Arthritis is a condition involving inflammation of the joints. It is very common in our canine companions, especially as they get older. Certain breeds may also be more likely to develop the disease, such as Labradors, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds. No dog should have to suffer with pain, so what can be done about it and when should this start?
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Why might my dog need medication for arthritis?
Management of arthritis often involves lifestyle changes before medication is recommended. This may include weight management, moderating exercise, changes within the home (such as rugs on slippery floors, reducing access to stairs).
Symptoms of pain associated with arthritis include:
- Stiffness/difficulty getting up
- Being slow on walks/unwillingness to walk
- Physique/muscle changes
- Excessive panting
- Licking joints
What medications are available?
However, it is likely that there will come a point where the pain a dog is experiencing due to this condition can no longer be appropriately controlled and your vet may recommend starting medication.
These tend to be the drugs that most vets will reach for when wanting to treat pain associated with arthritis, as they have proved their effectiveness, are easy to administer and can be used long-term. They work to lower the production of substances which are involved with pain and inflammation, called prostaglandins. This is done by blocking the enzyme cyclo-oxygenase. There are 2 types of this enzyme, COX-1 and COX-2, with COX-2 being most likely involved in producing prostaglandins causing inflammation. Available medications tend to be selective for the COX-2 enzyme, minimising the harmful impacts on other enzymes.
Side effects of using NSAIDs include vomiting and diarrhoea (sometimes with blood). And in more serious cases can cause liver and kidney issues. If your dog experiences any of these, you should let your vet know.
They may come in either a liquid or tablet form. It is recommended that they are given at meal times. Common NSAIDs that may be prescribed by your vet include:
- Meloxicam (marketed as Metacam, Loxicom, Meloxaid, Rheumocam)
- Carprofen (marketed as Carprieve, Rimadyl)
- Robenacoxib (marketed as Onsior)
- Grapiprant (marketed as Galliprant)
This may be added into your dog’s medication regime as it is good for chronic neuropathic pain (long-term pain that occurs when the nervous system becomes damaged), which is what dogs with arthritis commonly experience. It is given in the form of a capsule, normally three times per day. The main side effect noted sleepiness and gabapentin does have some sedative properties.
While this has no anti-inflammatory properties, it is a fantastic painkiller, that can be used in combination with an NSAID. It is often sold in combination with codeine, another painkiller. It is important to not just give your dog the tablets that us humans can have as the dose may not be correct; this may have severe side effects. Note also that this drug while effective in dogs at strictly controlled doses, is fatal to cats even at very small doses.
Your vet will guide you as to what medications will be appropriate for your pet
This may start with just one drug, and others may be added in or adjusted over time. Because of this, it is important to keep in close contact with your vet about your dog’s progress or deterioration, and see them for regular check-ups. It is likely your vet will need to see your pet every 3-6 months regardless. This is because check-ups are legally required to renew a prescription for most of the drugs mentioned above.
So, when should medication be started?
Ideally pain relief should be implemented as soon as you notice your dog is experiencing pain. In dogs where it is more likely that they will develop arthritis, you may have already started making adjustments to their lifestyle already to slow the progression of disease (as mentioned above) but these are no longer doing enough. Work with your vet to decide when starting medication will be in the best interest of your dog, and continue to keep them informed with your dog’s progress