You may often hear adult humans complain about aches and pains as they go about their days, and senior dogs would probably complain too, if they could. Because they cannot speak, physical signs, including limping, decreased activity and mobility issues, are near-universal indicators of the aging process in our companion animals.
As humans, we can mitigate our symptoms with supplements, exercise and lifestyle changes. But what can you give a dog for pain? Well, we can do many of the same things for mobility issues and lameness in dogs, but we need to know what is causing the problem, like arthritis, hip dysplasia, subluxations or even too-long toenails, before implementing lifestyle or dietary changes. Your first step should be a visit to your veterinarian for a professional assessment, diagnosis and recommended treatment plan.
Once your veterinarian has determined that your pet’s mobility issues are normal age-related changes (as opposed to something caused by an injury), you’ll be presented with a range of treatment options depending on the level of severity and other criteria such as breed, weight, medical history and your lifestyle and budget.
Some of the most common treatment options for senior dog mobility issues include:
Many pet joint supplements on the market are human-grade, which means they are produced with higher quality ingredients under more stringent manufacturing controls. These high-quality supplements, like glucosamine, can come from large companies as well as small, so don’t automatically assume that items made by boutique businesses will be inherently superior in their component parts. Always read the labels and the reviews, and do your due diligence with regard to ingredient sources, production facilities and recall notices. Your veterinarian should also be consulted about possible supplement and prescription medication interactions.
Every life stage of your dog has different dietary requirements. If you’ve noticed that the same amount of food that you gave your dog when he was 4 years old is causing him to gain weight as an 8 year old, it’s time to think about changing formulas and amounts. Your veterinarian may recommend food with fewer calories, more joint support or additional fiber. Be sure to follow guidelines about suggested formulas and protocols for switching from one type of food to another.
The activity requirements of most pets will start to drop off fairly quickly as they move into late adulthood. If you notice your senior dog limping at the end of your regular one-mile sidewalk loop, try reducing the walk length or move to more yielding surfaces such as grass or firm dirt. You may also have to curtail agility activities or provide a ramp to help your dog get into the car. Although your dog may still be able to jump on or off the furniture, the strain of launching and landing can take a greater toll on aging joints and ligaments and cause more dog arthritis symptoms down the road.
There are a host of alternative and complementary therapies that can help keep your senior dog active and comfortable, such as acupuncture, water therapy and massage. Many of these modalities are not covered by standard pet wellness or health insurance packages, so you’ll probably have to pay out of pocket for them. Check the included features section of your pet insurance so that you can avoid any big financial surprises.
Depending on the severity or projected progression of age-related issues, your veterinarian may determine that prescription pain medication is the best treatment option. If you’d prefer to treat your pet with natural supplements or complementary therapies, have a frank discussion with your veterinarian about your values and budget and how those things can be balanced against the clinical needs of your pet. You’re never obligated to give your pet prescription medication, but keep an open mind about efficacy and outcomes when considering veterinarian-recommended treatment plans.
With the wealth of readily-available supplements and therapies on the market today, your pets can have a better quality of life well into their senior years. Be sure to do your homework on ingredients, contraindications and side effects, and talk to your veterinarian and other trusted members of your pet care team before starting any new treatment plans.