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Joint Efforts


Hyaluronic acid, or HLA, is a natural source of PSGAGs (it’s found in connective tissue and synovial fluid).“We’ve had very good luck with HLA,” says James Cook, DVM, director of the Comparative Orthopedic Laboratory at the University of Missouri–Columbia College of Veterinary Medicine. “We do a series of three joint injections, the first with HLA and Depo-Medrol, and the last two with just HLA. It’s been very effective, even in dogs with advanced OA.”

HLA is also given orally, but there’s no evidence that it’s effective that way, says Dr. Boothe.

Other Therapies
Physical therapy can be very helpful, says Dr. Caywood.“Strengthening exercises and activities like swimming or using an underwater treadmill build the muscles in and around the joint, making it easier for the dog to get around,” he explains.“Rehab” swimming is done under controlled circumstances, with the dog wearing a safety vest, the water at optimum temperature and constant monitoring. A vet trained in veterinary physical rehabilitation may be able to offer other options as well.

Therapeutic Lasers.
Low-level lasers have been shown to reduce pain and inflammation and to stimulate healing in humans and animals.


Extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) uses powerful, high-energy sound waves to treat OA (it’s painful, so dogs are typically sedated for this treatment). Pulsed signal therapy (PST) delivers small, imperceptible pulses of electromagnetic energy. A handful of studies have shown that both therapies can be effective in animals as well as humans.

Acupuncture and Heat.

Studies suggest that this ancient Chinese treatment can reduce stress, pain and inflammation. “We’ve seen some great results in dogs with arthritis,” says Dr. Gaynor, who is also certified in veterinary acupuncture.Another chi stimulator, far infrared or radiant heat, has been used to reduce discomfort as well.

Regenerative Stem Cell Therapy.

Arthritic dogs can be treated with stem cells harvested from the dog’s own fat stores (cells are harvested, re-engineered, then injected into the arthritic joint). A recent study found that treated dogs had significantly less lameness and pain and better range of motion. The stem cells seem to help regenerate cartilage and other tissue, providing pain relief in the process, says Dr. Gaynor.

Arguably the last choice in any menu of treatments, surgery can offer an arthritic dog a chance at real relief. Veterinary surgeons can remove painful bony growths and other problems arthroscopically, and can partially or completely replace a dog’s hip joint, all with generally good results. Total elbow replacement is available as well, although the success rate in elbows isn’t as high as that in hips, says Dr. Caywood. Right now, hips and elbows are the only joints that can be surgically replaced.

Looking Ahead

Canine OA has probably been around as long as canines. The difference now, says Dr. Cook, is that we’re better at recognizing it. And we’re more concerned with treating it than dog owners of the past might have been.

“Now, we’re looking at ways to spot arthritis before it gets too advanced,” he says. Researchers are also looking for genetic biomarkers—factors in the dog’s blood or joint fluid that would show the likelihood of his developing OA in the future. He encourages owners to know their dog’s predisposition for inherited joint diseases (the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals [offa.org] publishes dysplasia statistics for various breeds), then talk to a vet about ways to minimize the OA that might occur. “Anything that you do early in the dog’s life will have much more impact than what you do after the problem has developed,” he says.

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Martha Schindler Connors writes about health, fitness and nutrition and is a former senior editor at Natural Health. In her free time, she volunteers with Pointer Rescue (pointerrescue.org). martha-connors.com

Illustration by Thorina Rose

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