The Aging, Arthritic Dog: What's next?
May 15, 2014 1:27 PM   Subscribe

Our 16 year old shepherd-husky mix, Gertrude (obligatory pic 1, 2) has bad arthritic hips and has trouble lying down, getting up and does not like to go down the short flight of stairs to go outside. She's on Rimadyl and Proin. We do have pain medication (Tramadol), which she does not like at all/will not take without a fight. She's in good spirits and is still eating (which is very good as she can be a finicky eater) and is at a good weight. She has a vet appointment this weekend to discuss if there's a next step to make Gert more comfortable. We are prepared if this is the end of the road (should she let us know so), but we're not quite there yet. Aged Dog Owners of Mefi: Prepare me for the vet - is there a step between where we are and the end, aside from asking for a more palatable pain medication?
posted by sarajane to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Believe it or not, glucosamine supplements do what they claim to do for dogs, according to my parents. The verdict was that it didn't ease the joint stiffness, but it did treat the pain to the point where their very elderly dog (15) no longer yelped or whined when getting up or laying down. They switched to the "people" version sold at the drugstore because they said the pet version sold by the vet was more expensive for the same dose.
posted by blue suede stockings at 1:51 PM on May 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

A ramp for the stairs, if possible? Good luck.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:57 PM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Tramadol helped my Corgi a lot when her arthritis got bad. Dogs definitely hate it (it was the one med that I couldn't crush up and sprinkle in her food) but if you can get her to take it it does help. I basically had to try a new tactic each week.
posted by radioamy at 1:58 PM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wet food with the pain meds crushed up in it can make it so much easier to get the dog the help she needs...can you ask the vet for something besides Tramadol? We use meloxicam and it's cheap and easy to administer crushed.
posted by HoteDoge at 2:02 PM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

She's amazing. This is such a hard time, I'm so sorry :-(

In terms of the pain meds, have you tried Pill Pockets? They are squishy treats that envelop the pill and make it hard for the dog to even detect it's in there. You can even feed one without the pill (or a favorite other food) then quickly feed the pill pocket, and another smelly treat right after that. They seem to disguise the pill better than normal cheese, cream cheese, peanut butter or bits of meat.

Other than that, you can try raising her water bowl and food bowl if they're too low for her to reach comfortably.

If you have an old memory foam mattress topper around, they make great senior dog beds. A heated pet bed might be an amazing source of comfort. To try it out, maybe put down a plug-in blanket if you have one for her to try? This is a low-wattage pet warmer that goes on their regular bed, which you can then cover with a light towel or blanket. It doesn't get SUPER warm, just lightly warm, and my senior dog loves his. I ended up buying a second one for him to use downstairs during the day too. They also make "self-heated" pet beds which is basically one of those reflective space blankets sewn into the bed to reflect the dog's body warmth back to her. They are nice but for a senior dog, I'd probably try to get a warmer bed if possible.

They also make pet slings which you can use to help her go up and down the stairs, or you can just use a towel or piece of sheeting.

There are simple ways to make a ramp depending on the length of the outside staircase, or maybe one of the folding pet ramps would do the trick.

But those are all imperfect solutions to a difficult situation, and it really depends on how much time you think she has left.

Thinking of you all and wishing you peace.
posted by barnone at 2:02 PM on May 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

1) Dasuquin. This is a standardized glucosamine and chondroitin supplement for dogs. It's the formula that researchers use when studying the effect of glucosamine and chondroitin in dogs because it's the most reliable and contains what it says it contains. I've lost track of the number of dogs I've seen do a complete turnaround on it, including my own, who in two weeks went from not wanting to run at all to streaking across a football field in hot pursuit of my other dog. After that experience I put my younger one on it as well, as a preventive. I personally wouldn't waste my money on any other brand; this is expensive but proven. You can read the many reviews at Amazon.

2) Adequan shots. I don't have any personal experience with this but I know it's widely used now for dogs, cats, and horses. I also have heard of some vets using it on themselves!

3) Back on Track coat. Link is to the mesh version; they also make a regular version. Back on Track makes lots of products for humans with arthritis and I know many people who swear by them. I also know a many performance dogs whose owners swear by the dog coats for all kinds of joint issues.
posted by HotToddy at 2:13 PM on May 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Metacam worked better for my (Shepherd?) mix than Rimadyl. He really only needed Tramadol when he occasionally threw out his back. But it turned out that his hip problem was actually degenerative myelopathy. It's sort of common in Shepherds. I bring it up because you don't actually mention your dog being in pain, but having trouble getting around. If the problem seems more like it could be weakness in the hind legs and hips than pain in her joints, that's something you could ask the vet to assess.
posted by Kriesa at 3:04 PM on May 15, 2014

Our rescue dog Shaggy was a complete mess when we adopted him, due to advanced and untreated Valley fever.

He had bone loss, joint swelling, and joint pain and was on a lot of Metacam and tramadol. He limped on both front legs and cried if you handled his paw joints.

We did a bunch of stuff for him including glucosamine, but most relevant here is that after one round of Adequan we were able to taper him off the Metacam and tramadol completely. Results may vary for age-related arthritis rather than disease-related, but it's worth discussing with your vet.
posted by Squeak Attack at 3:15 PM on May 15, 2014

My Marie is 16 and has trouble getting up and loses control of her hind end sometimes. She doesn't have arthritis, so I can't speak about the meds, but I have to say that a ramp has been wonderful for her.

