Part 2: Treatment Options for Arthritis in Pets

By: Cynthia Quezada, DVM

Once your pet has been diagnosed with osteoarthritis (OA), there are several treatment options available that can help alleviate your pet’s achy joints.


Since OA is an inflammatory condition, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) are the treatment of choice for most patients suffering from OA. Examples of NSAIDs used in veterinary medicine include Rimadyl, Metacam, Deramaxx, Poodle Vaccination ShotPrevicox, Onsior, and Galliprant. Your veterinarian will most likely recommend blood work and a urinalysis to make sure that your pet is healthy before NSAIDs are prescribed. Over the counter NSAIDs labeled for use in people are not recommended for pets since most of these medications are toxic to dogs and cats. It is important to consult with your veterinarian to determine which medication is the most appropriate for your pet. Cats and some dogs can be sensitive to the side effects from NSAIDs. However, under the careful guidance of your veterinarian, NSAIDs can be safe and can significantly improve your pet’s quality of life.

Another class of drugs frequently used for the treatment of OA are opioids. While NSAIDs work directly at the sight of pain by decreasing inflammation, opioids work at the level of the central nervous system by decreasing the number of pain signals that reach the brain. This alters the patient’s perception of pain. Opioids can safely be combined with NSAIDs for added analgesic effects or they can be used on their own for those patients in which NSAIDs are contra-indicated. Examples of opiods prescribed for arthritic pain are buprenorphine (mostly prescribed for cats) and Tramadol (mostly prescribed for dogs).

Gabapentin is another class of drug that has been used for OA pain management. Gabapentin is thought to decrease the production in neurotransmitters that are involved in transmitting pain signals to the brain. It works especially well when combined with NSAIDs in cases of chronic pain.

Polysulfated glycosaminoglycans (PSGAGs) are what are known as disease modifying osteoarthritis drugs (DMOAD). PSGAGs provide building blocks needed for cartilage and joint (synovial) fluid health. They also work by inhibiting the enzymes that break down cartilage, so that joint damage is reduced. This drug is usually used as part of a multi-modal treatment plan for arthritis. It is most effective when used in the early stages of disease, before significant joint damage has occurred. It is also recommended in cases of acute joint injury/trauma. Of this class of drugs, Adequan is the only FDA approved DMOAD for use in veterinary medicine. Initial treatment of two injections per week, for 4 weeks is recommended.

Alternative Treatments

In recent years, alternative methods for the treatment of OA have become more  available
in veterinary medicine. These methods, when used as an adjunct to medical management, have shown to significantly enhance the response to OA medications and may even decrease the amount of medications needed to keep patients comfortable. Alternative methods for treating OA include physical therapy, acupuncture, and laser therapy. At our clinic we offer Companion Therapy Laser, which is a Class IV deep tissue laser. Laser therapy works by stimulating injured cells to produce more ATP, the energy needed for tissue to heal. Laser therapy is both safe and well tolerated by both dogs and cats. Visit our Laser Therapy page if you would like to learn more on how laser therapy works.


Omega-3 fatty acids manage  inflammation within the body, especially of the skin and joints. Omega-3 fatty acids are considered an essential nutrient for cats, dogs, and people. This means that it cannot be synthesized in the body and that it must be obtained from diet. Offering a well-balanced diet, rich in omega-3 fatty acids is one way to provide your pet with this essential nutrient. Another way to ensure that your pet receives the amount needed for joint health, is to offer a daily dose of high quality omega-3 fatty acid supplements. There are several formulations available for dogs and cats. Ask your veterinarian which they recommend.

Other supplements that may be beneficial in the management of OA include glucosamine, boswellin (Indian frankincense), chondroitin, and curcumin (turmeric). It is always recommended to first consult with your veterinarian before starting any supplements for your pet.

Hemp and Cannabidiol (CBD)

The cannabis plant has been used by humans for centuries for its analgesic properties, as well as for other health benefits. Of the hundreds of molecules present in the hemp plant, cannabidiol (CBD) has received the most attention for its medicinal health benefits, including for the treatment of acute and chronic pain. Although further pharmacologic research is needed, anecdotal evidence has been promising. When choosing a CBD product for your pet, it is important that the product is standardized. This means that the exact amount of CBD is consistent per dose administered. Also, look for CBD products that have been extracted without the use of chemicals and have been derived from organic hemp.

A multi-modal approach for the treatment of arthritis usually offers the best results. At our clinic, we tailor arthritis treatment to each individual patient. Talk to your veterinarian regarding which treatment plan is best suited for your pet. Arthritis can be a very debilitating disease, but with appropriate management and early intervention we can help our pets live more comfortably.