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Dropping pet pounds

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If you worry about pet health, take a weight off your shoulders by getting your older, pudgy pet to lose a few pounds. For a painful joint-related disease like arthritis, weight is a huge problem.

Just as being overweight in humans is a factor in heart disease and some cancers, being chubby brings the same risks for certain diseases in animals. Dr. Jay Thrush from Brandon Hills Veterinary Clinic, says, "Being overweight predisposes a pet to arthritis, and makes it harder to treat effectively once it does develop."

There are different forms of arthritis, but the majority of pets get osteoarthritis (also known as age-related arthritis). "It is caused by wear and tear on the joints as an animal ages, but is made worse by being overweight," he said.

While any pet may eventually suffer from arthritis, larger breed dogs are more prone to the disease at five or six years old. Cats are more fortunate than dogs because it doesn't show up until their 10th birthday.

Thrush says that if the dog has hip or elbow dysplasia (a genetic condition that precludes the joint fitting the way is should) arthritis is likely and at a younger age than those born without dysplasia issues. Torn ligaments or other pre-existing injuries also increase the odds as it does for dogs that are extremely active.

Arthritis is a nasty disease. Just ask my dog, Bella. Naturally, she won't reply, but if she could speak about it she'd utter nothing but expletives.

About 10 months ago, she suffered a paw injury. This diminished her willingness to walk. Naturally, she gained a bit of weight. A few months after this, while on vacation, Bella didn't have the pep in her step (to be clear, we were on vacation with her; she didn't take a cruise to Bahamas on her own). Bella didn't jump around at seeing us or leap onto the bed as usual. We knew something was wrong.

Some might see such a slow-down as natural for an eight-year-old retriever-mix. But Bella's wrists were also slightly swollen and warm to the touch. Like typical arthritic patients, mornings are the worst time for her. When she'd try to get up, she'd groan like a teenager who was just told to do a chore.

Bella exhibited classic signs of the disease: lethargy, reluctance to exercise or jump and lameness or limping. Cats may not jump up the way the once did and even avoid the litter box, because it hurts to get into it. Thrush recommends that anytime a pet experiences behaviour changes, it should see a veterinarian.

Bella's weight gain exacerbates the condition. Pets that are heavier tend to be less active, and as they incur more pain they want to move less. They gain more pounds and this weight then puts greater strain on the joints.

"Untreated arthritis is not life threatening, but it certainly impacts on the quality of life of your pet," Thrush says.

The Brandon veterinarian typically treats arthritic pets by recommending weight loss, glucosamine, omega 3 fatty acids or prescription diet, and NSAIDs (known to you and me as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).

There are also other alternative therapies that may help. "Some people have also had success in treating arthritis in pets with acupuncture and laser therapy," says Thrush. He uses laser therapy and finds that it helps with immediate pain or injuries. It may not be as successful with recurring or long-term problems, he says.

Exercise may be the last thing your arthritic pet wants but it's necessary. Thrush recommends moderate exercise to help build muscle and to keep weight down.

According to him, there are also a number of so called nutraceuticals or "natural" remedies that have been used with varying levels of success. These include glucosamine, chondroitin sulphate, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, elk antler and shark cartilage.

Bella takes glucosamine and it has worked well. She's not chasing fly balls but her pain is gone. The difference is night and day.

There's no surefire way to prevent a pet from aging, but a healthy weight might make that old age less painful

-- -- --

In the pet community: You're invited to Darcy's A.R.C., which is hosting a fundraising yard sale Friday, noon- 9 p.m., and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event will be held at the shelter, 730 Century St. For further information contact: www.darcysarc.ca or call 204-888-2266

char.adam@mts.net twitter.com/charspetpage

Additional tips:

Brands of supplements vary in price and in content. They are not created equally. For instance, a supplement may have omega 3 and 6 along with glucosamine. They may not be necessary if your pet's prescription diet already contains them.

Swimming is a good way to exercise a dog without putting strain on its joints.

Moderate exercise is recommended, but games like fetch and running may have to be toned down if the condition worsens.

Human pain medications may be appropriate for limited use. Long-term use of medications like ASA (Aspirin), Ibuprovin (Advil or Motrin), however, can cause kidney or stomach damage.

Never give acetaminophen (Tylenol) to a cat or dog; studies show a strong link to liver damage.

Always consult a veterinarian before giving any medications to your pet.

Stairs for beds built for small dogs and cats can lessen joint pain and stress. And an outdoor ramp is better than stairs for larger dogs. Many of these aids can be found online or in pet stores.

Offer a warm, soft place for your pet to sleep. Hard, cold floors can aggravate the problem. You may have to experiment, some dogs may prefer a bit of cushion to a large puffy-style dog bed.

Remember that each dog or cat is unique; each responds to treatment differently. It's why working with your veterinarian is important.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 29, 2012 D5

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