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A JOINT effort

-Is your dog slowing down?

-Is your dog having a tough time manipulating stairs? -Does your dog make the jump onto the couch or bed with less vigor and ease than he/she used to?

-Would your dog now rather have a 5 minute walk than his/her usual 20 minute walk?

-Does your dog seem sore first thing in the morning?

If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, then your dog may be suffering from degenerative joint disease - especially if any of the symptoms seem worse when it's cold. What is DJD? DJD arthritis affects joints—making them stiff and painful to move. DJD can affect any dog and almost any joint, including the spine.

How will DJD affect my dog? Different breeds, and differently sized dogs, may often feel the effects in different joints:

  • For a smaller dog, DJD is often most prevalent in the spine or knees. Small dogs, who are much lighter on their feet, may not show signs of DJD as obviously as large dogs. Watch small dogs carefully; if you see them occasionally “hopping,” have them checked out by your veterinarian.

  • For a larger dog, the knees can still be involved, but we often see DJD in the hips or shoulders.

Depending on the joint involved and the dog's genetic predisposition, the onset of the DJD could be as early as two years old.

DJD, sadly, is a chronically progressive disease. Left untreated, it can continually get worse as your pet ages. In some cases, DJD can be extremely debilitating—leaving some dogs (in the advanced stages) with compromised mobility.

DJD and the cold: One way to combat the effects of DJD is with movement; activity helps the joints combat stiffness—which in turn reduces pain. In the cold weather, joints stiffen up and are less prone to movement. As people with arthritis know, joints feel stiffer in the morning and in the cold. Also when it's cold, we're more reluctant to get up and get moving—the one thing that will help! That's the double whammy of DJD in the winter, the cold actually makes it worse at a time when we and our pets are less inclined to get out and make it better. You have to combat your own unwillingness to get out and walk your dog; force yourself to do so at least twice a day. You'll both feel better for it. The movement will help your dog maintain good muscle tone, and muscle tone is crucial to combatting arthritis. The less we push our dogs to do, the more we let them give in to the pain and stiffness. If we give in to the cold, muscle will atrophy, and your dog will have less strength for activities that will help him improve.

If your dog has sensitive pads and is less inclined to get out for exercise when there’s ice on the ground, you may consider pad protectors or booties. If you haven’t been out with him in a while, start slow at first.

If your dog's symptoms persist or are severe, see your veterinarian for a thorough examination. There are effective medications and non-medical treatments that can help decrease inflammation and reduce associated pain. This will help keep your dog mobile—which will, in turn, help combat the disease's progression. If you thought your aging, arthritic dog would provide you with a good excuse to stay indoors (and eat chips on the couch), au contraire! Up and at 'em! Ways You can HELP ease their pain: About 30% of cats and dogs are affected with arthritis. Let’s discuss how we can help them. Please remember, arthritis cannot be assumed, it has to be proven (X-rays are one good way). Giving anti-inflammatory drugs to your pet just because somebody "thinks" (s)he is affected by arthritis is just not appropriate. There is no cure for arthritis, but it can be controlled. Let’s go over five ways to ease the pain...

1. Weight loss or weight control Carrying extra weight is especially tough on joints with arthritis. Losing weight is then critical. Your family vet can help your pet lose weight (with weight-loss food), or maintain the weight (with a “light” diet). One classic research study showed that "in overweight dogs, weight loss alone may improve lameness".

It is important to remember that the front legs support 60% of the weight, whereas back legs carry 40%. Therefore, weight loss is even more important with arthritis in the front legs (shoulder, elbow or wrist).

2. "Arthritis" diet Once your pet has an ideal weight, you can switch to an arthritis diet. These diets are typically enriched in glucosamine, antioxidants (such as vitamins C and E) and omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil). Such diets are perfectly balanced, i.e. they have all the necessary nutrients, vitamins and minerals, so they can be fed for life. However they are not appropriate for a growing pet, so they should be used in adults only.

3. Joint supplements Because there is never enough glucosamine in any pet food, it is important to give a supplement with glucosamine by mouth. They typically also contain chondroitin sulfate, and sometimes a supplement called MSM. Other supplements can be injected by your family vet.

4. Controlled exercise Lack of activity leads to muscle loss and a decreased range of motion in the joints.

Despite the discomfort, it is very important to continue exercising. Generally, slow leash walks are ideal. You can progressively increase their duration. For example, start with 5 minutes 2-3 times daily for one week, then increase that by 5 minutes each week. Such walks help keep muscles strong and joints flexible.

Supervised swimming is another great way of providing low impact exercise, as long as your dog doesn’t struggle to get into or out of the water. Encouraging exercise in a cat can be challenging, but some owners are able to train their cat to walk on a leash!

5. Physical therapy (PT) Done at home or at a physical therapy center, PT can make a dramatic difference. Most doggie physical therapists (officially called rehabilitation practitioners) will perform some exercises that can only be done at their facility, such as walking in an underwater treadmill, and will show you exercises to do at home. PT starts with a "warm up" and ends with a "cool down."

If you have ever needed PT for yourself, you may appreciate how dramatic a difference it can make in your pet’s life. I have personally seen rehab practitioners perform small miracles on some patients!

In our next installment, we will discuss 5 more ways to help cats and dogs plagued with arthritis.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Sited from articles written by Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ & Dr. Jeff Werber, DVM

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