Helping our pets with arthritis

by Robert B. Duncan, DVM
Spring Branch Veterinary Hospital


What is arthritis?

Arthritis means inflammation of the joints.   Joints can be inflamed for various reasons but most commonly we associate the term “arthritis” with age related, degenerative changes of the joints.

Which pets are most at risk for arthritis?

Dogs and cats that are overweight for a significant period of their lives are most at risk of developing arthritis.  Joints tend to get “worn down” and inflamed faster with increased body weight.  This is one of many reasons why it is important to have consistent veterinary care and guidance.   If your pet is overweight or your not sure , let us help in making this determination and any subsequent guidance necessary.   Also large and giant breed dogs are more prone to developing arthritis than smaller breed dogs.

What are the consequences of arthritis?

Chronic pain, especially when walking, is the most obvious consequence of arthritis.  Pets can appear “stiff” when walking or refrain from walking whenever possible.  Owners will often notice pets having difficulty standing up and/or lying down as well as an unwillingness to jump up on furniture or other places.   Arthritis compromises quality of life in our pets.

What can be done about arthritis?

In addition to keeping our pets at healthy weights, there are several medications and supplements which can help our four-legged family members.

  1. NSAID (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) therapy.  NSAID therapy is perhaps the most effective treatment we have for chronic arthritis in dogs.   It is usually considered as an option once nutraceutical/supplemental treatments are not enough to make the pet comfortable.    These medications get to the source of the pain which is inflammation.  Spring Branch Veterinary Hospital uses Meloxidyl (meloxicam) which is a liquid medication given via a syringe according to the weight of the dog.  After giving the full poundage-based dose on the syringe for two weeks, the dose can often times be gradually decreased over time to find the least effective dose.   This is the dose at which the medication still gives full pain-relieving benefit at the least amount necessary to do so.   When considering if a pet is a good candidate for long term NSAID therapy, a baseline blood profile is considered a key piece of information to ensure the pet has healthy organ function.  A smaller profile is generally done every 6 months after this point to make sure the pet is tolerating the medication well.   NSAIDS  are a long term option for dogs only.
  2. Adequan injection therapy.  Adequan is a medication which is given in the form of an injection which helps keep cartilage healthy and intact.  It also has a significant pain-reducing effect in most dogs with arthritis.  It is usually started with a “loading dose” regimen of two injections per week for 4 weeks.   It is then given once every month or two to maintain benefits.   This medication is routinely administered to dogs that are on NSAID medication and is very safe.   It can also be used in cats.
  3. Dasuquin.  This is an oral joint supplement which includes glucosamine, chondroitin, and ASU.  The ingredients of glucosamine and chondroitin support cartilage production and helps prevent breakdown.  ASU is an ingredient which comes from avocados and soybeans  and enhances the benefit of glucosamine and chondroitin.  This medication is usually very palatable to dogs which helps in ease of administration.  This supplement can be used with cats as well as dogs.
  4. Omega 3 fatty acids.  This is a key ingredient of fish oil and its main benefit is an anti-inflammatory effect.  We use a liquid form called “Welactin ” at SBVH.  It is applied on top of food either once daily or every other day depending on the weight of the pet.  This can be used for both cats and dogs.

Pets are often able to live with great qualities of life for years after starting a veterinary program with one or more of the above options.  Owners frequently report that their older  dog feels like a puppy again!