Arthritis or degenerative joint disease (DJD) is a very common problem in dogs and cats, particularly as they get older. Symptoms may include lameness, decreased activity level, having difficulty with stairs, discomfort when getting up and lying down, and sometimes temperament (behavior) changes due to chronic discomfort.
The most common treatment of arthritis in dogs is non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Rimadyl and Metacam. These are similar to ibuprofen (Advil) for people, but much better tolerated and approved for use in dogs. They act by reducing inflammation and thereby pain in the affected joints. And while these drugs have revolutionized the treatment of arthritis in dogs, when used long term they do require monitoring with blood tests and can potentially cause side effects.
In cats there are no approved non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for long term use. Metacam has been used in cats in low doses long term and can be safe, but the label warnings discourage vets from using it this way. So there are not a lot of options in cats to treat arthritis. Buprenorphine is sometimes used but this is a powerful opioid and probably not appropriate for long term use.
Adequan is an injectable drug that contains polysulfated glycosaminoglycan. Most people are familiar with glucosamine tablets for joint support. Adequan can be thought of as a more effective injectable version of that nutritional supplement. And while Adequan is currently only approved for use in horses and dogs, it has been used in cats for chronic arthritis and a form of bladder inflammation called idiopathic cystitis.
How does Adequan work? Like non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, Adequan relieves pain by reducing joint inflammation. But in addition to this, Adequan stimulates the production of joint fluid and cartilage so it may actually help to repair damaged joints.
Adequan is administered as a subcutaneous (under the skin) injection twice weekly for 4 weeks. If the response is positive then the frequency is reduced to as little as once a month.
Because of the frequency of the injections, at Eastlake Veterinary Hospital we train the client how to give the injections at home. Recently, my wife Maren and I decided to treat our Pomeranian Chia for her knee arthritis, and chose Adequan because she has a sensitive stomach which could be exacerbated by non steroidal drugs. Since Maren was planning an extended stay in Italy for business reasons, she would have to learn to give the injections herself. She was extremely apprehensive but we worked on it before she left, and yesterday Maren reported from Florence that Chia is symptom free and she feels Adequan is a miracle drug.
Carl Anderson DVM
Eastlake Veterinary Hospital