Dealing with arthritis in older dogs requires making some choices

I have always had one or more adopted senior dogs so arthritis and joint issues have always been a concern.

Mabel (age unknown but face very, very white), a chocolate Lab mix found as a stray, is our most senior girl.

Mabel is now showing signs of joint issues all the time. It takes her longer to stand up, get up, sit down and lay down.

She still loves to gallop a few steps now and again and go for walks around the short block with her dad, but the signs are there.

Like her dad’s shoulder, which is acting up with tendonitis, arthritis or bursitis (my mom says they’re all brothers), Mabel needs a little help now and again.

We used to occasionally give her Rimadyl, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, trying not to keep her on them consistently. Like most medications, they have side effects from prolonged use. But, as Mabel’s gait slowed, we upped her to a half a tab a day, and now a full tab of Rimadyl is a daily ritual to help ease her discomfort.

But what is arthritis exactly?

When a joint’s smooth cartilage breaks down, painful wear and tear can occur and cause inflammation, commonly affecting elbow or knee joints or spine. Other joints may also be affected.

People, as well as dogs, can be affected and feel constant pain and discomfort of the joints making it difficult to move.

Arthritis is one of the most common health problems seen by veterinarians, according to

Symptoms include limping, difficulty moving, hunched posture, lameness in the front or hind legs, extended sleep or rest, irritability when handled, muscle atrophy and licking, chewing or biting at the area of pain. On a positive note, I have yet to see Mabel (or my husband) chew or bite their elbows.

Many people are starting to add glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplements to their own and their dogs’ diets.

What I didn’t realize was that these supplements are a preventative measure only. They don’t help joints that already have structural damage.

Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, omega fatty acids, vitamin E, selenium and MSM (Methylsulfo-nylmethane) all assist in decreasing inflammation and improving the body’s ability to repair and strengthen tissues.

Supple-ments, however, will not reverse structural changes in a joint, such as torn cartilage, calcium deposits and advanced scar tissue.

Although you cannot reverse these changes, you can still treat the arthritis to make it a little easier, according to

Because chondroitin production by the body decreases with age, supplementation with this compound may be especially helpful for older dogs (and people) with arthritis.

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 treatment of arthritis.

They can actually contribute to additional joint damage and breakdown.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as coated aspirin, ibuprofen, Rimadyl and Etogesic, can have noticeable beneficial effects on the arthritis patient.

However, these medications can also have a downside in some patients and must be very carefully regulated to avoid bleeding disorders, gastric ulcers and liver and kidney dysfunction in humans and dogs alike!

Some people choose not to give their pets these medications because of the possible side effects, but at Mabel’s age, I’d rather give her relief from her discomfort than worry about long-range side effects. It’s a personal decision.

Before giving your pet any over-the-counter supplement or medication, always discuss with your vet first. They can help to determine the severity of the condition and what medication and dosage will best help your pet.

Amy J. Hanna-Eckenrode is the author of “Have Dog Will Blog,” editor of the Central PA Pets magazine and director of the Central PA Pet Expo. She can be contacted at ahanna or by mail: Paws and Reflect, c/o Amy J. Hanna-Eckenrode, Altoona Mirror, 301 Cayuga Ave., Altoona, PA 16602.