When it comes to the joint health of your dog, I will tell you right off the bat that you need to take this into your own hands because there is no better advocate for your dog than you. With that being said, you first need to have a broad understanding of all the pieces to the puzzle. There is far more to joint health than simply giving your dog joint supplements or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS). Although what is going on inside the joint is extremely important, everything on the outside of the joint is equally as important.
Let’s take a closer look. The musculoskeletal system is comprised of bones, muscles, tendons (which join muscle to bone), and ligaments (which join bone to bone). In addition, it also includes all of the other components of the joint itself, such as the joint capsule, cartilage, and joint fluid. All of these individual structures work together to keep your dog up and moving every day, therefore we need to keep all of these structures healthy. That makes sense, right?
Here is an all too common scenario. Rudy is a 5-year-old Labrador Retriever who weighs 105 pounds and lives the typical lifestyle of a domestic dog. He gets two to three walks a day and otherwise is fairly sedentary while his family is at work. One day, while having a good old time in the backyard, Rudy injures himself and begins to limp on his left hind leg. He is quickly brought to his veterinarian and diagnosed with an ACL tear. His veterinarian recommends surgery, which he has the following day. Now, up to this point, Rudy has never shown any signs of joint health issues. During the surgery, the instability in his knee is corrected. He gets sent home with Deramaxx, one of the many NSAIDs on the market, and some pain medication, i.e. Tramadol, for two weeks. As expected, Rudy recovers from surgery with the veterinarian’s recommendations to walk him on a leash for several weeks and within 8 weeks he is back out in the yard, playing again. But did Rudy fully recover? Does his family have a plan for his future now that he has had this injury? Does his family truly understand the repercussions of how this joint injury will affect his long-term health, or do they simply take their veterinarian’s word for it and expect everything to be fine?
The problem with this scenario is that it is far too common. Never once was Rudy’s family educated that everything from this point forward changes in regards to his long-term joint health and his overall health and wellness for that matter.
As the story continues, eight months later Rudy has another accident, and this time he injures his right hind leg. Yet again, he has to have surgery for a torn ACL and the same thing happens all over again. Fast forward two years, Rudy is still 105 pounds, happy as ever, but his family becomes concerned that he seems to be having a harder time getting up, and overall, he is not playing as much as he used to. He goes to his veterinarian again, who at this time takes x-rays of Rudy’s hips, knees, and spine. The veterinarian explains that Rudy is developing dog arthritis in both his knees in addition to his lumbar spine and, therefore prescribes him Deramaxx, the NSAID, again. As expected, this medication makes him “feel” better and since he “seems” better while on it, his family continues to use it for the next several years. Everyone seems satisfied. Everyone, except Rudy, of course.
Could this scenario be different? Could more have been done to help Rudy and his family at the time of his first injury?
Changing the Course
The answer to the last question is obviously, yes. This scenario could have been much different for both Rudy and his family and it all starts with a little education. Had the veterinarian, or even Rudy’s family for that matter, taken the time to look at the bigger picture and plan for the many future issues that Rudy would develop over the years; this could have been avoided or at least potentially prevented.
For starters, Rudy’s excess weight issue should have been addressed much earlier on in his life. Statistics tell us that in the United States alone, 50% of all dogs are clinically overweight and in many cases, obese. This statistic is astounding. For some reason, our society has decided to let go of regard for a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight, not only for ourselves but also for our pets. In 2002, Nestle Purina released their 14 year-long Life Span Study that illustrated exactly what we already know, yet disregard, for some unknown reason. The results showed that overall, dogs who were fed a lean diet and maintained an ideal body weight lived on average two years more than those dogs who were not kept at ideal body weight. All of these dogs in the end died of similar disease processes, yet the lean-fed dogs developed the problems two years later. Do you think that you would like to have your dog around for an extra two years?
In the case of Rudy, the responsibility for his excess weight falls on the shoulders of both the veterinarian and the family. Either the veterinarian did not do a good enough job at communicating the importance of this issue or providing tangible solutions for the family, or maybe the family just did not think that it was a serious enough issue for Rudy. Whatever the case, in the end, Rudy is the one who suffers.
Second, had the veterinarian emphasized to the family that Rudy’s post-surgery rehabilitation was just as important as the surgery itself, there is a strong chance that Rudy would have never had the second injury at all. He would have been allowed to rebuild the strength in his leg back to its original condition and therefore would not have had to overcompensate to such a great extent with this other hind leg. It is this overcompensation that led to the second injury, case, and point.
Third, had the veterinarian or even the family understood the power of certain natural ingredients that promote and maintain joint health, Rudy would have again been in much better standing to not incur further injuries over the years.
At the end of the day, as I stated in the first paragraph, you and only you, are the best advocate for your dog. Therefore, it is up to you to gain an understanding and develop a plan that is going to work for the lifetime of your dog. Make sure to keep your dog at a healthy weight. Make sure that if your dog has an injury, you seek professional physical rehabilitation advice to ensure the best long-term recovery. Understand what a full recovery means. Make sure that you exercise your dog regularly to maintain muscle tone and flexibility. Last, but not least, make sure that you incorporate a joint support supplement that is proven to be of high quality and safe for your dog.
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Anita you are very kind and you are very welcome. All we ask is that you share this with others, be it your veterinarian or other pet owners whom you think could benefit from this information. All the best, Dr.J
Thank you for taking the time for all your help from your videos , you are amazing.
Jennifer you make me so sad and happy at the same time. You have a really strong positive outlook and I love that. Can you tell me how old he is? Also when the exact dates of his surgery were? Lastly where you are?
I just wanted to tell you how much this program really is a Godsend. Unfortunately for us, the extracapsular cruciate procedure failed on both knees, which is why even though we are at 12 weeks that he is still limping. They tell me he should really have the tplo and that would be the best one. But I’m not comfortable with putting him through another surgery. He’s on the glycan aid hc, he’s on tramadol and novox. He’s getting around. And even though I cant do all your steps as it is set I am hoping that by stretching it out even farther that we can get to the point that scar tissue and other muscles can build up. (And my prayers to St. Anthony and St Francis help!) I know if the surgeries were successful that this program would have been 100% effective. I appreciate all your videos and information. Thanks!
Thanks Dr. Harriet, thank you so much for taking the time to comment. Sounds like you are doing great. Slow, conservative and steady. Fully recovery which put a lot of focus on whether the muscle mass is the same between the two hind legs…takes a good 6 months. I think one the major reasons so many dogs go on to tear the opposite ACL is because people simply do not have the patience or take the time to fully recovery the dog. When 12 weeks post-op come around the dog is off leash and it is just a matter of time before they injure that opposite leg. Sorry for the rant…thanks again.
Dear Dr. J,
Your advice during my dog’s recovery from TPLO surgery was so valuable! We are doing well with post op rehab and Lilly ( our Akita ) has trimmed off 11 lbs and seems to be using both legs equally. We are taking our time building her strength and endurance. Thank you for your advice!