Strategies for Managing Chronic Arthritis in Dogs

Degenerative Joint Disease or OsteoArthritis (DJD, OA, or arthritis) affects many dogs. This is a slowly progressive condition that damages the cartilage and other structures within the joint and may contribute to systemic stress. Early identification and management is critical for maintaining mobility and quality of life. It is important to know that the disease process is typically quite advanced by the time patients show signs at home. No single supplement or medication will completely control arthritis, but a balanced, multimodal approach can definitely support a great outcome.

Maude has regular laser therapy sessions with our team to reduce pain in inflammation from arthritis in her hips.

WEIGHT CONTROL: Being overweight is the single biggest challenge to an arthritic patient, and maintaining a lean body weight has been proven to be the best way to reduce pain and progression of arthritis in pets and people.

PHYSICAL REHAB & THERAPEUTIC EXERCISE: Swimming is a fantastic way to keep joints flexible and moving, and it’s great for improving muscle tone for better joint support. Other low-impact exercises like consistent daily walking are great as well. Daily, moderate exercise is critical for arthritis support! Conversely, “weekend warrior” style activity can be very painful and detrimental.

NUTRITIONAL THERAPY: “You are what you eat.” There is great evidence supporting the use of our prescription diets to reduce arthritis symptoms. These diets contain very high levels of omega-3 fatty acids (anti-inflammatory) but reduced levels of omega-6 fatty acids (pro-inflammatory) that change the entire body for an overall potent, natural anti-inflammatory effect. Our favorites are Hill’s j/d (or Metabolic + Mobility for overweight patients), Royal Canin Large Breed Mobility, and Purina JM. Omega-3s can also be added to a pet’s existing diet with supplements like Welactin, although the effect is less pronounced. Additional supplements like chrondroitin and avocado/soybean unsaponifiables (ie. Dasuquin) are also helpful for correcting joint damage.

Note: herbal supplements/nutraceuticals are not FDA-regulated, so choose your brand wisely. We prefer brands like Dasuquin and Welactin that have been proven to be safe, effective, and with contents that match the label. Some brands contain large-molecule chondroitin that doesn’t get absorbed from the digestive tract, while other brands contain levels nowhere near the label claims, so be cautious! Higher cost does not guarantee higher quality.

NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs): Carprofen and other similar drugs are important tools for quickly controlling the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis, and multiple studies have shown continued improvement in mobility and comfort with long-term usage. NSAIDs can be associated with digestive tract, kidney, or liver side effects. These are uncommon and usually mild, but may be serious. Routine blood screening lab work every 6 months is recommended for pets on long-term NSAID therapy to catch side effects early. A newer, more targeted class of anti-inflammatory, Galliprant, has fewer systemic effects, and may be a safer option for long-term use. Always call if any vomiting occurs while your pet is on an anti-inflammatory.

**What about aspirin? Please don’t! There are many safer, more effective, and FDA-approved options available for your pet!

ADEQUAN INJECTIONS: Adequan is a prescription polysulfated glycosaminoglycan (PSGAG) injection that is proven to prevent joint cartilage from wearing away. It helps keep cartilage healthy and springy, so the bones in the joint do not rub each other causing pain and joint damage. NO other medication that can do that! After an initial series of injections, most dogs need a “maintenance dose” every 3 to 6 weeks. For optimal results, Adequan should be started very early in the arthritis process.

LASER THERAPY: Most patients show dramatic improvement after just a few laser therapy sessions. This treatment option is a non-invasive way to reduce pain/inflammation and encourage healing, and is used for a variety of conditions in a number of species, including humans. For chronic arthritis, we usually start with 2-3 treatment sessions per week for the first 2 weeks, then treat every 1-6 weeks, as needed.

GABAPENTIN: This is an oral medication that we use in moderate to advanced arthritis cases. It is given 2-3 times daily to target the pain pathways in the spinal cord and has been found effectively control chronic pain with minimal side effects with long-term dosing.

OPIOIDS (ie. tramadol, hydrocodone, buprenorphine): This type of drug is used for additional support for breakthrough pain relief. It’s a good idea to keep one on hand for “bad days.”

Please remember, dogs are stoic and hide their pain, so it’s important to watch closely for their subtle messages to us and seek help promptly. The sooner we take action in an arthritis case, the better our opportunity to control pain and slow down the progression of arthritis. First symptoms like struggling to get into the car or slowing down on long walks are easy to overlook, but this is a great time to step in and help your friend live comfortably in the senior years.