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Pets Q&A: Treating pets with arthritis

Q: My dog has bad arthritis in his knee. I’ve read a lot about Rimadyl and it scares me, so I’m thinking of using Zubrin. Do you have any suggestions about what might be safer? – V.W., Cyberspace

A: Well, no, you’re not going to use Zubrin. The drug is no longer available. This has nothing to do with safety, but instead is due to mergers and acquisitions and related business decisions.

Dr. Robin Downing, past president and founder of the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management and a certified pain practitioner, says, “Don’t believe all the untrue hoo-ha on Rimadyl and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for dogs. Each of these (NSAID) drugs is very effective, but like most drugs, not without potential side effects. The risk is similar (for each of the NSAID drugs for dogs), though one individual dog might have an adverse event with one drug but not another.”

Though they’re all similar, one NSAID drug might be more effective for some individual dogs than another.

“If one drug doesn’t seem to be as efficacious as expected, we often advise another,” adds Downing, of Windsor, Colo.

She notes that NSAID drugs should never be “given in a vacuum.” Blood work should always be done before prescribing such a drug, and over the course of a drug’s use. Regular veterinary visits are important to keep tabs on how the dog is doing.

By diminishing pain, a NSAID drug may make it possible for a dog to exercise (talk to your veterinarian about an appropriate workout). Physical therapy (including underwater treadmill), acupuncture, chiropractic and therapeutic laser may also help. The most significant factor may be weight loss.

“The best answer is multimodal therapies designed specifically for each individual,” Downing said.


Q: Our veterinarian says Tabitha has arthritis. I never knew cats could get arthritis. I suppose it makes sense, though, since she’s 16. She doesn’t act lame. My vet suggested a drug called Metacam, but I’ve read bad things about it on the Internet. Any advice? – V.D., St. Paul, Minn.

A: Cats are prone to osteoarthritis, as are people and dogs. However, cats are typically so good at masking pain that they don’t act lame. Look for more subtle signs, like not jumping up on counters or scampering up and down stairs as enthusiastically.

Dr. Robin Downing, past president and founder of the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management and a certified pain practitioner, notes that used appropriately, Metacam, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, is safe for cats.

“We have many years of data, which can’t be thrown out the window,” she says. “Metacam is used around the world without fanfare. We have a set of excellent guidelines to help veterinarians make the best decisions about using Metacam.”

Downing, of Windsor, Colo., adds, “Pain relief is the first step to break the pain cycle. About half of all cats are overweight, which most certainly may contribute to the problem. Weight loss is very important, not only to lessen the impact of arthritis, but also for overall health.”

With your veterinarian’s guidance, your cat can slowly begin to exercise. Additional options include physical therapy (including underwater treadmill), acupuncture, chiropractic and therapeutic laser.

Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can’t answer all of them individually, he’ll answer those of general interest in his column. Send email to Include your name, city and state.