If you have had dogs for long enough, chances are you’ve witnessed the inevitable slow-down that comes with age. Old injuries are exacerbated by old age and arthritis leads to limited mobility and discomfort. There’s no getting around it: age catches up with even the healthiest companions. Most owners accept the challenges that come with aging pets and do their best to make them comfortable. But what about when mobility issues come long before a dog can be considered “old”?
Let me introduce Joe.
Joe Black is an almost 2 year old mutt (he came to me labeled a “lab mix” but his true genetic origins are and will remain a mystery). I got him as a 14 week old pup and have over seen his care and training since then. I know he received all his shots, preventative care, and medications. He has eaten a high quality dog food, received all the exercise he could ask for (life is good for free-roaming barn dogs – plenty of bugs to hunt, swamps to swim in, and birds to chase!), and gets a joint and coat supplement. He graduated from obedience school, passed his AKC Canine Good Citizen’s Test on the first try, and spends his days out and about with his sisters (a dachshund and a pug) minding the horses, riding in the car, or making friends with virtually any living thing he meets. Joe has never met a person he doesn’t like and has called the “happiest dog in the world” by more than a few people. He is never sad or mad – he is the embodiment of happiness. If he were a person, Joe would be a greeter at Wal-Mart.
When Joe turned up lame last weekend after a morning of playing at the barn, I was surprised. This wasn’t just a “little lame” either – he wouldn’t even touch his right hind leg to the ground. Sure, he’s a big dog (almost 90 lbs) and he’s goofy and tough on his body… but he’s not even 2 years old! My initial thought was he must have blown his CCL (cranial cruciate ligament) as he had most of the tell-tale signs. Naturally we had to wait until the following week to see a vet, so I kept him on a strict rest/icing/pain medication regimen. In a few days he was bearing weight on the leg and walking almost sound.
After a thorough lameness exam and some x rays came the diagnosis – at some point in his short life, Joe had blown BOTH CCL’s. Since he never exhibited any pain/lameness (not surprising as he is always full of energy and has a ridiculously high pain tolerance), the CCL’s never healed… so now my dog, who is not even 2 years old, has arthritis in his knees.
The diagnosis made me feel a little sad, but I’m pretty sure Joe didn’t hear any of it. We listened to the options, my head full of all the things we weren’t going to be able to do and Joe rolling around on the ground drooling, oblivious to the bad news. The vet prescribed a course of Rimadyl (a non-steroidal anti inflammatory) and warned us that this was a condition that we’d have to manage for the rest of his life. Unfortunately due to his size and the amount of damage already done to the joints surgery wasn’t an option. She warned us that there were going to be days Joe was going to be sore from over doing it the day before and we should be careful with how hard we let him push himself. “Careful” and “Joe” aren’t typically two words used in the same sentence (unless it’s me screaming “Careful Joe! You’re going to knock your sister down the stairs!”), but we’re going to be as careful as possible. It will be tough to find the balance between what his body can handle and what his mind requires for stimulation, but somehow we’ll find it.
So what else can I do aside from restricting exercise and keeping anti inflammatory drugs on hand? Turns out quite a bit. I’ve done a lot of research on holistic, herbal, and alternative therapies for arthritic dogs. While many of the articles I’ve found refer for dogs much older than Joe, many of these remedies can be tailored to suit him. For example, I’ve already started him on a new joint supplement and fish oil. Aside from being a little smelly, they’re easy to feed and not too expensive.
Joe has always slept on Celliant blankets, but now we’re using a Shoulder Wrap as a cold compress. I put it in the freezer in the morning and lay it on top of his knees when he lays down to sleep at night. He tolerates it pretty well and I don’t have to panic if he puts it in his mouth (it’s only filled with flax, though thankfully we’re over our must-chew-everything phase).
I’ve also done a fair amount of reading on canine acupuncture. Although I’m not sure he’d be a good candidate for that type of treatment now, it is definitely something I would like to pursue for him in the future. I have also researched hydrotherapy (swimming therapy) and I think that may be something we could attempt in some form on our own (we have access to a pool and a couple other bodies of water). Thankfully he’s a great swimmer and enjoys the water.
Although we may not be able to spend entire days hiking and our agility dreams will have to stay dreams, my hope is that Joe will be able to enjoy his prime years doing what he likes to do as pain free and comfortable as possible. A less enthusiastic, more dramatic dog might be cautious or grumpy after being so lame. But not Joe.