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So Your Dog Has Trouble Walking Or Moving?

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If you've noticed your dog has been having trouble walking, going up stairs, getting up, or with general movement...it is possible your dog has issues with his joints - especially if he is older.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to hear of a dog as young as 5 years old begin to develop arthritis, or other joint problems. This is due to a variety of factors, including but not limited to:
- Poor breeding/genetics

- Poor upbringing - the puppy was exercised too much at a young age. (The general rule is +5 minutes to each walk per month of age. Up until their joints stop growing - around 14-16 months)

- Injury (or ligament tear) at a young age.

- Overweight/Obesity (can contribute to the development of, and worsens the condition)
- Unbalanced diet (more information on this later)



So...What are the different types of "joint problems" and what are their differences?


Arthritis is a degenerative disease of the joints - it worsens as the dog gets older. It is not genetic, but genetic factors increases the likelihood of diagnosis when the dog is younger.


Hip Dysplasia is an abnormal formation of the joints - usually the hip socket(s). It is genetic - it usually results from poor breeding (the sire + dam are not given a "Good" or "Excellent" hip score). The dog usually has it from birth/at an early age - but being used to chronic pain, they learn how to live with it...thus pain symptoms are harder to detect.
Can also result from environmental factors - see above.
                   - It is important to note: Hip Dysplasia can result in arthritis, but arthritis CAN NOT result in hip dysplasia.


What are the symptoms?


For arthritis:

- Difficulty in getting up (standing up) - especially in the mornings, or after lying down for long periods.

- Difficulty in sitting or standing

- Favouring a limb (may not be noticeable at first - usually the limb in pain will 'swing out' as the dog walks.)

- Reluctance to exercise, jump, or go up stairs.

- Change in behaviour (may be aggressive/irritable to hide the pain - usually more irritable right after exercise)

- Lack of interest in play

- If left untreated - atrophy of affected limb's muscle as the dog favours the other leg.


Arthritis symptoms are worse in humid climates (and cold weather). 


For hip dysplasia:


- Difficulty in getting up (standing up)

- Difficulty in sitting or standing

- Reluctance to exercise, jump, or go up stairs.

* - Unusual gait: bunny hopping, toenails dragging on the ground as the dog walks, legs moving together rather than alternatively, etc.
* - Unusual stance. The legs are closer together. Example:



- Change in behaviour (may be aggressive/irritable to hide the pain)

- Lack of interest in play

- If left untreated - atrophy of the muscles of the back legs.

*- Mild-moderate lameness that suddenly worsens.



How to Diagnose?


To rule out spinal problems, neurological disorders, cruciate ligament tears, etc....it is important to get an X-RAY done. This is unavoidable - you cannot guess as you may mis-medicate.


What are my Treatment Options / How can I Deal with It?


For both arthritis and hip dysplasia it is important to:


- Keep weight down (less pressure on the joints)

- Keep exercising your dog:

Hydrotherapy has proven to be very effective to keep the muscles strong - it is low/no impact which is very helpful and not as painful.
Your dog doesn't like the water? Reduce your walks, and walk on low-impact surfaces (example: grass, dirt, etc). 
This is very important, as muscles help to support the failing joints.

- Joint Supplements - with Glucosamine, Chondroitin, and Omega Fatty Acids. (I recommend Pet Naturals of Vermont: Hip + Joint). Not all joint supplements are the same - some have poor quality ingredients. Check with your vet to see which one they would recommend - but be sure to shop around yourself!

       - Be aware of treats (example: from Pedigree, etc) that advertise themselves to 'help' joints. They have very low/no amount of medical ingredients in them to make a difference. Joint supplements are NOT classified as treats, and as such, are usually found in the 'medical' section of the pet store.


Pain Medication is not necessary for daily management of arthritis (only during flare-ups), but it IS necessary for daily management of hip dysplasia. Talk with your vet on appropriate pain medications - I recommend Deramaxx.  You should never give your dog asprin, advil, or tylenol.


- For arthritic flareups: When your dog has one, you will know. I have experienced a few, and it is terrifying. But do not panic. They cannot move, they cannot walk - they will be yelping (almost screaming) in pain. Again, do not panic. Give them your vet's recommended pain medication (and correct dosage), and wait 30 minutes. They will still be sore for a while, depending on the severity, and they may not be able to perform normal activities like getting up to drink. In this case, you must help them: bring the waterbowl to them. 
For mine, I have noticed a few triggers:
- Obesity...ever since I've kept his weight slightly below optimal, he hasn't been having them as often.

- High humidity and the cold.

- Staying in one position for too long (ie: car rides...make sure to let them out to stretch out their legs every so often...)

- Too much exercise all at once combined with any of the above triggers.

You should always have some of their prescribed pain medication at ALL times.



Want to Read More?


Recommending reading for arthritis:






Recommended reading material for hip dysplasia:











**More to be added later - cruciate ligament tears, spinal problems, etc**

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