The Pet Owner's Guide to Dog Arthritis

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Arthritis is the #1 cause of pain in dogs. In fact, arthritis affects approximately 20% of all dogs and as much as 70-80% of certain breeds. Just like his owner, man’s best friend suffers an aching, debilitating disease in his later years: ARTHRITIS. Like human arthritis, dog arthritis symptoms range from mild stiffness to crippling pain.

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Dog Arthritis: Older Dogs Can Feel Better

Of course, you want your dog to have a comfortable, pain-free life in his or her golden years. To do so, you must know the different dog arthritis symptoms and treatment options.

The good news is: We are now empowered with plenty of research in the field of arthritis. We now have many resources at our fingertips:

And other treatments available to help your dog feel better. An example of one of these medicines is glucosamine. You can get buy oral glucosamine supplements at your local health food store. Or, you can get an injectable version, which is much stronger, form your veterinarian. Injectable glucosamine provides a faster and more efficient treatment. But, your dog can still receive benefits with oral supplements.

Another example is aspirin. Veterinary opinions vary on the use of aspirin for dog arthritis. Aspirin causes stomach ulcers and digestive issues in some dogs. But, for other dogs, aspirin works well to reduce chronic pain.

We also now have many holistic and alternative physical treatments for dog arthritis. Some examples include acupuncture, chiropractic, laser therapy, and arthritis massage.

Our goal is to share a wealth of information with you. We want you to be aware of all the available options, how they work, and the pros and cons of each. Read on so that you can pick and choose the best solution for your dog!

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3 Surefire Symptoms of Dog Arthritis

Arthritis symptoms vary from dog to dog. What’s even more fascinating is small dogs and large dogs often have different signs and symptoms.

Dog arthritis symptoms often wax and wane depending on a variety of factors. Things like ambient temperature, previous exercise and body condition all affect symptoms. Dogs also naturally hide arthritis symptoms, especially in the early stages of the disease.

Symptom #1: Limping

Limping is the most common, consistent clinical sign of arthritis. Limping originates from both the front legs and the back legs.Limping often occurs in the front and back legs at the same time. In the front leg, arthritis is most common in the elbow.

The canine elbow is a unique joint containing three bones: the radius, the ulna, and the humerus. The radius is the predominant weight-bearing bone and supports the humerus. The ulna locks into the humerus and allows flexing and extension of the elbow. The humerus is the bone that connects the shoulder to the elbow. Arthritis of the elbow can be debilitating and tough to manage. In the back leg, arthritis often occurs in two different joints, the stifle, and the hip.

The stifle is also known as the knee. This stifle is the junction of the femur and the tibia. The stifle is prone to arthritis because of the many ligaments and tendons that course the joint. Complete or partial tearing of the tendons and ligaments cause stifle arthritis.

The hip is a ball and socket joint between the femur and the pelvis. The hip structure allows for 360-degree rotation.  Repeated rotation over a lifetime, poor muscle development, and genetic malformations cause hip arthritis.

Symptom #2: Stiffness

Stiffness is the second most common symptom of arthritis. In PET | TAO co-founder Dr. Marc Smith’s opinion, stiffness is most common in large breed dogs. Stiff dogs do not want to flex and extend their joints because this movement causes pain. They tend to walk like a tin soldier. When a dog appears stiff when walking, the affected joints are usually either the elbow and/or the stifle.

Symptom #3: Trouble Getting Up 

The inability to get up or refusal to rise is the third most common clinical sign of dog arthritis. How many times do you see a geriatric dog not get up when the owner calls? Or, an older dog who slips and slides all over the place when trying to rise?

Older dogs have trouble getting up because of pain. Trying to flex and extend the joints to get up from a sitting to a standing position is painful for older dogs. Dogs try but can’t muster the strength or tolerate the pain to perform this once simple movement. Rising inability occurs most in geriatric dogs with many arthritic joints. Arthritis affects the back, often in the lumbosacral joint.

Other less frequent signs of dog arthritis include:

  • Whining
  • Behavior changes
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Inability or unwillingness to move
  • Lethargy

Treatments vary depending on the situation. Your veterinarian might prescribe only one medication, several, or other options. Remember, dog arthritis symptoms are not curable, but they are manageable.

