DEAR DR. FOX: We recently adopted a rescued female beagle who is about 8 or 9 years old. Shortly after we adopted her, she started to develop a slight limp in her front right leg for no apparent reason. It was very minor for a couple of weeks, but we monitored it and scheduled an appointment with our veterinarian. Before we could get her to the appointment, she awoke one night in an obvious state of extreme pain. Because we have other beagles who have neck and back problems, we suspected a disc problem might be the cause.
We took her to our vet, who prescribed tramadol and Rimadyl, but when that didn't help control the pain, we took her to a neurologist. She performed an MRI, and we all expected to see a disc herniation; instead, the MRI showed inflammation of a nerve root (there was some very minor disc degeneration in another area, but she felt that would not cause the problem).
Our dog was prescribed prednisone and other painkillers to address the immediate pain and control inflammation. The limp lessened, but it was still apparent. Otherwise, she showed no signs of pain or discomfort, so we reduced the painkillers to only gabapentin, and we have maintained the dosage of prednisone twice a day. When we tried to reduce the prednisone to once a day, the limp became more evident, so we increased the dose again to twice daily. The neurologist also prescribed cyclosporine to see if it would help and maybe replace the prednisone eventually. Our dog seems to be tolerating that drug, and we will have her rechecked again this week.
Have you seen this type of condition in other dogs? Do you have any insights for us to explore that we and our excellent vet may not have considered? For example, have you seen other treatments such as acupuncture help with what appears to be some sort of pain syndrome? The limp is confounding because it came on so gradually that it almost seems to me like it may be a separate issue altogether, but I'd appreciate your thoughts. -- R.M., Alexandria, Virginia
DEAR R.M.: You certainly have received the best of veterinary diagnosis and medical care for your poor dog.
She may have a condition similar to chronic regional pain syndrome in humans, which can follow trauma. In addition to the medications prescribed, I would add a daily dose of anti-inflammatory fish oil or half a can of sardines in water, plus a tablespoon of brewer's yeast mixed in with her food. Add these supplements gradually, first in small amounts so she gets used to them.
A skilled veterinary acupuncture therapist may be able to provide some relief. You can also try electrical stimulation using the Alpha-Stim system, which effectively alleviates various painful syndromes in humans; some veterinarians have found it to be effective in various cases of chronic pain and lameness in animals. Lameness throws the whole body off-kilter so whole-body massage, as in my book "The Healing Touch for Dogs," could be beneficial.
DEAR DR. FOX: Many months ago, you wrote an excellent article directed to people who leave their dogs locked up all day while they're at work.
You mentioned how this could cause cancer of the bladder, and you stated that dogs should be taken out every two hours. I know a few dogs who got this terrible treatment, and I want to send the owners copies of your articles. Where can I find the column? -- J.R.W., Norfolk, Virginia
DEAR J.R.W.: I appreciate your concern. However, I do not recall ever stating that keeping dogs locked up all day can cause them to develop bladder cancer.
Pups and old dogs with kidney problems and other health issues that make them drink more water need to be taken out to urinate every three or four hours. Mature dogs should be walked and given a chance to urinate before being left in the home, and they should have time outdoors after four to five hours of confinement. Six to eight hours alone during the weekday is pushing it.
Stress, extreme discomfort from retaining urine and possible bladder inflammation and infection are to be avoided. Some dogs can be trained to use a pee pad -- small dogs in high-rise apartments most notably. But spending long hours all alone is no life for any dog, and a dog-walker should be hired.
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