Dr. Freihaut did a great job answering those questions, but I thought I would personalize the more relevant points she made by answering two different questions.
1. What should I do about my young large breed dog that is starting to show evidence of arthritis?
As soon as a large breed dog, whatever the age, starts showing evidence of arthritis, it is time to act. Signs of arthritis can include bunny-hopping with both rear legs when running, slow to get up, achy first thing in the morning, or sore in the hips after recent strenuous activity the day before. However, a lot can be done if we address the arthritis early.
a. The only proven and FDA approved disease modifing arthritis medication is an injection called Adequan. Other supplements that can add the necessary building blocks to the joints for optimum joint health are glucosamine and chondroitin.
b. Maintaining a proper weight has been shown in research to be the single most important factor to help with arthritis.
c. Regular exercise (slow, controlled leash walks are best) will help warm these guys out of any morning stiffness and regular motion is better than no motion or too much stress on the joints.
d. Anti-inflammatories that are FDA approved for dogs (Rimadyl, Deramaxx, Metacam) can also help decrease inflammation and pain, but these should be used in conjunction with the above recommendations for best effect. These also come with the most side effects.
2. What should I do if my dog is having a lot of trouble getting up and down?
Dogs get arthritis usually because their hip sockets are too shallow and their ligaments in and around the hip are too lax. The problem comes when the cartilage wears away and the bone is rubbing on bone – this hurts a lot. When you have an old dog that can barely make it down the steps to go outside, I would say that your aging pup is in severe pain. Adding glucosamine/chondriotin, working on weight loss, getting regular activity, and starting anti-inflammatories like in the younger dog is crucial, but it can only help so much. If your dog is in severe pain, we can add on additional pain medications and discuss if physical therapy or even cold laser therapy to decrease inflammation is a good fit.
I will say that arthritis in large breed dogs is one of the most frustrating diseases we encounter. There is no “cure” – we can only manage the symptoms. Often caring for the aging arthritic dog is a lot like hospice care. We know the end is coming, we can’t reverse the disease, and we are just trying to keep our patients comfortable. It is a sad disease for such happy-go-lucky dogs to have, and they are tough through it all, but I can’t help feeling sorry for them and their owners struggling to help less and less mobile and more and more painful large breed dogs.
– Doc Cleland