Your lively dog who once jumped on the bed at the first site of food is now slowing down and barely making it up the stairs to get to your bedroom. It is hard to watch our pet’s discomfort and we often feel helpless thinking that there is nothing we can do. In fact, there is a great deal you can do to help your pet, but you first must determine exactly what is wrong.

The following signs are an indication that it is time to go to your veterinarian for an office visit:

* Difficulty or hesitation to sit down or get up
* Difficulty jumping up or reluctance to climb stairs
* Lameness in one or more limb
* Stiffness in the morning that improves as the day progresses
* Subtle signs that the dog may not want to put weight on the limb
* Sensitivity when touched in certain areas

Susan Davis, pet care expertWhen you bring your dog for an office visit, your veterinarian will want to do a comprehensive examination and assess your pet’s neurological responses, joint mobility, areas of pain and sensitivity. Your veterinarian may manipulate the limbs to assess your dog’s response and observe the extent to which your pet is able to put weight on the affected limb. Generally an XRAY is taken and additional testing (ultrasound, bloodwork) may be required. It is important that a veterinarian check for all of the pet’s symptoms as there may a variety of conditions contributing to your pet’s discomfort.

The following conditions are just a few of the many causes of joint or muscle pain and lameness:

* Arthritis
* Injury
* Genetic conditions (e.g. hip dysplasia, osteochondritis)
* Immune mediated (e.g. cancer)
* Infection
* Ligament tear (especially in the knee)
* Deferred pain from an organ (e.g. kidneys)

As you can see, there may be a lot more than just “old age” contributing to your dog’s pain and it is important to understand the causes so that proper treatment can be determined. Also, many young dogs may show signs of limping or discomfort which could be due to any of the above factors-in other words, a dog does not have to be “old” to suffer from joint or muscle pain.

Depending upon the test results, your veterinarian will advise you on the best course of action. Sometimes surgical repair is the best option. For older pets, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as Rimadyl, Metacam or Previcox will help the pet feel more comfortable and increase mobility. These medications should be used judiciously however, as over time, they may impact liver function.

Another healthy option to increase your dog’s mobility, reduce pain and enhance immune function is acupuncture. Many holistic veterinarians are now offering acupuncture and chiropractic care for their patients. Acupuncture is the practice of stimulating certain locations on the body by inserting needles into specific points influencing the physiological functioning of an area or the whole body. The needles stimulate the sensory afferent nerves which send impulses to the spinal cord and then to different parts of the brain. When these nerves are stimulated, they release different biochemicals and neurotransmitters throughout the body. At VCA Arroyo, we use various acupuncture and acupuncture-related techniques including acupuncture, acupressure and aquapuncture.

Acupuncture can be helpful for any condition to increase blood flow to the area and enhance the pet’s overall immune function. Traditionally, acupuncture has been used to relieve pain and inflammation associated with musculoskeletal problems involving arthritis or vertebral disc issues, but many pets have benefited from acupuncture with other conditions as well. Animals will experience some sensation and occasionally may experience some temporary discomfort, although the procedure may be virtually painless for others. Most animals become very relaxed and may even become sleepy.

In addition to acupuncture, there are many other holistic, natural steps you can take to help relieve your pet’s pain and discomfort.

Weight Management
Many times pets with joint and muscle pain are overweight. The excess weight will hasten the development of arthritis by increasing the pressure on the joints. It is important that you work with your veterinarian or nutritionist to give your pet a diet that helps your pet maintain an optimal weight. For some, switching to a raw food diet can be helpful in weight reduction although this may not be the appropriate diet for all dogs. If you have had difficulty getting your dog to lose weight, you may want to schedule a consultation with us as we have had lots of success stories with even the toughest cases!

Daily Exercise
A short 15 minute walk with your dog each day can do a world of good. For your dog, it is a chance to increase circulation, burn some calories and smell the world around him or her. Walking can reduce pain by stretching muscles and reducing stiffness. For you, it is a wonderful bonding experience and can be a social time too. Try to plan your day so that you both can benefit!

Dogs with joint pain can greatly benefit from Omega 3 fatty acids. These nutrients are called “essential fatty acids” because they must be obtained from the diet and cannot be manufactured in the body. If your dog is experiencing joint pain, please be sure to add omega 3 fish oil and flax seed oil to their diet. Omegas can make quite a difference not only in supporting joint health but giving dogs a beautiful, lustrous coat.

Nutritional Supplements
There are many wonderful nutritional supplements available for dogs that can really help. Be sure to look for a combination formula that contains not only Glucosamine, Chondroitin and MSM, but also key nutrients such as green lipped mussel and herbs such as Boswellia and Turmeric. Arthrosoothe, Inflammatone and SAMe (available on can give dogs a great deal of pain relief. If the pain is deferred from an organ, such as the kidneys or liver, supporting these organs with nutritional supplements can be especially helpful as well.

You can bring the sprint back into your dog’s step by taking action and using these recommendations to help your dog.

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