Donna shares insider tips about your pets gained through exclusive interviews with industry experts.
While there is no cure for canine arthritis, there are many things that you can do to help your best friend feel better and enjoy life more. In this exclusive interview, Dr. Cathy Alinovi, owner of Hoofstock Veterinary Services and certified veterinary food therapist, shares her tips and expertise on the topic of treating arthritis in dogs.
Arthritis in Dogs FAQs
Donna Cosmato (DC): Please define canine arthritis in plain English for our readers.
Dr. Cathy: “Arth” means joint, and “itis” means inflammation. Arthritis is a painful inflammation of the joints. It can be any joint—even the jaw, ribs, the foot, or the more commonly seen hip, as in hip dysplasia.
DC: What causes arthritis in dogs?
Dr. Cathy: While the list of causative factors is long, some typical causes are looseness in the joint that leads to hip dysplasia, Lyme disease, and an inflammatory diet (usually stemming from commercial food sources).
DC: What clinical signs should owners watch for?
Dr. Cathy: Be on the alert for licking one spot, changes in movement, changes in behavior (some dogs get cranky), slowing down, manifesting pain the day after vigorous exercise.
DC: How many types (or degrees) are there?
Dr. Cathy: The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals scores dogs’ hips for looseness in the hip joint. Scores range from excellent to fair (normal), borderline, and mild to severely dysplastic. However, one dog with severe dysplasia may have little pain or movement restriction whereas another dog with mild changes will have severe pain. Many factors go into true symptomatology.
DC: What are the most common contributing factors?
Dr. Cathy: These would be large breed dogs, overweight dogs, and genetic lines from parents who developed arthritis.
DC: Are there canine populations that are at a higher risk?
Dr. Cathy: Yes, those would be Labradors, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Dachshunds, Pekinese, Bulldogs and Boxers.
DC: How is canine arthritis diagnosed?
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Dr. Cathy: The most common method is radiographs, and it is done under sedation typically as the movement of the joint into position can be uncomfortable.
DC: What is the prognosis for a dog with canine arthritis?
Dr. Cathy: This depends on how soon you catch it and how compliant the owner is. I have patients whose owners will not try to help the animal get the weight off so nothing really helps. On the other hand, I have patients whose owners do everything that I advise and find that we extend their dogs’ life and comfort for months to years.
Treatment and Side Effects FAQs
DC: What are the most common treatment methods?
Dr. Cathy: The tried and true triad of weight control, controlled exercise, and anti-inflammatory medication.
- In the NSAID family, the most commonly prescribed names are Rimadyl, Deramaxx, and Previcox.
- A vet may also prescribe steroids or nutraceuticals such as Glucosamine/chondroitin/MSM and omega fatty acids.
- Other treatment methods are Tramadol, which is a non-narcotic opiate or newer pain meds such as gabapentin, buprenorphine and amantidine.
- Finally, there are injections—into either the joint or the muscles—chondroitins, and steroids in the joint or laser therapy.
DC: Are there any natural remedies used for the treatment of arthritis in dogs?
Dr. Cathy: Several natural remedies can be employed such as:
- Laser therapy: I refer to this as a crossover because both Western and alternative practitioners use laser therapy as a treatment modality. It increases blood flow and removes inflammatory mediators faster.
- Chiropractic: By restoring the mobility in the joint, the body inhibits pain directly at the spinal cord to make the arthritic patient more comfortable.
- Acupuncture: Stimulates the nerve response in the body to inhibit pain and improve mobility and flexibility. There is excellent research with acupuncture, which shows it stimulates the body to release natural pain relievers like endorphins.
- Herbs: I recommend Bromelain or herbal blends like Body Sore from Jing Tang Herbal
- Homeopathics: Arnica, Traumeel/Zeel.
- Massage: Works similarly to chiropractic and acupuncture.
DC: What are the known side effects or negative reactions to the treatment methods?
Dr. Cathy: Some commonly seen side effects broken down by categories are:
- NSAIDS: Vomiting, diarrhea, skin rash, kidney or liver damage, or reduced appetite may be experienced.
- Steroids: Increased thirst and appetite, panting, diabetes, Cushing’s disease, delayed wound healing. Steroids may also cause the same side effects as NSAIDs do.
- Neutraceuticals: Intestinal upset.
- Other medications: Dizziness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, skin rash, and some of the same side effects as other medications.
- Alternative methods: There have not been many side effects reported. Sometimes with chiropractic, a dog will feel so much better that he or she does too much and has a bit of muscle tenderness the next day.
What to Do When Your Best Friend is Hurting
DC: What can owners do to make their pets more comfortable?
Dr. Cathy: Everything that reduces inflammation makes the arthritic patient feel better.
Feed them healthy food (half meat, half veggies—people food). Help your pet achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
Take them for walks. Massage the affected areas with a hand held vibrating massager like those designed for tired human muscles. Apply warm heat.
