Posts Tagged ‘canine arthritis’

Canine arthritis: Symptoms and treatment options for arthritis in dogs

December 6, 2010

While I’m busy recovering from some back surgery, you have the good fortune of reading posts from some of my favorite doggie bloggers!  Today’s post comes from Dr. Lorie Huston who blogs regularly at   Please make her feel welcome by posting your wonderful comments.  Be back soon! 

Best wishes,

Dr. Nancy Kay

Canine arthritis: Symptoms and treatment of arthritis in dogs
Canine arthritis is a common and painful disease for affected dogs.

Canine arthritis is also commonly referred to as degenerative joint disease. Arthritis in dogs can have many causes. It may be:

  • caused by a congenital deformity in the affected joint, as in hip dysplasia or elbow dysplasia
  • caused by a previous injury
  • caused by aging and the resultant “wear and tear” on the affected joint
  • caused by infectious agents, such as Lyme disease
  • caused by autoimmune disorders

Symptoms of canine arthritis

Whatever the cause of arthritis, degenerative joint disease in dogs causes pain in the affected joint. Arthritis may affect any joint in the body, including hips, knees, elbows, shoulders, and spines. Arthritis may involve many joints or may affect only one joint.

Symptoms commonly seen with arthritis are related to pain in the affected joint and may include:

  • an abnormal gait (i.e. limping or carrying the painful leg)
  • stiffness
  • difficulty going up and down stairs or climbing into cars, onto furniture, etc.
  • difficulty finding a comfortable way to rest or lie
  • difficulty rising from a sleeping or seated position
  • lack of appetite
  • irritability

Treatment of arthritis in dogs

Treatment of arthritis in dogs may involve many different tactics. The immediate objective in treating arthritis is to decrease the pain associated with arthritis, which is often done through the use of pain relief medications. However, there are many other things which may also be recommended to improve the joint health of dogs suffering from arthritis.

Weight control is important for arthritic dogs

For those arthritic dogs which are overweight or obese, weight control should be a top priority. Besides adding additional weight to diseased joints leading to increased pain, fat as a tissue is increasingly being recognized as a secretory organ which produces substances which may in themselves contribute to causing pain. By reducing the weight of an arthritic dog, if appropriate, joint-related pain may become easier to manage.

Pain control for arthritic dogs

There are numerous pain control medications available for dogs with arthritis, including numerous NSAIDS (such as Rimadyl, Etogesic, Deramaxx, Metacam, Previcox and others) as well as medications such as tramadol, gabapentin and amantadine.

Cortisone or steroid products, such as prednisone, prednisolone or dexamethasone, are sometimes used to control the pain associated with arthritis under certain circumstances as well. These medications do have side effects and should be used as directed by the veterinarian. NSAIDs are contra-indicated when these products are being administered.

Nutraceuticals and other medications which may improve joint health

Various dietary supplements have been identified which may help to improve the health of affected joints, thereby easing the symptoms of arthritis. These supplements, also known as nutriceuticals, include:

  • glucosamine
  • chondroitin
  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • Methyl-sulfonyl-methane (MSM)

Pet owners should use caution in choosing nutriceuticals for their pets, however and should deal only with reputable drug manufacturers. Nutriceuticals are not regulated as most other pharmaceutical medications are in the United States and there have been many instances of labelling discrepancies with some of these medications.

Adequan is another medication which is often used to help improve the health of an arthritic joint. Adequan is an injectable medication which contains a protective cartilage component known as polysulfated glycosaminoglycan. Adequan has been used with success in relieving pain for some dogs with arthritis and other forms of degenerative joint disease.

Alternative medicine options for relief of arthritis pain in dogs

Acupuncture is being used more commonly to relieve the pain associated with arthritis in dogs and may an alternative in some communities where the services are readily available.

Physical rehabilitation is also becoming more widely used to control chronic pain such as that seen with arthritis as well. Physical therapy may range from modalities such as laser therapy or hydrotherapy to range-of-motion exercises which loosen and strengthen injured muscles, tendons and joints.

Adult stem cell therapy in treating canine arthritis

Stem cell therapy is another treatment option which is showing promise in the treatment of canine arthritis. Adult stem cell therapy has been used for several years as a treatment for muscle, joint and tendon injuries in horses and has more recently become available as a treatment option for dogs with similar injuries or diseases.

