Four People Tell Their Stories of Sharing Osteoarthritis Pain & Relief With Their Dogs

When arthritis is diagnosed in dogs, many owners with OA feel true empathy. They know what it’s like to have achy, stiff joints, so they make it a top priority to ease their pets’ discomfort.

Carol and Abe

When Carol Pierce of Bucks County, Pa., noticed her dog limping last year, she went right to the vet. The diagnosis: knee osteoarthritis (OA).

Carol has OA, too – in her right wrist. She occasionally takes an over-the-counter, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). But Abe gets the prescription NSAID carprofen (Rimadyl) daily. “I’m not one of those people who just sits around thinking about my aches and pains,” Carol says. “But for Abe, he comes first. He can’t talk, so I make sure his pain is taken care of.”

It’s no surprise that both Carol and Abe have it; they share a few risk factors. OA in both dogs and people usually stems from age, excess weight, trauma to a joint and/or overuse injuries. Abe, who is 10, spent his early years on a greyhound racetrack. Carol, who is 60, has injured her wrist several times.

Carol does her best to ignore her ever-present, dull ache, but she closely monitors Abe’s comfort level, even massaging the corns that grow on the bottom of his paws. “Everyone who knows me knows that in my life, my dogs come first,” she says.

Martin and Penny

Penny, a 9-year-old border collie, has hip OA, but for the past eight years has been competing in agility – an activity in which dogs literally jump over obstacles, run through tunnels and make sharp turns at top speed.

She’s well taken care of by owner Martin Levy, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, New York. “There are four tenets to OA treatment: Weight management, moderate exercise, NSAIDs and glucosamine,” he says. “We treat dog OA with all the things we do for humans, and it works.” He follows the same treatment regimen for his own knee OA.

Penny is proof. She has had hip dysplasia – a joint abnormality that can lead to OA – since she was a year old. But following those four tenets – especially staying trim – has enabled her to compete very successfully in agility nearly all her life. “That’s why I think Penny’s story matters,” says Dr. Levy.

Susan and Baldwin

Susan Hartzler and her 10-year-old Puli, Baldwin, also enjoyed agility trials for years. When Baldwin slowed down significantly, trainers told Susan he was just acting spoiled.

Soon after, Baldwin suddenly howled in pain on a walk near their home in Los Angeles. He’d torn his ACL in one knee, and the vet said the other was sure to go next. “It turns out his knees had been hurting him all along,” Susan says.

Baldwin had surgery on both knees, and now also has OA in both knees. Around the time of her dog’s diagnosis a year ago, Susan, now 51, learned she has OA in her spine, wrist and ankle.

On some days, she says, neither of them want to get out of bed because of their pain. But she makes sure they take their daily walk, because walking has had the greatest effect in easing their aches.

It’s also helped them lose some of the weight they both gained when they stopped going to agility competitions, and that, too, has made a difference. “Keeping the weight off is a big part of keeping the pain away,” says Susan.

A third key to managing their pain: inflammation-fighting omega-3 supplements. “I’ve done a test where we both took the omegas and then stopped, and I definitely notice the difference, especially in Baldwin,” she says.

Kate and Harley

Kate Titus of Tucson, Ariz., rescued a 100-pound, mixed- breed dog named Harley from the pound when he was about 3 years old. Just a few years later, Kate – a 40-year-old former college softball player with knee OA – noticed some familiar limping in her canine companion.

X-rays revealed he was developing OA in his knees, hips and spine. So Kate, who was already considering a career change after 15 years in publishing, became a certified canine massage therapist. “Harley was definitely the impetus,” Kate says of her business, A Loyal Companion.

Kate also sells canine prosthetics and orthotics, such as the custom knee brace that she puts on Harley when he is uncomfortable. “It breaks my heart to see him limping.”

Harley is the lucky recipient of Kate’s demo massages, but regular rubdowns are only part of his treatment plan.

He also gets top-grade food, much of it straight from the meat and produce aisles of the grocery store. He took injections of an osteoarthritis pain reliever and disease modifier for animals. And recently, Harley had knee surgery called a “tibial plateau leveling osteotomy” to reduce the risk of further arthritis progression in the joint.

To manage her own OA pain, Kate lost about 35 pounds over the past year, and she takes a prescription anti-inflammatory on bad days. But she admits she’d rather focus on improving quality of life for her animals. “I’m single, I live alone and I also have a cat. The three of us are in it together and I want to make sure they have the very best I have to offer them,” she says.

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