Recently a client brought her dog Skipper into the clinic for an exam. Skipper is a big friendly Lab that I have treated from the time he was a pup. He is 8 years old now, but I haven’t seen him for a few years. That’s because Skipper’s “mom” lost her job, and since Skipper seemed to be doing fine she decided not to bring him in for regular check-ups. But now she was concerned that something might be wrong.
I could instantly see what the problem was. Skipper used to bound into the office, jump right up on the table, wag his tail and anxiously wait for me to pet him. Today, Skipper was moving slow and he couldn’t get up on the exam table without my help.
We ran some tests and they confirmed my suspicions – Skipper had arthritis and he was in a lot of pain.
Skipper’s owner was surprised by the diagnosis. “Isn’t that a progressive disease?” she asked. “He seemed fine until just recently.”
Yes, arthritis is a progressive disease. And no, it didn’t just “happen” last week. But apparently there were no noticeable symptoms along the way that Skipper’s owner was able to pick up on until the pain got really bad.
That’s not unusual. Dogs are very good at hiding their pain and illness. It’s an instinctual behavior that goes back to when dogs lived in the wild. Dogs who were sick or injured were at risk for attack by predators, so they became quite good at masking their pain. Most dogs don’t show us when they are in pain, which makes it even harder to tell that they are sick.
From the progressed state of his disease, I knew that Skipper had been in pain for quite some time, but his owner never knew. He probably slowed down a lot over the last couple of years, but it was a gradual change and she didn’t recognize it. She probably just thought that Skipper was getting older.
Arthritis is a common disease in dogs – a lot more common than you might think. Recent studies show that it affects 1 in every 5 dogs. But for some dogs (like Skipper) the risk is even higher. Certain large breed dogs like Labs have a 70 to 80 percent chance of developing arthritis – which means 4 out of every 5 dogs in these breeds will get it. That’s a very high risk.
Because of pain and mobility issues, dogs with arthritis are no longer able to enjoy doing the things they love. They may play less, move slower or even seem “unhappy”. The more you know about the risks and symptoms of arthritis, the more likely you will be to recognize the problem in your dog. In addition to breed, things like age, weight, activity level and injury put your dog at higher risk for developing this painful condition. Even your dog’s food could be a factor since red meat is a staple in dogs’ diets, but it is high in uric acid – which contributes to these types of problems.
I started Skipper on a good glucosamine supplement, It will help reduce the swelling in his joints, ease his pain and in time it should help improve Skipper’s joint function and mobility.
Many veterinarians recommend a good glucosamine supplement for dogs that are at risk for this disease and for dogs that are already symptomatic. I’m one of them. So if your dog is at risk for developing arthritis, or if he appears to be slowing down, see your veterinarian. Glucosamine can help your dog.
Remember, dogs don’t always show that they are in pain. So be diligent about monitoring your dog’s behavior and learn as much as you can about canine arthritis and your dog’s risk factors.