Is there anything more loyal than a well-loved older Labrador? It is those soulful eyes, that graying muzzle, and that undeniable love that makes us want the best for our old friends. Because dogs age faster than humans, a Lab is considered “older” at about 7 years of age. At this point certain diseases, including arthritis, become more commonplace. And it’s important that owners know what to look for in their dogs, because early intervention will allow for a slower progression of the disease.

So, what exactly is arthritis and where do we see it most often in our Labby patients?

Arthritis (commonly referred to as OA) occurs when the cartilage in a joint is damaged via congenital problems (hip dysplasia being an example most people know about), trauma/ injury, or even just normal wear and tear in an athletic or obese animal. When the cartilage is damaged, it causes inflammation, which leads to more cartilage damage, and eventually damage to the underlying bone. It can affect any joint, but is more common in the hips, elbows, shoulders, stifles (ankles), carpi (wrists), and spine.

Common signs of OA include: slowing down on walks, stiffness/ limping, licking at joints, difficultly rising, and/or difficulty jumping up. It is important to keep in mind, however, that reluctance to take normal walks, withdrawing from family members, and a change in attitude, appetite, or drinking may be indicators of more serious problems. So, it is important that you visit your veterinarian for a thorough physical exam.

There is so much that can be done to treat OA these days. From special diets to physical therapy and alternative treatments to medications there is a lot of information out there. Your veterinarian can work with you to plan a good treatment protocol for your pet, but here are some treatment options, which may help your pet to be more comfortable:

  • Weight loss: Sometimes simple weight loss can make a huge difference in the comfort level of our pets. Excess weight puts more pressure on damaged joints and may therefore cause more pain. Ask your veterinarian to help you determine a healthy weight for your pet. He or she should have an obvious waist when observed from above and an obvious “abdominal tuck” when viewed from the side.
  • Controlled exercise/ physical therapy: Once your pet has OA, decreasing the intensity and length of his or her exercise will probably be necessary. Slow walks, swimming (careful not to overdo it!), and even short jogs can help maintain muscle mass to help support the joints and therefore decrease pain. Many physical therapy centers will have an underwater treadmill, which is an excellent low-impact exercise. They may also be helpful in developing a therapy regimen for your pet. 
  • Nutraceuticals: Glucosamine and Chondroitin
    as well as MSM, can help to slow cartilage damage as well as minimize inflammation.
  • Joint Diets: Hills Science Diet (j/d), Purina (JM), and Royal Canin make excellent perscription diets to support joint health. Ask your veterinarian if these diets might be right for your pet.
  • Accupuncture/ Massage: May provide additional pain relief.
  • Adequan injections: Adequan is a protective agent to the cartilage and may help to preserve cartilage in the joints.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): These medications, prescribed by your veterinarian, include Rimadyl, Metacam, Previcox, and Deramaxx to name a few. They work to reduce inflammation and pain within the joints. **It is important to remember that human NSAIDs (Advil, Tylenol, Aleve, even Aspirin) are toxic to dogs and never should be given in place of a veterinary drug.** Other pain relievers can also be prescribed by your vet in addition to these drugs to provide added pain relief.

Other things to consider is that your arthritic dog may have a hard time walking on hardwood floors, so putting down runners or getting him or her some non-slip booties might make a huge difference. Also, a comfortable orthopedic bed can help to reduce pressure on joints as your pet sleeps.

Have a younger dog?

Its important to remember that exercise, a high quality diet, and a healthy weight will help reduce the risk of your pet developing OA, and give you more years to enjoy playing with your buddy.


Dr. Erin Hernandez Horner, DVM graduated from the University of Georgia in 2004 and then went on to obtain her DVM in 2008. She is currently an associate veterinarian at Brookhaven Animal Hospital   [line-sep]