Much like people, chronic pain in pets is often manifested in the joints of the legs neck or back. Suffice it to say, if we had a cure for arthritic pain, we would not be practicing veterinary medicine but rather sipping Daiquiris on our own Caribbean island.
The only “cure” for failing joints is joint replacement surgery. That having been said, until artificial joints truly are “bionic”, patients with joint replacement surgery often still have some stiffness, reduced joint mobility and may notice some mild discomfort on wet cold days. To consider joint replacement, the patient must have enough dysfunction pre-surgery that the post surgical level of dysfunction is still an improvement.
Otherwise, the remaining options for chronic pain management should come as no surprise:
1. Weight loss - staying lean will help reduce the chronic stress on the bones and joints
2. Joint supplements – Oral glycosaminoglycans and chondro-protectant products are usually safe and have minimal side effects with chronic use. Some patients can appreciate noted benefit though some are only helped minimally by them. Adding omega 3 fatty acids also benefits some patients and is relatively easy and inexpensive to do
3. Polysulfated Glycosaminoglycan injections are one of the few things that can actually improve the condition of the joint cartilage. They tend to have very minimal side effects with long term use and are given twice weekly for 1 month then as needed every 2 – 4 weeks thereafter. Cost of these injections ranges from $40 - $70 each and you won’t always know if they are going to benefit your pet till after the first 4 week series are complete.
4. Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can actually help with inflammation that causes pain. There are a number of products available for dogs (though only very few safe for limited use in cats). These products can vary in price from very inexpensive to very expensive. Their use is typically on an “as needed” basis. Because their long time use can tax the liver or kidneys, regular blood work may be required for chronic medication refills.
5. Pain drugs don’t do anything to affect the source of discomfort but they can help minimize your pet’s awareness of it. They too are used on and as needed basis when NSAIDs are either not an option or are not successful at managing the pain alone.
6. Acupuncture is available for pets by a few veterinarians in the central Arkansas area. While it does not help every patient, and does not “cure” arthritis, it can effect a temporary benefit for some and is very safe to use (if helpful) on an as needed basis throughout the lifetime of the pet. We can refer to you a local veterinary acupuncturist. If you would like to try it, call Dr. Karen Hooks at 223-5400 in Little Rock.
7. Topical Treatment Devices – over the years, many topical therapeutic devices have been used on people and pets starting with brass or copper bracelets. The next generation of products were magnetic. The most recent products have been laser therapy units and the newest up and coming products around the corner are therapeutic ultrasound and "magma wave" units. Responses to these products are variable both in clinical use and research trials. Studies have been done to compare their effect against no treatment but to date, no one has published a study that compared their efficacy to a warm compress or ice pack. Therapeutic ultrasounds are not yet readily available in our area however, if you would like to try laser therapy, we can refer you to a local practitioner for that effort. For Laser Therapy options, consider Dr. Laurie Geater at the All For Pets Clinic in Cabot 501-941-7387 or Villonia Animal Clinic 501-796-8400, or Dr. Tad Marvin at the Belleview Animal Clinic on Cantrel in Little Rock 224-2444 .
8. “Stem Cell Transplant” options are being sold from time to time to clients with pets desperate for relief from arthritic pain. Stem cell therapy and research are still in their infancy and while it may become a valuable therapeutic option, one should understand that the injection of stem cells into a joint does not produce the “re-growth of a new joint or joint surface”. Careful review of all the data provided by one of the leaders in this service for pets shows an expectancy of a 10% improvement compared to saline injections.
If your pet's chronic pain is becoming a pain in your neck, call our office today to get started on a chronic pain management program.