During the pandemic, pet owners sequestered at home have been spending more time with their pets, which includes getting outside and exercising with their dogs more. In most situations this is a good thing. But once in a while, a pet and owner have done a little too much, resulting in a sore pet. If the pet has a osteoarthritis (OA,) this can cause some issues.

Pets with a history of OA have to be careful not to exacerbate their condition. Unfortunately, during COVID, some pet owners have had difficulty getting into their veterinarian for examination. What is a pet owner to do if they suspect their dog is in discomfort? The good news is that there are safe options for rehabilitating your pet at home.

At-Home Screening and Monitoring

Before embarking on a rehabilitation program, it is good to find out where you are starting from. There are some new at home screening and monitoring tools to show improvement or progression of discomfort. A good owner derived clinical metrology tool to measure activities of daily living is the Canine Brief Pain Inventory (CBPI). One can evaluate their pet and then use it weekly / periodically to monitor their pets progress.

Management of Pet Pain from Home

The first thing to tackle when managing your pet’s pain from home is weight control; an appropriate body condition score (BCS) can be a big part of a life-style change when dealing with pain or OA in our pets. We know that adipose tissue (fat) is an inflammatory mediator. It has been shown that even small reductions in weight can result in reductions in (OA) lameness. There are even new veterinary formulated diets for metabolic weight loss in patients having difficulty losing weight.

Rehabilitation Methods for Pet Pain

Pain management (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and adjunct analgesics) is crucial to OA and pain management but there are newer, smarter ways of alleviating pain.

Rehabilitation therapy is a cornerstone of OA and pain management. There are wonderful in-clinic modalities (laser, ultrasound, and acupuncture) but these are not easily accomplished at home.  There’s good news, though! The goals of at-home rehabilitation are the same: increase muscle mass, reduce pain, and weight loss. At home rehabilitation should involve all – or some of – the following:

1) Walking – the perfect warm up. To add complexity, owners can add hills and stairs or even different walking patterns, such as a figure-8, all at a slow, controlled pace.

2) Ice therapy – reduces muscle metabolism to decrease muscle spasms. Ice is used safely in acute situations of acute discomfort and chronic exacerbations. And ice pack or even a frozen bag of peas can be used in a pinch. Use the ice a few times daily for about 5 minutes.

3) Heat therapy – increases circulation, decreases muscle spasms, and increases joint mobility. Heat should not be used in an acute situation of swelling or injury. If using heating pads, be careful the temperature does not get too hot.

4) Massage – can increase blood and lymphatic circulation relieving muscle spasms. It is very useful in pets with chronic arthritis that tend to have overworked compensatory muscles.

5) The Assisi Loop – safely relieves pain and inflammation. The Assisi Loop utilizes targeted pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (tPEMF). PEMF is an active electromagnetic waveform delivered by antenna that cannot be felt. The Assisi signal is FDA cleared in humans for the relief of pain and swelling and Assisi’s veterinary research supports the human data. It works to enhance nitric oxide, which activates anti-inflammatory cascades and inhibits excessive proinflammatory mediators in tissues. Additionally, it enhances endogenous opioid release which leads to a reduction in opioid intake. So in addition to relieving pain it works to heal tissues.

6) Isometric exercises – help to improve strength in recovering pets. In isometric exercises, the joint angle and length do not change during contraction (compared to concentric or eccentric contractions called dynamic movements). Isometrics are done in a static position rather than being dynamic through a range of motion. Examples are three-legged and two-legged standing. These exercises also improve core strength and are the safest exercises in a recovering pet.

7) Joint supplements – the world of joint supplements (chondroitin, glucosamine, and omega fatty acids) can be murky. The FDA has no regulations on nutraceuticals meaning no company has to meet label claim (and in fact >90% of companies fail to meet label claims). It is best to stick to recommended brands that can provide research support of their claims and safety data.

These simple yet wonderful suggestions can make a world of difference in an at-home therapeutic treatment plan.

So, what are you waiting for?!