Arthritis in Dogs, Treatment and Causes
WHAT IS ARTHRITIS?
Before we get into a discussion of supplements and their effects on arthritis in dogs, we do need to get something firmly fixed in our minds. If any joint in a dog's body (and this is true in humans as well) has significant structural changes from normal, no amount of consumed nutrients in any form will correct that structural damage. If there are calcium deposits, scar tissue, cartilage tears and dissolution, contour changes to the bones at the joint surfaces from long term abnormal forces being applied... these abnormalities will remain present and will continue to affect the animal regardless of nutritional intake. Supplements to the dog's diet such as Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate, Omega Fatty Acids, Bromelain, Yucca, Boswellin, and Vitamin E all assist in decreasing inflammation and improving the body's ability to repair and strengthen tissues. Supplements will not reverse structural changes in a joint such as torn cartilage, calcium deposits and advanced scar tissue. Take a look at a normal hip joint radiograph on the left and an arthritic hip joint on the right. The best you can expect from an arthritic joint such as on the right when providing supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin is a decrease in pain sensation, an improved resistance to additional joint tissue breakdown, and rejuvenation (improved health) of some soft tissues.
No supplement, vitamin or mineral, magnetic therapy, gold salt, chiropractic manipulation, herbal remedy, heat treatment or ""special diet"" will make the hip on the right ever return to the condition of the hip on the left. The time to address potential abnormal joint changes is before chronic stresses impact the joint conformation and structure. Genetic and environmental factors play a major roll in the development of the joint structures and lay the foundation for joint parameters affecting eventual joint health or disease. There is no cure for arthritis. Management is the key.
CAUSES OF ARTHRITIS
There are various causes of arthritis (inflammation of a joint). Some of the most common are: Genetic malformation of bone structure that creates a misalignment of joint structures, trauma or infection to joint surfaces, torn supporting ligaments or tendons (see Anterior Cruciate Ligament [ACL] surgery), poor nutrition, overweight puppy during the growth process, and auto-immune disturbances. The ultimate outcome of these factors is a joint that simply isn't working properly and where the sensory nerve endings in the supporting joint structures are irritated. These irritated nerve endings in the stressed joint tissues send pain and discomfort signals to the brain. The result is a dog that limps, rests often and is reluctant to move in a normal fashion. Since there are no nerve cells in articular cartilage, when pain is present, it is coming from the joint capsule, ligaments and supporting tissues.
These changes in a joint can occur rapidly, such as after a fracture and unsatisfactory healing, or progress with subtle but long term damage as with moderate forms of hip dysplasia. Gradual degeneration of the spine such as in the image above is very common and takes years to develop. Since there are no blood vessels or sensory nerves in joint cartilage, damage to cartilage can be quite advanced before the surrounding supportive tissues become inflamed and sore.
TREATMENT OF ARTHRITIS
Unfortunately, since we cannot remodel the joint without surgical intervention, attempts are made to reduce the inflammation at the nerve endings so that the dog is at least comfortable even if range of motion may be compromised. Very effective medication such as the steroids Prednisone, Dexamethasone, and other corticosteroids will markedly reduce swelling and inflammation to affected joints. But there is a downside to the use of steroids for long term palliation of arthritis. Intermittent use may be indicated; long term use should always be questioned. Long term corticosteroid use can actually contribute to additional joint damage and breakdown. Steroids and NSAIDs do not promote healing of joint tissues, whereas nutraceuticals like glucosamine do.