Multi-modal treatment approach to treating canine arthritis

In most cases of joint pain and arthritis in dogs, a multi-modal approach which incorporates one or more of the available treatment modalities is advisable. Weight loss for those dogs which are overweight is essential and may in itself provide some pain relief. Nutriceuticals may be used to help improve joint health and provide long-term pain relief. In the shorter term, pain medications or other options, such as acupuncture, may provide more immediate relief from pain. Physical therapy may also be indicated to help keep otherwise unsued muscles strong and healthy.

Dr. Lorie Huston

Lorie Huston currently works as a small animal veterinarian in Providence, dealing primarily with dogs and cats. She has been practicing veterinary medicine since 1986. Lorie is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Rhode Island Veterinary Medical Association and the Veterinary Information Network. She also does a large amount of work for the Volunteer Services for Animals, a non-profit local group dedicated to helping pet owners and their pets. Lorie has been writing online since 2001. She has published numerous articles to various E-zines and newsletters, as well as providing news material to PRWeb. Currently, she is also writing for and


Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
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Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller. 

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Fish Oil (Omega-3 Fatty Acids): a Proven Treatment for Canine Arthritis

January 30, 2010

 I had the good fortune of receiving my veterinary school training at Cornell University.  Part of what made this education so fabulous was that the senior faculty spent a great deal of “face time” with their students.  I have fond memories of a seasoned clinician patiently holding a Dachshund for me while teaching this novice how to collect a blood sample from the jugular vein.  Another taught this city slicker how to collect a milk sample for mastitis testing from the teat of a cow.   A major “take home point” my classmates and I received from these icons in veterinary medicine was, “First, do no harm.”  In other words, before subjecting our patients to diagnostic testing or treatment, we should strive to be as confident as possible that the potential for benefit was far greater than the potential for harm.  “First do no harm” has always been my mantra and is the main reason I try to rely on “evidence based medicine” (facts substantiated by research) rather than anecdotal information to support what I do. 

Unfortunately, there is a paucity of evidence based medicine pertaining to the use of many commonly used supplements, nutraceuticals, and herbs for dogs and cats.  This is the reason a big smile appeared on my face when I opened a recent edition of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.  It contained two studies on the effects of omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) for the treatment of osteoarthritis (also known as arthritis or degenerative joint disease) in dogs.  The study designs were excellent in that many dogs were included, there was a control group (some dogs received a placebo rather than the fatty acids), and the observers were “blinded”- neither the veterinarians nor the dogs’ families knew if the dogs were receiving the fatty acids or the placebo.  

Fish Oil (Omega-3 Fatty Acids)Here’s what the studies showed.  Compared to the placebo group, the dogs receiving omega-3 fatty acids had a significantly improved ability to rise from a resting position and play by six weeks after beginning supplementation, and improved ability to walk by 12 weeks.  Additionally, compared to the control group, dogs receiving the fish oil had improved weight bearing on the affected limbs as assessed by force-plate analysis (an extremely humane testing method).  No significant adverse side effects from the fish oil supplementation were reported. 

If you’ve spent any significant amount of time with dogs (especially large dogs), guaranteed you’ve known at least a few with arthritis.  It is estimated to affect up to twenty percent of dogs over one year of age. Dogs with arthritis resemble people with arthritis- they are often stiff and slow to rise when they first get up in the morning, as well as after vigorous exercise.  There are many ways to treat this common canine malady including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (the equivalent of ibuprofen for humans), acupuncture, rehabilitation therapy, and supplements that increase the production of normal joint fluid.  The effectiveness of all of these modalities, including fish oil, will vary from individual to individual.  The beauty of fish oil is that, likely the only potential significant risk is for you- your dog may develop fish breath! 

I love the fact that veterinarians now have evidence based support for recommending fish oil as a treatment for their canine patients with arthritis, and in doing so, they can abide by the mantra of, “First do no harm.”  If you suspect your dog has arthritis (if you have a large breed dog over eight years of age, chances are that you do), talk with your veterinarian about the pros and cons of all the treatment options.  And the next time you are dining on fish, don’t be surprised if your dog’s nose appears right beside your dinner plate.  Chances are, your dog clearly recognizes the benefits of fish oil supplementation!  Now, pass the salmon please. 

Wishing you and your four-legged family members abundant good health.

Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine 

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller. 

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