Arthritis is a degenerative condition of the joints. It’s a common problem for many dogs, especially as they age. The most common signs are pain, discomfort, and stiffness.
*in this article Arthritis replaces Osteoarthritis in all cases.
Inside a dog’s joints, bony surfaces are normally covered with a layer of smooth cartilage and lubricated with a joint fluid that allows the two surfaces to glide freely over one another with minimal friction.
In dogs with Arthritis, the cartilage within the joint is damaged, becoming less smooth and resulting in the bony surfaces rubbing together. This can cause pain, as well as further damage to the cartilage. As a direct result of the increased friction, new bone forms around the joint to try and stabilize it. This makes the joint stiffer, which limits the movement even more.
The degenerative nature of Arthritis leads to a cycle of worsening symptoms. There is a reluctance to exercise which leads to a loss of muscle mass. Despite the reduction in exercise and lower metabolism (less muscle), the dog is typically still fed the same amount of food leading to weight gain. The increase in body weight leads to an increase in stress on the joints, leading to further degeneration and inflammation. Inflammation causes more pain…and the cycle continues.
What Can I Give My Dog for Arthritis?
Optimal Arthritis treatment is usually achieved through a “multimodal approach”. This means that multiple treatment options usually produce superior results to a single course of action.
Treatment is best started early in the Arthritis process, as this is when inflammatory mediators and destructive enzymes start to be produced, which go on to complicate the process.
The mainstays in the natural treatment of Arthritis are:
- Disease-Modifying Osteoarthritis Drugs (DMOAD’s)
- Prescription Drugs
*Supplements are not regulated like drugs and it’s easy for companies to take advantage of that. In some cases, only 10% of the actual listed ingredients are active in the product. Look to buy from a trusted brand. Supplements can take up to four weeks before you see the benefits.
As always, if you have any concerns or questions before starting your dog on a new supplement regimen, consult your Vet.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids:
Commonly sourced from oily fish, fish oil, or green-lipped mussels
Omega 3 fatty acids are a natural anti-inflammatory. They work by shifting the body away from a pro-inflammatory pathway towards an anti-inflammatory pathway. It doesn’t stop the pro-inflammatory pathway entirely but it competes with it, reducing the amount of inflammation.
Traditional NSAIDs (think nurofen, motrin, or voltaren in humans or metacam in dogs) act on the pro-inflammatory pathway by blocking the end result. Steroids act a little higher up in the pathway. The problem with blocking this pathway, through the use of drugs, is that they also have a negative action on other good things, like the gut wall.
Omega 3 fatty acids don’t have those negative effects. A diet rich in EPA/DHA has been shown to reduce the need for NSAIDs in dogs by ~25%.
Many dry dog foods boast of their Omega 3 contents. Check the source of the Omega 3’s as plant-based oils, such as flaxseed, hemp, coconut, corn, and sesame seed oil contain Omega 3 in the form of Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA).
ALA needs to be converted to EPA and some dogs don’t have the enzyme to make the conversion. So stick with a good quality EPA / DHA Omega 3 supplement, fish oil, or green-lipped mussels from a trusted brand.
In Australia, the Paw by Blackmores Dermega may be a good option. Alternatively, you may have heard about Antinol. Antinol has taken the good stuff out of the green-lipped mussel and put it into a pill. There have been some excellent results to date. Antinol is however Vet only so you’ll need to speak with your Vet.
If you are using whole fish you need to be aware that they can contain heavy metals and toxins. Small fish that only feed on phytoplankton, not fish that eat other fish, are a better option. Look for mackerel (from the Atlantic and not king mackerel), sardines, salmon, or anchovies (source).
Follow this link for a good dosing chart. Always check your food label as good quality foods often have omega 3 fatty acids within the food.
Glucosamine & Chondroitin Sulfate:
Both glucosamine and chondroitin help with the synthesis of cartilage while also reducing inflammatory pathways. Not all glucosamine / chondroitin supplements are created equal, with a lot of questions being raised about the amount of the supplement that makes it into the circulation when ingested orally.
In Australia, 4Cyte may also be an option that includes both glucosamine / chondroitin, as well as omega 3 fatty acids. It is however Vet only.
In the UK, Yumove by Lintbells is a well-respected product. Its main ingredients are a combination of glucosamine and green lipped mussel powder.
Soybean / Avocado Unsaponifiables (ASU):
ASU affects cartilage by enhancing cartilage matrix synthesis and suppresses cartilage matrix degradation. Basically, it helps to regenerate cartilage.
You probably won’t have heard much about it and to be honest neither had until I heard about it from Steven M. Fox, MS, DVM, MBA, Ph.D. through the CCRP program. The reviews of Nutramax’s Dasuquin product also speak for themselves.
ASU is found in Nutramax Dasuquin along with Glucosamine and Chondroitin. You do NOT need an additional Glucosamine / Chondroitin supplement in this case.
Disease-Modifying Osteoarthritis Drugs (DMOAD’s)
DMOAD’s work by restoring joint lubrication, relieving inflammation, and renewing the building blocks of healthy cartilage. They are only available as an injectable and therefore regulated by the FDA, which then classifies them as a drug. This means that they’re prescription only and you need to talk to your Vet. Supplements given orally do not fall under FDA regulations.
The two common DMOAD’s are:
Polysulfated glycosaminoglycan’s (PSGAG): e.g. Adequan
Pentosan polysulfate (PPS): e.g. Cartrophen or Xydax
These drugs have a slightly different mechanism of action so you may have superior results with one over the other.
If the above supplements and DMOAD’s aren’t adequately managing your dog’s Arthritis, or your dog has an acute flare, your Vet may discuss medications like NSAID’s or Gabapentin to name a few. Prescription drugs are not over the counter and will be covered at a later date in a subsequent article.
Anecdotally CBD oil is being hailed by dog owners as an option in the treatment of chronic pain in dogs along with a myriad of other health issues. Over here in Australia, we haven’t caught up with the rest of the world so information and access to CBD Oil are limited. If you would like more information check out this post by Preventive Vet. The article seems to be a well-balanced opinion on CBD oil in dogs.
While multimodal management of Arthritis has shown to be very effective in the ongoing management of pain and dysfunction associated with Arthritis, it is important to recognize that each of the supplements alone can interact with each other when combined. It is therefore important to work with your Vet to ensure dosing is appropriate and considered when combining supplements and drugs.
If you would like to read more about Arthritis. Check out my home strategies article.