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When They Ask For Help, Will You Hear It?

Dr. Bob Encinosa

If you live long enough, arthritis will find you, no matter how hard you try to avoid it. And it’s the same for our pets. Fortunately, we’ve extended the life expectancies of our pets, just as we’ve extended them for ourselves, so most pets live long enough to feel the pain of aging bodies and joints.
Also, like us, the larger the pet (or the person), the more likely they are to be disabled by the pain of arthritis. In fact, it is lack of mobility that most often brings to an end that wonderful life of a big dog. Think about it- a poodle, too painful to walk outside, can be carried outside and placed in the grass to do their business. But what about that eighty nine pound lab or that one hundred and forty pound Great Dane? Who’s going to carry them outside? So there it ends.

The big difference between pets and us is that pets don’t complain about their aching joints and backs. They don’t whine or groan. They simply move less. Maybe they don’t run to the door anymore every time the doorbell rings. Maybe they’d rather wait to have their food brought to them. Perhaps they only make a partial lap around the fenced yard before they find a shady spot to lie down. Those are your clues. Don’t ignore them.

Now, I’m not saying we can cure arthritis pain and make it go away forever, but we can almost always help. First of all, keep your pets lean. They should have a waist…. a visible narrowing behind the rib cage. If they have no waist, they’re not fluffy, they’re not big boned….. they’re overweight! If they’re overweight, they either eat too much, exercise too little, or possibly they have a treatable medical condition. So, first, have a complete physical exam done by your veterinarian, which may include some blood tests, to rule out a medical problem. If all that checks out, then it’s time to either feed less or exercise more. Like it says on the tee-shirt, “If your dog is fat, you need more exercise”.
The progression of arthritis in pets is a predictable chain, actually a vicious cycle, of events. First comes inflammation in the joints and back, the beginnings of arthritis. This leads to joint or back pain, which results in less activity. That allows muscles to atrophy and also allows the arthritis, in the form of osteophytes, also known as calcium deposits or bone spurs, to encroach on the joint. This further limits range of motion and increases the pain that comes with movement. This leads to even less activity and the cycle continues and accelerates.

So, to break the cycle, we must alleviate some of the pain and encourage activity. Fortunately, unlike 15 or 20 years ago, there are many medications and supplements which can help control the inflammation that starts the whole cycle, and help get your pet moving again. Your veterinarian can help you decide which medications are right for your pet. The goal is to ease the pain in their joints enough so that they will want to get up more often by themselves and move about, doing the things they used to do. In this way, the cycle of pain is slowed or even reversed for a while.

So don’t ignore your pet’s subtle signs of pain. They deserve help.