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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

An Arthritic Dog

Renae sends in this question:

I have a 7 year old, female yellow lab, weighing about 97ish lbs. She looks a LOT like your dog! (Labs are just the best dogs ever, are they not? I couldn't ask for a more perfect pet!)

Anyway, I used to take her on 3, 4, 5 mile walks semi-regularly. Several months ago, I noticed that after a good walk, and a rest-up (time enough for her to get stiff), she'd limp around for a couple of days. I asked the vet about this the last time I took her in, and they said it was probably just arthritis. So, I started giving her a glucosamine and chondroitin supplement. It seemed to help some. However her limping is always on the same leg, one of her front legs, and she has a knot on it, right at the ankle joint. I've given her plenty of time off, but she still gimps around after an active day. It's gotten to where I can't walk her more than once or twice around the block. She seems fine while we are walking (as far as I can tell), but she has a hard time after she stiffens up. Anyway, do you think she has injured herself, or does it sound like arthritis? Should I take her back to the vet? Is there hope?

Good question, Renae. This is a common situation, especially in large dogs. The first question that I would have is about the knot. Have your vet examine it carefully to make sure it's related to arthritis, or at least isn't a huge concern. Bone cancer can occur in this location, and can be very aggressive. Your vet should be able to determine this with a careful examination and likely x-rays. The symptoms do sound consistent with arthritis, but there is no way I could tell you definitively without an exam. Your vet is in the best position to tell you this.

Arthritis can manifest in different ways in each patient. A 97 pound lab is above the normal weight for the breed. Ask your vet if she is possibly overweight. If she is, then do everything you can and follow recommendations to get her to a normal weight. My lab is very average in size, and at 76 pounds is about the upper limit of normal for her build. I have known very large labs, but they're not the rule. Being overweight puts a lot of extra stress on the joints, and can make arthritis worse.

Let's assume that the lump isn't a real problem, and that we have her at a good weight. What can you do then? First, you need to realize that arthritis is an irreversible degeneration of the joint. We can't reverse any changes, but we can help with the pain and discomfort.

Glucosamine and chondroitin are excellent supplements, and have been repeatedly shown to make a difference in pets. However, use a veterinary product, not a human one. Just because the ingredients are there doesn't mean that they can be absorbed, and a dog's digestive tract is very different than a human's. There are also several foods that have been shown to make a noticable difference by including these and other ingredients (such as green-lipped mussell). I would recommend looking into Hill's J/D or Royal Canin Mobility Support.

If nutritional supplements aren't quite doing the job, talk to your vet about prescription pain medication. Avoid aspirin, acetominophen, naproxen, ibuprofen, and similar over-the-counter medications. A dog's physiology is different than a human's, and they are more prone to side-effects on these drugs. There are now many excllent drugs specifically made for dogs and are commonly used for pain and inflammation. Talk to your vet about medications such as Rimadyl, Etogesic, Deramaxx, and Metacam. Often these medications can be used "as needed" rather than every day. They do have their own possible side-effects, but have a crucial place in managing arthritis pain.

Besides the supplements and pain medication, there isn't much else that we can do. Many dogs eventually have to be euthanized due to advanced hip dysplasia or other degenerative joint diseases. However, it sounds like you're just starting to explore the beginnings of arthritis treatment, so you're probably far from that point.

I hope that helps answer your question!