The best way to handle canine osteoarthritis (OA) is to help prevent it from happening altogether by making sure your dog stays active, eats a healthy diet and doesn’t become overweight. But even with these precautions, your dog may still experience OA because of genetics, developmental disease or excessive wear and tear on joints.
The next best thing to prevention is to slow the effects of OA – loss of cartilage, pain from inflammation and joint damage, mobility limitations – as much as possible.
When you notice the early signs of OA, talk with your veterinarian about ways to help slow the progression of OA for your dog, such as beginning treatment with a disease-modifying osteoarthritis drug (DMOAD).
Inside a veterinary diagnosis
Ideally, you and your veterinarian will begin talking about your dog’s risk of OA during the first puppy visits. If your veterinarian suspects your dog is developing early-stage OA, there are some common tests and observations that will help confirm the diagnosis.
|What it includes
|What it means
|Dog owner questionnaire
|Questions about how your dog behaves before, during and after certain activities, such as going up or down stairs, playing fetch, walking and standing up after napping
|Small changes in your dog's behavior could mean your dog is developing early-stage OA
|Analysis of how your dog stands and walks, how the joints feel to the touch and the range of motion in your dog's joints
|Tracks signs of OA, including whether your dog abnormally shifts weight from leg to leg, the elbows flex out, step length changes, swelling is present in the joints and spine, and flexibility decreases in your dog's joints
|Muscle mass evaluation
|Measuring the size of your dog's muscles
|Changes - or lack thereof - in muscle mass help indicate the length of time OA has been present
|X-ray of your dog's joints
|X-rays help to find a problem in a specific joint, determine how severe the problem is and rule out conditions other than OA
|Arthrocentesis - analyzing fluid collected via a needle from your dog's joints
Immune panels - blood test
|Test the fluid around your dog's joints to determine the cause of joint swelling
Helps determine if infectious or immune-mediated disease is present as a potential cause of OA signs or of OA itself
Personalized OA treatment
If your dog is diagnosed with osteoarthritis, your veterinarian will create a treatment plan specific to your dog’s stage of OA, physical condition and age. The earlier your dog begins treatment, the more likely it is that you can slow the loss of cartilage in your dog’s synovial joints and help stop the related pain and debilitation of OA. Your dog’s treatment plan will likely include a variety of approaches, ranging from lifestyle management to medical treatments approved as safe and effective by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Dogs with or without OA should keep walking. A joint in motion is more likely to be able to stay in motion. If a dog with OA is experiencing too much pain to go on a walk, your veterinarian will make recommendations for getting the pain under control in the hopes your dog can get back to daily walking.
Weight puts pressure on joints, so being overweight can increase the negative effects of OA.
Disease-modifying osteoarthritis drug (DMOAD)
A DMOAD treats the disease of OA in addition to managing the signs associated with pain and inflammation. Since a DMOAD may have the ability to help manage and improve the outlook for dogs with OA, talk with your veterinarian to learn more.
Management of clinical signs
Pain management (NSAIDs)
With the right pain management, many dogs can increase their exercise, which helps improve joint health. The FDA has approved non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as carprofen, firocoxib and grapiprant to help manage the pain associated with OA inflammation. NSAIDs do not treat the disease of OA and, most often, they’re best for short-term use in order to decrease the risk of side effects. NSAIDs are available only with a prescription from a veterinarian.
Joint supplements may help support a dog’s general health. Unlike pharmaceuticals, supplements are not reviewed and approved by the FDA based on their safety and effectiveness.1 The FDA says supplements are not intended to treat, cure or prevent any disease.1 While supplements are available without a prescription, it’s best to talk with your veterinarian before giving your dog a supplement.
To support the primary OA treatment, your veterinarian may recommend therapies such as physical therapy, hydrotherapy, laser therapy and heat or ice therapy. These types of therapies may be administered by your veterinarian, a veterinary technician or a veterinary specialist.
Need To Treat Early
Mark E. Epstein
DVM, DABVP (C/F), CVPP
"...we only have a certain amount of capital of time and attention from the owner. So it does make it a significant challenge.
“My guidance would be that with any inclination of a COAST one or a two dog, that if you can make sure that the subject is brought forward, it is introduced to the client at that point, then you will have gone a step further than probably you otherwise would have. If we can move the profession that far, that’s an important step to take.”
Denis J. Marcellin-Little
DEDV, DACVS, DECVS, ACVSMR
“It is in the patients, the owners, and our best interests to manage osteoarthritis from its early stages, not from its late stages.”
BVSc, MS, PhD, DACVS, CCRP, CVSMT, DACVSMR
"If we start treating very late in the disease, then we’re really just trying to play catch up. We’ve already lost some motion in the joint so you have some stiffness that’s going to factor in and feed into pain and inactivity, which again is going to feed into other problems in practice such as obesity."
The participants are paid consultants for American Regent Animal Health. The opinions of these consultants may not be representative of American Regent Animal Health.
© 2020, American Regent, Inc. NP-NA-US-0344 11/2020