Medications and Supplements for Dogs with Arthritis
Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs
These are anti-inflammatory medications, but they do not repair or heal
cartilage. Ideally, they would be used along with supplements and given with
food. These do provide rapid relief from pain.
A few NSAIDs have chondroprotective
characteristics, which means they protect against the breakdown of cartilage.
Others, such as aspirin, actually destroy cartilage in the dosage required for
pain relief. This is one reason why aspirin is used less frequently for
Dogs are born to work for a living. They’ve worked alongside us for thousands of years, and most are bred for a particular purpose, like hunting, herding livestock or providing protection. Dogs’ wild relatives spend most of their waking hours scavenging and hunting for food, caring for offspring, defending territory and playing with each other. They lead busy, complex lives, interacting socially and solving simple problems necessary for their survival.
The most common job for our companion...
The NSAIDs most often recommended are prescription medications. Newer
medications have been developed that offer significant advantages over aspirin
and the older NSAIDs. Rimadyl (carprofen) is an excellent drug with a low
incidence of gastrointestinal side effects that has proven itself over time. It
must be given daily. Rimadyl provides good pain relief and seems to slow the
arthritic process. There are no detrimental effects on cartilage. Labrador
Retrievers, and possibly a few other breeds, may show a higher predisposition
for liver toxicity with Rimadyl. Etogesic (etodolac) is another newer NSAID. It
requires only one dose a day. This drug may prove as effective as Rimadyl.
These drugs are available through your veterinarian by prescription. Note that
many over-the-counter NSAIDs used for pain control in people are dangerous when
given to dogs. Do not use any drugs
without veterinary approval, and never use more than one NSAID at the same
Due to potential serious side effects, dogs on these drugs should have blood
work first to assess liver and kidneys. The drugs may prolong bleeding times
and interfere with clotting, and have the potential to cause life-threatening
liver and kidney problems and gastrointestinal ulcerations. Nausea and vomiting may be the first
indication of trouble. Blood work should be rechecked every six months, or
sooner if there are problems. These drugs should not be combined or given with
The most common side effect is GI bleeding. This can be difficult to
diagnose and quite extensive before signs become apparent. Misoprostol
(Cytotec) is a drug that prevents ulceration and helps heal ulcers caused by NSAIDs.
Sulcrafate (Carafate) is another drug that protects against mucosal damage.
Your veterinarian may prescribe one of these stomach protectants if your dog is
taking an NSAID for chronic arthritis.
Oral glucocorticoids (corticosteroids) are used for their anti-inflammatory
effects. Low dosages appear to protect cartilage, while high dosages (those
needed to relieve pain) destroy cartilage. Future formulations may have better
protective effects and a wider margin of safety.
Unfortunately, dogs are unusually sensitive to the adverse effects of both
the NSAIDs and glucocorticoids. Glucocorticoids are best used for short periods
in dogs with osteoarthritis who have failed to respond to NSAIDs. Long-term
therapy should be reserved for dogs with immune-mediated arthritis.
Steroids are regarded as highly dangerous medications with many side
effects. These can range from interfering with cartilage repair to causing
increased drinking and eating (with the associated increased elimination).
Long-term use can lead to liver and adrenal problems. Still, steroids can
provide quick relief for many conditions, and for immune problems they may be
the drug of choice. They should not be combined with any of the NSAIDs.