It sneaks up slowly. You might begin noticing your best friend having a harder time getting going in the morning. Perhaps she doesn’t like to fetch her favorite toy as many times. Or, she doesn’t care to spend as much time at the dog park with her pals as she used to.
Osteoarthritis is the most common condition in aging dogs (and humans). It’s a chronic condition of the joints which occurs when the cartilage or cushion between joints breaks down, leading to stiffness, swelling, and, eventually, pain. There are two major causes of osteoarthritis in dogs – developmental (the joint doesn’t develop correctly) and degenerative (the ligaments degenerate over time causing secondary arthritis). Naturally, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as you see any signs to discuss the best course of treatment for your particular pooch.
While arthritis is unfortunately irreversible, there are many natural and conventional treatments that you can use to slow down the progression and make your fur-friend more comfortable.
Beginning with the easiest:
1. Create An Arthritis-Friendly Home Environment
One of the most simple things you can do for your pup’s achey joints is make your accommodations easier to maneuver. Ramps or stairs of all sizes and styles are available online and in stores and will make getting on and off the couch and bed much easier. Custom designed pet food and water stations are also available and can make it easier for dogs to eat without having to strain while they lean down for low bowls. And, always ensure bedding is away from cold and drafty areas.
2. Exercise and Weight Control
The last thing I want to do when I’m in pain is exercise. However, when it comes to arthritis exercise, no matter how uncomfortable in the moment, is one of the most helpful things you can do to stop the progression. Muscle mass helps protect the joints and, will help the overall function as well. When going for walks becomes too difficult, you can incorporate tools such as dog slings which help you hold your dog up so that there isn’t as much pressure on the joints. Low impact exercises such as swimming are highly recommended. See if you can find an Aquatherapy class for your dog if you don’t have a pool at home.
In addition to exercise, make sure you are paying attention to your pup’s weight. If he’s overweight, now is the time to shed those few extra pounds. The weight loss will make a huge difference on those painful joints.
3. Special Formulation Food
Just as with humans, certain foods are known to increase inflammation and aggravate arthritis. Many dog food companies sell food blends with additives targeted to help with specific health issues. These foods contain a variety of supplements which promote cartilage and joint health.
These can be particularly helpful as preventative medicine if you know your dog’s breed is prone to arthritis. Omega 3s are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and can often be found in canine-specific oils which are easy to add to food. And, a daily glucosamine/chondroitin supplement is thought by many to be helpful in slowing down the progress of the disease. Glucosamine provides the building blocks to synthesize new cartilage, while chondroitin blocks destructive enzymes that break down cartilage in the joint.
And, there are too many more supplements available to list. Check with your vet or local animal naturopath to find the best combination for you.
5. Massage and/or Touch Therapy
We’ve already touted the benefits of touch therapy for your dogs. After your dog gets the exercise she needs, why not reward her with a relaxing massage? The benefits of touch therapy and massage are immediate and provide profound relief for dogs with arthritis, both emotionally and physically. Massage stimulates blood flow to swollen areas. Let your pet lie back, calm down, and enjoy.
Humans have been using physiotherapy to treat injuries and disabilities since the late 19th century and, it is finally gaining in popularity with our canine companions as well. Physiotherapy uses medically proven techniques to restore function, maintain and maximize strength, improve movement, and the overall well-being of your pup. This can be as simple as range of motion and home exercise programs or it may involve muscle stimulation, deep laser treatments, joint mobilizations, and soft tissue techniques. Your veterinarian will probably have some great recommendations of places that are close by.
You can also do a search yourself at http://www.caninerehabinstitute.com/Find_A_Therapist.html
7. Non-Traditional Therapies
Many people are turning to veterinarians who offer a holistic approach.
More veterinarians are becoming certified in the ancient practice of acupuncture. Dr. Galina Bershteyn of Bloorcourt Veterinary Clinic suggests the 8,000 year old treatment, “especially for chronic pain conditions, or when a standard medication isn’t an option. For example, arthritis medication can sometimes be hard on the kidneys. If you have a patient with kidney disease, sometimes acupuncture is the only option.” While acupuncture is not a cure, it has been proven to show relief from the symptoms of arthritis.
Chinese herbs are also an option for a variety of ailments including canine arthritis. It is important to note that Chinese herbs are complicated and work best in combination and must only be used under the guidance of a licensed Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) therapist.
There are a variety of pharmaceuticals used in veterinary medicine for pain relief. However, they often come with many unpleasant side effects. If you have tried a combination of the methods mentioned above and your dog is still suffering, discuss next steps with your vet.
Veterinarians will usually use surgery as a last step, due to it’s invasive nature and the high expense. Surgical treatments can range from arthroscopic cleaning of a joint all the way up to total joint replacement. Your veterinarian will let you know if/when surgery is necessary.