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The good news is that many pets, like their human counterparts, are living longer and healthier lives than in years past. The bad news is that many of the difficulties of aging that plague us also plague our pets. One of the most common problems with older dogs and cats is osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs when the protective cartilage in the joints wears down over time, leaving the bone ends unprotected and the joints painful and stiff.

Signs of osteoarthritis in dogs and cats include hesitation or taking a long time to get up or down, reluctance or hesitation to jump on, off or into places they normally go, difficulty going up and down stairs, sitting or standing at odd angles and of course, lack of stamina, limping or stiffness when they walk. You might also notice muscle atrophy (a thinner appearance) to the affected legs, especially the rear legs in older dogs.

Many treatments and combinations of treatments are available to help pets with osteoarthritis. First and foremost, make sure your pet is not overweight. Extra weight adds that much more stress to damaged joints. Vigorous exercise is discouraged in a pet with arthritis, but steady, gentle exercise can help maintain joint fluid and muscle tone. Nonweightbearing exercise such as swimming can be especially beneficial (Well, ok, cats and some types of dogs may disagree). Please let us help you with a weight loss plan if your pet has put on a few pounds.

A high quality glucosamine and chondroitin supplement can help slow down the damage. You might think about starting your pet on a supplement if it is 6 years of age or older (although starting younger will not hurt). Glucosamine has to be manufactured properly to be effective so as a general rule, the least expensive supplements are to be avoided. Omega 3 Fatty acids such as those in fish oils have anti-inflammatory properties and can help in arthritis and are also good for the body in several other ways. Please call us if you would like to know the appropriate dose of Glucosamine/ chondroitin or fish oils for your pet.

If the arthritis is in the early stages or if you prefer a more natural approach, there are several herbs and folk remedies with some scientific studies to back them up. Turmeric, ginger, bromelain, Devil’s Claw (for 3 to 4 months, long term safety has not been determined), SAMe, and MSM may be beneficial. If your pet has a “rusty gate” arthritis, that is, has trouble when it first tries to get up and walk but later warms out of it until it lays down to rest again, you can also try the homeopathic remedy Rhus toxicodendron 6C given once a day until you see improvement , then given only as needed. If you haven’t seen any improvement in 10 days it is not the correct remedy for your pet. Chiropractic adjustment, acupuncture and acupressure can also be beneficial, as can massage and gentle physical therapy.

If your dog’s arthritis is more advanced or the more natural approaches do not keep him or her comfortable, many stronger treatments are available. One of the most common methods of pain control for arthritis is NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) therapy. NSAIDS are very effective and can dramatically improve your dog’s quality of life. Doses instructions must be followed carefully and the liver and kidneys should be checked every 6 months to make sure they are healthy enough for this medication. NSAID therapy for arthritis is not safe in cats.

The second most commonly used class of pain reliever for arthritis are opiates such as Tramadol. These can be used alone if NSAIDS have to be avoided for health reasons or can be used in addition to NSAIDs for extra pain control in severe cases. In less severe cases, using the medications in combination can potentially reduce the amount that is needed of either medication.

Adequan injections (polysulfated glycosaminoglycans) are another safe and effective way to help control arthritis pain and restore joint fluid. There are other, less commonly used medications that have pain relieving properties that can be used if needed in severe cases. Lastly, steroids can provide additional pain relief if the potential side effects are tolerated in your pet. Often a multimodal approach, that is, a combination of the above treatments, is the best way to keep your pet comfortable and happy for as long as possible.

Please do not give any medications you might have at home to your pet without consulting a veterinarian. Some can be very toxic, or cause problems if the dose and dosing interval are incorrect. Some are not compatible with others, (for example you cannot give steroids with NSAIDs as severe stomach ulcers and other problems can occur). Be sure and consult a veterinarian to make sure that you have the right combination of supplements and medications in the right amounts for your pet’s continued good health.