Arthritis in Dogs

Arthritis is one of the most common ailments seen in middle-aged to senior dogs. However, even younger dogs can suffer from arthritic changes to their joints that are as painful as they are debilitating.

Unfortunately, most dog owners and veterinarians often miss the early warning signs of arthritis because dogs tend to hide their soreness and discomfort until the changes are severe.

With that in mind, the seven most common signs of arthritis are:

Limping: Your dog may limp or favor one or more of his legs, depending on which legs and joints are affected. In some cases, his limp may be worse when he wakes in the morning and become less noticeable as he “warms up” by moving around.

Difficulty moving: He may be reluctant to do things that were easy for him before such as going up and down the stairs, getting into and out of the car and climbing up onto the couch or bed.

Spinal issues: Not only do arthritic changes occur in your dog’s legs but also in various parts of his spine. These changes may result in a sore neck, abnormal posture with a visible “hunch” in his back or lameness in one or both of his hind legs.

Tiredness: He may tire more easily, making his walks shorter as they become more painful while he spends an increased amount of time resting and/or sleeping.

Irritability: Your dog may be uncharacteristically irritable, snapping and/or biting when touched or petted if this increases his pain.

Atrophied muscles: His muscles may atrophy due to inactivity and a decrease in their use. An arthritic dog with atrophied or withered leg muscles will have legs that look thinner than normal legs.

Licking, chewing or biting: He may start to lick, chew or bite at the parts of his body that hurt, often leading to inflamed skin and hair loss in those areas.

While arthritis itself can’t be cured or reversed, your dog’s pain can be managed, his mobility increased, and his quality of life greatly improved. The first step is to have him thoroughly examined by your vet (including blood work, x-rays and other diagnostic tests if needed) followed by your working together on a treatment plan for him.

Fortunately, there are numerous non-surgical options to treat mild, moderate and even severe cases of arthritis. Key, however, to any plan is a weight loss (then maintenance) diet and a regular exercise regime. But your vet may begin immediately by prescribing nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) to reduce the pain and inflammation in your dog’s affected joints.

In addition, your vet may suggest: the use of glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate and/or omega-3 fatty acid supplements that support joint health; cortisone, visco-supplementation, glycosaminoglycan or steroid injections; and one or more of these therapies — physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, ultrasound therapy, laser therapy, and magnetic therapy.

For your part, alleviate some of your cherished pet’s painful joint stiffness by providing him with low and soft, cushioned resting and sleeping surfaces to keep him off all hard floor surfaces while keeping him comfortable and warm.

Marijuana Toxicity in Dogs

Due to the increased availability of both medical and recreational marijuana, as well as its use in foods, pills, oils and tinctures, marijuana is more accessible than ever before. It’s also stronger because new hybrids and cultivation techniques have resulted in plants with significantly more THC (Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive compound) than in decades past.

It therefore poses an even greater threat to one’s beloved dog since THC and other cannabinoids affect the central nervous system, causing disruption of normal movement and behavior. The most common ways for dogs to be exposed to marijuana is by inhaling its smoke or by ingesting the dried marijuana itself. Because of the cumulative effects of inhaling this smoke, dog owners who use marijuana, whether medical or recreational, should never smoke anywhere near their pets, particularly ones with asthma or any other lung diseases.

In some cases, dogs may nibble on the leaves and/or buds of homegrown marijuana plants. Unthinking owners may also feed their dogs cookies, brownies or candies infused with marijuana, posing a double threat to their health because anything containing chocolate or the artificial sweetener, xylitol, can lead to a double dose of toxicity.

As with all products, plants and medications dangerous for pet consumption, dog owners using marijuana in any form should store it somewhere out of reach of curious noses and even more curious paws – in a tall shelf, cabinet or drawer with a child-proof lock. The use of a thick glass container with a twist-off lid provides additional security because even if your dog does discover it, the lid’s impossible to pry open.

The most common side effects of marijuana intoxication are dilated pupils, lack of coordination (falling over or walking “drunkenly”), sedation or lethargy, vomiting, urinary incontinence, and slow heart and respiratory rates. However, about 25 percent of those who have ingested THC become stimulated instead, with agitation, excessive vocalization and high heart rates being possible side effects. After ingestion, dogs can become affected in minutes to hours, and signs can last for hours.

