Arthritis can affect dogs just like it affects people. It usually starts as a dog gets older and is usually more obvious in larger breeds or very active dogs than in the smaller breed dogs, although all dogs can be affected by it. Dogs that have arthritis do not cry out or whine in pain, rather, they reduce their activity. Because arthritis is more common in older dogs, it is sometimes assumed this decrease in activity from arthritis is just “old age”. Placing these dogs on arthritis treatment medication many times returns them to their previous levels of activity. Because a dog cannot (or will not) tell the owner of any pain, the best way to diagnose and evaluate arthritis and its effect on a dog’s mobility is to use one of the anti-pain/anti-inflammatories for 2 weeks and monitor the dog’s attitude and activity level.
Arthritis is swelling that occurs around a joint. Joint degeneration, injury, immune mediated reaction and joint malformation (i.e. hip dysplasia), can all lead up to the formation of arthritis in a joint. As the condition progresses, bone is laid down around the joint, causing the joint to be less elastic. Arthritis can be diagnosed by taking x-rays of the affected joints. The most common joints affected include the hips, the elbows, and the knee joints, in that order. While x-rays can detect physical changes, they do not measure the amount of pain the dog may feel.
Treatments for arthritis fall into two categories: 1) Anti-pain/anti-inflammatory drugs, and 2) Joint protecting agents. Anti-pain/anti-inflammatory agents usually are NSAID’s (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) These drugs do two things: 1. They block a dog’s perception of pain and 2. They reduce the inflammation around a joint. These agents work fast, usually providing relief within 2 or 3 days, but they cannot be used indiscriminately. Dogs that are on NSAID therapy should have blood tests to check their liver and kidney functions. Joint building compounds include Glucosamines and Essential Fatty Acids.
Glucosamines work by increasing the thickness of the joint fluid and help joint surfaces form more cartilage. Essential Fatty Acids, which include Omega 3 (from fish oils) and Omega 6 Fatty Acids (from borage seed or flax seed oils) help to reduce the inflammatory response in the dog’s body. The advantage of these compounds is they are not a drug and they work by improving the joint health, and they have few side effectes. The shortcoming of these compounds is they may take 3-4 weeks to become effective and they do not stop the pain. Treatment protocols will use NSAID’s, Glucosamines, and Essential Fatty Acids.