Beyond Izzy’s pram (managing dogs through to old age) Part 2

According to statistics, one in every five dogs is affected by arthritis, or more specifically osteoarthritis.  It’s a disease that is progressive and is associated with a number of factors which result in degeneration of the joints.

In my opinion, the stats are probably a lot higher.  More than one in five.  And that’s because too many dog parents see the symptoms of arthritis but classify it as ‘normal slowing down with age’ and they don’t seek professional help until much later – if at all.   Arthritis can develop in young dogs – I’ve seen it in dogs between the ages of 1 and 2 –  but the odds certainly increase with age.  If a dog reaches the age of 7, then they have a 65% chance of developing arthritis.

So in this post, I want to introduce you to the ladder concept for managing dogs with arthritis.  There are various rungs to the ladder and we’re going to cover each one.  Each rung is a step up in terms of effort (and potentially cost) and, just like in real life, you can go up and down the ladder based on circumstances which can include progression of the disease.

Ladder diagram

The first rung is about identifying pain and discomfort in your dog.   Many owners expect their dog to whimper or cry out as the primary indicator that they are uncomfortable.  But that just isn’t true.  By the time a dog vocalises, chances are they have been experiencing discomfort for some time and have become very painful.

There are degrees of difference between discomfort and pain

Discomfort is tolerable.  People describing discomfort use words like lingering, annoying, or aching.

Pain is much more than discomfort.  Pain is intense.  It changes the way you do things or enjoy your day.  When people describe pain they choose words like burning, sharp, or shooting.

Discomfort tells us something is wrong and often helps us manage before the situation becomes painful.

Our dogs are non-verbal communicators.  We have to become experts at their non-verbal communication by being keen observers.

In late 2017, for example, I noticed a behavioural change in Izzy.  Over the course of about 10 days, it seemed that almost every time I looked over at her, she was licking her left carpus (wrist).  And so I took her to the vet and asked for x-rays.  These confirmed ”very minor arthritic changes” – so minor that we agreed a regular rubdown with an animal liniment would likely be sufficient rather than requiring pain medication.  Izzy was experiencing discomfort and not pain.

Changes can be subtle.  My intake questionnaire for new clients is many pages long and I ask questions about mobility and behaviour as well as personally observing the dog’s gait.  A reluctance to get out of bed in the morning may not be a sign of laziness, for example.  It could be that the dog is stiff after resting all night.

Other signs can include:

  • difficulty getting comfortable in bed
  • withdrawal from normal activities
  • snapping when touched
  • pressure sores on the elbows or other joints
  • lameness or changes in gait
  • scuffing of toe nails
  • pacing

The list goes on…

When we see someone every day (and this includes our pets), we often don’t pick up on small changes.  This is a main reason why asking for a professional’s assessment is a good thing to do.  They come into your situation with a fresh set of eyes.

Got questions about this post?  Please feel free to post a message or contact me through my practice, The Balanced Dog.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

2 responses to “Beyond Izzy’s pram (managing dogs through to old age) Part 2

  1. Great post, identifying pain and discomfort is a big issue in animals, I have a cat at the moment who I suspect might be in the earl stages of arthritis,. I have noticed a stiffness in his gait and while he has always been inclined to be a bit of grumpy sod, the grumpy attitude has been noticeable of late, trip to the vet coming up.

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