Canine arthritis can be debilitating and many of us don’t know how to deal with a dog with arthritis. I am dealing with one every day and hope these tips will help you.
Each pet dog is a learning experience. When I was told a few years back that Hotdog, my black Labrador Retriever, has arthritis, I was alarmed but not unduly. I’ve had dogs from when I was two years old and this was the first time I’d encountered a pet with canine arthritis. So, I shrugged and started him off on the meds that the vet had prescribed.
However, I never realized what a debilitating disease arthritis can be. Today, Hotdog is close to 13 years of age, and the arthritis has slowed him down considerably. He is unable to get up or lie down on his own. There are days when he is in pain, sometimes severe. He cannot climb up and down steps, and when he walks, it is very slowly, and sometimes with difficulty.
Arthritis can really impact your dog’s quality of life. Most dogs get it when they are older but some can even get it when they are six or seven years old. For older dogs, it is usually wear and tear of the joints, just like for human beings. However, today, when I look back, I realize that after Hotdog was sterilized, at the age of 6, he put on 12 kilos in a year. That would have put a lot of stress on his joints and I have so many regrets that I didn’t keep his weight down. My other Labrador, Bonbon, is six years old and I am extremely careful; I make sure that she does not put on weight.
If your pet has arthritis, he needs special care. If the disease is managed well, often, they do not suffer too much.
Medications: Your vet will prescribe medication for your dog. Usually they will give glucosamine and chondroitin supplements. In some cases, where the dog is in severe pain, they may prescribe NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Be warned; these have many side effects and can be harmful if used over prolonged periods. Discuss it in detail with your vet if s/he prescribes them. Often, they will put your dog on a low dose of NSAIDs, which helps your dog to stay pain free. They will also prescribe periodic checkups for renal function, etc.
Always keep painkillers (that are prescribed by your vet) at home. There are days when dogs with arthritis wake up with stiff limbs and pain. Call your vet and then give your doggy a painkiller. There are Ayurvedic meds like Rumalaya and Sallaki Plus that help dogs with canine arthritis but ALWAYS check with your vet before starting your dog on any medication.
Keep your dog’s weight under control: The heavier the dog, the more pressure on the joints. You need to ensure that your dog is at an optimum weight for her breed. This eases the pressure on the joints. And, if your dog is not yet arthritic, keep her weight under control so that her chances of developing arthritis decrease.
Exercise: Even if your dog has arthritis, he needs to be exercised. However, that means that you need to be careful. Don’t force him to run or walk fast. Exercise him at his pace. There will be days when you sense reluctance. On those days, don’t push him. Just let him be. If he is in pain, you will only make his condition worse by forcing him to walk.
You need to observe your pooch and develop a strong bond with him to sense his moods and his wellbeing levels. I break up Hotdog’s walks. I walk him in the evening for 10-15 minutes and then again in the night for ten minutes. This way, he is not too tired or over exerted. Remember, moderation is the key.
Hydrotherapy: Hydrotherapy is excellent for dogs with arthritis since it is a non-weight bearing exercise. If there are doggie swimming pools in your city or town, you could take your dog there three to five times a week. However, do get clearance from your vet first.
Other therapies: Laser therapy and acupuncture are supposed to help dogs with canine arthritis. I personally have not tried either but you could check with your vet.
Range of motion: When your dog is resting, do range of motion exercises with him. Take each leg (front and back) and stretch it to its maximum range in a cycling motion. Be gentle and don’t overstretch as you could injure her. Do this for ten to fifteen minutes every alternate day.
Massage: Massage your dog’s legs and hips. This stimulates blood flow to the muscles and eases stiffness. You could just massage with your hands or add some coconut oil. Hotdog loves his massages and I give him short, quick massages at least five times a day. Again, be gentle and ask your vet for tips. You could also apply a warm compress or hot water bag. But make sure it is not too hot. Hotdog loves it when I apply a hot water bag; he sleeps like a baby as I press his limbs. I usually wrap the hot water bag in a towel.
Accessories: You could buy anti-skid socks for your dog so that he doesn’t slip on the floor. Buy a harness; it will help you to hoist him up and also hold him if he is shaky. You could buy ramps to help him climb into the car or onto the bed.
Revamp the house: Most homes today have shiny vitreous tiles that are terrible for large dogs, especially those with arthritis. Your dog can slip and fall and even injure himself or fracture a leg if he slips on these floors. Shiny, slippery floors don’t give dogs a grip and for arthritic dogs it is even worse. Hence the anti-skid socks will help.
You could also place rugs and carpets on the floor to give him traction. Don’t put dhurries, they tend to slip. I have put rubber runners in the areas Hotdog walks so that he doesn’t slip and fall. They don’t exactly add to the aesthetics but then, my concern is my dog’s safety and comfort, so aesthetics be damned!
Bedding: Make sure to provide your pooch well-padded bedding. Keep the bedding away from draughts and ensure the room isn’t too hot or too cold.
Dishes: Buy elevated water and food dishes to make it easy for your doggy to drink or eat. These are available at all pet shops. Thanks to these your dog needn’t bend too much, which could result in loss of balance or even pain and discomfort.
Be patient: As your dog ages and his arthritis gets worse, he will become increasingly immobile and will need your help. You need to be patient, loving and caring. Bond with your dog. He cannot talk; it is up to you to read the signs.
I can read Hotdog very well now. He barks when he wants me to change his position, take him into the air-conditioned room or outside to relieve himself. But you need to pick up on cues as to when the dog is in pain or discomfort. Always keep water next to him or offer him water at regular intervals since he cannot get up on his own. You don’t want your dog dehydrated.
It’s not easy to look after a dog with arthritis but a little love, care and patience will go a long way to make your doggy’s life comfortable and happy.