Dogs and Owners Face Arthritis Together

"One of the best activities that I can think of is walking," said Dr. Joseph Guettler, an orthopedic surgeon at William Beaumont Hospital in Michigan. "I would encourage people who have a pet to walk and exercise with that pet."

Having a dog can be an added encouragement to move and exercise because it needs to be done even when someone may be feeling tired, achy and unmotivated. For most people, losing about 10 pounds can make a significant difference in their health and comfort.

"Dogs suffer from the same things humans do," Levy said, citing television and not enough exercise as common culprits of ill health. "It's a mirror image of us. I think our dogs reflect our society."

Medications and surgery to repair arthritic bones and joints can be options that help a dog's mobility and comfort.

But dogs rarely get idiopathic or very severe forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, like humans do, and which are difficult to treat. Overall, arthritis is not unbearably debilitating for a dog.

"Most dogs can tolerate a fair amount of discomfort," Boudrieau said, which has benefits and drawbacks. While their high pain threshold means they may not experience much pain, they are also less able to self-regulate their activity to prevent getting hurt.

"The dog's not going to know when to quit, he's having fun," Boudrieau said. "Essentially, they [owners] have to become their dog's conscience."

Owners may also cater to their dogs in other ways.

Riggs has customized her house for her 14-year-old Jack Russell, Peggy Sue, with steps for her to climb up to her favorite couch and a belly sling to lift her into the van.

"She, as I, both benefit from regular massage," Riggs said. "I give Peggy hers. Unfortunately, she cannot reciprocate."

Exercising together, making sure they are comfortable, even taking medications at the same time help arthritic owners and their dogs.

While seeing a favorite pet suffer can be painful for an owner, going through a disease, like arthritis, together can forge a sense of camaraderie and create a deeper kinship between dog and owner.

"It's made the bond so much more strong," Heffron said. "No matter where I go, she is there."

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