited grains and increased protein.

Supplements specifically for joint health such as chondroitin and glucosamine. I also use herbal formulations such a tumeric-based supplements.

Zeel. This is an herbal/homeopathic combination medication available over the counter and is very cost effective! There is also an injectable form if you can find a vet who embraces complimentary healing practices. Zeel, via biopuncture, can be as effective or better than Adequan and it is much more cost effective for large dogs.

Chiropractic. When a dog has joint pain, they alter weight bearing and restrict joint motion creating abnormal function in other joints too, most commonly the neck and back. Treatment aims at restoring mobility. This can reduce pain and get your dog moving much more comfortably.

Acupuncture. Similar to chiropractic, acupuncture can increase joint mobility. The insertion of needles improves blood flow to tight muscles. Relieving muscle tension permits joints to move better. Acupuncture also works as a pain control method, allowing reduced doses of other drugs or supplements.

Laser therapy. Also called “low level laser,” this is light at specific frequencies absorbed by the cells. Laser therapy has similar benefits and mechanisms of action to acupuncture. It can reduce pain, relieve muscle spasm, and improve joint motion.

Hydrotherapy. Getting your dog in the water will allow joints to move more freely and what dog doesn’t enjoy a swim? This is a great non-drug way to improve mobility and relieve pain. Free swimming may work great, or you may get better results with water treadmill exercise. It can also be a great way to help your dog lose weight.

Physical therapy. Water therapy is part of physical therapy but there is also the “floor exercises” part. A certified canine physical therapist can evaluate your dog’s joint mobility and design a treatment plan that includes stretching and exercises, some of which you can do at home with your dog.

Massage. All dogs love a massage! Done by a certified practitioner this is much more than just good scratch and belly rub. In some patients massage can actually accomplish the same results as chiropractic or acupuncture.

The above list is a place to start. Try one thing at a time so you know what is working or is not working. When making dietary changes or adding supplements, do it gradually.  If trying acupuncture, chiropractic or the other physical modalities, make sure the practitioner tells you what to expect and watch for. You want to know how much money you’ll need to spend to find out if something is worth continuing. Treating arthritis is an ongoing cost.

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