Thin Is In
Research has consistently shown that dogs who are on the skinny side live longer, healthier lives than dogs who are overweight, or even what’s considered “normal” weight. A landmark study published a few years ago tracked a group of Labrador Retrievers from seven different dams and two different sires over their lifetimes. Starting at eight weeks, half of the dogs were fed a standard diet; the others were fed 25 percent less. At age eight, they were x-rayed for arthritis, and the leaner dogs had much less of it: Only about 5 percent of the dogs fed a limited diet, compared to 45 percent of the control group, had arthritis in two or more joints. “We know that a lot of arthritis is preventable just by keeping your dog at an ideal weight,” says Julia Tomlinson, PhD, a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner and member of the American Association of Rehabilitation Veterinarians in Burnsville, Minn. “At least half the dogs that walk into my rehab clinic are overweight, and most of them come because of a specific problem that’s being exacerbated by their weight.”
“Reading” Your Dog
How do you know if your dog is in pain? Vets and other experts say that certain breeds (including working and hunting dogs) have huge pain tolerances, and the “typical” signs of pain—whining or whimpering; constantly licking a body part; being aloof or clingy, restless or lethargic—are all over the map. But you can “read” your dog’s pain if you know what to look for.
“Typically, dogs who are developing arthritis look a little stiff first thing in the morning, but seem fine after they’ve been up and about for a while,” says Jamie Gaynor, DVM. “Or they’ll look okay unless they overexert themselves, and then they might limp for a bit.”
But not all dogs are typical. “Some dogs let you know pretty quickly when something hurts, but others are incredibly stoic. Also, arthritis pain waxes and wanes, so your dog might do the same thing today that he did last Wednesday, but today, it hurts.”
The bottom line: Keep an eye out for anything that’s unusual. Some dogs get grouchy when they’re hurting, while others seek more affection than they used to. “What’s important is to start picking up on patterns,” says Dr. Gaynor. “Watch the dog to see if he looks stiff at certain times or if he looks worse when it’s rainy or cold, or after you bring him home from the dog park. If you see that over and over, over a period of weeks to months, that’s the signal that a veterinarian really should take a look.”
This article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 49, Jul/Aug 2008