Dog Arthritis Treatment Plan: Steps and What to Expect
If your dog has been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, you might feel like there’s little you can do to keep your pet pain free with a good quality of life. The good news is that there are multiple arthritis treatments for dogs that can help to manage and minimize arthritis pain and keep your dog happy.
This article is intended to help you on your journey with canine osteoarthritis by sharing some treatment plan steps, as well as what you can expect in most cases.
Dog Arthritis Treatment Plan: What to Expect
Once a dog is diagnosed with osteoarthritis (OA for short), the typical course of action your veterinarian will take is offering you ‘multimodal treatment’ options. Multimodal simply means “multiple modes of dog arthritis treatment.”
The reason for this is that dog arthritis usually responds best when multiple types of treatment are used to create a synergistic beneficial effect. In the past, vets just gave arthritic dogs pain medication. But now we know that when you combine therapies – including pain medication, joint supplements, weight loss (if needed), surgery (if needed), a supportive sleeping surface, appropriate exercise, and complementary therapies – dogs respond much better and have less pain and better mobility. This leads to an overall improved quality of life.
In general, the best practices for treating a dog that has OA include:
- Early intervention
- Improve quality of life as much as possible
- Reduce pain as much as possible
- Reduce arthritis flare-ups
- Increase movement through daily exercise
Not all dogs respond the same to treatment. Sometimes, it takes a little trial and error to see what is the best combination for your dog. This is why it is a good idea to work with a veterinarian you trust, keep a journal of how your dog responds to treatment, and be willing to try different things.
Cost of Managing Dog Arthritis
The cost of dog arthritis treatment varies depending on the size of the dog and what treatments are recommended. Cost of care is more expensive for bigger dogs than smaller dogs because medication costs more.
However, here is an estimate of what pet parents might expect to spend on different arthritis treatments for dogs:
- Cost of pain medication ranges $30-$100 per month (depending on size of dog).
- Joint supplements range $15-$50/month (depending on product and size of dog)
- Annual blood work, which is required if a dog takes pain medication chronically, costs $200-$400.
- Rehabilitation and physical therapy costs $200-$400/month if you are working with a certified canine rehabilitation veterinarian.
- Photobiomodulation or piezoelectric therapy costs $60-$100/month.
- Therapeutic foods for OA or weight loss cost $40-$90/month.
- An orthopedic mattress costs $300-$400.
- If surgery is required, such as dogs that need hip replacements, then that can cost upwards of $5,000 per hip.
Dog Arthritis Medicine
To manage pain, most dogs with OA are started on nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These may include:
These drugs are used to reduce pain and inflammation associated with OA. They are generally well tolerated by most dogs, have a low incidence of negative side effects, and can be given long term.
However if your dog takes them regularly to manage pain, your veterinarian will require annual blood work to make sure the medications aren’t negatively impacting internal organs. In general, aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen are not recommended because of toxic side effects.
Additional pain medications that may be prescribed include amantadine, amitriptyline, gabapentin, or tramadol. These medications work synergistically with NSAIDs to provide more complete pain control. Amantadine inhibits pain signals in the nervous system. Amitriptyline works by increasing serotonin for a general feeling of wellbeing. Gabapentin is a muscle relaxant. Lastly, tramadol has opioid-like effects. All of these medications are given orally in pill, capsule, or liquid form. They can also be formulated into tasty chews by a compounding pharmacy.
In some cases, dogs may respond better if they receive different treatments, such as surgical fusion of the affected joint, or periodic injection of medication, stem cells, or platelet-rich plasma into affected joints. Your veterinarian will be your best resource for what is best for your pet.
Tips for Managing Arthritis Pain in Dogs
In addition to managing pain, dogs with arthritis do much better when their owners provide lifestyle modifications, such as:
- Using ramps to get on furniture or in the car
- Providing non-slip rugs on hard surfaces to help the dog get up and not slip and fall
- Providing a supportive sleeping surface that has been clinically proven to reduce pain and improve mobility
- Regularly trimming nails to avoid paw pain and deformity
- Providing appropriate stretching of tight muscles
- Providing appropriate heat and cold therapy on achy joints and muscles
- Providing complementary therapies such as massage, photobiomodulation, piezo-electric therapy, and acupuncture
Dietary Considerations for Dogs With Arthritis
Did you know that dog obesity is the number one risk factor for development of osteoarthritis? It’s true! OA has a vicious, negative cycle with obesity that involves pain that causes inactivity that leads to weight gain that contributes to the development of OA.
On the flip side, OA leads to inactivity, which leads to weight gain. Both OA and obesity limit a dog’s movement, negatively impact cartilage health, and contribute to shrinking muscles that result in weakness and altered biomechanics, all of which contribute to chronic pain in dogs.
The good news is that weight loss can reverse many of these issues and in some cases, obese dogs can stop having symptoms associated with OA altogether with just weight loss alone. Therefore, one of the best things you can do for a dog to both reduce pain associated with OA and slow progression of the disease is keep them at a healthy weight and if they are overweight, actively pursue weight loss. Foods that are formulated with L-carnitine can facilitate weight loss. If your dog is overweight, work with your vet to create a weight loss plan.
You can also help a dog with OA by feeding a high quality food. Some dogs can benefit from a therapeutic diet that is formulated to improve mobility and reduce pain in dogs that have OA.
While there are many dog joint supplements on the market today, only a few are backed by science to have any benefit for your dog. In general, omega 3 fatty acids from fish oil at a recommended daily amount of 100 mg/kg of combined EPA and DHA are shown to reduce pain in arthritic dogs.
Other nutraceuticals that have been shown to be clinically helpful include:
- Polysulfated glycosaminoglycans
- Avocado soybean unsaponifiables (ASUs)
- Glucosamine hydrochloride
- Chondroitin sulfate
- Boswellia serrata
- CBD oil
When in doubt, always ask your veterinarian for joint supplement recommendations.
Note: Supplements take longer to work than conventional pain meds – up to several weeks in some dogs. If you are using supplements to reduce the dosage of pain medication, monitor your dog’s pain closely and if you want to reduce pain medication, taper slowly under the supervision of a vet.
Arthritic Dog Exercise Plan
Daily movement is key to helping a dog with OA because it strengthens muscles and improves flexibility. As human physical therapists say, motion is lotion! It is recommended to work with a
veterinary canine rehabilitation specialist or veterinarian, at least at the beginning, so you can learn how to do the exercises safely, and create maximum health benefits for your dog. Before you start any exercise program, it is imperative to ensure that your dog’s pain is controlled.
In general, exercises to help dogs with arthritis should:
- Be daily and consistent
- Condition both front and rear legs and strengthen core muscles
- Include both cardio and strength training
- Be low impact, such as walking and swimming
- Be fun!
If you have the availability, exercising your dog on sand can be a wonderful way to condition your dog. Check out this awesome video on several other exercise options for dogs with OA.
Arthritis in Dogs Treatment: Tips and Advice
Once your dog is started on an arthritis treatment plan, you should expect to start seeing results immediately. Dogs started on pain medications should immediately be able to move better, be happier, sleep better, and enjoy a better quality of life. If you are not seeing improvement immediately, call your veterinarian.
Other results, such as improved strength and endurance, weight loss, and results from joint supplements will take longer, but patience and consistency usually pay off. You will see better long-term results if you pair pain management with weight reduction or control, high quality food and supplements, a supportive sleeping surface, and daily appropriate exercise. If you are not seeing these results within a week or two of starting therapy, contact your veterinarian.