Dear Dr., Thompson: My 12-year-old arthritic Airedale has improved dramatically on the drug Carprofen. Is this the best option for her long-term? She is doing great but I am having trouble with the expense of the medicine. Could you suggest something less expensive or another product that might be just as helpful?
ANSWER: Unfortunately, your situation is not uncommon. Older dogs develop painful arthritic joints just like people. Limping, trouble rising, and an overall decrease in normal activities are the most common symptoms. Often people will comment that they do not notice the dog crying out in pain, but if you were to consider the level of pain it would take for you to cry out, it puts it in perspective. They can't tell us it hurts every time they get up and down, so they endure silently.
The drug she is taking is from a newer class of nonsteroidal pain medicines that have fewer side effects. Most over-the-counter pain medicines are not safe for pets. Advil, Alleve, and Tylenol and the generic equivalents can have very serious side effects, including kidney and liver failure. Aspirin can be used in low doses in dogs and cats, but dogs are much more sensitive to the bleeding side effects of aspirin.
Stomach ulcers are very common in dogs chronically given aspirin, and unfortunately you may not notice that there is a problem until it is too late. I never recommend giving a dog aspirin for more than a couple of days at a time. Often I see people who try to save a few dollars on a prescription and wind up spending hundreds of dollars treating complications from using medications that are not safe for pets.
Some supplements can help dogs with arthritis and eventually lead to giving the pain medicine less frequently. Omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, and chondroitin help some dogs, although the research is spotty on how effective they are. These supplements are not well-regulated, so ask your veterinarian what would be best for your dog.
One of the best treatments for arthritis is a good weight-loss program. Arthritic dogs are especially prone to weight gain because normal activity is difficult. Every extra pound is that much more strain on joints, and many people are amazed at the change when their dogs lose only a few pounds. It also has the added perk of being easier on your pocketbook because you are feeding less to your dog and giving fewer medicines. However, crash diets are not in her best interest, so ask your veterinarian to help you formulate a weight-loss program for her and make some dietary recommendations.
This multifaceted approach to managing your pet's arthritis will improve your pet's quality of life, help avoid serious side effects, and hopefully help you decrease treatment costs since ultimately the goal is to avoid giving too many medications if possible.
Questions for Dr. Thompson can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to The Blade, Attn. Ask the Vet, 541 North Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660. Dr. Thompson regrets that he cannot answer individual letters.