How can I manage my dog's joint problems?

(Q) My three-year-old Labrador began limping on his front leg recently so I took him to my vet. I assumed he had pulled or sprained something. To my horror, the vet said both elbows were swollen and suspected my dog had elbow dysplasia. X-rays confirmed the worst. My dog already has a lot of arthritic change so the recommended course of treatment is pain-relief injections, food supplements, and painkillers.

I’m absolutely heartbroken. My dog is still happy to go for his walks but salivates and pants soon after being out. The vet said as he gets older he will struggle to walk and it will become a question of quality of life and making a tough decision. How long is he likely to have?

(A) Vet Roberta Baxter says: Panting can be a sign of pain, so it is worth monitoring in dogs with joint disease. While it is devastating to get a diagnosis of joint problems in a dog so young, there are lots of things you can do to help him now that you know about his problem.

Some Labs with severe joint problems do well for years. A multifaceted approach generally works best, and weight management and carefully controlled levels of regular exercise (such as three short walks every day rather than one long one) can be combined with pain relief, glucosamine supplements, and, in some cases, complementary therapies.

Acupuncture may aid pain management; advice can be sought from a veterinary physiotherapist on appropriate exercises to maintain joint mobility; and regular hydrotherapy can help keep affected joints mobile and comfortable while maintaining muscle strength. You may find that your dog benefits from any or all of these approaches depending on how severe his problem is.

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