Watching your beloved pet struggle with the crippling aches of arthritis is a torturous, and depressing affair for any pet owner. Thankfully, there are a number of medicines and treatments available for helping your dog or cat manage joint pain associated with arthritis. Although each treatment has its pros and cons, experts agree that the best way to treat arthritis is multimodal. That means your vet will try several different approaches, to determine what combination of meds works best.
Below, you’ll find a general review of the medications most commonly used to treat and manage degenerative arthritis in cats and dogs. You can get a general idea from the list below of the meds you’d like to try for your affected pet, though only a certified vet will be able to determine which treatments are appropriate, and which are not.
Degenerative arthritis is one of the leading causes of chronic pain in pets and is usually the result of prolonged strain on a joint (either from an old injury or through natural development). Most likely, your treatment plan will include:
- Pain relief medicine
Pain relief medicine comes in two types: anti-inflammatory and straight. Anti-inflammatory pain relief helps to alleviate the symptoms of the disease, while straight painkillers simply keep the pain at bay.
- Tramadol acts both as a narcotic pain reliever, as well as an anxiety relief tablet. That means it relieves the actual pain for cats, but also contributes to an altered and improved mental state. While Tramadol is highly effective in reducing pain in felines, it tastes awful.
- Amantadine is given to both cats and dogs to relieve wind-up pain, which is basically when the nerves have been under stress from chronic pain for so long, that they’ve grown sensitized. Amantadine restores sensitized nerves but may act as a sedative, in certain combinations.
- Gabapentin alters the way pain is transmitted in the spinal cord and relieves neurological pain in both cats and dogs. However, like Amantadine, it can be quite a potent tranquilizer.
- Cartilage support
The purpose of these supplements is to stock the body with healthy “raw material” that allows it to rebuild damaged cartilage and muscle tissue. These can be particularly beneficial in the early stages of degenerative arthritis. However, bear in mind that supplements are not FDA-regulated, so their efficiency is questionable, with weeks of intake only resulting in mild effects.
- Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate are products harvested from sea mollusks that are essentially cartilage components. Both cats and dogs can take these, and stock up on “building blocks” to repair damaged cartilage.
- Methyl Sulfonyl Methane (MSM) is a nutraceutical anti-inflammatory that allows cartilage to soak up water, which in turn makes it comfier for articulating bones. MSM is appropriate for treating both cats and dogs and is believed to also boast anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
- Creatine is a feline and canine supplement that improves overall endurance and strengthens bones.
- Anti-inflammatory supplements
These supplements come in two types: antioxidant (which means they stymy the progression of arthritis), and anti-inflammatory (which are simply used to manage the pain). As with the above, while these are FDA-safe, there is no guarantee as to their efficiency.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids come from cold water fish, and are thought to possess anti-inflammatory properties. They’re administered to both cats and dogs, though they do take a while to build up in the body, and have effects. While it’s tempting to use flax seed oil, remember that the canine/feline body converts very little of that into actual omega-3. It’s best to use fish oils (though not cod liver oil, as there’s a risk for vitamin A toxicity).
- Green-lipped Mussel Extract inhibits the leukotrienes that, together with prostaglandins, create inflammation. It produces mild pain relief in cats and dogs.
- Cannabinoids are derived from hemp, and contain antioxidants and immunomodulators (anti-inflammatory). They can also dull the sense of pain. Numerous legal variants are available for pet use, though do consult with your vet before administering cannabinoids.
- Avocado/Soybean Unsaponifiables (ASU) are biochemicals that come from avocado and/or soybeans, and that are good for both cats and dogs. They inhibit inflammation, and promote cartilage repair.
- Dried Milk Proteins are anti-inflammatory biochemicals from the milk of dairy cows (rich in anti-inflammatory factors). Dried milk proteins can be administered to both cats and dogs, and are notably fast-acting (within 4-7 days).
- Polyphenols such as turmeric, grape seed oil, or green tea extract work to suppress the body’s natural action of converting cell membrane fats into inflammatory prostaglandins. They are appropriate for both cats and dogs.
- Specialized products;
Specialized products target the harmful effect of free radicals (from pollution, sunlight, etc.) that contributes to aging, and the destruction of cartilage and tissue.
- Adequan Injections – injectable glycosaminoglycan which inhibits harmful enzymes that destroy the joint cartilage, and stimulates cartilage repair.
- Stem Cell Therapy – a new form of regenerative therapy where a healing product is made from harvesting fat from the patient, and injecting into the joint.
- Platelet Rich Plasma – therapy that harvests blood, and separates the red and white cells. This boosts the plasma’s potency, and its platelet content (which makes it healing and growth-stimulating). By injecting into the joints, you can stimulate cartilage growth.
- Radiosynoviorthesis (RSO) – the injection of radioactive agents into the joint to stimulate fluid, and reduce inflammation. An emerging treatment, that’s only currently used for canine elbow arthritis.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) suppress the prostaglandins effect more quickly, only taking hours to work. They provide relief for pets in more advanced stages of arthritis.
- Cox Preferential NSAIDs basically suppress the production of COX-2 (bad prostaglandins) and stimulate the production of COX-1 (good prostaglandins).
- Cox-Selective NSAIDs (The Coxib Class) only suppress the production of COX-2, without boosting that of COX-1.
- The Piprant Class of NSAIDS focuses, instead, on the EP4 receptor that receives the prostaglandin and generates pain. By suppressing the generation of pain, the Piprant Class works quickly and efficiently in providing pain relief.
For all of the above, you will need to consult your veterinarian first, before settling on a treatment. Felines, in particular, may have trouble with NSAID administration, so make sure you follow your vet’s instructions.