In my previous post we looked at how to recognise signs of osteoarthritis (OA) in our dogs, what causes the discomfort they experience and discussed the impact of excessive weight on the disease.  We touched on the importance of controlled exercise in the management of OA and in this post I want to explore further some of the various treatment options.

Controlled physical exercise is a cornerstone of OA management. The reason for this is that in response to pain the dogs will naturally avoid using the affected joints and limbs normally.  The consequence of this is a vicious cycle of joint stiffness, reduced flexibility and loss of muscle strength supporting the joint which leads to more pain and so on.

Controlled exercise helps to avoid this vicious cycle by encouraging the dog to use the joints as normally as possible helping to maintain flexibility and strength.

Hydrotherapy is an excellent way of achieving this because it encourages dogs to use their limbs whilst at the same time avoiding the discomfort associated with weight bearing on a painful joint. Physiotherapy similarly helps to maintain flexibility and strength through the use of various exercises tailored to the individual problem. The many benefits of hydro and physiotherapy will be discussed in more detail in future posts.

There are a myriad of different so called Joint supplements available for dogs with OA however the most common constituents are usually Glucosamine, Chondroitin and Omega 3 fatty acids. The basic idea behind their use is that they may in some way improve the health of the cartilage in the joints or reduce inflammation. Unfortunately, there is very little scientific evidence demonstrating that they actually work. The best evidence is in support of the use of Omega 3 fatty acids. What I can say is that they do no harm, so I am fairly relaxed about their use in my patients.

When all is said and done the primary aim when treating an arthritic dog is to relieve their pain. Therefore, the mainstay of medical management of OA is pain killers. There are a number of different types of pain killer available for dogs, but the most commonly used type is the Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, the so called NSAID. The benefit of NSAIDs is that they both reduce inflammation as well as provide pain relief.


Photo’s courtesy of canine arthritis management

Often your vet will advise combining an NSAID with another pain killer such as Paracetamol. This is because pain killers often have different modes of action and the overall comfort level can be improved by combining them. The downside of using pain killers is the potential side effects both in the short and long term.  These should be discussed with your vet and weighed up against the benefit of using them. The key thing to remember is that different dogs respond quiet differently to different drugs. Just because one drug has not worked well does not meant that another will not.  Pain management is a complicated and fascinating subject and we have only scratched the surface here.

Blog Written by Rupert Davenport BVSc, MRCVS