Q: My 13-year-old shepherd mix, Rocky, is really active for his age. He swims in the pool every day and runs at the dog park every weekend. My veterinarian thinks that at his age he should be taking medication for his arthritis, but I say age is just a number. I don’t want to drug him. My wife thinks we should listen to the doc. What’s your opinion?
A: Age may be a number, but if your veterinarian is observing signs of osteoarthritis –– his energetic condition notwithstanding –– it’s also a reality you can’t afford to ignore. It might surprise you to hear that plenty of arthritic dogs are just as agile as yours seems to be.
For example, my sister’s 13-year-old 80-pounder hikes challenging, three- to six-mile mountain trails a few times a week. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need a regular dose of arthritis medication to help treat the chronic wear and tear his joints have accumulated over the years.
In fact, most of my large breed patients over the age of 10 ake a regular dose of a simple anti-inflammatory medication (typically a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, aka NSAID). This, despite the fact that they a) remain active and b) never complain.
Indeed, signs of arthritis aren’t what you might think they’d be. Dogs won’t while, howl, or lick their joints like you might expect they would. Most won’t even limp. What you typically will see is an increased stiffness (especially upon rising or after exercise), muscle atrophy (especially over the big muscles of their haunches), a gradual reduction in mobility and a diminished willingness to jump or climb stairs as often as they used to.
The trouble with identifying arthritis in most dogs (and cats!) is not just that arthritis comes on slowly and silently. It’s also that most owners assume these signs are “normal” in older pets and, therefore, unworthy of medication.
2: Average increase in years of dogs’ life expectancy using arthritis medication.
Interestingly, since we started using these drugs on a routine basis (about 20 or so years ago), the life expectancy of dogs increased dramatically (by about two to three years).
Veterinarians and pet owners alike have credited this longevity in large part to the use of these specific medications.
I’m not saying your dog needs them. They’re not for every dog,and they can have side effects. I am, however, suggesting you take your vet’s advice and consider a trial course.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.