If you suspect your dog has ingested marijuana and is unable to walk or cannot be roused, contact your vet immediately. Know too that veterinarians are NOT required to contact the police, even in states where marijuana is illegal. What’s of utmost importance is getting your dog prompt medical assistance.

Treatment for marijuana intoxication can include confinement in a kennel to prevent injury, intravenous fluids to keep his blood pressure normal and medications to lower his heart rate. Dogs most severely affected may also benefit from intravenous lipid emulsions to help decrease the amount of cannabinoids circulating through their system.

The takeaway from this — keep a watchful eye on your dog if there’s marijuana around.

Helping Dogs Cope with Fireworks

National holidays, while celebrated by people, aren’t always cause for celebration by pets. For them, a holiday like the Fourth of July means one thing: fireworks. Or simply put: NOISES, LOUD and SUDDEN noises.

The fear of loud and sudden noise, so common in dogs, is known as a “somatic” response and it’s involuntary, producing such symptoms as trembling, rapid and shallow panting, excessive salivation, increased heart rate and blood pressure, and fleeing.

If yours is a highly sensitive, noise-phobic dog, it may mean bearing mute witness to his extreme reactions. Fortunately, however, there are various ways to deal with his distress both before and after the fireworks have begun.

Feed and walk your dog, ensuring that he’s peed and pooped before the fireworks are expected to start.

Forego the pleasure of leaving to watch the fireworks yourself and stay home. Even if your dog hides or refuses to interact with you, he’s far better off with you there than being left on his own.

Keep your dog inside, close all of the windows, and block off any dog doors/flaps if you have them.

Close the curtains and blinds to obscure the outside view, help buffer the sounds, and minimize the unsettling flashes of light.

Keep your own lights turned on — the brighter the better since this helps to absorb the flashes.

Provide some background noise by keeping the TV or radio turned on at a normal (not increased) volume. However, “white noise” — the continuous sound of static interference or static-type noise from appliances such as fans and fan heaters, washing machines and dryers – may prove to be even more effective than the TV or radio.

Provide your dog with a dark, comfortable place to hide – whether it’s a dog crate, the inside of a closet or a folded blanket under the bed. Being tucked away in a small, snug space allows him to feel more secure while muffling the noises outside.
If your dog comes to you, ease his distress with some ear T-Touch or by gently but firmly massaging his head, neck, shoulders and back. Ear T-Touch and massage have been shown to lower heart rate and blood pressure, which, in turn, helps to relax the dog and counteract the somatic fear response.

Buy dog-appeasing pheromones (their scent is similar to those released by nursing mother dogs), available in sprays, diffusers and collars at all pet supply stores or online. Anti-anxiety herbal and flower essence remedies also work well on some dogs.
Use a form fitting body wrap, tee shirt or Thunder Shirt on your dog, These work by applying a continuous, gentle pressure over the dog’s body allowing his natural response to “move into pressure” to occur. This has the effect of lowering his heart rate and blood pressure, thereby reducing his anxiety and stress.

If, however, he fails to respond to any of these methods, there are two other alternatives worth considering: working with a qualified pet therapist to learn behavior modification techniques, or speaking to your vet about prescribing an anti-anxiety medication for your dog.

But, whichever path you choose, follow it with kindness, patience and love. Think back to the sounds that may have frightened YOU as a child, and you’ll know just how your precious pet feels.

“It Was Just for a Minute!”

Sadder words were never spoken.

WHY?

Because an errand meant to take that proverbial minute is 60 seconds too long when a dog is left unattended in a hot car.

WHY?

Because, even on mild summer days, with a car parked in the shade and the windows cracked, the INSIDE temperature can rapidly reach dangerous levels.

WHY?

Because a car acts like a greenhouse, trapping and magnifying the sun’s strength and heat. Both the air and upholstery temperature can rise so rapidly that a dog can’t cool down.

 WHY?

Because a dog’s normal body temperature is about 102° F. Raise it briefly by only two degrees, and heat exhaustion, brain damage, even death may occur.

