We celebrated Jana’s twelfth birthday recently. Her friend Leti (also a golden retriever) just turned 15. These girls still walk to the park nearly every day and enjoy a vigorous roll in the grass. They make the rounds, saying hello to the other dogs’ people and trying to cadge a cookie or two from each human.
I do everything I can to see that Jana’s quality of life remains high. Despite their good health, both girls are showing signs of their age. Jana has severe arthritis and wakes up feeling stiff and painful many mornings. Though she’s usually very sharp mentally, I’ve noticed a few senior moments, when she seems to be a bit confused.
Hoping to deal with both those issues — without breaking the budget — I’ve put together a regime of supplements and exercises that help Jana a lot. If you have an aging dog, some of this might be helpful. I have no veterinary training, but I do check everything with my vet and vet techs before I try it on Jana, and I recommend that you do the same:
- Even Cali, age 2, is taking a small amount of glucosamine each morning. It helps ease joint pain. Some people take it, too, particularly for knee pain.
- New Zealand Green Lipped Mussel. Jana takes one green mussel capsule daily, emptied onto her breakfast. Like glucosamine, it can help people and dogs with joint pain. Jana behaves very differently when she’s talking it — asking to go on walks and soliciting tug games — so I am convinced that it helps.
- Fish oil. Each girl gets two fish oil capsules a day. The omega-3 is as beneficial for them as it is for humans, and the dogs like the fishy taste. They get sardines once or twice a week as a treat for the same reason.
- Coconut oil. A spoonful a day is great for their skin and coat. Coconut oil also might help with brain energy and metabolism (Thanks to Tom Morrare for sending me the link to this great article!), and it has anti-inflammatory properties (in lab rats, anyhow).
- Turmeric, another anti-inflammatory. Jana likes spicy food; for some dogs, turmeric capsules or tablets might work better than the powder. Also, the bright orange powder stains everything it touches. If your dog is prone to tummy issues, you might want to use tablets.
- Rimadyl or one of the generic equivalents. The active ingredient, carprofen, is an NSAID for dogs. It reduces inflammation and therefore pain. It also can cause liver damage if given in high dosages or for a very long time. Since I have started giving it to Jana regularly, I will make sure to get bloodwork done every six months.
- Cold laser therapy. Jana goes about once a month. Some dogs get it more often; some less. Figuring out the frequency is a complex formula that factors in cost and distance and time. The treatment really seems to help keep Jana limber and, if not pain-free, certainly far less painful. It stimulates blood flow, healing the tissues and reducing inflammation, thereby reducing pain. I get Jana as many laser therapy sessions as I can so I can reduce the amount of Rimadyl she takes.
- Jana does daily exercises on an inflated exercise disc, as recommended by her laser therapist. The idea is for Jana to strengthen the muscles that support her arthritic joints. She’s also working her core and having a great time. She’ll “dance” (prance, alternating paws) and turn around on the disc and balance with front or back feet. Cali usually joins in.
- Treat toys. There are many. Jana’s favorites are Squirrel Dude and Nobbly Nubbly, both from PetSafe, and the Kyjen Cagey Cube. Other dogs will like different toys; these are the ones that hold Jana’s interest, even if I give them to her over and over again.
There are other options that we have not tried (or haven’t tried yet) or haven’t liked: Adequan injections, for example, which is used for arthritis pain; acupuncture, which Jana didn’t react well to; surgery; massages and body work; Chinese herbal treatments … the list is long. If you find something that works for you, let the Thinking Dog know at firstname.lastname@example.org!
The important elements are to keep the dog moving and challenged — physically and mentally — and as pain-free as possible. Jana has jobs as well: She gets the morning paper, brings my shoes when we’re getting ready to go for a walk, and picks up the bowls after each (doggy) meal. She loves interactive toys where food or a tennis ball are hidden or trapped (her favorites are mentioned above); she’ll spend a long time trying to figure them out, whereas Cali gives up much more quickly.
It’s also important to make sure your older dog has a comfortable bed (in Jana’s case, so that she can sleep next to it) and is warm in cold and damp weather. I’ve put down rubber mats so she no longer slips on the bamboo and linoleum floors. I haven’t gotten her a ramp or stairs yet, but I do have to help her into the car.
My goals are to reduce Jana’s pain without heavy use of pharmaceuticals and maintain her quality of life. I started with the supplements and only added a small amount of Rimadyl when Jana was clearly painful. I want to accomplish all of this at what I consider a reasonable cost. Obviously, this means something different to everyone. And I understand that not everyone is willing to spend several minutes measuring out supplements at each meal or hours schlepping a dog to a laser appointment. Every individual dog and family needs to figure out what works best for them.