Now that the colder weather is here my seven-year-old boxer, Boris, is much less bouncy than usual. In fact, when he gets up in the morning he really seems quite stiff in some of his joints and on a very chilly day he’s almost reluctant to go for his morning walk, although once he’s got going he does seem to find all his energy again. I have to say, I know how he feels, as my joints aren’t great in the cold weather either!
He doesn’t seem to be in pain as such, just slowing down a bit and I don’t like the idea of putting him on drugs long term. Is there any way of making an older dog’s life a bit more comfortable in the winter?
Pam Duncan, Chelmsford
Alison Logan, vet, advises...
Stiffness is painful, as I am often telling my clients, and I speak from experience. Chronic pain is also very wearing (and, again, I speak from experience) and can have all manner of subtle effects such as depressing one’s mood. As you have quite rightly noticed, it is the colder weather which can often make stiff joints play up and need some extra support. Boris is only middle-aged, but Boxers are indeed very bouncy by nature which puts stress on the joints. His relatively young age is no reason to dismiss the stiffness you describe as not needing drugs long term although, fortunately, there are alternatives to try first.
First port of call is Boris’s weight. Is he the correct weight for his size, ie is he at an ideal body condition with a waistline, just able to discern his ribs? If he is overweight then losing that weight may be all that he needs to be less stiff, especially if he becomes fitter at the same time. Swimming is a great form of exercise, being non-weight-bearing, and could help him improve his general level of fitness as well as achieving an ideal bodyweight and muscling up.
Two or three short walks per day are going to suit stiff joints better than one long walk. Choosing softer terrain will be less concussive on the joints, and days when the ground is frozen hard will be particularly problematical. Try to avoid that special long walk at weekends when you have more time than during the week. Boris is going to fare best on a constant walk regime.
There are also dietary measures you can take. Feeding a food formulated with joint support in mind is one way, or adding a glucosamine/chondroitin/essential fatty acid supplement such as Yumove to his usual food. There are also joint chews and the like, but do allow for the extra calories they involve. Carrying extra weight is really not a good idea for the joints – I cannot over-emphasise that fact!
A magnetic collar is also worth considering. I have had some really good results, and this is certainly a straight forward thing to do.
Giving non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug or NSAID is not an admission of defeat. Doing this can be very useful for determining if the stiffness is painful: if it improves with a trial course of NSAID, or even if there is just an improvement in the overall demeanour, then there must have been an element of pain present. The NSAID may be needed on a regular basis, or for spells of a few days during a flare-up precipitated by over-exercise or cold weather, for example. The choice of NSAID depends on how a particular dog reacts to it, just as in humans one NSAID may suit one person but be ineffective or cause a stomach upset in someone else.
Walking my dogs is the best part of my day, when I can switch off and just enjoy their company and the countryside. Looking after their joints is important from puppyhood so that they too can look forward to their walks into old age.