Osteoarthritis (OA or arthritis) effects 1 out of 4 adult dogs and 4 out of 5 senior dogs. It’s pervasive and most owners will feel like developing arthritis is inevitable. But it begs the question: “Can arthritis be reversed?”

Knee Osteoarthritis

Before we talk about reversing arthritis, let’s review how arthritis occurs. Osteoarthritis can develop due to a number of different factors including conditions like hip and elbow dysplasia, genetics, and metabolic or hormonal changes in the body. These changes cause the breakdown of the smooth cartilage in the joint. The body does it’s best to repair this damage but it is has limited ability to do this well. The new cartilage is not as smooth (ie. does not glide well and there is friction) and there is less lubrication within the joint to help everything glide nicely.

Can arthritis be prevented?

Maybe. As owners, we are certainly able to delay the onset of symptoms at the very least. There are risk factors that we cannot control, such as age, sex (males are more affected than females) and breed (larger breeds and purebred dogs are more commonly affected).

Other risk factors that are well within an owners control include:

  • Obesity – higher weight put increased stress on joints
  • Injuries – while not entirely preventable, injuries, especially injuries close to a joint, can contribute to the onset of arthritis
  • Spay or neuter status – neutered dogs have been shown to have higher rates of arthritis. The reason is not clear but is thought to be due to increased body weight seen with desexed dogs or the hormonal changes that neutering causes.
Can arthritis be reversed?

Maybe. The type of arthritis that we might be able to reverse would be the earliest arthritic changes in the joint that we would likely not even know were occurring. Arthritis changes would need to reach a certain threshold before we could see any outward signs.

However, if we know that injuries like muscle strains and ligament sprains cause inflammation that can initiate the processes that lead to arthritis (i.e. cartilage breakdown) then we can possibly reverse those earliest signs of arthritis INSIDE the joint.

Dog going for a walk
How do you reverse arthritis?

The goal is to control the earliest changes that lead to arthritis. If we can do this we MIGHT be able to reverse arthritis. The strategies to use are very similar to the ones we want to employ to slow the progression of arthritis. These include:

  • Manage inflammation early
    • Use of anti-inflammatories under the guidance of your vet
    • Resting injured area
    • Gentle, controlled activity
    • Inflammation reducing modalities like laser and ultrasound
  • Encourage healing of injury
    • Modalities such as laser and shockwave
  • Strengthening muscles to support the joint
  • Maintain full ROM of a joint
  • Start joint supplements early
    • The earliest signs of arthritis happen after arthritis is already occurring in a joint. We recommend starting a joint supplement at one year of age

What else might help reverse arthritis?

There are several other options that may fit under the heading of “reversing” arthritis. They are best discussed with your veterinarian to determine if they are appropriate for your dog.

  • Disease Modifying Osteoarthritis Drugs (DMOAD) – Cartrophen and Adequan are injections that slow the breakdown of cartilage, help supply the building blocks of new cartilage and decreases inflammation
  • Joint replacement – currently knee, hip and elbow replacements are available. Similar to human joint replacements, the affected joint is surgical removed and replaced with implants
  • Platelet rich plasma (PRP) – involves drawing blood and removing the platelets. The platelets are reinjected at a target site to help reduce inflammation and support healing
What can we conclude?

While there are many things we can do to disrupt arthritis, it can be difficult to identify when the earliest arthritis changes have started. This means, as owners, we should be taking steps from the day we bring our dogs home to prevent onset. These include managing and preventing injuries, maintaining a healthy weight, seeking out treatments for our dogs as needed from the vet or rehab professional and keeping our dogs fit.

Old Dog Pain

Does your dog already have arthritis?

References

  1. Goldring MB. Update on the biology of the chondrocyte and new approaches to treating cartilage diseases. Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol. 2006 Oct;20(5):1003-25
  2. Edge-Hughes, L. (2020, May 9). Reversing Osteoarthritis. Four Leg Rehab Inc – Laurie’s Blog. https://fourlegs.com/Blog?b=460
  3. Cartrophen.com