Now You Know

I had a feeling. You know the one, there’s something not quite right about the way your dog is moving. It’s not a limp, exactly, but a hitch or an “unsmooth-ness” about her gait. Helen will be 14 next year so I wasn’t surprised that she’s slowed down a bit on our walks and hesitates to jump into the car or onto the couch. This was different, though, so I called my vet, Dr. F, and scheduled an appointment. 


During the evaluation, Dr. F checked her back, and sure enough, her lumbar (lower back) was uncomfortable. We knew she had spondylosis in her neck and her lumbar spine so that was no surprise. I’d been working on that area, but wasn’t seeing any improvement. Dr. F and I agreed we should take some x-rays just in case. And I am so glad we did.


She has significant osteoarthritis in both hips. I was stunned. Her hip joints looked bad on the X-ray, fuzzy with bony changes all around the joint. Even Dr. F was surprised that she was moving as well as she was based on the look of those xrays. 


As I struggled to keep from spiraling into the “why didn’t I…” abyss, Dr. F gently reminded me that we treat the dog in front of us, not the x-rays. No matter how bad they look, we need to rely on what she’s telling us about her pain level, and right now, that seemed to be mild to moderate. And Dr. F attributes that to Helen’s strong core muscles and lean body composition, going so far as to call Helen her poster child for what a strong core can do for a senior dog.


Our first goal with Helen is pain control. We started her on Galliprant, a newer anti-inflammatory medication that is safer for her stomach, and a loading dose of Adequan. This injectable medication restores lubrication to the joint, relieves inflammation, and renews the building blocks of healthy cartilage (the buffers on the end of the bones in a joint). I’m happy to report that this combination been helpful for Helen. She’s more active, play-bowing and bouncing around with her smaller brothers in the morning. 


However, she still has a slight limp and still hesitates to jump into the car — but I’m ok with that. Now is the time to assess how I can make movements and transitions easier for Helen inside and outside the house. We’ll start training her to use a step today so loading and unloading from a vehicle or the couch is easier for her. I’ll add a few different exercises to better target her rear limbs and her shoulders, as well as maintaining her strong core.


Now that I know what’s going on, I can make a plan and start improving her quality of life. I didn’t know the root cause of her mobility issues until I visited Dr. F, but now that I do, I can act on it. Throughout this process, I’ve been trying to tell myself what I’d tell a client: gather your observations, talk to your veterinarian, and build a plan around the diagnosis. Yeah, me, I’ve done that. 


Next up: I need to get my emotional brain “unstuck” on my past actions (or inactions). Like many of my clients, I hate to think I may have caused my dog pain or didn’t do enough to control her pain. I know not to “should on myself” — “I should have recognized it sooner…” or “I should have tried harder to…” — but that’s so much easier said than done. This is where Dr. Angelou comes to the rescue. 


“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” 


This simple, yet profound, sentiment is what keeps me sane. I was making decisions regarding Helen’s health and comfort based on the information I had at the time. That’s what we do — we make inferences about a situation based on the data at hand. Most of the time, we only have about 75% of the information we need, so we follow science and the facts, building and executing a plan based on those available details. When the facts change, the plan evolves accordingly. Any time spent second guessing prior decisions is effort and time wasted and draws precious energy away from the focus at hand: Helen’s health and comfort.


If I could tattoo this on my brain, I’d do it in a second. For now, I’ll write it on a few pieces of paper and scatter them around my house and office, just to remind me I’m doing the best I can for my best girl.


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