Canine arthritis is the primary cause of chronic pain in dogs. In fact, research shows that 1 in 3 dogs suffer from arthritis . It isn’t just senior pets, either. Dogs as early as puppyhood can develop disease in their joints that leads to life long pain. Thankfully, there are many safe and effective arthritis medications for dogs that veterinarians prescribe to ease pain, boost mobility, and improve overall quality of life.
Importance of Arthritis Pain Relief for Dogs
Osteoarthritis (also known as canine degenerative joint disease) is the most common type of arthritis that affects dogs. This condition is painful and it worsens over time. This is why it’s paramount to address and treat arthritis in dogs as soon as possible.
Furthermore, recent evidence suggests that dogs suffering from untreated osteoarthritis have a shortened lifespan by roughly 11 percent .
Dog Arthritis Medication Types
Since medicine is never “one size fits all”, several different pain medication types are available allowing veterinarians to tailor their arthritis treatment plan to each individual dog.
The medications veterinarians prescribe most frequently to treat arthritis in dogs include:
- Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
- Disease-modifying osteoarthritis drugs (DMOADs)
- Monoclonal Antibody Therapy
NSAIDs for Dog Arthritis Pain
The most common dog arthritis medication types are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). This type of arthritis medication is highly effective for managing dog arthritis pain.
NSAIDs work by inhibiting cyclooxygenase (COX). This results in a reduced output of chemical messengers in the body known as prostaglandins. Prostaglandins initiate processes for pain, inflammation, and fever.
Unfortunately, prostaglandins play other important roles in the body, and without them side effects can occur. Although uncommon, gastrointestinal ulcers and impaired kidney function are possible.
DMOADs for Arthritis Pain in Dogs
Disease-modifying osteoarthritis drugs (DMOADs) are also excellent at relieving canine osteoarthritis pain. These drugs not only relieve pain and inflammation inside the joint, but they actively treat osteoarthritis by repairing damaged cartilage and restoring joint lubrication.
The downside of DMOADs is that they must be injected in the veterinary clinic, requiring eight visits over four weeks. This can be problematic for less cooperative canine patients and stressful for their owners.
Monoclonal Antibody Therapy for Canine Arthritis
Recently, monoclonal antibody therapy for the treatment of canine osteoarthritis has become more readily available. Monoclonal antibody therapy works to relieve arthritis pain in dogs by stopping the activity of a protein called canine nerve growth factor, which is involved in the regulation of pain. This type of treatment is safer for dogs with pre-existing liver and/or kidney issues. Monoclonal antibody therapy requires an injection in the veterinary clinic, but only needs to be given once a month.
Other Medications and Steroids
Veterinarians may also reach for N-Methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist drugs, gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) analogue drugs, and others to help complement the effectiveness of medications like NSAIDs and DMOADs. However, these drugs are not considered effective at managing dog arthritis pain when used by themselves.
Lastly, veterinarians may suggest arthritis medications for dogs that are injected directly into the joint. These can be a combination of different medications, like steroids, or newer medications with less side effects, such as conversion electron therapy.
10 Best Arthritis Medications for Dogs
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Galliprant is the name brand for grapiprant, an NSAID and is arguably the best medication for dog arthritis. Like all NSAIDs, Galliprant is a COX pathway inhibitor that blocks prostaglandin production. However, unlike the other NSAIDs, Galliprant specifically targets the COX pathway responsible for arthritis pain.
Grapiprant targets dog arthritis pain at its source and therefore has a much lower potential for unwanted side effects. This makes Galliprant an excellent choice for controlling the pain and inflammation of canine osteoarthritis, especially in senior dogs or those with pre-existing health conditions. Galliprant is an oral medication given once daily with food, and must be given for several weeks to reach its peak effect.
Carprofen is the most commonly prescribed medicine for arthritis in dogs. Carprofen is marketed as Rimadyl, Vetprofen, Novox, Rovera, Carprieve, Norocarp, and more, but is also available in a generic form. This medication comes in both chewable tablets and unflavored tablets or capsules, and is often dosed twice daily with food.
Carprofen is also an NSAID and is highly effective at relieving dog arthritis pain. Carprofen is fast acting for pain and inflammation relief and can help dogs feel better in as little as two hours. While this medication is generally safe, side effects are possible, and dogs prescribed carprofen should have bloodwork performed before starting this medication and annually if they receive it regularly.
Meloxicam is another commonly prescribed NSAID for dogs suffering from arthritis pain. It is also available in liquid form as Meloxidyl or Metacam.
