Osteoarthritis: how can we help our aging Greys?
Osteoarthritis (also known as degenerative joint disease) is a progressive degeneration and inflammation of one or more joints due to the effects of aging or injury. In the racing Greyhound, repeated trauma to the joints (especially in the long, slender toes) or fractures of the hock, are not uncommon. But on the positive side, degenerative conditions such as hip dysplasia or cruciate ligament injuries (which often have an inherited basis) are exceedingly rare in the Greyhound breed.
Clinical signs: Most Greyhounds are fairly stoic when it comes to chronic pain (as opposed to the "Greyhound scream of death" frequently experienced during minor, acute episodes of trauma such as when the nail clippers are produced!). Most dogs will display a limp of varying degree if one limb is more painful than others. But some dogs, with bilateral arthritis, may be equally sore on both forelimbs, for example, and a limp may not be so obvious. Limping is not always an indication of arthritis either – lameness could be due to a damaged or infected nail, a foreign body in the footpad, a corn (yes, Greyhounds get corns), muscle or tendon injuries, a sore neck or back, or more serious conditions such as bone cancer.
Other symptoms your Greyhound may display if they are developing arthritis may include: having difficulty getting up after sleeping; taking a long time to lay down; restlessness; stiff gait; reluctance to climb stairs or jump into or out of the car; reduced playfulness or exercise tolerance; behavioural changes (irritability or aggression) etc. Occasionally house training may deteriorate if a dog is sore and reluctant to get up and go outside.
If you suspect your pet has arthritis, a trip to the vet is in store so that a full physical examination can be made to pinpoint the sore spot(s) & undertake further diagnostic tests (such as X-rays) if needed.
Once a diagnosis is made, what can we do to help our Greyt companion?
Exercise: Regular (daily), mild exercise is important to maintain muscle tone & prevent joints from seizing up. Strenuous exercise or free running at the dog park, however, can be counter-productive. So a 10-20 minute walk on the lead, on level ground, is good for all concerned – remember the old saying: "Use it or lose it". And as with people, swimming can be a good form of low impact exercise for dogs with stiff joints.
Weight loss: Again, as with humans, increasing age and decreasing levels of activity often lead to a bit of middle-age spread. Apart from impacting on other risk factors (elevated blood pressure, diabetes, etc) carrying around extra baggage is no good for dogs with arthritis. Cut down your dog's food intake, or perhaps change to a "lite & mature" style dry dog food, with lower fat content.
Keeping warm and comfy: If your dog is suffering from arthritis it is even more important to provide him or her with a thick, soft, comfy bed located well away from draughts and off cold hard floors such as tiles or slate. In the colder months, a nice warm coat will also be appreciated.
Nail care: If a Greyhound's nails are allowed to become overly long it causes abnormal pressures to be placed on the toes and feet and this can exacerbate the pain of arthritis. Keep your dog's nails trimmed short using clippers, a Dremel® or metal hand file. This should be done every 2 – 3 weeks.
Dog ramps: If your hound is struggling to get up into the car, you can now purchase folding or telescopic ramps – several brands are available on-line. You can even get doggy stairs so your aging dog can still make it up onto your bed or lounge!
Prescription medication: If osteoarthritis is confirmed, your vet may prescribe anti-inflammatory treatments – which are generally either corticosteroids (cortisone) or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). The latter group includes such drugs as Rimadyl® (carprofen), Metacam® (meloxicam) or Onsior® (robenacoxib). Both corticosteroids and NSAIDs can have serious side effects, especially with long term treatment, so short term therapy to alleviate severe flare-ups of inflammation and pain are best. Patients requiring longer term therapy should be checked and monitored (by blood tests) every few months. Please note that human drugs such as aspirin or paracetamol should NOT be used without very strict veterinary supervision (and the latter can be lethal in cats).
Another therapy your vet may recommend is a course of injections of Cartrophen Vet® (pentosan polysulphate). This involves four subcutaneous injections (approx 1ml dose for the average Greyhound) given at 5 – 7 day intervals. It has anti-inflammatory and cartilage protective properties and has virtually no side effects. Treatment course may need to be repeated every 3 to 12 months, depending on the severity of the arthritis.
Nutraceuticals: There are a large variety of nutraceuticals (a term coined in the 1980s combining nutrients and pharmaceuticals) available as dietary supplements for dogs with osteoarthritis. Many of these (such as glucosamine / chondroitin or fish oil) you may be taking yourself! Several of the premium grade commercial dog foods now incorporate these into their products, especially those marketed specifically for large breed or mature dogs.
A review article recently published in the veterinary literature (Vandeweerd et al, 2012) looked at 67 published treatment trials on the use of nutraceuticals in dogs, cats and horses. Of these, only 22 met the inclusion criteria for the review (controlled clinical trials evaluating clinical signs of pain or locomotion). An exhaustive evaluation of these 22 trials was conducted, with a grading of the quality of evidence for the following nutraceuticals: glucosamine, chondroitin sulphate (various forms), undenatured type II collagen, avocado & soybean, gelatin hydrolysate, omega-3 fatty acids (aka fish oils), hydroxycitric acid, green-lipped mussel powder, special milk protein concentrate and Indian & Javanese turmeric. The conclusions of the review were: "The evidence of efficacy of nutraceuticals is poor, with the exception of diets supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids in dogs".
Adjunctive therapies: Some dogs with osteoarthritis may benefit from other treatment modalities including acupuncture, chiropractics, massage therapy and even Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The options are endless!
J. M. Vandeweerd, C. Coisnon, P. Clegg, C. Cambier, A Pierson, F. Hontoir, C. Saegerman, P. Gustin & S. Buczinski. Systematic Review of Efficacy of Neutraceuticals to Alleviate Clinical Signs of Osteoarthritis. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine (2012) 26 (3): 448 - 456