You’ve noticed that your 7-year-old golden retriever is experiencing some stiffness after his weekend romps at the beach or on the trail. You take “Rusty” to your local vet, who performs a physical exam, and tells you that your dog has developed degenerative joint disease (DJD), a type of arthritis, in his hips. She prescribes Rimadyl, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID), and explains that Rusty’s condition is not curable, but that his joint stiffness and pain can be alleviated by giving him one tablet a day, possibly for the rest of his life.
You cringe at the $50 price tag for a month’s supply of tablets, but are happy to have something that will help your pet be more comfortable and allow him to be active without pain. What could be wrong with that? A number of things: There are several studies suggesting that the long-term use of NSAIDs actually accelerates the progression of DJD. So while Rusty may be more comfortable during and immediately after exercise, eventually the arthritis will become more severe, and less responsive to the medication. And unfortunately, severe advanced DJD and its associated mobility problems is one of the more common reasons that older large-breed dogs are put to sleep. So obviously, slowing down the progression of arthritis while maintaining comfort and good quality of life is a very worthy goal.
The other reason to be judicious with the use of NSAIDs is the potential for adverse side effects. This class of drugs is known cause stomach ulcers, kidney damage and – in some rare cases – liver failure and death. (As well as heart attacks in humans.) While serious side effects from NSAIDs are uncommon, they are also believed to adversely affect the healthy balance of bacteria in the gut, and to contribute to a condition known as “leaky gut.” Both of these problems can be the underlying cause of allergies, chronic digestive problems and multiple immune-mediated diseases.
Obviously, it would be wise to limit these drugs to short-term use, or to cases of last resort. The good news is that there are many alternatives to using NSAIDs for chronic DJD. Acupuncture can be very effective, as well as therapeutic lasers that many vet clinics now have available. Diets low in carbs and high in omega 3 fatty acids are very helpful in moderating chronic inflammation. Herbs such as curcumin, boswellia and ginger benefit arthritic dogs, as well as nutraceuticals such as MSM, glucosamine and hyaluronic acid. Also, don’t forget to walk your “Rusty” daily on leash to maintain good mobility and muscle strength. Swimming is good, but avoid overdoing it with ball retrieving, beach romps, etc.
By the way, all these considerations are applicable to other species as well, such as horses, goats and even humans. Cats are very susceptible to adverse side effects of NSAIDs, so they are used infrequently, and only with great caution.
Published in LocalsGuide.
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