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Safe, Natural Remedies to Make Your Dog Feel Better

Treating arthritis in dogs naturally is becoming more mainstream. People often want natural dog arthritis remedies for the following reasons:

  • Risk of side effects of Western medicines
  • Cost of Western medicines
  • Personal experience of the client
  • Multi-faceted approach to pain relief
  • Ailments that prohibit the use of Western arthritis drugs i.e. kidney or liver disease

When considering the natural dog arthritis treatments, you must first set your expectations. Herbals are not medications and do not work like Western drugs. Herbals are gentle and work slowly. Herbs do not provide pain relief as quickly as pharmaceuticals.

Unlike Western drugs, you will not notice an immediate improvement. You will notice an improvement over time, generally three to four weeks. Herbals carry very little or no risk of side effects and offer natural ways to help dogs with arthritis.

Herbs are popular natural remedies for dog arthritis pain due to lack of side effects and lower cost. For example, let’s say you have a mixed-breed six-year-old dog that weighs 100 pounds. Your dog has subtle arthritis of the right front elbow due to an old injury. Like any pet owner, you want to make your dog comfortable. You want your dog to run, jump, play, and live a somewhat normal and pain-free life.

If you buy a Western medicine, the cost will approach $100 per month. If you buy an herbal medicine that works half as well as the drug, but costs half as much, both you and your dog will be happy.

Let's say your dog is six years old. During his expected lifetime, you'll spend thousands of dollars keeping him comfortable with pharmaceuticals. Why not start using an herbal medicine? Then, as your dog ages and arthritis progresses, add a drug to the treatment protocol. A "herb first" approach minimizes the risk of side effects, costs less, and gives your dog pain relief. Everyone comes out a winner. Another reason people seek alternative treatments for dog arthritis is a personal experience.

Clients often tell Dr. Smith, “I got acupuncture for my lower back! It really helped me!” Sometimes, he’ll hear something like, “I tried acupuncture for infertility, but I never got pregnant.” Here we have two opposite scenarios with two different results. People seek natural dog arthritis treatments because of their own personal experience with natural solutions. If people get positive results from a natural treatment, they assume the same treatments will help their pet.

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3 Rules for Treating Arthritis

The best way to approach arthritis treatment in the middle-aged dog follows the following three simple rules.

Rule #1: Tailor Treatment to the Clinical Signs

For example, let’s say you have two dogs, Stella and Fluffy. Stella is limping on her front leg. The pain is not debilitating, but more in the category of nagging. Stella can still get around pretty well but may have trouble going up and down the stairs or jumping up on the bed.

In this scenario, Stella may get relief from herbal medicine and injectable glucosamine. With herbs and glucosamine, the risks of side effects are minimal. And, the treatment will provide some relief, maybe even 100% resolution of the lameness.

In contrast, Fluffy, an older geriatric dog, nods his head and winces in pain with every step. Fluffy may need more aggressive treatment than Stella. Fluffy may need a protocol of NSAIDs or NSAIDs combined with other medicines. Stella and Fluffy both have the same disease: arthritis.

But, arthritis manifests in different ways in their individual bodies. Each dog needs a different treatment tailored to its individual clinical signs. Individualized treatments are the safest, most effective way to go.

Rule #2: Know the Treatment Expectations

Treatment expectations depend on the use and function of your dog. For instance, herbal medicine may help Stella navigate the stairs and jump up on the bed. But, if Stella were a competition dog, then herbal medicine alone might not be enough. Herbal medicine may not be strong enough to allow Stella to function at a high, competitive level. For an arthritis treatment to be successful, you must first identify your expectations. Then, assess and choose the treatment that best fits your expectations.

Rule #3: Consider the Alternatives

Many older dogs have both arthritis and significant organ deterioration. The combination has skyrocketed the use of natural remedies. Liver and kidney disease are the most common internal organ dysfunctions older dogs experience.

So, what is the best treatment approach for the older dog with crippling arthritis and increased liver or kidney enzymes? Ideally, prescribing medicine that doesn’t affect the kidneys or liver would be great. The only problem is the kidney or liver must metabolize most Western arthritis drugs (NSAIDs). You are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

How do you choose?

