Medication For Dog Arthritis: Dog Arthritis Pain Management · The Wildest

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Medication For Dog Arthritis: Dog Arthritis Pain Management

Hope for dogs with arthritis is on the horizon.

by Sarah Wooten, DVM
Updated November 30, 2023
A senior white dog with arthritis wearing a red collar standing by a large tree in the grass outside
Luis Velasco / Stocksy

There are a number of things you can give your dog for arthritis pain management. The best option for your dog will depend on the severity of their arthritis, their overall health, and any other medications they are taking. If your dog is showing signs of arthritis pain, such as limping, difficulty getting up or down, or stiffness, it is important to talk to your veterinarian. They can help you develop a treatment plan that is right for your dog. With proper care, dogs with arthritis can live long and happy lives.

Signs of arthritis in dogs

Signs of chronic discomfort can be subtle and come on so gradually that you may not notice until your dog’s veterinarian points out the changes. A dog who is uncomfortable may slow down or be reluctant to run as fast or walk as far as they once did. They may be stiff after lying down or take longer to get up and move when it’s cold or damp outside. An uncomfortable arthritic dog may be grumpier, sleep more, and decline to take part in games they used to love.

Unsure if your dog is suffering from arthritis? One of the easiest ways to tell is to talk with your vet about your concerns. Depending on your dog’s history and symptoms on physical examination, they may prescribe a short course of an anti-inflammatory pain medication. While your dog is on the medication, keep a diary and note changes in their behavior. People are often amazed at how youthful their older dogs act once their discomfort is relieved.

Dog arthritis treatment

Penn Vet assistant professor of small animal surgery Kimberly A. Agnello, BA, MS, DVM, one of the nation’s foremost researchers in canine pain management, has some advice on how people can help their arthritic dogs feel better.

Some dietary supplements can help

Dogs can also be helped by alternative therapies such as joint supplements (high-quality fish oil is an excellent choice; check with your vet for the appropriate dosage), acupuncture, and cold laser. Other supplements include:

  • Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate: These substances provide the building blocks for polysulfated glycosaminoglycans, or PSGAGs, which are long-chain molecules that hold water and give cartilage its cushion.

  • Injectable PSGAGs: Four weeks of weekly injections of these cartilage-protecting agents helps to slow joint breakdown. It also increases the production of hyaluronic acid, which helps to lubricate the joints.

  • Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM): Supplemental MSM appears to act as an analgesic (like aspirin). There are no studies evaluating its efficacy alone in dogs, but it is often added as a component of joint supplements.

  • DL-phenylalanine (DLPA): DLPA is a synthetic amino acid that is purported to relieve pain. It has not been studied for use in dogs.

  • Avocado/Soybean Unsaponifiables (ASUs): ASUs act as anti-inflammatories and can inhibit the breakdown of cartilage and promote its repair.

  • Perna canaliculus (Green-lipped Mussel): Extracts from this New Zealand mollusk have been shown to reduce joint pain and swelling in arthritic dogs, but they need to be used chronically to have any noticeable effect.

The supplements listed here can be combined with other remedies but check with your vet before adding them to your dog’s diet to make sure there are no possible interactions or downsides for your dog.

Long-term medication is available

When it comes to medication, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) continue to be the mainstay of pharmaceutical treatment for canine arthritis. These drugs are relatively safe, and generic forms are available. Dogs on NSAIDs long-term require regular blood work to check liver and kidney function.

As with humans, one size does not fit all when it comes to NSAIDs. Your vet may start with a medication at its label dose but decrease the dosage or frequency to find a dose that gives your dog the most benefit with the lowest risk of side effects. NSAIDs may sometimes cause an upset stomach or diarrhea, and they can rarely cause gastrointestinal ulcers, kidney injury, or liver problems.

Common NSAIDs used by veterinarians in the United States include:

  • Carprofen (Novox or Rimadyl)

  • Deracoxib (Deramaxx)

  • Firocoxib (Previcox)

  • Meloxicam (Metacam)

New arthritis medication for dogs

A newer anti-inflammatory drug, grapiprant (marketed as Galliprant), was approved by the FDA in 2017 for the management of chronic canine arthritis pain. A prostaglandin receptor antagonist, it specifically blocks the EP4 receptor, which is the primary receptor involved in arthritis pain.

It is considered safer than many of the other NSAIDs available because its mechanism of action is so specific, meaning that it does not affect other systems in the body like other NSAIDS might. Grapiprant is labeled for use in dogs as young as nine months of age, which makes it a good option for those with early-onset arthritis from hip or elbow dysplasia. It should not be used for dogs less than eight pounds due to problems with accurate dosing.

