Osteoarthritis (OA) is considered to be the number one cause of chronic pain in dogs. According to the literature, at least 20% of dogs suffer from OA. Maybe your dog has been diagnosed with OA, and you are wondering what to do, or where to get more information. Well, you’ve come to the right place. In a recent veterinary continuing education seminar at CVC in Kansas City, our own Dr. Sarah Wooten sat in on a lecture from Kara M. Burns, MS, MEd, LVT, VTS (Nutrition), VTS-H (Internal Medicine, Dentistry) as she shared her thoughts on how veterinary technicians can best help their patients who have OA. Here is her best advice.
Fat Pets are at the Highest Risk for Development of Debilitating OA
Obesity is the number one risk factor for the development of OA. That means that every fat pet who walks in the front door of the practice already has OA or will have OA soon.
Have you heard about the lifetime Labrador study? This was the first study of its kind that proved that eating less resulted in longer life and a better quality of life for your dog. Client-owned puppies who were littermates were paired up: One was fed the normal recommended amount, and the other was fed less. Researchers then watched these puppies grow, monitoring them throughout their lifetimes. They discovered that thin dogs showed evidence of OA much later in life than their counterparts, and they needed pain medication for OA much later in life (age 13 on average) than their better-fed counterparts (age 10 on average).
The problem is that people don’t recognize what a healthy canine weight looks like anymore, because so many of our companion animals are fat. In fact, Burns says that overweight pets have been accepted as the new normal. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 58% of cats and 54% of dogs are overweight or obese. Ask your veterinarian what your pet’s body condition score (BCS) is. Your goal is a BCS of 3 out of 5, or 4.5-5 out of 9, as these scores indicate a lower risk for development or exacerbation of OA. If your veterinarian does not perform a body condition score, find a different vet.
Slowing Down is NOT Normal for Older Pets
Many pet parents still think that “slowing down” and loss of vitality is normal for older pets, but it’s just not true. A pet who is 10 can have just as much energy and vitality as a 2 year old—anybody who has a Labrador can attest to this. Chronic pain from OA shortens the quality and quantity of life in our companion animals.
The Signs of OA Can Be Subtle
Did you know that the number one sign of OA in small dogs is reluctance to climb stairs? It’s true! The signs of OA can be subtle—our dogs don’t complain about their aches and pains like we do. They just can’t. Other signs of OA in dogs include decreased energy level, lagging behind on walks, grouchy, sleeping more, changes in sleeping patterns, restlessness or inability to get comfortable, decreased interest in walks or playing, and stiffness after lying down, Burns says.
Therapeutic Diets and Supplements Can Reduce the Need for Pain Medication
You have to feed your dog anyway—why not feed a diet that will reduce pain and inflammation from OA? Burns says therapeutic diets are the easiest way to treat OA in dogs, and most pet parents prefer feeding to pilling. If your pet is overweight AND has arthritis, pet food companies have made it easier than ever to feed your pet the supplements he needs AND help him lose excess weight by formulating therapeutic diets that combine weight loss and joint support. Talk with your veterinarian for more information. You will spend more for these diets, but you may come out ahead if you don’t have to purchase expensive pain medications or additional supplements.
Giving milk protein concentrate in the form of products like Duralactin is also an exciting new option for joint support supplements. Milk protein is chondroprotective (a compound that delays the narrowing of joints in arthritis), helps manage inflammation in many cases by inhibiting neutrophil migration, does not require an induction period (which reduces the cost to the client), and as a bonus, helps with anxiety.
Burns also thinks omega 3 fatty acids are one of the best supplements available for joint support, but it is important to note that the recommended serving is much higher than on most labels; a 75-pound dog needs 5,000 mg combined EPA and DHA daily. For joint support, it may be best to purchase a prescription-strength omega 3 fatty acid supplement from your veterinarian.
Dr. Sarah Wooten is Big Barker’s consulting veterinarian. Dr. Wooten is a small animal veterinarian with more than 15 years of clinical experience. She is an expert contributor to sites such as vetstreet.com, DVM360.com, and The Bark Magazine.