Be an Advocate for your Dogs Joints
by Dr James St Clair
When it comes to the joint health of your dog, I will tell you right off the bat that you need to take this into your own hands because there is no better advocate for your dog than you. With that being said, you first need to have a broad understanding of all the pieces to the puzzle. There is far more to joint health than simply giving your dog joint supplements or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS). Although what is going on inside the joint is extremely important, everything on the outside of the joint is equally as important.
Let's take a closer look. The musculoskeletal system is comprised of bones, muscles, tendons (which join muscle to bone) and ligaments (which join bone to bone). In addition, it also includes all of the other components of the joint itself, such as the joint capsule, cartilage and joint fluid. All of these individual structures work together to keep your dog up and moving every day, therefore we need to keep all of these structures healthy. Makes sense, right?
Here is an all too common scenario. Rudy is a 5 year old Labrador Retriever who weighs 105 pounds and lives the typical lifestyle of a domestic dog. He gets two to three walks a day and otherwise is fairly sedentary while his family is at work. One day while having a good old time in the backyard, Rudy injures himself and begins to limp on his left hind leg. He is quickly brought to his veterinarian and diagnosed with an ACL tear. His veterinarian recommends surgery, which he has the following day. Now, up to this point, Rudy has never shown any signs of joint health issues. During the surgery, the instability in his knee is corrected. He gets sent home with Deramaxx, one of the many NSAIDS on the market and some pain medication, i.e. Tramadol, for two weeks. As expected, Rudy recovers from surgery with the veterinarian€™s recommendations to walk him on leash for several weeks and within 8 weeks he is back out in the yard, playing again. But did Rudy fully recover? Does his family have a plan for his future now that he has had this injury? Does his family truly understand the repercussions of how this joint injury will affect his long-term health or do they simply take their veterinarians word for it and expect everything to be fine?
The problem with this scenario is that it is far too common. Never once was Rudy€™s family educated that everything from this point forward changes in regards to his long-term joint health and his overall health and wellness for that matter.
As the story continues, eight months later Rudy has another accident and this time he injurs his right hind leg. Yet again, he has to have surgery for a torn ACL and the same thing happens all over again. Fast forward two years, Rudy is still 105 pounds, happy as ever, but his family becomes concerned that he seems to be having a harder time getting up and overall, he is not playing as much as he used to. He goes to his veterinarian again, who at this time takes x-rays of Rudy€™s hips knees and spine. The veterinarian explains that Rudy is developing dog arthritis in both his knees in addition to his lumbar spine and therefore prescribes him Deramaxx, the NSAID, again. As expected, this medication makes him feel better and since he seems better while on it, his family continues to use it for the next several years. Everyone seems satisfied. Everyone, except Rudy, of course.
Could this scenario been different? Could more have been done to help Rudy and his family back at the time of his first injury?
Changing the Course
The answer to the last question is obviously, yes. This scenario could have been much different for both Rudy and his family and it all starts with a little education. Had the veterinarian, or even Rudy€™s family for that matter, taken the time to look at the bigger picture and plan for the many future issues that Rudy would developed over the years; this could have been avoided or at least potentially prevented.
For starters, Rudy€™s excess weight issue should have been addressed much earlier on in his life. Statistics tell us that in the United States alone, 50% of all dogs are clinically overweight and in many cases, obese. This statistic is absolutely astounding. For some reason, our society has decided to let go with regards to a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight, not only for ourselves, but also for our pets. In 2002, Nestle Purina released their 14 year-long Life Span Study that illustrated exactly what we already know, yet totally disregard, for some unknown reason. The results showed that overall, dogs who where fed a lean diet and maintained an ideal body weight lived on average two years more than those dogs who were not keep at an ideal body weight. All of these dogs in the end died of similar disease processes, yet the lean-fed dogs developed the problems two years later. Do you think that you would like to have your dog around for an extra two years?
In the case of Rudy, the responsibility of his excess weight falls on the shoulders of both the veterinarian and the family. Either the veterinarian did not do a good enough job at communicating the importance of this issue or providing tangible solutions for the family, or maybe the family just did not think that it was a serious enough issue for Rudy. Whatever the case, in the end Rudy is the one who suffers.
Second, had the veterinarian emphasized to the family that Rudy's post-surgery rehabilitation was just as important as the surgery itself, there is a strong chance that Rudy would have never had the second injury at all. He would have been given the opportunity to rebuild the strength in his leg back to its original condition and therefore would not have had to overcompensate to such a great extent with this other hind leg. It is this overcompensation that led to the second injury, case and point.
Third, had the veterinarian or even the family understood the power of certain natural ingredients that promote and maintain joint health, Rudy would have again been in much better standing to not incur further injuries over the years.
At the end of the day, as I stated in the first paragraph, you and only you, are the best advocate for your dog. Therefore, it is up to you to gain an understanding and develop a plan that is really going to work for the lifetime of your dog. Make sure to keep your dog at a healthy weight. Make sure that if your dog has an injury you seek professional physical rehabilitation advice to ensure the best long-term recovery. Understand what a full recovery actually means. Make sure that you exercise your dog on a regular basis to maintain muscle tone and flexibility. Last, but not least, make sure that you incorporate a joint support supplement that is proven to be of high quality and safe for your dog.