The Geriatric Dog

As our agility dogs start to age, there are several things to consider. I generally recommend the following things.

Keep the Weight Down

Obese dogs tend to put more stress on their joints, especially, if they are still competing. This can lead to degenerative joint disease (arthritis). The #1 orthopedic injury I see in general practice is torn ACLs, which are often seen in obese dogs. Surgery to fix an ACL is expensive, ranging from $2500-5000 depending on the technique used to repair the knee. And the rehabilitation is lengthy.

In addition, obesity can predispose dogs to diabetes and stress to the cardiovascular system. Doesn’t this sound familiar to what MDs have been telling us about our own health!

Yearly Check-ups

Make a yearly check-up with your veterinarian. They keep close records of your pet’s weight and can examine your pet for any abnormalities. I feel a geriatric blood test and urinalysis should be included with this yearly exam.

Some of the things we look for in a geriatric blood panel include: • T-4(Thyroid)/Cholesterol-low t-4 and high cholesterol indicates hypothyroidism

  • T-4(Thyroid)/Cholesterol-low t-4 and high cholesterol indicates hypothyroidism
  • Glucose-high blood glucose indicates diabetes
  • Bun/Creatinine-increases indicate kidney disease
  • ALT/GGT/ALK PHOS-increases indicate liver disease
  • HCT/RBC-increases indicate dehydration and decrease indicate anemia
  • Hypercalcemia-early marker for many cancers/kidney/parathyroid disease
  • Albumin/Total Protein-low values indicate protein loss in intestine or kidneys, or liver failure. High values indicate dehydration
  • Lipase/Amylase-increases indicate pancreatitis
  • WBC(White Blood Count)-indication of infection/inflammation

When combined with blood work, urinalysis is a simple and relatively inexpensive test to evaluate your pet’s kidney function. We look for signs of infection, how well the kidneys are concentrating the urine and if any protein or glucose is leaking into the urine.

My Approach to Arthritis

First and foremost, get a diagnosis! Don’t just assume your pet has arthritis. Get a good physical exam and radiographs by your regular veterinarian or an orthopedic specialist.

The following is the progression of medications I use treat degenerative joint disease (arthritis) in the geriatric dog.

  • Glucosamine/Chondritin/MSN-nutritional supplements (OTC’s) are a very good start. Give them regularly starting once then twice a day.
  • Add in a NSAIDS-Rimadyl(carprofen), Metacam, Deramax etc. Give as needed initially. If you are starting to give these drugs on a daily basis, you do need to monitor your pet with regular blood work.
    • Side note: Ideally I don’t recommend aspirin or Ibuprofen in dogs—they have a higher chance of causing gastric ulcers than the commercially available NSAIDS (yes, I know a lot of people use them)
  • Add in Tramadol for pain management. How do you know when your pet is in pain? Many times the only clinical sign is panting and restlessness; your pet just can’t get comfortable
  • Gabapentin is generally used for peripheral nerve pain but is finding a more regular place in arthritis management
  • If the NSAIDS just don’t seem to be helping, replace NSAIDS with corticosteroids (Prednisone/Dexasone)
  • Add Adequan injections. Chondroprotective is sometimes helpful in early cases
  • Add Physical therapy. Underwater treadmill/massage/R.O.M. exercises, etc.
  • Add Acupuncture/Chiropractor
  • Stem Cells. Controversial, but may have some potential benefits
  • LASER/Ultrasound therapy
  • Last but not least, consider adding a puppy when your dog is around 8. The puppy helps keep the older dog stay young!

For example, Deaken a Chesapeake Bay retriever lived 14 wonderful years. Deaken had two surgically repaired knees. His owner kept him trim, progressed through all the above drugs discussed (except corticosteroids!) and included twice a week physical therapy (underwater treadmills/acupuncture) for the last 2 years of his life. He was a happy and ambulatory dog exceeding the normal life span of this breed.

Mike Bellinghausen has been practicing veterinary medicine since graduating 1984 from WSU/CVM and OSU/CVM(Oregon State). He owns and operates Kenmore Veterinary Hospital since 1990. He is involved in Local and State Vet Associations and serves on an interview committee at WSU/CVM.

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