Arthritis can develop in aging, injured pets

Variety of treatments ease pain

  • Critter-Care-4-8

  • Joleen Gambardella rewards Missy with a tofu treat after giving the English bulldog her medication to ease the dog’s arthritis pain.
    Joleen Gambardella rewards Missy with a tofu treat after giving the English bulldog her medication to ease the dog’s arthritis pain.

    When Joleen Gambardella adopted her English bulldog, Missy, two years ago, she didn’t know much about the dog, who at the time was about 2 years old.

    She said she was surprised when the fairly young dog started showing signs of arthritis.

    “She will not even let anyone touch her hips and legs other than me,” the Toledo resident said.

    Ms. Gambardella has been trying to help the dog lose weight. The brown-and-white 80-pound dog, who was about 90 pounds when she adopted her, should weigh about 65-70 pounds, she said. She also gives the dog Dasuquin, a joint supplement for dogs and cats that contains glucosamine and chondroitin.

    “She has been on it six months, and it does help,” Ms. Gambardella said. “But we are going to look into something else as she is crying more lately.”

    When Missy appears to be in a lot of discomfort, she gives the dog Rimadyl, a nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory pain medication.

    As pets age, arthritis develops as a result of injury or a developmental process in the joint, said Dr. Gary Thompson of West Suburban Veterinary Hospital in Sylvania Township.

    Ligament injuries in the knee, dislocated knee caps, hip and elbow dysplasia, or trauma are the most common causes, he said.

    “It is important to remember that arthritis is a symptom, not a diagnosis,” Dr. Thompson said.

    Dogs are more affected by arthritis, but more cats are affected than veterinarians had realized, he said. A recent study showed that 82 percent of cats over age 14 were affected by arthritis.

    For mild cases, supplements such as chondroitin and glucosamine, Omega-3 fatty acids, and weight loss, coupled with regular low-impact exercise, are all helpful, he said.

    “It is important to remember that osteoarthritis is very different than immune-mediated arthritis,” Dr. Thompson said.

    Ms. Gambardella has to help Missy on the bed. The dog cries when lying on the hard wood floor in her home, so Ms. Gambardella bought her orthopedic beds, which give more support to the dog’s aching hips. Recently the dog had begun to urinate when lying in her bed or in her crate.

    “It’s something she has never done before, and I think it’s due to her not wanting to get up due to pain,” Ms. Gambardella said. “When she is in a lot of pain, she will not eat.”

    Dr. Thompson said the most important thing pet owners can do is to address the underlying source of the change. For example, if it’s a torn cruciate ligament in the knee that is causing the pain, it’s best to remove the damaged cartilage or bone fragments, he said.

    “If that is not possible or the arthritis is secondary to trauma or an old injury, then a multimodal approach is best,” he said. “That includes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, injectable medications that improve cartilage health, and supplements.”

    Pet owners should never give an over-the-counter human pain medicine without consulting a veterinarian first, he said.

    “I see way too many toxicities from OTC pain relievers,” Dr. Thompson said. “Just because it is safe in people does not mean it’s safe in dogs or cats.”

    One course of treatment that Ms. Gambardella has not investigated yet is massage therapy.

    “Massage is very beneficial to dogs with arthritis,” said Jonathan Rudinger, owner of PetMassage Ltd. of Toledo. “It increases cardiovascular flow so that fresh oxygen-laden blood can get to cells replacing the blood that has had its nutrients absorbed and carrying away the waste products of cell metabolism, lactic acid.”

    Massage also increases lymphatic flow, which helps the body to cleanse itself internally, he said. Massage increases the functions of the synovial fluid, which provides lubrication in joint capsules for greater ease of movement, comfort, and flexibility. Massage also stimulates the fascia, which is the sheath around muscles groups, enhancing their ability to function in tune with the rest of the body.

    “This last one is important especially for dogs with chronic arthritis who are guarding against pain by self-restricting movement,” he said.

    Mr. Rudinger had a standard poodle, Jacques, who at the end of his life was suffering from arthritis.

    “He was getting creaky and timorous about jumping up onto his massage table and up onto the rear seat of my Volvo,” he said. “He misjudged once, and fell back when he jumped too low and never attempted again. He had to be lifted up each time after that. Each massage gave him a lot of relief. I could read his appreciation in his eyes, body language, and respiratory patterns."

    Contact Tanya Irwin at or 419-724-6066.