When pain relief is necessary, use just enough to relieve the pain but not so much that negative effects occur.
DC: What are the top three tips you have for owners of arthritic dogs?
Dr. Cathy: Good question! Here's my top three recommendations for owners:
- Transition the dog to a natural food diet or even the more traditional canine raw feeding as quickly as possible.
- Motion is good and inhibits pain so I’d advise them to take the animal for chiropractic care on a routine basis.
- If needed based on the level of pain, I’d prescribe or recommend herbs or some traditional Western drugs. I try to do as little as possible to get the dog the best comfort possible. My philosophy is to medicate as sparingly as possible.
All pharmaceuticals are wonderful and they can do great things, but given day after day, anti-inflammatory medication becomes pro-inflammatory. For instance, in a situation where Rimadyl used to work, several years later the owner might report that it no longer seems to be working.
It could be making things worse and causing problems in the intestines. There is a huge amount of documentation that the continued use of NSAIDs can cause gastrointestinal bleeding and death (in humans). That’s the reason Celebrex was taken off the market.
Yet, we continue to prescribe these drugs for our dogs, and I do not think it is in the best interests of their health because it compromises their kidneys and liver. I want them here and comfortable for as long as possible with as little done to them as possible.
DC: What have I forgotten to ask you that my readers might want to know?
Dr. Cathy: An important thing not to do is do not use human pain relievers because many can be toxic or even fatal.
Some owners take some extraordinary measures. Joint replacement, just as is done in humans—hip replacement, and pelvic reconstruction type surgeries are the most common ones.
Meet the Expert: Dr. Cathy Alinovi
In her own words, her specialty “ended up being a joke when I was in chiropractic and it went something like this:
You answer the phone ‘Last Hope Veterinary Hospital’ because people come to alternative practitioners when they have no other hope left. They have exhausted every possible alternative with Western medicine so they think, ‘Well, let’s give it one more shot and try some alternative stuff.”
Nutrition is key: In addition to using the chiropractic approach, I learned all about food and soon realized something crucial about commercial pet food. These foods are manufactured and formulated with the best intentions, and owners who use these foods really think that they are doing the best thing for their pets. However, they could be risking the development of future problems such as creating lots of inflammation, which could lead to problems like arthritis.
I think where I really spend most of my time with my clients is on nutrition; I treat eighty percent of the clients that come through my office door with nutrition. I teach the owners what is in the food and what it does to the animals (and to them) and suggest they use a higher quality of food.
Nutrition is affordable: Many people feel like they cannot afford the extremely high-quality kibble (which is still extremely processed). However, what I discovered while writing our cookbook about healthy meals for dogs and cats is it cost about half the price to make our recipes than to purchase regular commercial dog food (not the premium kibble).
Plan for better nutrition: Homemade dog food is healthier because it is not processed, extruded or changed by heat. You do have to find time in your schedule to prepare it, but like anything else, you have to weigh the risk versus the reward.
Want to read more of Dr. Cathy's advice? Check out her interview answers on the topic of canine inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Skype interview with Dr. Cathy Alinovi, 01/11/2012
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2012 Donna Cosmato
Share Your Stories and Experience About Canine Arthritis
Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on February 05, 2012:
Hi Debbie, I'm glad you liked this and learned some new things. Helping our fur babies cope with arthritis is really important, isn't it?
Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on February 03, 2012:
I did not know any of this.. great hub.. debbie
Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on January 24, 2012:
Thank you, alcosin, for the votes of support and the kind words about this hub. Interviewing experts is lots of fun and in addition to being a great way to increase your income, you get to meet some really interesting people.
Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on January 22, 2012:
Not only a useful hub on canine arthritis, but a wonderful example for your "how to interview" hub. Voting this Up and Useful.
Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on January 14, 2012:
Hi poetvix! Thanks for your comment; I hope Ever ages gracefully without developing arthritis or any other age related disease. It's always painful to see our babies suffer because there's no way to communicate with them to really know the level of pain or how to best mitigate it. I appreciate your continued support of my writing more than you know:)
poetvix from Gone from Texas but still in the south. Surrounded by God's country. on January 13, 2012:
Ever, my beloved mastiff is aging. So far arthritis has not been an issue but it could become one. Thank you for such well researched tips from true professionals. I do love your hubs. I always learn something new. God bless!
Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on January 13, 2012:
Oh, that's so awesome, Healthy Pursuits! Dachshunds are such wonderful pets and companions; I hope you have many happy years with her. I'm glad you found Dr. Cathy's advice to be helpful. I wish she lived closer so she could treat my fur babies with her healing herbs and foods:)
Karla Iverson from Oregon on January 13, 2012:
Excellent! I have just adopted a Dachshund who's 8 years old, and was wondering about how to care of her as she ages. Some friends have a Dachshund with arthritis and I'm sending the link to them. Thank you for such great info.