Osteoarthritis in the Sporting Dog, Part 2
The tri-colored setter is poised at the breakaway of the first brace of Grand National Grouse Championship. The frosty morning foretells weather conditions perfect for the hour-long stake and the excitement is electrifying! With muscles taut, she awaits that first moment of freedom. Six months ago she was diagnosed at her veterinarian’s office with osteoarthritis affecting multiple joints, but over time, through proper conditioning and medical management, it is possible for her to give a strong ground performance and be pain free!
As was mentioned in Part 1 of Osteoarthritis in the Sporting Dog, osteoarthritis (OA) is a progressive, wear-and-tear joint disease that involves the synovial (freely movable) joints within the canine body. Progressive implies that over time the condition is going to become worse with use and it can become more painful, leading to a decrease in the dog’s performance. There are management as well as medical treatments that can slow down the progression of the disease, and make our bird dogs more comfortable.
Treatment of OA is targeted towards management of the clinical signs associated with pain rather than a cure for the disease. Our goals of therapy are to improve joint function, alleviate discomfort, and ease the progression of the disease. Remember that OA is a non-curable, degenerative joint disease. Important management measures would include such therapies as nutritional regulation, weight loss (which is rarely a problem with field dogs) and control, routine low-intensity exercise (walking and swimming), physical therapy, nutriceuticals (Glucosamine and Chondroitin, MSM, SAM(e), vitamin B-3, fish oils are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, etc), acupuncture, shock-wave therapy, laser therapy, and gene therapy.
Diets high in Omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA are great for dogs affected by OA because they directly reduce the inflammation within the joint. An excellent diet will provide dogs between 50 to 250 mg per every 2.2 pounds of body weight of Omega-3 fatty acids. This means that a 50 pound dogs needs a diet that will provide about 5000 mg of Omega-3 fatty acids per day. There are numerous diets on the market that can achieve these levels, and I have seen amazing results in OA patients.
Free-radical scavengers such as DMSO, MSM, and SAM(e) reduce the inflammatory process in the joint by removing oxygen-derived free radicals that
damage the cartilage cells and reduces the quality of the synovial fluid. Medical grade DMSO (70 to 90 % solutions—up to 20 ml/day/dog) can be applied directly to the affected joint every 8 hours for 14 days. The side effects with this topical regime are very minimal.
New classes of agents/drugs have been emerging in the veterinary field that are useful in slowing down the progression of OA and can even be used to treat chronic, severe degenerative joint disease (which is end stage joint disease). Chondroprotective agents such as Adequan® have an anti-inflammatory effect in the joint as well assist in the repair of the joint’s cartilage, bone, tendons and ligaments, and synovial membrane. Adequan® is a glycosaminoglycan that can be injected into a dog’s muscles on a weekly basis and has been shown to improve joint lubrication, stimulate cartilage formation, and directly decrease the mediators of inflammation in the joint.
Some patients continue to be painful after the implementation of conservative treatment. These patients generally require pain relief in an additional form.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (i.e. Rimadyl, Metacam, Deramaxx, etc) may be prescribed to the OA patient that suffers from uncontrollable pain. NSAID’s reduce pain by eliminating the inflammatory process. Although they reduce arthritic pain, they also have their shortcomings. NSAID’s do not provide support or lubricate the joint in any manner, and they may cause gastrointestinal upset and associated kidney or liver problems with chronic usage.
Managing OA successfully in our canine partners requires a basic general knowledge of the joint’s function and structure, as well as understanding how OA develops. Once armed with this knowledge, we can combine numerous treatments to help alleviate our bird dog’s arthritic pain. Sound canine genetics and confirmation, proper nutrition, regular exercise, weight control, physical therapy, nutriceuticals, alternative therapies, and judicial usage of NSAID’s in combination may provide comfort and help maintain adequate function of the joints; ultimately allowing our bird dogs to live a healthier and happier life.