So when does a little ache and pain become an arthritic problem in an older dog? Probably when it gets ignored, or rather excused, for too long. Seeing a dog charge around on walks is one of the great joys of being a dog owner. Seeing that same faithful friend struggling to manage what they found so easy just a year or so ago is one of the great heartaches. It’s also an unwelcome reminder of the onset of a pet’s twilight years. Fortunately there is an awful lot that can be done to help an older dog with the “aches and pains” of their advancing years.
But let’s be realistic. We’re not suggesting some kind of elixir of youth in this article, and most of what’s on offer is pretty much common sense allied to a small amount of veterinary “magic”. It’s always worth breaking down the problem of arthritis in to a few simple parts, all of which are inter-related and will have some resonance with our own struggles with arthritis. The three basic elements are:
In a consultation with a Vet., if we were to spend an hour discussing how to help an arthritic dog, then 50 minutes of that hour should focus on getting some weight off. So why is weight control so important? We, as humans, are pretty sedentary. We might go out and exercise from time to time but we don’t run around as often as a dog would do. Each time an overweight dog breaks in to a trot (or a run) the excess weight they are carrying can be multiplied by two-and-a-half, in terms of loading on a joint. So for a dog carrying a few extra pounds that becomes a significant extra on already compromised frame. And remember, most dogs are significantly smaller than ourselves, so working out just what extra weight we would be carrying if we were running is a real eye opener for an owner. The good news for dog owners now is that there is a version of a weight control diet called Hills Metabolic that, under veterinary supervision, has an exceptionally high success rate in getting weight off dogs – and they like it! They even make it in treat form.
By this we don’t mean doing less. Far from it. But we do mean changing a few things, at least in the short term. Keeping moving is very much the maxim when we think about helping a dog that is suffering with arthritis. But the kind of movement is the key to how we help. For us it would be less of the high impact aerobics and five-a-side football and more of the brisk walks and steady cycling. And for dogs. It’s a case of avoiding the sudden stop, turn and twist actions that place abnormal loads on joints. So for a West Highland White terrier playing slam-dunk with his favourite Rottweiler friend is probably the equivalent activity to avoid! Going for a trot up and down the Greenway though is just the ticket. Keep moving.
So when do we start this? – EARLY!
Putting up with something is a major failing in any disease. And yes, arthritis is a disease. Being stoic about arthritis is just as much a misplaced badge of honour in us humans and will lead to a greater problem in the long term. So why treat early, and what with? There are a range of very effective anti-inflammatory medications available for dogs now which get to grips with the pain pathway at various sites along its rocky (and uncomfortable) road. As with ourselves, certain medications suit certain dogs better than others. Picking out the right one for your arthritic dog is very much part of the ongoing conversation between Vet and owner. It’s worth spending a bit of time getting this part of the help absolutely right and using it for long enough. For those dogs only mildly affected by arthritis this support may well be short lived (months) if weight control and exercise modification are the major factors needed to help manage the problem. For those with more advanced problems the medication is lifelong. But it does improve quality of life, and often dramatically.
© copywrite Dai Gittins MRCVS.