Doggone Pain

From hiking to swimming to flushing game birds, Bozeman-area dogs are an active, energetic bunch. But no matter how fit and healthy they may be, all dogs eventually experience the effects of trauma and aging. These health problems can lead to pain, swelling of the joints, and a decreased desire or inability to exercise. But don't assume that your pet is doomed to stay home and snuggle with the cat. Here are some things that can put a little more spring in Old Yeller's step.

Weight Watchers
You can manage your dog's osteoarthritis and various muscle strains and pains effectively with multiple products and treatments, but of utmost importance is weight management. Much like humans, the general dog population in our country has a high percentage of overweight or obese individuals. In fact, healthy dogs may look underweight or emaciated compared to obese dogs. Overweight dogs have more difficulty getting up, walking, and running, and they are more susceptible to overheating and respiratory issues during hard exercise.

Low-calorie commercial diets may help reduce a dog’s excess weight, but free-choice feeding or even feeding the recommended amounts on the bag can contribute to excess weight. Owners can also cut out unhealthy, high-calorie commercial treats and offer vegetables instead, including green beans and carrots. Severely overweight dogs may need special weight-management programs supervised by a veterinarian.

Nutritional supplements and prescription medications such as glucosamines, glycoaminoglycans, MSM, and omega fatty acids can turn many older dogs into puppy-like pals, too. Prescription joint-disease diets also contain special nutrients that promote joint health and weight control, but consult with your veterinarian first to make sure there are no contraindications for your dog.

Pain and Anti-Inflammatory Medications
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) also can greatly reduce pain and inflammation. Older dogs, or younger ones with chronic joint injuries, often benefit from these chewable NSAIDs, which you dole out daily. They are also helpful on an as-needed basis for acute injuries and painful flare-ups. But make sure to use only the dog-formulated versions (many human products can be toxic) and use them only with veterinary direction. These medications can have severe side effects for certain animals, so bloodwork is often recommended to screen the dog for risks. You'll also need to bring your dog in for periodic assessments to monitor for problems with long-term use.

Acupuncture, laser therapy, and massage are complementary, alternative options, too Combining these nontraditional methods with medications can also enhance joint mobility, but be sure to tell your vet what you're doing.

An Ounce of Prevention
Exercise your pet regularly before a long, strenuous event. Be prepared by having NSAIDs and a first-aid kit with bandaging material. Doing so on a long outing may make the difference between a nightmare trip with a painful four-legged friend and a fabulous experience with a happy hound bounding up the trail or searching tirelessly for birds in the brush.

Susan Barrows has practiced veterinary medicine in small animals, birds, and exotics at Animal Medical Center in Bozeman since 1992.