When Dogs Develop Arthritis Young

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I am feeling a bit sad and overwhelmed by canine arthritis today.  Our collie-cross Squid is roughly 3 years old, and about a year and a half ago it transpired he had elbow dysplasia in his front right limb.  He underwent an arthroscopy a year ago, and seemed to recover well from it – he’s showed no lameness in that limb since.  Recently, we noticed a change in his gait – he seemed unstable on his back right leg, and the vet agreed his gait appeared shortened.  We had him x-rayed, fearing that hip dysplasia would also be added to his list of ailments, but to our surprise his hips and knees were in perfect condition.  The vet found instead quite significant arthritis to the 2-3 vertebrae at the bottom of his ribs, almost in the centre of his back, which seems to have been causing some nerve pain and resulting in the symptoms he has been showing.
This has completely thrown us;  whereas joints seem relatively treatable, the back, beyond pain medication, doesn’t.   We haven’t thrown balls for him since his elbow diagnosis, and try to manage sensible exercise with lots and lots of brain games, sensory play, chewing and licking.  But I’m left wondering what is going to happen next?  He is a young dog so he has bags of energy, plus he’s a collie so it’s really hard to slow him down, and it leaves him frustrated if we do.  I don’t know what to expect with how quickly it will develop, whether he will be left debilitated at a still young age, and how we can strike a balance between allowing him to enjoy his life whilst managing his condition.   I’m worried that a necessary regime of painkillers (he is on metacam and now gabapentin) from such a young age will limit his life in terms of his kidney function.
We feel a bit heartbroken that we are now on a journey with him that will only get worse, and from such a young age.  What can we do?  What can we expect?  And how can we help him?

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I have made the presumption you are his mum – apologies if you are his Dad!! I hope you get what I meant 🙂

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Hi there,

Welcome to CAM and hi to Squid! I’m so sorry he has been diagnosed so young, and totally understand the fears and worries you are going through following the latest outcome.
Firstly, take a breath! Squid is in great hands, his mum knows that he may have days when he is feeling sore and is keeping a close eye on him. You are also aware of his limitations, know not to let him over-do things and are avoiding the high impact games like ball throwing etc. So, he’s already off to a great start. Many owners wont have even realised something is up and under the care of someone else, the progression of the disease may have been far quicker. So give yourself a break and realise what you are already doing is brilliant.
You haven’t mentioned, but I would suggest ensuring he doesn’t jump in and out of the car or ascend/descend stairs if at all possible – these have a big impact on the joints. Take a look at  your home using our home assessment tool to see if there are any changes you can make that will have an effect:
https://www.caninearthritis.co.uk/itsmyhometoo/

They may seem small, but have a significant part to play in the slowing down of arthritis.

I’d consider finding yourself a really good physiotherapist, ACPAT registered, who can advise you on simple exercises that won’t harm him and will help him to build and maintain his core strength. They may also be able to tell you if he is compensating elsewhere and how to manage that. Also, hydrotherapy (a NARCH registered therapist) could work for him, both mentally and physically and again will help to keep those muscles strong, this is what he needs when the joints themselves are struggling – a good strong muscle surround to help support them. Make a plan with your vet and therapists, and re-evaluate at least six monthly, so that you can adapt and add drugs, supplements and therapies in or out as necessary as he ticks along. Be aware of his  chronic pain and improvement indicators, which will be specific to him so that you know of something is or isn’t working, or if he needs a plan modification.

It’s difficult to say how things will progress. Each dog is different and there is no rulebook. Xrays, whilst can let us know arthritis is present, don’t always match the patient! Some have shocking x-rays but barely any clinical signs and others vice versa.
I hope this gives you an idea of some possible avenues to follow. A combination of them all may mean that constant pain relief from drugs may not always be necessary, or possibly reduce them at least. If he does need them long term, then it is thought that organ damage relating to NSAIDs mostly happen if the drug is not used correctly (over dosed), or to dogs who are already compromised with liver or kidney issues. Either way, regular monitoring with blood and urine tests mean you can always keep an eye on this and act accordingly.

Good luck, and keep us posted 🙂 If you haven’t already, look for Holly’s Army on Facebook, where you will find other owners in the same boat. There is a great community feel and you may find some other ideas of how to help Squid live a long and comfortable life.

Best wishes,

Lynsey.

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