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Managing Arthritis in your Senior Dog by Dr. Alana Kestelman

One of the most common topics I am asked about, during appointments with senior dogs, is arthritis.
“How do I know if my dog has arthritis?” ”How can I slow the progression of the disease?” “How can I keep my dog comfortable?” and “Isn’t arthritis just a normal part of aging?”

Maintaining quality of life in senior patients is extremely important to us, as health care providers, so managing your pets arthritis is always at the forefront of our minds during these consultations. Our goal during the appointments and through this blog is to answer these questions and keep your aging dog as comfortable as possible.

Osteoarthritis is the result of long term stress on a joint (hip, elbow, shoulder, knee, wrist, ankle or spine) due to an injury, natural development of a poorly conformed joint or wear and tear in obese animals. In almost all cases, changes within the joint cannot be reversed and treatment is focused on slowing progression of the degenerative process.

Signs of arthritis include:

  • Stiffness (may dissipate as the pet warms up)
  • Reluctance to take long walks
  • Difficulty in climbing stairs, onto furniture and into the car
  • Limping, bunny hopping (both back legs move as if tied together), abnormal gain
  • Licking a single joint
  • Playing/interacting less with the family
  • Soreness when touched

Slowing the progression of arthritis requires a multimodal approach. Not all “treatment” options are right for all dogs and your senior dog’s management protocol should be discussed with your veterinarian during the yearly (or twice yearly) comprehensive wellness exams. Some management options include:

  • Weight reduction: Carrying too much weight puts added strain on joints. Slow and controlled weight loss will not only decrease the wear and tear on the joints but also increase your dog’s mobility.
  • Controlled exercise: Low impact exercise will help your dog maintain muscle mass, while also encouraging weight loss and maintaining the bond between you and your pet. Swimming of walking through shallow water, leash walking and controlled trotting are ideal.
  • Environmental Management: A soft, thick, low, possibly heated, bed will help maintain your pet’s comfort level. Steps or carpeted ramps will help your pet continue to do all the things they used to be able to do with ease, like sleep on the couch, walk down the porch steps or get into the car. Toe grips can be purchased either online or at a pet store and allow your pet to walk on hardwood floors without slipping and sliding.
  • Omega fatty acids: Supplementing your senior dog with OFA’s helps to prevent joint deterioration, naturally suppresses inflammation and reduces free radical damage. OFA’s can be found in some specific diets or in liquids that get added to your pet’s meals. Please consult with us at Coxwell Animal Clinic for the best option for you and your dog.
  • Injectable Chondroprotective Agents: Adequan or Cartrophen are 2 different injectable medications that can preserve cartilage in arthritic/at risk joints. Ask your veterinarian if this management option is right for your pet.
  • Prescription Drugs: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories can help reduce inflammation and suppress pain in dogs with more advanced disease. Other pain medications, like gabapentin or tramadol, can be added in, as well, to ease the pain of arthritis in your senior dog.

Arthritis is extremely common in our senior pet population but living in pain is not something that our aging dogs should ever have to endure. Call Coxwell Animal Clinic and book an appointment to talk to your veterinarian about managing your pet’s arthritis. We can’t turn back the hands of time but we can help make the time your pet has as comfortable as possible. They deserve it!

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