Osteoarthritis Pain Management for Our Senior Pets

Just like with people, it is not unusual for our senior dogs (and cats!) to start getting aches and pains as they age.  Owners often note a “slowing down”, which they may perceive and accept as part of the normal aging process.  This thought process may lead owners to be resistant to starting a chronic medication for treatment.  Osteoarthritis can be a common culprit for “slowing down”,  but what owners may not realize is that arthritis can cause significant pain for our pets and limit their quality of life.  Sometimes after starting a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, the improvement to a pet’s quality of life can be dramatic.

One of my client’s dogs, Nala, did have such a drastic improvement after starting medication.  After the owner excitedly texted to me her third round of pictures showing Nala’s improvement, I asked her to contribute to our clinic blog.  My goal is to help other pet owners realize that the judicious use of pain medication tailored to their senior pet’s specific needs can result in improvement in their enjoyment of life and their relationship with the family.  

nala 1

Below is Nala’s story:

Nala is our nearly 11-year-old lab/shepherd mix. We adopted her at 12 weeks old from the SPCA and she has been a ball-loving, chase-loving, active girl her entire life. In the last couple of years, she has certainly slowed. She used to love (and I mean, LOVE) jumping up on her daddy to stretch and hug, but this has completely stopped in the last couple of years. She wants to play catch with the tennis ball for “forever” – but lately after 10 or 15 minutes, she’s exhausted… and later needs help to get up the stairs.

This summer, we noticed further changes. Not only did she not want to play, she would hide in our bedroom upstairs and seemed more distant than usual. It was a significant behavior change for our typically clingy dog who stays in our shadows. We’d been using Cosequin  to help with arthritis and it seemed to help for a little while, but wasn’t enough.

We are so grateful that we spoke with Dr. Blackwood. After voicing our concerns, she suggested we try an NSAID Nala could take twice a day. After a couple of weeks, we have a brand new dog. She is back to her super personable, playful, active self. She can play ball for longer periods of time, she is SO happy to jump up on her daddy again, and she is back to hovering in our shadow! We are getting her bloodwork followed regularly to monitor for side effects and are beyond thrilled with the results. As seen in the pictures, she is acting like a puppy again. Our senior dog is beyond happy, which makes us beyond happy as well.



nala 2

Janette Blackwood, DVM

What does your dog like to do?

By: Janette Blackwood, DVMJanette Blackwood, DVM with pup

My first couple of years out of veterinary school, I worked out in a military town in Georgia. One day, I had a client come in with a new adult shetland sheepdog rescued from the shelter. Even though it was about a decade ago, I still remember reading the paperwork filled out by the original owner at the time the dog was surrendered to the shelter. The paperwork had a list of the standard questions you would see on these forms, such as “Is this dog on heartworm and flea prevention?” or “Is he good with small children?” But, there was one question and answer that really stuck out to me, because it really made me think about the bonds (or lack of bonds) that we form with our pets:

Question: “What does he/she enjoy doing?”
Answer provided by owner surrendering pet: “I don’t know.”

The relationship (or lack thereof) between an animal and a pet can be so valuable, that it actually has a medical term taught in veterinary colleges and recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA): “the human­-animal bond”. The AVMA’s website defines the human-­animal bond as “a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that is influenced by behaviors that are essential to the health and well ­being of both.” The definition further goes on to state that a veterinarian should work to maximize the potential of this bond between their clients and pets. As a new graduate, my mind was constantly in a whirl to make sure that I was keeping my animal patients’ bodies physically healthy. Were all my dog and cat patients on parasite prevention monthly and properly vaccinated to keep them safe from infectious diseases? Were my senior pets comfortable in managing their arthritis? And, were my senior sets treated appropriately for their periodontal disease, so that they would continue to eat without pain? But, reading that question from that shelter’s paperwork really got me thinking about wondering if I was doing enough to make sure that my pets were also happy in their daily lives, thereby building that human­-animal bond.

At the time that I was meeting that newly adopted Sheltie, my own little white, fluffy mutt Radar was a young guy full of tremendous energy. And, even though we had only had him for a few months, I knew for sure how to answer the question: “What does he enjoy doing?” He has always loved the game of chase with anyone throwing a squeaky toy. He loves long walks in any new area; bonus points if there are random tuffs of grass for him to mark as his own. The end to a perfect day full of activity would consist of a quiet evening with a Greenie chew and maybe a little tomato for dessert after eating his dry kibble. And, if you were sitting on the floor, he can always find a way to position himself directly in front of you in the perfect location for a gaining a back rub.

As Radar and I both grow older and life finds me and my family somehow busier than ever, I do have to make myself stop and reassess: Am I still providing Radar what he needs to be happy? He is so quiet; he rarely complains. At these times, I usually stop what I am doing and grab his harness and leash. Then, we head outside for a walk through the neighborhood, making sure to walk a little more slowly in the areas with tall tufts of grass.

If you feel inclined, comment below on what you feels gives your pets meaning and happiness in life. It might give others ideas of activities to do with their pets, especially as the nice weather is starting to return.

Janette Blackwood, DVM

Website to the AVMA description of The Human­-Animal Bond.

Xylitol: Toxic to Dogs and Now Found in Some Peanut Butters

By: Janette Blackwood, DVM

My husband and I have an inside joke where he knows that I become enraged when we purchase a product from the supermarket, only to get it home and find out that it contains an artificial or alternative sweetener. I take a bite out of the item, say “Why is this gross?”, and throw a fit like a toddler when I read the label. I think the last thing he accidentally purchased was Welch’s Light Grape Juice, that only reading the fine print on the label revealed that it contained aspartame. My point is always that I think that that labeling on our food should be more obvious. This could not be even more important when it comes to the recent addition of xylitol to a few brands of peanut butter during the last few months.Xylitol in peanut butter is toxic to dogs

Xylitol is actually not an artificial sweetener, but a naturally derived sugar alcohol. In 2006, I first read about the use of xylitol in sugar free gum in an article of Veterinary Medicine.

The problem occurs when dogs accidentally (or purposely) ingest the product. Due to differences in canine and human metabolism, dogs ingesting products containing xylitol experience profound life-threatening hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and can develop hepatic necrosis (liver failure). Sometimes, pet owners have no idea when they bring their pet to the veterinarian on emergency for seizures that their home even contained products with xylitol as an ingredient. In fact, it wasn’t until today when I made the effort to look up xylitol containing products that I even realized that I had been carrying around a tin of breath mints in my purse that would be toxic for my dog Radar to find and eat.

This website may be useful for you to learn what products in your home contain xylitol.

The recent addition of xylitol to certain peanut butter brands (Nuts ‘n More, Krush Nutrition, and P-28 Foods) becomes even more tricky for a few reasons. For one thing, limited labeling on the products may make it hard for consumers to realize that they are even purchasing a product containing this ingredient. You have to really make an effort to read the fine print on the nutrition label. Limited labeling on some products has also made it difficult to know the exact amount of xylitol contained in a spoonful of the product for example, making it difficult for veterinarians to know how much of the toxic ingredient a dog has ingested. Lastly, for years, peanut butter has been recommended by veterinarians as an easy vehicle to be used by pet owners to administer pills. I know that Radar loves a little bit of peanut butter (or the sugar-loaded Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter) when my husband gives him his morning dose of gabapentin for his chronic back issues.

Here is a link to an article in DVM360 with more information.
Janette Blackwood, DVM