It's a tough decision for you and your veterinarian to decide depending on the rules above. Dr. Smith prefers Adequan and an Eastern herbal medicine in this situation.

How do you get the best treatment?

Tailor the treatment to the individual patient according to the presenting signs. At the same time, meet the owner's expectations and cut risks. Bottom line, it is up to you! You, the pet guardian, must weigh the pros and cons and determine which treatment is best for you and your pet.

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Dog Arthritis Pain Relief: How to Cut Side Effects and Frustration

Dog arthritis pain relief is one of the top reasons people seek help for older dogs. With so many older dogs suffering from arthritis, we are lucky to have a myriad of options available.

As dogs age, they lose some of the cartilage material between the bones. Cartilage serves as a cushion between the bones. Cartilage loss allows the bones to rub together, creating painful friction, stiffness, and swelling.

The following solutions help relieve this arthritis pain.

Rimadyl

Rimadyl is an FDA approved dog arthritis pain medicine used to reduce inflammation caused by arthritis and increase mobility. As a general rule, dogs get one or two doses daily. Although Rimadyl is popular, side effects or signs of intolerance are common. Up to 30% of dogs will have gastrointestinal signs, including vomiting and diarrhea. Rimadyl is proven to ease arthritis symptoms.

Aspirin and Baby Aspirin

Aspirin is a simple, short-term approach for dog arthritis pain. If you choose aspirin, you must consider all potential side effects including stomach ulcers or digestive issues. Depending on the size and age of your dog, you'll use either aspirin or baby aspirin. Before giving aspirin on your own, consult your veterinarian.

Home Remedies

Using dog arthritis home remedies is a great option for managing your dog’s pain without the side effects. Some common home remedies are:

Other Methods

Acupuncture, chiropractic care, and physical therapy are all great natural remedies. All help ease pain and promote a more healthy and active lifestyle. Whatever action plan you choose, keep an eye out for any side effects or reactions your dog may experience. Enjoy the path to helping your dog lead a more healthy and active lifestyle!

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Things You Probably Haven’t Heard About Aspirin and Dog Arthritis

“Hey, Dr. Smith! My dog seems stiff.

Can I give him something?

What about aspirin?”

People ask this question every single day of his practice career. Old-time vets have used aspirin as an NSAID for years to ease simple aches and pains in dogs. Aspirin is effective, cheap, and easy to get. Everybody has it in their at-home medicine cabinet.

But is it safe? Yes, aspirin is safe, especially in small doses and for a short period of time. But, Dr. Smith doesn’t recommend using aspirin to control arthritis, because arthritis is a chronic disease.

For bumps and bruises, aspirin is fine. Be aware when using aspirin long term. The most serious side effect is gastric ulceration and possible perforation. Gastric ulceration can resolve with discontinuation of the aspirin. Perforation is much more serious and can result in death.

If you use aspirin to control pain and gastrointestinal signs (vomiting, diarrhea, and inappetence) develop, stop immediately! Aspirin is a drug. Do not use aspirin with any other drugs unless recommended by your veterinarian.

Do not give aspirin with NSAIDs or prednisone. The side effects of combining these medicines can possibly be lethal!

Enteric-coated and buffered aspirin lessen stomach discomfort in dogs. Remember, aspirin is not labeled for use in dogs but people have been using aspirin on dogs for years. Most of the information about aspirin use in dogs comes from human literature and anecdotal evidence.

Start at the lowest dose and only use for a few days. Aspirin dose in dogs is debatable but a good starting point is 10 mg/lb. given twice daily with food. If you are using low-dose aspirin for dogs, make sure you inform your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may recommend a different NSAID. Giving a different NSAID such as Rimadyl without an adequate washout period may cause serious side effects.

The washout period following aspirin should be 10-14 days.

Never use Tylenol or Advil in dogs. Tylenol and Advil are brand names. The drug names are acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Both drugs are toxic to dogs and not recommended.

Cat lovers, do not use any NSAIDs in cats unless recommended by your veterinarian. NSAIDs and cats don’t mix well and the side effects can be deadly.

