DEAR DR. THOMPSON: I have an 8-year-old lab who is starting to stumble. He seems to be happy and active. It mostly seems to affect the back legs. I know about hip dysplasia. I wonder if there is anything we could do.
ANSWER: Your veterinarian should take some X-rays and possibly run blood tests. The stumbling you are describing could be from a few very different processes. It could be arthritis in the hips, knees, or spine. However, numbness in the back legs could be resulting in the missteps, and nerves or the spinal column may be affected. Occasionally diseases like an underactive thyroid or even diabetes can lead to poor nerve function in the extremities.
Arthritis is a common problem in many dogs as they age. Hip dysplasia gets the majority of the attention, but arthritic knees are as likely to be the source of the limping and stumbling. X-rays are needed to evaluate the extent of the degenerative changes and a variety of options exist for long term management of arthritis. Crucial to lessening the impact is regular low-impact exercise and strict weight control. Imagine carrying an extra 20 to 30 percent of your body weight on arthritic hips or knees.
Some supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM have been beneficial to many dogs. However, consult your veterinarian since these products are not regulated and the active amount in many supplements varies greatly. New research suggests that a good source of omega-3 fatty acids can help decrease some of the inflammation associated with arthritic joints. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories can be helpful for more painful cases of arthritis; your veterinarian can help you with that decision. Never give any over-the-counter pain medicine to your pet without consulting your veterinarian. Some of these medications have serious side effects in dogs and cats.
Hip replacement surgery is becoming more common for dogs with debilitating hip dysplasia. These implants are well-tolerated and the dogs have great function immediately post-operatively. Other surgeries are available for severely affected pets; talk to the veterinarian.
Neurologic problems can be difficult to diagnose and treat in many older dogs. They often have some arthritic changes that complicate the picture. A variety of problems can lead to stumbling or numbness in the legs. Tumors of the spinal cord, infections, herniated or bulging discs, narrowing of the spinal canal, and nerve disorders can all cause the symptoms you describe. Diabetes and thyroid conditions have other symptoms that can help with diagnosis. A number of problems can be at the root of your lab s trouble.
Summertime can be an especially dangerous time for our pets. Here are guidelines for a safe and enjoyable summer.
Cars can be a danger for pets in the summer. Interior temperatures rise to dangerous levels in a matter of minutes. Leave your pets home on hot days.
Pavement can burn foot pads in a hurry. Avoid the walks on hot days. This can also help avoid heat stroke/exhaustion.
Have plenty of water available at all times. Dogs and cats can t sweat to cool themselves and need shade if outdoors.
Watch for sunburn if you have your dogs shaved. The skin underneath can be sensitive.
Questions for Dr. Thompson can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to The Blade, Attn. Ask the Vet, 541 North Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660. Dr. Thompson regrets that he cannot answer individual letters.