Geriatric Medicine and Your Dog

Advances in modern medicine have helped us live longer and longer lives and have spilled over into veterinary medicine as well. It is not unusual today to see dogs survive well into their teens.

Quality of life is always an issue, however, and an old dog that can no longer enjoy life is a sad sight. Arthritis affects dogs just as it does humans, but there are many ways we can help alleviate their aches and pains.

First of all, our dogs have steadily become overweight, like our society. At least 50% of our dogs are either overweight or pathologically obese. Many of us equate love with feeding, and we continually give our dogs tidbits from the table, too much pet food and too many pet treats. An overweight dog will wear out its joints well before old age. Dogs just weren't designed to carry that much load. I tell clients to go home and put 500 pounds of sand in the trunk of their car and see what it does to the rear axle bearings.

Check with your vet about what your dog's lean weight should be and ask how you can get the dog down to that level. We control what our dogs eat, so if the weight doesn't come off we are doing something wrong. Switch to a low-calorie dog food and actually measure what you give each day. Stop buying commercial dog treats and start giving your dog raw carrots, apple slices, celery or other fruits and vegetables instead of dog biscuits (unless they are low calorie diet biscuits). Start a moderate, regular exercise program for your dog. It will be good for you, too. Getting the weight down will help your dog's arthritis perhaps more than most medicines.

When your dog is having a hard time going up stairs, laying down and getting up, or is showing other signs of arthritis, you can always give him the same over-the-counter medicine you might take yourself. Aspirin, tylenol and ibuprofen can all be used twice a day to alleviate aches and pains in your dog. Like people, some dogs' stomachs are sensitive to these "non-steroid anti-inflammatories" and you should always give them with a meal. Check with your vet for dosages.

Your vet also has prescription medicines for arthritis, such as "Rimadyl" and "Eto-gesic," to work directly on arthritic inflammation. On really bad days, an injection of cortico steroids may be called for to give fast relief. Occasional use of cortisone is not harmful, and will significantly reduce an arthritic flare-up for up to several weeks (using dexamethasone and Depo-Medrol). I usually add some vitamin C, A, D and E to the shot.

Perhaps the best thing to ever come along for arthritis is an injectable product called "Adequan." This has been called a "fountain of youth shot" for its remarkable results in many cases. Developed as a product for race horses to keep them running and making money, it was tried by small animal vets and found to be greatly helpful for arthritis. The shot is given once or twice a week for four weeks, then a booster is given about every three months. It works by increasing the production of synovial fluid, the joint lubricant, and by stimulating cartilage repair. The earlier it is used in an arthritic case, the better the response.

Lastly, there are "nutriceuticals," such as glycosaminoglycan and glucosamine supplements that provide the building blocks for cartilage repair. These are nearly always beneficial, with no side affects, but the response may not be noticeable. People who take these products sometimes didn't think they were helping until they stopped taking them. In essence, these products provide 20 to 30 percent improvement, but every little bit helps.

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