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This Old Dog

Barb and I walked on Schoolhouse Beach not long ago. It was a beautiful day, perfect for a stroll with our dog. The sky was blue, the sea was green, and a cool breeze wafted over our grateful faces.

At the foot of the path leading back to the parking lot stood a woman with a sweet old dog. The dog was big, perhaps seventy pounds, and clearly in her middle teens. The dog’s bones stood out where strong muscles once bulged, now atrophied and wasted with age. I remember most the sweet, old dog expression on her face: an expression of kindness and tolerance and deep abiding love. Anyone who saw this old dog would know that she would have done anything to please the woman: Anything except walk up the path before her.

“It’s her last trip to the beach,” the woman said, and I could see as the woman tried again and again to get the old girl on her feet, that this old dog would never walk on the beach again. “She’s so old,” the woman sighed, defeated. I saw a shadow cross her face as she waited for her husband to return and carry this old dog up the slope.

I wanted to tell the woman that she was not powerless, that there were things she could do to relieve this old dog’s pain and restore a portion of her strength, but I could not. A professional person has no right to insinuate themselves, unasked, into the affairs of others. To do so would be rude, a form of solicitation akin to ambulance chasing.

I could not tell her there, on the path at Schoolhouse Beach, but I will certainly tell her here: there is much that can be done to help your old dog. Age and degeneration cannot be eliminated, but numerous therapies are available to manage their effects. Here are a few:

Nutritional supplements, including glucosamine, chondroitin, hyaluronic acid, and others speed healing and improve production of cartilage and joint lubricants. I am extremely impressed by certain new products, (but never use brand names in my column) which are formulated to avoid digestive breakdown and generate much higher blood levels than other supplements.This improvement brings surprising improvement to my arthritic patients, including those who take other high-quality products. Pet owners see improvement in as little as a week. I’m recommending nutrient medicines for all my arthritic patients. Nutritional therapies can make a world of difference for this old dog.

Drug therapies using NSAIDs, steroids, and narcotic pain relievers are safe and effective when used cautiously and under a veterinarian’s supervision. The beauty of drug therapy is that it brings significant pain relief within hours of administration. Pet owners must balance the benefits and risks of these (and all) drugs, but adverse effects are infrequent. To live without pain is worth a certain amount of risk. The right medications can control this old dog’s pain and make it possible for her to walk up the hill - and enjoy it.

Laser therapy impresses me. We have been working with the therapy laser for nearly three months and I continue to be pleased by the old dogs who limp painfully into the office, then bounce out after a fifteen minutes laser therapy session. Not all of them, of course, but it’s a common response. The dogs (cats too!) enjoy their treatments and pet owners report much less pain with improved mobility at home. I love that there is no down side to properly applied laser therapy. The laser suppresses pain, speeds healing and decreases inflammation: it’s just what this old dog needs to help get her up the hill.

In the end, it’s all about taking more walks on the beach. Who can argue with that?

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