Vail Pets: What to do if your pet is limping |

Vail Pets: What to do if your pet is limping

Stephen Sheldon
Community correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado –We hear this so often: “My pet is limping, can I just have some pain pills.” “No,” I say, “but I can prescribe some for your dog.”

If your pet is limping or having difficulty getting around, you should see your veterinarian to have the problem evaluated. Your pet may need surgery or medications or maybe just rest. There are a number of great drugs and nutritional products out there but they must be used properly. Otherwise you may be keeping your pet from feeling better as well as wasting time and money.

The first thing your veterinarian will do is ask you a bunch of questions. Things such as: “What time of the day is the condition worse,” “Is it better or worse after exercise,” “Is your pet uncomfortable at night/during sleep,” “Does he or she have trouble getting up stairs” – are all important. Most orthopedic and arthritic conditions have common symptoms.

Next we will do a lameness exam. This means we are going to watch your dog walk and run through the parking lot. Gait changes can be very telling – for example, dogs with hip problems tend to throw the leg while dogs with knee problems tend to have a short stride and toe-tap while at rest.

An orthopedic exam is next. We will probe and prod and assess range of motion in the joints. We also feel all the joints to check for creaking and cracking, pops, and loose or painful joints. We always start with normal joints to see just how your pet responds. I call this the ‘wimp-o-meter’.

Radiographs or X-rays should always be taken – X-rays are the electrons coming out of the machine, radiographs are the actual films. Now you know. We need to know where the problem is and how bad it is in order to treat it properly. Radiographs also let us monitor the progress and may help us decide which cases need surgery, which cases need rest, and which medications to use. Medications for synovial joints (ie. hips, knees, shoulders) are different from medicines used for cartilaginous joints (ie. spine).

Digital X-rays are a great new addition to our profession. The machine we use in our office can take a series of radiographs in about five minutes and without using a sedative in most cases. There is no need to develop films and images are available immediately. We don’t need to re-take a shot because the pet moved, and pets move a lot – they do not understand the “hold still” command very well.

Digital “rads” are much more accurate than standard films and can be magnified, zoomed, brightened or darkened with the click of a mouse. We often e-mail images to our orthopedic surgeon for evaluation or place them on a CD for owners. These things cannot be done with standard films. I have been a veterinarian for over 20 years and digital radiographs rock. I would give up one of my children to keep my X-ray machine.

Once we determine the location and scope of the condition we can develop a treatment plan. Some conditions must be corrected surgically – a ruptured cruciate ligament or fractured bone are examples. Osteoarthritis requires multiple medications and therapies. What works for one patient may not work for the other.

Here is a partial list of some therapies for orthopedic and arthritic problems: surgery, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, glucosamine/chondroiton sulfate, adequan injections, fish oils, narcotic pain meds, cortisone, acupuncture, weight loss, special diets, rest, vitamins/antioxidants, physical therapy, water therapy and soft bedding.

The important thing to remember is to get a set of radiographs taken if your pet has been limping for more than a day or so, or if they have trouble getting around. Knowledge is good.

Dr. Stephen Sheldon practices at Gypsum Animal Hospital, 524-DOGS. He is expecting his 5th child this summer so he will have no problem keeping the x-ray machine if a trade is necessary.

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