Arthritis is a common problem in dogs and cats, especially as they age. There are several treatment options available to help manage arthritis symptoms and improve the quality of life for your pets.

NSAIDs: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the first-line pain management option for dogs with arthritis. These drugs have been shown to be effective in managing osteoarthritis in dogs. However, it is important to note that not all NSAIDs work the same way in all dogs, so it may be necessary to try different products to find the one that works best for your pet. Routine monitoring of the pet’s kidney and liver function is important.

Unfortunately, long-term use of NSAIDs in cats is not currently considered safe.

Amantadine: Better known by its brand name, Symmetrel®, amantadine hydrochloride is a medication used for the treatment of pain. It antagonizes i.e. inhibits N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors in the nervous system. These receptors normally transmit pain signals. By temporarily deactivating the NMDA receptors, amantadine can prevent the pain signals generated in the body from reaching the brain. If the brain never gets the pain signal, it doesn’t perceive the pain.

Amantadine is especially helpful in cases of chronic pain, such as moderate to severe arthritis in dogs. In these cases, repeated stimulation of pain pathways in the spinal cord and brain can cause harmful changes in the nervous system. The end result is that the nervous system becomes hypersensitive to painful stimuli.

This type of chronic pain stimulation can even lead to the nervous system interpreting non-painful stimuli (i.e. cold, light touch, or brushing) as painful. Amantadine can help “reset” that sensitivity to more normal levels. I tend to reach for it in patients whose chronic pain has become worse over time without an obvious cause for the worsening.

A study in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine compared the effectiveness of an NSAID alone with the combination of an NSAID and amantadine in dogs with arthritis. The researchers found that dogs given both medications together engaged in significantly more physical activity. This suggests that the combination of both medications managed their pain better than using an NSAID alone.

Joint Injections: Joint injections with hyaluronic acid (HA) or steroids can provide relief for dogs and cats with arthritis. HA injections are believed to alter the metabolism of naturally occurring HA while decreasing arthritis symptoms. We have seen quite a bit of success with this in our practice.

Steroid injections: Steroids are effective in reducing inflammation and pain in the joint. However, repeated steroid injections can be detrimental to cartilage. We recommend reserving steroid injections as a last resort for “end-stage” disease when there is little to no cartilage remaining.

Solensia for Cats: Solensia is a newer treatment specifically designed to manage arthritic pain in cats. It is a monthly injection administered by your veterinarian that inhibits nerve growth factor (NGF), which causes pain originating within the spinal cord. Solensia is a targeted treatment specifically for cats in pain due to arthritis, and it is less likely to cause gastrointestinal side effects and renal disease often seen with traditional NSAIDs or corticosteroids.

Overall, it is important to work with your veterinarian to determine the best treatment options for your pet’s arthritis, as every animal is different and may respond differently to different treatments. Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight and providing moderate exercise can also help manage arthritis symptoms in dogs and cats.

Class 4 laser therapy: also known as cold laser therapy, is a non-invasive treatment that uses a low-power laser to stimulate tissue repair and reduce inflammation and pain. The laser emits light energy that penetrates deep into the tissues, causing a cascade of physiological responses that promote healing.

The endorphin release triggered by laser therapy can help to reduce pain and improve mood in pets. Vasodilation, or the widening of blood vessels, increases blood flow to the affected area, bringing in oxygen and nutrients to support the healing process. Muscle relaxation can help to alleviate tension and spasms, improving mobility and reducing pain.

Overall, laser therapy can be an effective treatment for a range of conditions in pets, including arthritis, intervertebral disc disease, post-operative pain and inflammation, and soft tissue injuries. By reducing pain and inflammation and promoting faster healing, laser therapy can help to improve your pet’s quality of life and support their recovery. Most importantly it is extremely safe! We typically begin treatment twice a week in your home and decrease the frequency of the treatments to biweekly or monthly depending on the patient’s response.

Once we do a complete orthopedic and physical exam a treatment plan can be created tailored to the individual pet. Pain management continues to evolve and includes more safe and effective treatments to improve your aging pets happiness and quality of life.

Melissa Mckendry MS, DVM, Diplomate ABVP