Treating your arthritic dog

Every morning, my Border Collie and I share a morning routine. We each take a glucosamine tablet. She takes hers wrapped inside a piece of cheese. I take mine neat, with a morning cup of tea.

Glucosamine is a natural supplement and component of cartilage. There’s promising, but still not certain proof that it helps treat arthritis. Both the dog and I have some joint pain. Not surprising, given our ages. (At nine dog years, she’s more senior, for sure.)

If I see she’s particularly stiff, I also give her a buffered aspirin. I checked the dose with the vet-about a quarter of a 325-mg. tablet for each 10 pounds the dog weighs. 

Weight control
Fortunately, she’s not overweight. That, according to Dr. Stanley Rubin, is a main culprit in dog arthritis. He’s a professor in small animal medicine at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

“I think one of the biggest enemies causing degenerative arthritis in dogs is obesity. It’s very common in our pets. If you have an older animal that is obese, then try weight control. Reduction in weight is going to put a lot less stress on those jots,” he says.

Weight control in younger dogs will also help prevent arthritis. However, Dr. Rubin does say: “You shouldn’t be surprised if it occurs in your dog, it’s just that common. By the time old age sets in, in a lot of cases, they are arthritic.”

Arthritis causes
Another cause of arthritis in dogs is joint injuries. With a Border Collie, for instance, years of hard running and jumping after balls and Frisbees causes much wear and tear on the joints.

“There could be an old athletic injury or some kind of injury that leads to arthritis. There could also be a congenital defect that leads to abnormal conformation and causes degenerative arthritis,” says Dr. Rubin.

Large dogs, and certain breeds, such as German Shepherds, seem especially susceptible to hip problems that eventually lead to arthritis. 

Exercise important
Although it might be tempting to coddle a dog with soreness in the hips and joints, that’s a bad idea. Dr. Rubin says moderate exercise is an important part of the treatment for dog arthritis.

“No Frisbee for a dog with bad arthritis, because it will make it worse. So it’s got to be more low-impact activity. But you do need to exercise. Leash walks. Swimming is good. So it’s periods of rest with moderate exercise, emphasis on low impact,” he says.

Warmth, comfort
You can also help your arthritic dog by:

  • Keeping him warm. Arthritis tends to flare up in cold or wet weather. So those pet sweaters you see on small dogs may not be a silly indulgence.
  • Making sure his sleeping spot is not in a draft.
  • Providing a good pad for sleeping to ease sore bones. Getting up in the morning is a little easier for him.
  • Elevating food and water bowls for large dogs with arthritis. If your pet is especially sore, a ramp rather than stairs makes it easier for the dog to go outside. You then avoid the hassle of inside accidents.

Medication dangers
Dr. Rubin says a couple of well-advertised pet medications, such as Rimadyl and Metacam are available in Canada. They’re non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) used to control pain. He adds that plain old Aspirin is the first line treatment recommended by many vets.

“Aspirin can be quite good, if there’s no gastric irritation. Buffered aspirin will help avoid that. The owner has to discuss the dose with the vet, and the frequency, and know about the side effects. The most common side effect is going to be vomiting because of gastric irritation,” he says.

Aspirin may pass the test for both human and animal use. However, Dr. Rubin cautions that people must be very careful about giving their drugs to their pets. It can be dangerous. 
· Aspirin, for example, can be fatal to cats.

“Some of the drugs we use in people are not metabolized the same way in dogs and cats. A very good example is a drug called Naproxen. It’s a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). And that drug, given to dogs, in a dose that would be similar to people over a week or two, could be fatal. Easily fatal. The dog will die of gastro-intestinal ulcers and hemorrhage. They’ll bleed right out. So people should never give their drugs to their animals,” he says.

Fatal for pets
Another human drug bad for pets, says Dr. Rubin, is Indomethacin, known by the brand name Indocin. It’s also a NSAID used for arthritis. Like Naproxen, Indocin can be fatal for pets.

Neutraceuticals safe
Neutraceuticals, on the other hand, are not pharmaceutical drugs, but natural supplements used to treat certain medical conditions.

“For the most part, they’re quite safe. The caution I’d suggest to someone is that they always seek veterinary advice when they’re using something like that. But I think it’s probably fine,” says Dr. Rubin.

Glucosamine falls into the category of neutraceutical. There are several kinds, but glucosamine sulfate is the one best absorbed by the body, according to all reports. However, some vets find it causes gastric upset in certain dogs. In that case, they recommend using glucosamine hydrochloride (HCL).

Animal product
Cosequin is the animal neutraceutical for arthritis. It contains glucosamine hydrochloride and another substance called chondroitin sulfate. It appears to block the enzymes which break down the body’s cartilage. The scientific basis for using both glucosamine and chondroitin is still not firm. But they’re part of the large array of supplements for both humans and pets extolling anti-arthritic properties.

All these neutraceuticals take much longer than drugs to have any effect. So you have to allow at least six to eight weeks before expecting any results.

Cost consideration
For many people with arthritic dogs, the cost of medications is another consideration. Cosequin, for example, costs almost $60 for 100 tablets. On the other hand, you can buy glucosamine sulfate or glucosamine hydrochloride over the counter in drugstores and health food stores for about $15 for one hundred tablets. 

So should you try out the human neutraceutical to see if you get any relief for your dog?

While Dr. Rubin says neutraceuticals are safe, he’s concerned about wrong drugs being administered to pets. There’s also time lost before administering proper care for an ailing pet.

“Most veterinarians are very gracious about giving a little bit of advice over the telephone. We’re not generally heartless people. We want to help people and their animals. It’s not as good to give advice over the telephone, but we will,” he says.