Author: Dr. Clarissa G. Noureddine, DVM, MS, MS
Meet Buford, a 7.5-year old neutered male Labrador Retriever who is a patient at Lawndale Veterinary Hospital. On August 15, 2018, his owners brought Buford in for an examination with Dr. Burnett because Buford’s mobility had acutely worsened. Buford was having difficulty getting up, and he was not following his owners around as usual. He also did not want to travel the full distance of his normal walk.
During his exam, Dr. Burnett noted that Buford was slow to get up from the floor. Buford was a very stoic patient and it was difficult to determine where his pain was localizing. However, although Buford did not give obvious signs of discomfort when Dr. Burnett examined the hip joints (being stoic), x-rays revealed that Buford had hip dysplasia and degenerative joint disease of the coxofemoral joint. Said another way, he had arthritis in his hips due to abnormal hip joint conformation.
Labwork was performed to make sure Buford did not have any underlying concerns that would make it so that he should not be on certain pain medications. The labwork was perfect! Buford was prescribed two different types of pain medications: gabapentin, and carprofen. Within 24 hours Buford was feeling a whole lot better. Labwork was repeated one month later so that Dr. Burnett could be sure Buford was tolerating the medications well. Again, the labwork looked great! Although Buford was doing well on the medications, his owners were also interested in finding other alternative ways to help with Buford’s arthritis. They are currently in the process of exploring how something called polysulfated glycosaminoglycan (see below) may benefit Buford with his arthritis.
Buford’s case is a great example of how we can manage arthritis in aging pets. Some owners may not understand that the signs of arthritis are signs of pain – not just signs of the pet getting older. Sometimes the pain is more obvious – pets may limp, have trouble getting up (like Buford) or trouble jumping in the car or on the couch, or actually exhibit pain and sensitivity if someone touches a painful area. Sometimes things are more subtle and more difficult to recognize. Pets may just be a little slower to rise from the ground, they may seem a little stiff at times, or they may slowly start to shy away from things they previously enjoyed doing (e.g. chasing a ball, going to the park, taking long walks).
It’s important for all owners to know that older pets don’t have to be uncomfortable and painful in their joints! A number of treatment options are available for arthritis – for both dogs and cats. Some of the options are very straightforward and simple – for example, keeping your pet at a healthy weight and allowing them to get regular exercise (letting them set the pace) can do a lot to help joints feel better. Imagine how much harder it is to walk around with inflamed joints when your pet is also carrying around extra pounds. Owners can also offer plenty of soft, padded bedding and consider installing ramps so your pet does not have to climb so many stairs. Pets also do better on slippery floors when non-skid surfaces (area rugs, etc.) are in place.
Nutrition and nutraceutical products also hold a role in addressing arthritis. Prescription diets such as Hill’s j/d and Hill’s Healthy Mobility are formulated to support joint health and improve signs of pain. A long list of nutraceutical products (e.g. glucosamine, chondroitin, omega-3 fatty acids, etc.) exists, and Disease Modifying Osteoarthritic Drugs (DMOADs) have shown great benefits in many patients. DMOADs (such as the product Adequan) basically work to block or slow the progression of osteoarthritis. They may also improve symptoms and joint function. Joint supplements may contain a number of ingredients, including turmeric, fish oil, microlactin, MSM, creatine, Boswellia, antioxidants, avocado/soybean unsaponifiables, green-lipped mussel, etc. Physical therapy, massage, laser therapy, water therapy, and acupuncture can also have a place in treating arthritis. Of course, some animals are painful enough that they need pain medications. We like to make sure internal parameters such as liver function and kidney function are good before we start some of the medications (such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDS). We can also use other classes of pain medications as well. When we use a multi-modal approach for arthritis therapy, we often find that not only do we have better control of the problem, but also we are able to use lower doses of prescription medications.
Are you wondering if your dog or cat could be developing arthritis? Then schedule an appointment with one of our doctors today. We can work together to help your pet feel as comfortable as possible!