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Combine several treatments to help arthritic dogs live happy lives

by Lee Pickett, VMD | August 2, 2021 at 1:49 a.m.

Q: Grayson is my first dog now that I'm an adult living on my own, though I did grow up with dogs. When I was a kid and our dogs got old and arthritic, they were euthanized. Gray is aging and, I think, developing arthritis, but I am reluctant to take him to his veterinarian because I'm not ready to discuss euthanasia. Are there treatments these days for elderly, arthritic dogs?

A: Yes, many! Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease or DJD, is common in dogs, especially as they age. Multiple therapeutic approaches are used.

First, if Gray is overweight, help him lose the excess weight. If you're uncertain about his weight, ask your veterinarian. Once Gray is on the slim side of the normal range, his creaky joints won't have to lift and carry those extra pounds.

Physical rehabilitation can help him lose weight and build muscle while protecting his joints. Ask for a referral to a veterinarian who focuses on physical rehabilitation and has an underwater treadmill and other rehab equipment.

Consistent moderate exercise is important, so walk Gray daily, not just on weekends. Research shows that daily walks of an hour or more are significantly more effective at decreasing lameness than shorter walks.

Walking, swimming and other low-impact exercise are just as effective as high-impact exercises, such as running and jumping.

Acupuncture and therapeutic laser treatments decrease pain and improve function in dogs with osteoarthritis.

Supplements can help. EPA and DHA, the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil, reduce joint inflammation. Glucosamine-chondroitin tablets nourish joint fluid and cartilage, as do Adequan injections.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, approved for use in dogs are effective pain relievers that are safe for long-term use. Don't give Gray aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen, human anti-inflammatory medications that pose a high risk of serious side effects in dogs.

Additional pain relievers, such as gabapentin, are often prescribed with the anti-inflammatories. The goal is to enhance pain relief and improve function without causing side effects.

Given the many therapeutic options available, I'm certain Grayson can continue to enjoy many more comfortable years.

Q: Our cat Kona was watching the birds when a squirrel jumped onto the bird feeder. Kona looked upset and started chirping at the squirrel, and when I reached down to pet her, she bit me. Why did she do that, and how can I prevent it in the future?

A: Kona's behavior that day is called redirected aggression. This form of aggression is triggered by something that's inaccessible, like birds or a squirrel on the other side of a window, and redirected toward the nearest target -- in this case, you.

Common triggers include wildlife, an outdoor cat or dog, a visitor to the home and even a veterinary visit. The inappropriate target may be a human, another pet in the home or an inanimate object.

The best way to prevent a bite is not to pet Kona when she's watching the bird feeder.

When you bring her home from a veterinary visit, don't remove her from her carrier but, instead, open the carrier door and let her make her way out when she's ready.

Never yell at her or squirt her with a water pistol, as punishment increases anxiety and fear, which worsens the problem.

Redirected aggression can persist for many hours after a triggering incident.

So, when Kona's been birdwatching, wait for her invitation before you interact with her.

Since redirected aggression is a common feline behavior, I hope you won't take this bite personally.

Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at

Print Headline: Many effective therapies to aid osteoarthritic dogs


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