January 15, 2022
By Tony J. Peterson
If you’re lucky your duck dog will live long enough to experience everyday aches and pains associated with old age. If you’re really lucky, your dog will avoid this daily discomfort until it has taken a dozen laps around the sun and is truly old. But not everyone gets lucky, and it’s pretty common for dogs that have just recently left middle age behind to start moving slowly and exhibiting some discomfort.
This is hard to watch, but often, inevitable. However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t options for addressing low-level pain in our retrievers, because there are. But first, according to Lead Veterinarian for Merrick Pet Care RuthAnn Lobos, you should get your retriever to a professional to assess what kind of pain your dog is actually in.
“It’s always best to have your dog examined by a veterinarian,” Lobos says. “They will diagnose arthritic pain versus nerve pain, and might identify something more serious that looks like mere stiffness. Dogs are wired to hide pain, so a little stiffness might actually be hiding abdominal pain, or possibly kidney problems.”
Just like with us, it’s best to let the professionals do the diagnosing so that a proper treatment plan can be put in place.
The pet market is a multi-billion-dollar powerhouse, in which dwells products designed to play off of our sympathies. This is no more evident than when you dig into the pain relief category. In this space, over-the-counter supplements aren’t subject to FDA regulation in regard to content and claims, which means they are often sold on anecdotal evidence.
According to Lobos, this leaves the responsibility on us to suss out the best options for our dogs. “Supplements with omega-three fatty acids from marine sources have a significant amount of data to show reduction in inflammation and slowing of the arthritic process. Dosing and purity are two important factors with these and a conversation with your veterinarian is critical here.”
Lobos also says that supplements containing glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM are often used to address joint pain, but the data on them is mixed as far as effectiveness. But that the data also doesn’t show any negatives to usage, so it’s a no-risk/possible reward scenario.
Polysulfated Glycosaminoglycans (PSGAGs), an injectable supplement, is another option that is backed by solid evidence in both joint support and the reduction of inflammation.
You might also be thinking, what about CBD? Cannabidoil, which is derived from the hemp plant and is the key ingredient in a whole lineup of dog products, has a lot of potential. But it’s still in Wild West territory, with relatively few studies to back up its oft-hyped benefits. It seems likely from the positive effects that some human users experience that we might eventually offer it to our ailing dogs in pill form or sublingually. For now, CBD products are relegated to the ‘maybe’ pile.
Keep It Moving
When I was 26, I was involved in a car accident that left my lower back sore nearly all of the time. I self-medicated with alcohol to numb the pain and to be able to sleep, which, for the record, was a bad idea. My wife, who is a physical therapist, told me over and over to work on my core muscles and my back pain would go away. When I gave up the sauce and did just that, it was like starting life over.
What does this have to do with our dogs? According to Lobos, a lot. “Depending on the cause of the pain and the fitness level of the dog, a variety of activities can be helpful. Walks and swimming are important, but also core-strengthening exercises like doggy squats or push-ups.”
The latter two involve sit-to-stand and sit-to-lie-down repetitions. Or in other words, real exercise moves designed to increase a dog’s strength. Lobos also says that acupuncture is an option to address pain and muscle dysfunction, not only in times of injury and chronic pain, but also just to maintain muscle function and address mild tweaks that occasionally happen to our duck dogs. This might seem crazy to some of us who fancy our dogs as bulletproof duck retrieving machines, but they aren’t machines. They are animals that age and get injured.
Properly addressing those injuries, or just the pain that comes from joint wear and tear, can help improve your dog’s quality of life. If that’s not enough, consider that it might also get you another season or two in the blind with your retriever.