A Case History of Maggie, a Senior Dog with Arthritis.....

If you're wondering whether the signs you've been observing in your senior are those of arthritis, reading this case history of Golden Retriever "Maggie" can help you decide. If you notice the signs described here in your own dog, don't wait to take your senior for a veterinary check-up. The sooner you've determined the best way to maintain mobility and ease discomfort, the better for both your own and your dog's quality of life together. Maggie's guardian, Mary Potempa of Oak Forest, IL, generously contributed answers to the following questions the Senior Dogs Project asked:

SDP: What is your dog's name, breed, and age, and how long have you had her?

"Maggie is a Golden Retriever, age 13.5 years. I got her at a shelter after she had been turned in as a stray. They guessed her age at 1.5 years then, and that was December of 1996. While I don't have AKC papers, she meets the breed's standards."

SDP: What signs led you to suspect Maggie had arthritis?

"One day she chased a bunny under some bushes and came out limping, barely putting weight on her front leg. Thinking she just strained it, I waited a day to get her to the vet and that's when I learned that dogs with bad hips tend to rely on their front legs to compensate for the weakness in their back legs and hips. Made sense to me. They did x-rays and were shocked at how bad her arthritis and hip dysplasia were. She hadn't demonstrated any symptoms prior to that so I was very shocked at the diagnosis; but, even to the untrained eye, the degeneration was obvious on the xrays. The official diagnosis was 'severe hip dysplasia bilateral, chronic right luxated hip, degenerative orthrosis left shoulder, disc collapse cervical and thoracic back.' (I took this off of the radiology report.) Other signs as the years have passed include clicking from her hip as she walks, her gait is off as if she's bobbing her head as she walks, panting (can indicate pain) or vomiting after too much exertion, knuckling over of her back paws as we walk, trouble going up stairs, getting halfway up the stairs and her back legs won't work, slow walking, back legs giving out and not able to get back up, not squatting when pooping including dropping poop as she walks, leaving a poop or two when she gets up from a nap and not even realizing it, no longer able to clean herself or to scratch her ears (her body just won't bend), no desire to even try to get up on furniture or my bed. Also, I've noticed that when going up or down the stairs she hugs the wall as if for guidance. She rarely wags her tail, doesn't stretch or play-bow anymore, nor does she let out that exasperated sign that dogs so fondly do. I truly believe these last symptoms are due to her physical decline. Recently the vet diagnosed her arthritis advancing further up her spine including some in her neck. The symptoms for that are sort-of crouched over as she walks, head sort of hanging and not held up high but mostly those back legs just don't always work. She trips over herself and then can't get up."

SDP: How old was Maggie when diagnosed?

"She was diagnosed around age 8-9. I don't know how long she had symptoms because she never demonstrated any discomfort. This girl never even whines."

SDP: What medication and/or nutraceuticals, if any, do you use to relieve symptoms?

"After her front leg strain healed from that initial injury, we went the holistic route with over-the-counter glucosamine condroitin and Synovi-G-3 for about a full year. She started having trouble climbing stairs and I could just see she was struggling so the vet added Metacam, an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug), to her regime. The Metacam did its job for a good 2.5 years and all of a sudden her weakness and lameness reappeared so the vet put her on Previcox (another NSAID) daily and Tramadol for pain as needed, no more Synovi-G-3 or Metacam. (Typically Maggie will get a Tramadol maybe once or twice a week, the Previcox does its job well.) Always searching for other ways to help her, ten months ago I took her to a canine rehab center that offers physical therapy, water treadmill, chiropractic and acupuncture. She hated it. The vet there suggested injections of Adequan. I discontinued the combination physical therapy, chiropractic and acupuncture due to cost and because I really didn't see any improvement but I have maintained monthly Adequan injections. I really think that helps her a lot. Five weeks ago Maggie's back legs started going lame and began walking with that crouched-over look and she didn't bounce back as she normally does. That is when the vet diagnosed that her arthritis has moved more up her spine and neck and he prescribed a muscle relaxant along with Tramadol every 8 hours. I have also taken her to another chiropractor who seems so much more gentle and sensitive to Maggie's symptoms and reaction to his touch. I'll give the chiropractor a couple more treatments to see if it makes a difference. He also suggested three, ten minute leashed walks daily. Some days we can do it, other days she can barely walk a few yards. I live in the Chicago , IL area and at times it is humid, perhaps that has something to do with her symptoms? And I've also noticed that if she doesn't get enough naps in, she isn't as strong. One other thing, Maggie has been on dry kibble all of her 12+ years at my home and I recently started giving her high quality canned food mixed with her kibble and she loves it. I have seen a boost in her energy level. The one that she loves the most is a mackerel with gravy by Evangers (it really smells bad). Not cheap but I only use a spoon full each feeding so it lasts long. The natural fish oil is supposed to help the joints."

SDP: What other measures do you take to help your dog? "I have a homemade set of three stairs that she used to use to get up on the bed, no longer will do that. I have a sling of sorts to help lift her rear end when needed, I also have a nice, padded harness to help her up the stairs if needed. Lately she has fallen down the stairs when trying to go down them so now I put a short leash on her to help guide her down the stairs. We live on the second floor of a townhome. Raised food and water dishes are a must of course. I've learned a bit of canine massage which she LOVES. I bought a padded dog bed with three sides (Bolster Bed), she loves that too. Leashed walks, no running, to keep her joints moving but only when I can tell that she's up for it. I have a dog walker come mid day since I'm working full time and I see a difference in Maggie when she gets her dog walker fix. I've also put carpet on all of my tiled floors for added traction. I leave night lights on at night even though her sight is still pretty good (hearing is gone). I make sure we 'spoon' every evening on the floor and often times I will sleep on the floor with her just to bond. I realize that it sounds as if I am making Maggie go on even though her joints don't want to. The girl has so much spunk and spirit most of the time, she is in no way ready to leave this earth. She manages to follow me from room to room when I'm home and have that sweet, sugar-face smile. I only hope that I will be able to see it in her eyes when she is no longer able to continue on. Thank you for the opportunity to share Maggie's story."