The liquid version of meloxicam makes it easier to dose for small dogs. Additionally, liquid medication is easier to administer to dogs that are unwilling to consume oral capsules or tablets, as it can be mixed into food or syringed into the back of the mouth. Like dogs on other NSAIDs, bloodwork and careful monitoring are recommended as side effects are rare but possible.
Deramaxx is the brand name for deracoxib. This medicine is also an NSAID, but unlike most NSAIDs, Deramaxx is selectively a canine COX-2 inhibitor. By sparing COX-1 inhibitors, Deramaxx is less likely to cause gastrointestinal issues like stomach ulcers.
Deracoxib is as effective as carprofen and meloxicam for relieving arthritis pain in dogs, and also takes effect quickly. This dog arthritis medicine is given orally once daily, and should be given with a meal to prevent stomach upset.
This medication for dog arthritis is an NSAID and a selective COX-2 inhibitor. Previcox works quickly and effectively to relieve canine arthritis pain. This medication is dosed orally once daily, and should be given with food. Veterinary research has not shown a significant difference in effectiveness or side effects between Previcox and Deramaxx. Like all NSAIDs, there is a risk of side effects for dogs taking this medication, but luckily, adverse effects are rare and usually not life-threatening.
Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant drug that is believed to help reduce osteoarthritis pain by blocking neuropathic pain receptors. This medication should not be used as the sole pain relieving agent for canine osteoarthritis. Instead it should be given alongside another pain medication, like an NSAID.
This dog arthritis medication should ideally be given every 8 hours, or three times daily. It comes as an oral tablet, capsule, or liquid, making it easy to dose. It can take several weeks to take effect. Gabapentin can cause sedation and makes some dogs quite drowsy. Other dogs experience ataxia, or incoordination, while taking Gabapentin.
Amantadine is an NMDA receptor antagonist drug. The trade name for amantadine is Symmetrel, but generic forms are available. This medication works by preventing pain signals from reaching the brain. Amantadine is an oral medication that is given twice daily. It can take a few weeks to reach peak effects, but most dog parents report that improvements are noticed within a few days.
This medication is great as an adjunctive treatment, meaning that it works better when given with another dog arthritis pain medication, like an NSAID. The most common side effect of amantadine is agitation.
Adequan is a DMOAD, and is an excellent medication for the relief of canine arthritis pain. Not only does Adequan relieve the pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis, but it also helps repair joints by healing cartilage and improving joint mobility. Adequan is a polysulfated glycosaminoglycan, and is the only FDA approved DMOAD for dogs.
This medication is administered via intramuscular injection in the veterinary office. A dog is given a series of eight injections over four weeks, and the series can be repeated as needed when the pet’s clinical signs return or worsen. Owners of dogs receiving Adequan injections usually report improvement after the first injection.
Adequan is a very safe medication and does not affect the liver and kidneys, making it a great choice for senior pets or dogs with pre-existing conditions. For best results, dogs should receive Adequan in addition to pain relieving medications, like NSAIDs.
Librela is a monoclonal antibody therapy and is the first of its kind for the treatment of canine osteoarthritis pain. This dog arthritis medicine is a once monthly injection that is specifically designed to relieve dog osteoarthritis pain. Like Adequan, Librela does not impact a dog’s liver and kidneys. This makes Librela another great choice for geriatric canines or those with pre-existing conditions.
Librela takes roughly seven days to have an effect, and reaches peak effectiveness within 30-60 days. Like Adequan, Librela makes a great addition to a multi-modal arthritis pain control plan for dogs, and should be used along with pain medication if possible.
Synovectin is technically a device and not a drug. It is a conversion electron therapy device, and is currently only labeled for use in the elbow. Synovectin is injected directly into the joint and dogs can experience pain and inflammation relief for up to one year. Since Synovectin is a device and not a drug, there are no systemic adverse effects. The downside of Synovectin is that most dogs will require sedation so the veterinarian can administer the medication properly, and cost can be a deterrent.
How to Choose Arthritis Medication for Dogs
Factors such as a dog’s age, medical history, recent blood work, and severity of osteoarthritis will help veterinarians and pet owners determine which arthritis medications for dogs to try.
It’s important to remember that not every dog will respond to medication the same way. Sometimes, finding the right canine arthritis medication is a trial and error approach. Additionally, pain medications for dog arthritis work best as part of a multi-modal approach, meaning that other treatments and lifestyle changes should be implemented.
With a little patience and willingness to adapt, dog owners can rest assured that their dog’s arthritis pain can be safely and effectively managed.