Lots can be done to help older dogs with achy joints

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Aging dogs

Approved pain medications are an option to ease the pain of older dogs. (David Trotman-Wilkins / Chicago Tribune / June 20, 2003)

NASHVILLE, TN -- These reader questions were answered at the American Animal Hospital Association Conference 2014, held here March 20-23. AAHA is the only organization which accredits veterinary practice for excellent standards, with over 50,000 member clinics. AAHA also oversees the creation and writing of many veterinary care guidelines. Learn more at http://www.aaha.org.

Q: Our 12-year-old Labrador slept in a basket next to our bed when he was a puppy. Then he ate the basket. He hasn't slept in a bed since, and seemed to like the floor. But now he's arthritic. We got him one bed, but he marked it. We put one of my husband's stinky shirts on second bed. The dog will use the bed if we tell him he has to, but with a look like, 'What have I done wrong?' The moment he can, he gets up. We have hardwood floors and that can't be good for his aching joints. Any suggestions? -- M.J. Z., Saint Paul, MN

A: "If your dog is in pain, you're right to be concerned, and it might be more comfortable ( for him) to sleep on a bed, compared to a hardwood floor," says American Animal Hospital Association Board Member Dr. Heather Loenser, of Lebanon, N.J. "However, I also advocate dealing with the pain. So many dogs are overweight, and seeing your veterinarian to determine your dog's body condition score is a good idea. In dogs, as in people, obesity is associated with arthritis and also other medical conditions."

Lots more can be done to help older dogs with achy joints, including underwater therapy, acupuncture, nutritional supplements like glucosamine/chondroitin and approved pain relief medications.

If you could sit on the floor at a time when your dog is tired, odds are he'd lie down next to you, right? This would offer a way to begin acclimating your pooch to a dog bed.

Q: I took in a loving stray Maine Coon cat who's now peeing and leaving liquid feces on my carpets and floors. He once even eliminated in a dustpan! He's also urinated on the floor. I gave him medicine for a urinary tract infection, and changed his diet (to a prescription diet for GI issues). I have three other cats and four litter boxes. This cat even eliminates right in front of us. Giving him away is not an option, but we need help. Any ideas? -- Y.D., via cyberspace

A: I applaud your commitment to this cat. American Animal Hospital Association Board Member Dr. Heather Loenser, of Lebanon, N.J., says that as far as your cat defecating outside the box, particularly since his feces appears loose, a medical issue is likely. Return to your veterinarian with a fecal sample to help rule out parasites, and consider tests to eliminate feline leukemia. Blood work can offer lots of information and also rule out a vitamin deficiency. Ultimately, an endoscopy may be needed to check your cat's intestines for inflammation.

In general, it's a good idea to have one more litter box than you have cats, so with four cats, five boxes is ideal. The boxes should be separated, located in five different places around the house. All must be cleaned daily. Unscented litter is preferred.

Your veterinarian apparently determined that your cat had a urinary tract infection (UTI), which is somewhat uncommon (except for very young and very old cats). Sometimes UTIs come and go, and can require two rounds of antibiotic therapy. Or it could be that it hurt when your cat squatted to relieve himself -- even if the infection was gone -- triggering an aversion to the litter box. What may help is secluding your cat in a small room, such a bathroom with a litter box, toys, water and food and retraining him to use the box over a week or so.

The problem in multiple-cat homes is that relationship issues can develop among the cats. Sometimes cats are clear about the fact that they're not getting along, but in other instances they're more subtle.

The problem is likely fixable, however, you may need qualified hands-on help to pinpoint exactly what's going on. Contact a veterinary behaviorist (http://www.dacvb.org) or cat behavior consultant (http://www.iaabc.org).

Q: My veterinarian says my 9-year-old Schnauzer-mix has four loose middle teeth. The vet said this problem is common in the breed, and says these teeth need to be pulled. I do brush the dog's teeth with dog toothpaste, and I add a drop of oil of oregano to remove tartar. Is there any way to save these teeth? -- E.C., Bristol, CT

A: "Saving the teeth might not be in your dog's best interest," says Dr. Kate Knutson, of Bloomington, MN, immediate American Animal Hospital Association past president. "In people, it's likely the dentist may recommend implants, but in pets that (procedure) is expensive, and not suggested."

Of course, pets don't care much how they look in the mirror or at fancy cocktail parties, however, they do care if they're in pain.

"If your veterinarian can appreciate how loose those teeth are without x-rays, they must be awfully loose, and therefore likely diseased -- and that's painful," says Knutson. Your dog will actually feel better after the teeth are pulled."

Knutson says treatment of the diseased gums and (tooth) maintenance (which you're obviously diligent about), combined with proactive veterinary preventive care using OraStrips (to detect periodontal disease) three or four times a year, will help enormously before anything really bad happens again. OraStrips provide an inexpensive early warning system. The veterinarian wipes a strip across the pet's teeth and gums. No anesthesia is required.

As for the oregano, there's no scientific evidence that oil from the herb will deter tartar, but there's no harm in using it, and when your dog offers a kiss, her breath smells like meatballs.

(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)

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