Luckily, there are several treatment options that will keep your pet comfortable. As mentioned before, your veterinarian will prescribe a combination of weight maintenance, exercise, and medication to keep your pet comfortable. There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but treatment will help maintain a good quality of life for your pet. Weight Management
Obesity has been shown to be a major factor for the development of and severity of osteoarthritis. A study conducted in dogs showed a significant improvement in symptoms after an 11-18% reduction in weight. Studies in both humans and dogs have shown that just being 10% overweight can have a significant impact on the severity of the signs associated with osteoarthritis in certain joints. For a 50-pound dog, that’s only five extra pounds of body weight! These findings suggest that weight management may play a more significant role in decreasing the severity of symptoms more than any other measure a client can implement.
It is imperative that overweight patients lose weight and normal dogs do not gain excessive weight. So it is up to you, as your pet’s guardian, to ensure your pet maintains a healthy, leaner weight, especially once osteoarthritis is diagnosed. It may be hard to deny your pet treats and human foods or to restrict him to a weight management diet, but the reduction of pain and discomfort he will experience as a result will put your potential guilt at ease.
In addition to the calories burned during low impact walks, a decrease in the amount of dietary calories consumed is also necessary. Weight reduction formula diets are available from your veterinarian and may represent the safest way to restrict calories during weight loss. Exercise Modification
The single most important step in treating osteoarthritis is daily, regular, low-impact activity. Because joint fluid is produced during joint movement, exercise is believed to maintain strength, stamina, joint range of motion and decreased dependency on medication. Recommendations for exercise should consist of the "common sense" approach of using exercise intensity and duration that does not result in increased lameness.
Patients should be encouraged to begin each day with a slow leash-controlled walk. Although a 15-20 minute walk is usual, it is best to let patients dictate how long the walk can be. Avoid high impact activities like rough-housing, ball chasing, running, jumping, and climbing stairs. Application of a warm compress to the affected joint before and after exercise may be comforting to your pet.
In addition to an exercise regime, your vet may also recommend a physical rehabilitation program. Pain, inflammation, muscle spasms, muscle weakness, decreased joint range of motion and swelling all contribute to functional loss and decline in osteoarthritic patients. There are a variety of techniques that have been widely used in the treatment of human osteoarthritis that have been adapted for the treatment of our canine and feline companions.
The goal is to maintain and/or improve muscle strength and joint flexibility without overstressing the joints. Too much activity too soon is counterproductive to the treatment of osteoarthritis, as it will induce discomfort and further immobility. Patients should initially receive brief low-impact exercises such as slow short leash walks, repetitive sitting-to-standing activity, treadmill walks, and aquatic therapy.
The frequency of these exercises should be increased slowly over time followed later by longer periods of activity. Heat/cold packs, electrical stimulation, TENS, and laser therapy are among the techniques used to help reduce pain and inflammation. Furthermore, therapeutic exercises such as range of motion, stretching, balance/proprioception and aquatic exercises have been shown to be effective in improving overall strength, range of motion and balance. Pharmacologic/Disease-modifying Medication
Pharmacologic management of osteoarthritis should relieve the patient of discomfort associated with joint movement. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) make up the first line of defense most often used in osteoarthritis patients. By relieving discomfort, NSAIDs improve the patient’s willingness to be active, thereby improving muscle strength and joint flexibility, making it easier for the patient to lose weight, and providing owner satisfaction.
NSAIDs need to be given for a few months, not just a few days, to provide adequate time for exercise to improve muscle strength and joint flexibility. Studies demonstrate that different dogs will respond positively to different NSAIDs. Don’t give up if the first brand doesn’t work. Consider a two-week trial of each NSAID before switching for lack of efficacy. Allow a two to five day washout period between NSAIDs to reduce the chance of side effects from the additive effects of two different NSAIDs in your pet’s system.
Drugs such as carprofen, deracoxib, firocoxib and meloxicam are currently first choice medications for dogs that provide analgesia and anti-inflammatory action with fewer side effects than other NSAID's. Meloxicam is one of the few NSAIDs that is approved for use in cats.