A variety of over the counter medicines contain aspirin including Kaopectate, Maalox, and Pepto-Bismol. Avoid use of such products because they may cause digestive issues. Aspirin has its place in veterinary medicine. But, use aspirin with caution and be aware of possible side effects and interactions.

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Which Dog Arthritis Medicine Should I Choose?

Dog arthritis medications come in the form of oral pharmaceuticals, injectable medicines, powders, and capsules.

Oral Pharmaceuticals

Arthritis medicine for dogs comes in a variety of forms. The most common form is the pill and chewable pill form. These pills are in the general pharmaceutical drug class termed NSAIDs. NSAIDs break or change the inflammatory pathway that causes swelling, pain, and inflammation. The most commonly used arthritis NSAIDs are Rimadyl, Deramaxx, Metacam, Previcox, and aspirin.

All of the NSAIDs have potential side effects. Side effects include gastric ulceration, gastrointestinal upset, and renal failure. Veterinarians recommend NSAIDs every day in veterinary practice. NSAIDs give the veterinarian a potent weapon in treating dog arthritis symptoms.

Injectible Medicines

Injectable dog arthritis medicines include the PSGAGs and hyaluronic acid. The most common brand names are Adequan and Legend. Adequan is "labeled" for use in the dog while we use Legend "off-label," because it is only labeled for use in horses. Both injectable arthritis medicines lubricate the joints and protect against cartilage degradation. The main benefit of Adequan and Legend is the minimal risk to the patient.

They are safe!

Powders and Capsules

Other types of dog arthritis medicine include powders and capsules. Powders and capsules usually contain herbal medicines or supplements.

The benefits of using powders are that they are cost-effective, easily administered, and readily available. The downside of powders is that they can be dusty and not too tasty. But, capsules generally cost more and can be more difficult to administer.

When deciding what type of dog arthritis medicine is best for you and your pet, a couple of things to consider:

  • Side effects: Western, pill-form arthritis medicines all have potential risks.
  • Ease of administration: Chewable pills are the easiest to administer and dogs eat them like treats.
  • Cost: Western arthritis pills generally cost more.
  • Time: If you elect to use the injectable medicine, you will have to take your dog to the veterinarian weekly or learn how to give injections at home.
  • Herbal medicine: It takes time for herbal medicines to benefit your pet.

I tell my clients that results may take up to three weeks depending on the issue.

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Glucosamine Works for Dog Arthritis!

Can dogs take glucosamine? Yes! In fact, glucosamine affects a dog’s body the exact same way it affects a person’s body. In both a dog and person, glucosamine exists in healthy joint fluid and cartilage.

When joint fluid degrades from injury or wear and tear, glucosamine supplements help restore damaged fluid and tissue. It is even safe for dogs to take human glucosamine supplements. Glucosamine for dog arthritis is like clothes for an Eskimo or water for a fireman. Why?

Because glucosamine is often used as a “first line” dog arthritis treatment. You can buy glucosamine at any drugstore or even Wal-Mart. It is pretty much sold everywhere and is a common home remedy for arthritis treatment.

What Kind of Glucosamine Should You Buy?

Companies market many brands of dog glucosamine. The products come in pretty packaging and the promise arthritis symptom relief. Most of the glucosamine products contain the same active ingredients: glucosamine and chondroitin.

Often, manufacturers combine glucosamine and chondroitin with other ingredients. Other ingredients include Yucca, avocado, devil's claw, and other phytopharmaceuticals. Oral formulations of glucosamine-chondroitin come with contradictory scientific support.

Some studies support its use while claim lack of benefit. Whether or not you use glucosamine for your dog is a personal choice. Many veterinarians recommend these products to treat arthritis. What is the dosage of glucosamine for dog arthritis?

It depends on whether the product is oral or injectable.

