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Help pet owners understand arthritis
Clients often fail to recognize the onset of arthritis in their pets.
Clients don't always catch the subtle signs that their pet is suffering from arthritis. They think Max or Chloe is just getting old and slowing down. Dr. Ken Pawlowski, chief of staff for two Banfield pet hospitals in northern California, has been through it with his own dog, Fozzie Bear. Despite the signs, he didn't think Fozzie Bear had arthritis. "He was getting older and he wasn't running around like he did when he was young," Dr. Pawlowski says. "He's getting close to 10 years old now, so I thought it was just old age catching up to him."
But when Dr. Pawlowski took radiographs for another medical reason, he saw arthritis in his dog's hips. "I felt guilty that I'd missed the warning signs in my own dog," he says. "So I can relate to what my clients are going through." And when Dr. Pawlowski started Fozzie Bear on medication, he started acting like a puppy again. "It's easy to miss arthritis and just write it off as old age," he says, "but it's worth taking another look at." And he encourages all of his clients to do the same.
Let's get physical
Dr. Pawlowski conducts an orthopedic check during every canine physical exam, and during feline exams when he suspects a problem. During the exam, he manipulates the most susceptible joints—hips, knees, and elbows. He says you're most likely to detect arthritis in those areas—and in that order. If he detects pain or resistance in the pet, or a decreased range of motion in a joint, he points it out to the client.
"I show the client that Max is tender and not letting me extend his hips out all the way," he says. Then Dr. Pawlowski asks the client how Max is doing at home: Is he active and jumping into the car OK? Does he jump up on the bed? "Clients usually say, 'Well, no, but it's just because he's old.' I tell the client it may be more than old age and there are a lot of things we can do to make Max feel better."
Clients are usually receptive to Dr. Pawlowski's treatment options. He encourages clients to try a treatment for at least a month to see if they notice a difference in their pet. "If they don't see a difference, then maybe it is just old age," he says. "But usually they come back for a recheck and they're blown away by the results. Their dog is acting like a puppy again."
A weighty issue
If an arthritic patient also happens to be overweight, Dr. Pawlowski addresses that health issue, too. In fact, if any overweight pet exhibits signs of arthritis, weight loss is the first issue he counsels the client on. "Weight loss is going to help with the pain the most, and it'll dramatically improve the arthritis condition," Dr. Pawlowski says. He puts his overweight, arthritic patients on a therapeutic diet.
With the medical care that's now available, clients expect their pets to live longer, healthier lives. "It used to be that a dog would live to be 7 or 8 years old," Dr. Pawlowski says. But now he regularly sees Labrador retrievers that are 15 or 16 years old. "They start showing signs of arthritis when they're 9 or 10, and it really affects their quality of life and their level of interaction with the family," he says. "We can improve their quality of life and extend their life for years. If we can bring comfort to that furry family member, it makes the whole family better."