Newsletter February 2016

Sore Joints: Managing Arthritis

Fairly good hips but the one on the right isn't in joint as nice as we'd like. This dog can develop arthritis.

Horrible hip arthritis on the left. This dog is in considerable pain.

Rex can’t jump in the truck any more and little Buffy looks at the stairs waiting for you to help her up. This is what we see when our four-legged friends are in pain. These two are not alone. One in five adult dogs suffers from arthritis. The good news is that we can help these poor dogs. They can enjoy lives in comfort.


The first challenge is recognizing that a dog is suffering from arthritis. Dogs don’t cry or moan to telling you they are sore. If he was in the wild and moaned from pain, he would be the first one eaten! It’s in their nature to hide discomfort. We have to look for other signs.


Limping is an obvious sign of pain. If you see a limp in the left hind leg, it means the dog has a sore leg. Dogs don’t limp for fun. But, if he’s sore in both hind legs, he can’t limp—he can’t shift his weight to one leg. He won’t limp with a sore back either. He will just be tentative in his steps.


Another indication of arthritis is stiffness or slowness on rising and decreased enthusiasm for exercise. Suppose you have a boisterous Labrador that has always been a ball dog. He’s still eager to start, but he quits after three throws. He has a problem!


Veterinarians use two techniques to diagnose arthritis. The first is feeling joints, checking for swelling and muscle soreness, as well as a reduced range of motion. Very advanced arthritis can sometimes cause crepitance (grating) when joints are flexed.


The confirmatory test for arthritis is a radiograph. This tells us what joints are involved and how severely, which guides treatment.


The first thing to address in arthritic dogs is weight. Weight control is the cornerstone to minimize stress on joints. Being 10 percent overweight, which is a mere two pounds in a 20 pound Bichon Frise, can create significantly more joint pain. It can be the difference between needing medication for pain or being able to go drug-free. I’ve seen dogs double their optimum weight. You can bet their joints are sore.


How can you gauge degree of fatness (or thinness)? You want to be able to feel the ribs without much pressure and see a waist (an indentation behind the ribs) when viewed from above.


If you find your friend is portly, you need to reduce his weight. But how? Though exercise is useful, you can’t just run a dog and shed pounds. You need to decrease the calories you feed.


The simplest way is to reduce intake. This means all the food, which includes the snacks for coming back in the house after going to the bathroom. Better yet, don’t feed treats—it’s hard to regulate them.


When you start your plan, start by measuring what you give right now. If it’s 3 cups each day, reduce to 2-1/2 or even less. Feed the set quantity and don’t vary. The idea is to do this for a month and then reweigh to see if you need to reduce further.


Diet foods are available but they are only restricted by about 10% less than regular foods. We recommend using regular foods and just control quantity.


You’ll also see regular foods with added glucosamine. The amount of supplement they contain is generally not enough for a therapeutic benefit, but they won’t do any harm.


You can also give supplements such as glucosamine. The canine dose is higher than it is for people. For example, a 70-pound Labrador needs 1500 milligrams daily. There are canine-specific preparations but many people use the human products.


We use Cartrophen in many arthritic dogs. These injections have no side effects and are extremely effective in reducing discomfort.


We can also use a pain-relieving drug such as Metacam. It is effective in treating moderate to severe arthritis pain. Designed to be used daily, you decrease the dose as the pain subsides. Do not use human painkillers in dogs – side effects can be serious.


Exercise maintains muscle mass and promotes increased range of motion in joints. An exercise program may be as little as a slow amble for 10 minutes twice a day or a brisk hour-long walk. The key is to start with just a little and slowly build up from there. If you see pain or stiffness, it was too much. Don’t overdo it.


Chasing balls is loved by many dogs but it can create pain with sudden jumps and turns. Try a “dead retrieval”. Hold your friend’s collar and throw the ball. When it comes to a stop (dead), let go of the collar, allowing a coordinated, trauma-free run.


Swimming and water walking are low impact but they allow the muscles to get a good workout. Hot and cold packs can help arthritis. Applying heat before exercise frees up stiff joints; cold can be used to decrease inflammation (pain) following exercise.


We use a chiropractic technique to help dogs move better and reduce pain. Laser is the newest treatment for arthritis.


With all we have available, arthritic dogs should not suffer in pain. If you have an older dog, or a younger one that has suffered from an injury or a malformed joint, see your veterinarian to get on a program to help your dog cope.


Joke Time - The Cardiologist

A Ford motor mechanic was removing a cylinder head from the motor of a V8 when he spotted a well-known cardiologist in his work shop. The doctor was there waiting for the service manager to come and take a look at his car when the mechanic shouted across the garage, "Hey doc, do you want to take a look at this?"


The cardiologist, a bit surprised, walked over to where the mechanic was working. The mechanic straightened up, wiped his hands on a rag and asked, "So doc, look at this engine. I opened its heart, took the valves out, repaired and replaced anything damaged and then put everything back in, and when I finished, it worked just like new. So how is it that I make $48,000 a year and you make $1.7 million when you and I are doing basically the same work?”


The cardiologist paused, leaned over and whispered to the mechanic:


"Try doing it with the engine running!"


Thank you Andrea for sending this in.

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