By T.J. Dunn, Jr., DVM
Glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and other nutritional supplements are widely used to treat dogs with arthritis. The reason is simple: Arthritis will afflict most dogs as they age. Unfortunately, dog owners and veterinarians rarely notice the early warning signs of arthritis because dogs tend to hide soreness and discomfort until the arthritic changes in joints have become severe.
But before we discuss glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate and their effect on arthritis, it is important to note that no nutritional supplement will correct structural damage to a dog's joints (this is true in humans as well). If there are calcium deposits, scar tissue, missing or torn cartilage, or changes to the bones at the joint surface, these abnormalities will remain present and will continue to affect the animal regardless of nutritional intake.
Supplements to the dog's diet – such as glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, selenium, and MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) – can assist in decreasing inflammation and improving the body's ability to repair and strengthen joint tissues. And while high-quality supplements are very safe, they tend to work best in combination with other forms of arthritis treatment.
Let’s look at several ways you can make life a little easier for your arthritic dog.
How to Treat Arthritis in Dogs
Since it is difficult to remodel an arthritic joint without surgical intervention, attempts are usually made to reduce joint inflammation and pain, which will make the dog more comfortable even if the underlying arthritic changes still remain. It is important to remember that many of the medications discussed below can have significant side effects when used improperly or in especially sensitive individuals. Never give your pet any prescription or over-the-counter medication without first consulting a veterinarian.
Prednisone, dexamethasone, and other corticosteroids will markedly reduce swelling and inflammation in arthritic joints. But there is a downside to the use of steroids for long-term palliation of arthritis: they can actually contribute to additional joint damage and breakdown and have other, unwanted side effects. Also, corticosteroids can interact badly with other medications commonly used in the treatment of arthritis. For these reasons, and due to the fact that newer, safer options now exist, veterinarians do not prescribe corticosteroids for arthritis in dogs as often as they used to in the past.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can have noticeable, beneficial effects for the arthritis patient. However, NSAIDs that are intended for human use have a high incidence of potentially serious side effects in dogs. NSAIDs like Etogesic, Rimadyl, Metacam, and Deramaxx have been designed specifically for dogs and are much safer than drugs like ibuprofen or aspirin. However, these “doggy” NSAIDs can still cause gastrointestinal upset and in rare cases liver or kidney dysfunction. NSAID use in dogs should always be supervised by a veterinarian.
Other Pain Relievers
Other pain-relieving medications like tramadol, Galliprant, Amantadine, and gabapentin may be prescribed by veterinarians, particularly if a dog’s arthritis is severe or does not respond to other forms of treatment.