Caring through the aches and pains: Managing your dog's arthritis

That old dog of yours may eventually get to the point in her life when it appears she's slowing down and taking time to enjoy the little things in life like an extra long nap, staring off into space, or waking up panting after apparently dreaming about chasing squirrels in her younger days.

Those symptoms might be nothing, but they could also be the first indications that your dog is experiencing pain. As I've had dogs who have gone through this, only to be diagnosed with arthritis, I wanted to get get the thoughts of an expert in the field to help we, as pet owners, do something to mitigate the effects.

Dr. Deborah Breitstein DVM (Dr. Deb) has been driven to be a veterinarian since she was eight years old when a vet saved the life of her cat after a car accident. Even through all of the pets and their humans that she has helped, she continues to train in advanced veterinary techniques every year, so I'm excited that she took some time out of her schedule to share some of her knowledge with us.

SP: What are some of the early indicators that your aging dog may have arthritis?
DD: Early indications of arthritis: problems going up or down stairs, jumping into a car/truck or onto furniture, problems bending neck down to retrieve treats or even eat food. 

Note: Dr. Deb has summarized all of the different ways to determine How to Tell If Your Dog is in Pain in a PDF file on her website.

SP: Are there different types of arthritis or are there other conditions which might lead you to believe that you're once spry dog has lost a step or two?

DD: Arthritis describes inflammation of a joint or polyarthritis: multiple joints> Many causes from degenerative changes (aka osteoarthritis: aging wear and tear changes), immune related, and infection driven (eg Lyme arthritis). Sometimes injury predisposes to and/or precedes arthritis so some signs that you ask about (ie spry dog not so much) can be the cause (ie knee ligament tear ) of arthritis.

SP: Are there breed specific considerations that folks need to be aware of? Are there types of the condition that certain breeds are susceptible to? Are some breeds more likely to start showing signs earlier than others?
DD: Breed considerations: since there are now 185 recognized breeds and varieties it would be too exhaustive to compile a breed at risk chart but suffice it to say that there are some breeds, mostly large fast growing breeds, which are genetically predisposed to arthritis or even injury that precedes arthritis. Some breeds we routinely screen at their spay/neuter day (6 months) especially for hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia: usually when we first meet a new puppy of any breed we review genetic predispositions for all types of diseases and dysfunction and make appropriate recommendations for screening or testing.

SP: What can folks do to mitigate the affects as a dog gets older? Diet? Exercise? Other treatments?
DD: To reduce the risks of degenerative OA: proper diet, weight and body condition score, and exercise for the intended environment are essential.

SP: Once a dog has been diagnosed, what can an owner do to make the dog more comfortable? Are there limitations to exercise? Are there exercises or treatments that you you can do to help your dog maintain a high quality of life?
DD: Once diagnosed  by the veterinarian proper treatment can start. there are traditional pain management medications, diets that are joint protective and weight management directed (Hills Prescription Science diet J/D and R/D). We are trained in physical therapy at ahc so we recommend our underwater treadmill, home exercises and cold LASER therapies to name a few options. We also can provide acupuncture for pain management. There are also a number of joint support therapies: must be careful in selection as supplements are NOT FDA regulated so need to discuss products with a  veterinarian who is knowledgeable and has an interest in these choices: human supplements are usually inferior for or inappropriate for dogs: dose/ size actual ingredients contained. A newer option is called STEM cell therapies and can be a surgical supportive option for some dogs. We also have joint support medications (Adequan for dogs) that can help resurface joint cartilage and reduce pain with proper injection, frequency and duration or therapies. Environmental modifications also are helpful as well as slings/supports and some time custom fit orthotic devices or carts depending on the severity of affliction.

I'd like to thank Dr. Deb once again for taking the time to share her knowledge. I highly recommend you check out her blog and her practice website at Animal Healthcare of Marlboro for a variety of great information on caring for your pet and descriptions of the diverse set of services that her team provides.

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