The dose of grapiprant may need to be adjusted for dogs with the MDR1 gene mutation. This mutation makes some dogs less able to process drugs normally. Collies often have this genetic mutation, but other breeds predisposed to it include many herding breeds, Long-haired Whippets, and Silken Windhounds.

Two studies conducted since the introduction of grapiprant showed it to be less effective than carprofen or firocoxib in reducing observable pain. These studies used an acute pain model, while grapiprant is labeled for use in chronic pain. It’s unclear how well it performs against other NSAIDs in a chronic pain scenario, but it still should be a good option for dogs who cannot take other NSAIDs due to other medical conditions.

What are other ways to manage arthritis pain in dogs?

An arthritis management plan should not rely on medications alone. Home care strategies can help control an arthritic dog’s pain, improve their strength and mobility, and increase their quality of life. Working with your vet to find a care plan that works for you and your dog is vital to keeping your dog happy and playful.

A healthy weight provides pain relief

According to Dr. Agnello, one of the easiest, most cost-effective, and beneficial ways to reduce pain associated with arthritis is to maintain dogs at a healthy weight. She described a recent patient with hip dysplasia that was scheduled for hip surgery due to arthritis pain. Because the dog was overweight, a diet was recommended leading up to the procedure. There was so much improvement from weight loss alone that the dog ended up not needing surgery.

Rehabilitation to increase strength

Once the pain is controlled, providing activity in the form of rehabilitation exercises is vital to maintaining strength and mobility. Even one visit to a canine rehab facility for instruction on how to do these workouts with your dog can be useful.

Strengthening exercises and activities like swimming or using an underwater treadmill build the muscles around the joint, making it easier for the dog to get around. This form of rehabilitation is done under controlled circumstances, with the dog wearing a safety vest, the water at optimum temperature, and constant monitoring. There are other exercises that can be done with simple equipment at home if a full rehab course is not in your budget.

The future of arthritis-pain management

For Dr. Agnello, the most exciting and promising advances in the treatment of arthritis in dogs are likely to come from what are known as translational studies. Arthritic dogs are an almost perfect model for arthritic humans, which means that while researchers are developing new treatments for arthritis in humans, dogs also benefit (and vice versa). Treatments designed to resurface cartilage, partial joint replacements, and transplanted ligaments are all being actively explored even as you read this article. Studies to improve blood supply to cartilage are also on the horizon, providing more options than ever before. It is truly an exciting time.

Dr. Agnello believes that joint-specific treatments are also the future of pain management. One such possibility is a compound called resiniferatoxin (RTX), a naturally occurring chemical found in red-hot sap produced by a Moroccan cousin of the chili pepper plant. When the chemical —which is about 1,000 times more potent than capsaicin, the active ingredient that gives chili peppers their kick—makes contact with pain-transmitting nerve cells, it spurs a rush of calcium into the cells, destroying them and providing relief from pain.

Presently, RTX can only be delivered by injection under anesthesia. When RTX is injected into the spinal fluid, pain cells are permanently ablated, or destroyed, and pain is eliminated. This selective deletion of pain-receptor cells has been coined “molecular neurosurgery” and has the advantage of sparing neurons that are in charge of other functions, such as gross motor movement and feeling. Consequently, the dog is pain-free, can maintain coordinated movement, perform activities of daily living and experience a good quality of life.

The Penn Vet research team also studied RTX’s ability to reduce pain in dogs with bone cancer. Anyone who has ever watched a dog suffer from this disease knows that the pain can be debilitating. After receiving injections of RTX, dogs who were virtually immobile were able to run and jump almost as though they felt no pain at all. Cancer persisted — and eventually proved fatal — but owners reported weeks to months of happy times with their dogs.

RTX could eventually provide veterinarians with another tool in the ongoing fight to relieve pain associated with arthritis, but it is not available outside of research use yet. Other exciting advancements in arthritis treatment and prevention include research into joint-specific stem cells and long-lasting intra-articular treatments.

FAQs (People also ask):

How long does it take for arthritis medications and supplements to show results in dogs?

Most dogs with arthritis respond quickly to pain control medications like NSAIDs. Supplements take longer to work because their goal is to slow the effects of joint degradation, not to provide immediate pain relief.

What should I do if my dog’s pain worsens or changes?

Always talk to your veterinarian if you feel like your dog is getting worse with a treatment plan instead of improving. While dogs with arthritis may have bad days here and there, severe or consistent pain indicates the need for a new approach.

The supplement industry is not monitored by the FDA, and studies have shown that the quality and amount of a supplement are sometimes less than indicated on the label. The adages “do your homework” and “you get what you pay for” apply.


Sara Wooten

Sarah Wooten, DVM

Sarah Wooten is a small animal veterinarian and certified veterinary journalist. She practices in Greeley part time at Sheep Draw Veterinary Hospital, and writes for multiple online and print publications.

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