WHY?

Because, unlike humans, dogs don’t sweat. They can only cool themselves by panting and releasing heat through their paws.

Despite repeated warnings in the media, flyers distributed by animal welfare groups, and word of mouth, countless animals still die needlessly each year from heatstroke. Despite the axiom that one person can’t make a difference, in this type of situation, one person can make ALL the difference. And that person may be YOU.

If you see a dog in distress inside a car parked on the street or in a parking lot, note the make and model of the car, as well as its license plate number. Call the police, your local ASPCA branch, Humane Society or animal control immediately.

While 28 states have enacted laws that specifically prohibit leaving dogs in hot cars, most prohibit “Good Samaritans” from taking action to free a trapped dog. Only 11 states have granted these concerned citizens the legal right to use any means necessary (this includes smashing a window) to save that dog. They are Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

Watch the dog for the more obvious signs of heatstroke: exaggerated panting (or the sudden stopping of panting); an anxious or staring expression; restlessness; excessive salivation, tremors and vomiting. While waiting for help, you may – while being aware of the possible legal implications – choose to act on your own.

If a window is opened or a door unlocked, extricate the dog cautiously and carefully — either alone or with assistance. Then, get him into an air-conditioned car or nearby building. Otherwise, lay him down in a cool, shady place. Wet him with cool water, but never apply ice to his body. Fan him vigorously to speed the evaporation process, which, in turn, will cool the blood and reduce his temperature. Give him cool water to drink or even ice cream to lick.

Hopefully, by now, help will have arrived, and you may have saved some neglectful owner’s pet.

A gentle reminder: don’t YOU become that same neglectful owner.

Remember there’s no such thing as ”just for a minute.“

Carefree Dog Road Trips

As creatures of habit who crave their creature comforts, dogs don’t always make the best road trip companions. But by mapping out your dog’s trip along with your own, you can curtail his bad “backseat driver” behavior, and turn a potentially negative experience into a paws-itive one.

Consider the following suggestions to smooth the way for everyone – humans and canines alike:

Remain calm. Since dogs are adept at sensing their owners’ stress, don’t raise your voices or display any overt signs of your own pre-trip jitters and concerns.

Be certain to make reservations ahead of time and ONLY at pet-friendly motels or hotels along your route.

Put together a doggy travel bag equipped with a first aid kit and any essential medications, food and bottles of water (more can be purchased along the way), food and water bowls, grooming brushes, disposable pee pads, poop bags and small plastic trash bags, treats and toys, towels and blankets. And for you: disposable plastic gloves, hand sanitizer, liquid dish soap and disinfectant.

Never medicate an overly anxious dog without first consulting your vet. Many OTC calming agents are dangerous for pets, and if you do use a medication prescribed by your vet, always try it out on your dog at home first to test for any reactions and/or side effects.

If your dog tends to get car sick, avoid feeding him between two and three hours prior to your departure. But if he travels well and has an appetite, feed him the same food that he eats at home during the trip and keep his water bowl only partly filled to avoid spilling.

Have your dog travel comfortably by keeping him in a large carrier or traveling crate (if more than one dog, each should ideally have his own carrier or crate) with full contact information attached. Set the carrier/crate in a well-ventilated part of the car, out of excessive drafts and away from direct sunlight. Place a familiar blanket or a worn T-shirt with your scent on it inside the carrier/crate. Rotate various toys throughout the trip to keep him mentally stimulated and happily occupied.

Carry photocopies or a USB stick of your dog’s medical records in a flat plastic zippered pouch showing, at the very least, that he’s up to date on all of his essential vaccinations. Make certain that his collar carries a nametag with all pertinent ID (microchips are, of course, the best and only permanent form of identification), and that his leash is attached to it whenever you remove him from his carrier/crate or from the car itself.

Never allow your dog to get out of the car at “rest stops” unaccompanied. Always keep him safely leashed while walking him about for both exercise and potty breaks. And above all, never leave your dog in the car unattended — on either hot or cold days.

As they say, forewarned is forearmed. Hopefully then, armed with these suggestions, you and your dog can share a road trip to remember – fondly.