Degenerative joint disease (DJD) or arthritis is one of the most common ailments we see in dogs and cats especially as they age. The patient’s joints become swollen, the joint surfaces irregular and motion is limited and painful. It cannot be fixed. But it can be managed. We generally recommend a multi-modal approach.
1. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID’s) – This is the back bone of arthritis treatment. They are effective at relieving inflammation and pain associated with arthritis. NSAID’s are much safer than corticosteroids particularly for chronic use. Think of them as doggie advil. There are many to chose from, each associated with its unique benefits. There are potential side effects (gastrointestinal, renal, hepatic) but I believe these have been over stated by media and Dr. Google. Fact of the matter is NSAID’s have helped many many pets. But they have to be properly monitored. NSAID’s can be used intermittently if you notice a problem or preemptively if you plan to take your dog out for a long walk.
2. Weight control – This is important but many people have problems taking action. Obesity accelerates DJD and makes it more difficult to manage. There are many diets that serve as weight control diets. Owners have to take it seriously and recognize it may take a while, many months to lose excess weight. But once accomplished it helps manage DJD immensely.
3. Chondroprotectants, glucosamine and chondroitan sulfate – These have become popular in recent years although the scientific verdict is not settled regarding just how much good they do. I like them as adjunct therapy. Glucosamine and chondroitan sulfate are the building blocks of joint fluid and using these products has the effect of lubricating the joint. They help. They do not cure.
4. Omega three fatty acids or fish oils – These are natural anti-inflammatories. There have been many eloquent studies that demonstrate their effectiveness. All omega three supplements are not equal as they are not regulated by the FDA. I like a product called Omega Benefits. If you use these products do not expect overnight improvement. It takes a while to take effect but in the long run it is an excellent strategy for dealing with DJD.
5. Osteo True benefits – This is a neutriceutical that has glycopyrolex – derived from the green lipped mussel from New Zealand. This stops the enzymatic breakdown of DJD which is an independent pathologic process from inflammation. The best treatment for DJD treats both inflammation and stops enzymatic destruction.
6. Acupuncture – I am not quite sure how this ancient Chinese medical art works but I have seen enough dogs and cats respond to this treatment to have confidence in it.
7. Physical therapy – There are many different levels of physical therapy. I usually recommend easy exercise such as walking on level ground and avoid concussive activities, jumping in and out of cars.
8. Canine Assist harness – These are harnesses that properly fitted and applied in effect make a suitcase out of your dog. They are most useful for large dogs. They do not fix DJD. But they do make it easier for owners to manage them.
Dr. David Roy Hensen, DVM, DABVP has been a Veterinarian since 1983. He opened Paumanok Veterinary Hospital in 1992 and is board certified in the American Board of Veterinary Specialists, canine and feline.