There are a wide variety of medicines available to veterinarians. Their main purpose is to reduce inflammation and manage pain.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications like Rimadyl, Deramaxx and Metacam can help to maintain a dog’s quality of life. They have a bad reputation because they can have serious side effects, but in prescribing them your veterinarian will carefully evaluate the benefits and risks. They will often recommend blood work before and during their use to check for liver or kidney disorders.
They will alert you to watch for side effects like stomach upsets, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty swallowing and increased drinking and urination.
Sometimes they may recommend the use of other medications like the synthetic opioid painkiller, tramadol (Ultram), joint protective agents (Adequan), buffered aspirin or intra-articular cortisone injections.
Veterinarians only consider surgical procedures for severe arthritis and conditions like hip dysplasia when the medical management options fail to maintain a dog’s quality of life.
Surgery can involve minimally invasive procedures, such as arthroscopic repairs, cartilage grafts, or intensive (and expensive) surgeries to replace elbows and hips.
With overweight and elderly dogs it’s important for veterinarians to discuss the risks of surgery, an assessment of the outcome and the recovery period.