I also give her a massage a few times a week. She loves the feeling and attention, her muscles get to relax (as she she is compensating for weak areas of her body by putting more weight on her front end and straing those muscles more than before), and, amazingly, her energy and ability to move the next day both go up a surprising amount.
posted by Vaike at 3:24 PM on May 15, 2014

A compounding pharmacy could give you liquid tramodol in sweet flavors, which might be more palatable. A liquid can also be injected into a favorite food (ie, chicken).
posted by tweedle at 3:36 PM on May 15, 2014

When I was younger I had my beloved shepherd mix on glucosamine, msm and fish oil.
In addition to medication from the vet, this made him go from unable to get up from a lying position or do stairs to being moderately active until he passed away a year later from cancer.
If my mom forgot a day with the additional supplements, he'd be right back to whimpering on the floor. :(
posted by tenaciousmoon at 3:51 PM on May 15, 2014

Regarding the tramadol - my dog takes this for arthritis. She is THRILLED to take it. Because it is covered in Easy Cheese.

At 16, you are not going to damage your dog much by giving her some preservatives, so maybe give something like that a try. If there is something your dog likes that is a gooey or malleable thing... yogurt? ice cream? regular cheese? string cheese? gummy bears ? banana? ham? bacon? roast beef? freeze dried liver (hollow out with knife?)?

A word of caution - do not feed your dog anything with a sugar substitute in it. Some or all are poison to dogs. So no "light" yogurt, no sugarfree gummy bears, etc.

edit: vet said this medication was fine with or without food for my dog
posted by AllieTessKipp at 3:54 PM on May 15, 2014

Our sweet Susie is the same age with the same arthritis. Glucosamine and daily stretching (me working with her to gently stretch her legs, give her massage, etc) has worked wonders for her.
posted by headnsouth at 4:23 PM on May 15, 2014

A memory foam dog bed can help them get more comfortable when laying down, if you can afford a heated one depending on the season where you are they love those on colder days.

A small ramp up the stairs with some carpet, so she doesn't slip on is easy to knock up and will make going up and down the stairs much easier.

Also keep trying with the Tramadol until you can find something you can easily hide it in. I've had good luck with things like wrapping it in "Plastic" cheese, cream cheese, peanut butter and slices of ham as needed when treating a dog with chemo drugs she did not want to take. If worst comes to worst get a pill popper, it makes it easier and less stressfull to just slide the tablet to the back of the dogs throat so it pretty much has to swallow it.
posted by wwax at 5:03 PM on May 15, 2014

Duffy was very sore and needed Tramadol, and hated the taste of it. Coating it in butter did the trick. He had that for a couple of years and looked forward to his "buttering".

The last six or eight months of his life he had ramps to help him get from his dog door to the ground. 1/2" exterior plywood, stiffened with a 2x4, covered in a thin carpet and with cleats every foot or so for traction. He liked having those and would - although he was going blind too - line up on those, using the cleats as his reference, and make his way on his own to and from the back yard.

He also got Synovi G4 glucosamine "treats" twice a day and they seemed to help, but the Tramadol worked very well for him and helped him be mobile.
posted by jet_silver at 9:41 PM on May 15, 2014

I know two elderly arthritic dogs for whom acupuncture really seems to work - both seemed to have less pain and more mobility in the day or days after the treatment. I did not try on my guy but it may be worth discussing with your vet.

Velveeta was the magic Tramadol disguiser for my 14 year old baby. Yeah it's full of nasty stuff but he LOVED it.

The dog next door to me has a wearable body harness with a handle on the top which is a wonderful help in getting him up, helping with stairs, walking, etc. He wears it all the time. A search for "arthritic dog harnesses" will give you a variety of options.
posted by Cocodrillo at 3:18 AM on May 16, 2014

Nthing ramps: we have this one for our 14-year-old 60-lb arthritic pup, and it helps.

Mega-nthing Pill Pockets, which turn "pill time" into "treat time."

Our dog has severe arthritis with bone growths that are impinging on nerves, so along with Rimadyl and tramadol, our vet added gabapentin to relieve neuropathic pain, and it has helped a lot.

Our vet also offers "infrared laser" treatments, which seems to really be focused, penetrating heat. The first session of about 10 minutes seemed to help with mobility, but our dog's condition declined after subsequent ones, so it ended up being a wash.
posted by underthehat at 6:08 AM on May 16, 2014

A harness from was indispensable when our large older dog had trouble getting up and down stairs.
posted by bunji at 11:24 PM on May 16, 2014

She should be on an omega 3 supplement like Eicosaderm dosed appropriately (much much higher than label). Supplements are very important but do not replace medication.

Tramadol is bitter. Giving it in a liverwurst meatball usually works (I manage an animal pain management veterinary practice so I have this conversation a lot). Give her the tramadol meatball first and show her you have another. Most dogs won't think about the first one if they can see there is a second one coming.

Your vet sounds like they are using a range of medications which is usually the best way to address pain but there are other meds that can help. You may want to look for a pain management specialist, they can consult with your vet.
posted by biscotti at 5:34 AM on May 17, 2014

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