Oral Glucosamine

Dosage: Oral dosage is 500-1000 mg daily per 25 pounds twice daily, depending on your dog' clinical condition. You need to read the product label to make sure the appropriate dose for your dog is in the supplement.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to get
  • Easy to give at home
  • Stimulates the cartilage to produce collagen
  • The body uses glucosamine to produce the hyaluronic acid in synovial fluid
  • May reduce the need for NSAIDs

Cons:

  • Does not work as quickly as injectable glucosamine
  • Does not work as effectively as injectable glucosamine
  • Many dogs do not like to take oral glucosamine

Injectable Glucosamine

Dosage: The dosage for injectable glucosamine is usually 0.02 mg per pound of body weight. The initial loading dose protocol is one injection every 4 days for a total of 8 injections. Then, after the loading dose is over, give injections every 2-4 weeks. The above protocol is Dr. Smith’s recommendation based on years of experience using glucosamine. It may differ from what some other veterinarians recommend.

Pros:

  • Reaches the joint within 2 hours
  • Supports the cartilage matrix repair process
  • Diminishes joint and joint fluid damage
  • Slows the disease cycle of non-infectious arthritis
  • Reduces inflammation
  • More quick and effective than oral glucosamine
  • Stimulates the cartilage to produce collagen
  • The body uses it to produce the hyaluronic acid in synovial fluid
  • May reduce the needs for NSAIDs

Cons:

  • Requires several trips to the vet clinic
  • Or, the owner must learn how to give an intramuscular injection
  • Many dogs despise getting injections and will try to bite
  • The cost is much higher than oral glucosamine

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How to Massage Your Dog With Arthritis

Massage is a wonderful way to help ease your dog’s arthritis pain. Massage is the gentle manipulation of superficial and deep soft tissues.

Massage is beneficial for the following reasons:

  • Prevents adhesions of muscles, tendons, and ligaments
  • Reduces muscle spasm, swelling, and joint stiffness
  • Improves tissue relaxation, muscle flexibility, and blood flow
  • Maintains muscle mass while decreasing pain

Furthermore, dogs seem to enjoy massage and its benefits.

Here is an example: Your dog, Boss, is a nine-year-old coonhound that has trouble getting in and out of the car. When he was four years old, he had surgery for a hip that popped out of place. He was also hit by a car as a puppy. His joints hurt!

How can you make your dog’s hip feel better?

Massage is one technique you can provide at home that will help Boss with his pain. But, before you start, you must know a few things:

  • Where is the arthritic pain? Is the pain in the knee, carpus, hip, shoulder, or back?
  • What are the general techniques and exercises?
  • How often and how much should you massage your dog?

You must know where in the body the arthritis pain originates. Why? You must massage certain joints differently. Your veterinarian can tell you the exact joints affected and also give you tips on dog massage.

A typical massage session should last 10 to 15 minutes for small and medium dogs. Sometimes longer for large dogs. Morning massages help with overnight stiffness, while evening massages reduce muscle pain from daily activities.

When learning how to massage a dog, be sure to maintain a calm and relaxing environment. Doing so eases your dog into the massage session.

Start by petting your dog all over, then focus on the area you wish to massage. Continue to stroke the area with a very light amount of pressure. Doing so will increase the circulation in the muscles.

Be sure not to massage directly on your dog’s painful joints. Instead, focus on the areas around the painful joints. Next, lightly knead any tight muscles. Do not overwork a muscle.

If your dog begins to resist in a certain area, move on to another area that feels good to him or her. Alternate between periods of kneading and periods of lighter pressure. Doing so encourages circulation throughout the massage.

To finish the massage, soothe your pet into a state of total relaxation by petting him all over. And, be sure to give him a treat for good behavior! If you notice any areas of inflammation after the massage, wrap a cold towel around the area to help reduce swelling. Avoid giving your dog a deep tissue or intensive massage.

Only a licensed canine massage therapist should perform deep tissue or intensive massage.

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Action Items

Complete the following action items, and you'll be well on your way down the path to better health for your pet!

  1. Learn more about dog arthritis and how to make your dog feel better by downloading "Dog Arthritis 101: Make Your Dog Feel Better.
  2. Try a green lipped mussel supplement.
  3. Try a fish oil supplement.
  4. Start your dog on oral or injectable glucosamine.
  5. Adjust your dog's food for arthritis.
  6. Always consult with your veterinarian before making changes to your dog's diet and exercise routine.

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