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by Dr. Jessica Vogelsang
As our canine companions grow older, they are subject to the same degenerative problems that plague their joints as we are. And like us, there are lots of things we can do as owners to help.
The first step is noticing there may be a problem. The most common signs of arthritis in dogs include the following: difficulty climbing stairs or getting up from a seated position, and stiffness that is most pronounced in the morning and improves with movement. Your veterinarian can assist with confirming the diagnosis. With a physical examination, the veterinarian can tell whether there may be arthritic changes by how the joints move. X-rays are often used to confirm the suspicion and to rule out other causes of lameness, such as cancer and infection.
After a diagnosis is made, you can work with your veterinarian to come up with a plan to make your pet more comfortable. The most effective treatment for arthritis is an approach that combines weight management, exercise and joint care, with medications as needed. One of the best ways to help an arthritic pet feel better is to get rid of excess weight. This one factor can play a significant role in the pet's comfort and requires no investment other than time.
Many pets respond to physical therapy and acupuncture, which can be used safely and effectively alongside traditional medical treatment. Glucosamine supplements, such as Cosequin and the injectable joint-protectant Adequan, are also gaining popularity as treatments.
There are several NSAIDS on the market that are specifically targeted to dogs and that have been in use for years, with good safety records. Like any medication, they do have the potential for side effects, so most veterinarians will require blood work both before and during the treatment regimen to ensure that the pet's liver and kidneys are tolerating the medication well.
In recent years, stem cell therapy, such as that offered by the Vet-Stem company, has been gaining momentum. For this treatment, stem cells are harvested from the pet's own fat tissues and re-injected into the area of diseased tissue to replace damaged cells with healthy ones.
With a little experimentation and a willingness to try various treatment options, most arthritic dogs can get relief from their achy joints.
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