While arthritis is usually considered an ailment of the elderly, pint-sized Pekingese are plagued with degenerative joint disease beginning at a much younger age than most of their larger cousins. The legs and backs of these diminutive darlings are more vulnerable to strain due to their size and shape.
Degenerative Joint Disease
Osteoarthritis is the traditional term for inflammation of and damage to bone and cartilage in joints. The more modern term is degenerative joint disease (DJD). Our furry buddies are prone to this painful condition. It strikes some breeds more than others because of body shape and genetics. Pekingese are one of the unlucky doggy breeds far more likely to suffer.
DJD usually begins with an injury to a joint. Cartilage—the thick, strong, somewhat rubbery substance that cushions bones at the joints—is damaged or displaced, allowing the bones to rub against each other with less shock absorption. This misaligned and painful rubbing causes further damage, which causes more pain, which leads to unwillingness to move or to unnatural movement, which further weakens the joints—a vicious cycle.
The Hip Bone's Connected to the...
Pekingese are bred to have very short, stocky legs and long spines. Their shoulder girdles are heavier and sturdier than their pelvises. Their body shape and weight distribution make their hips especially vulnerable to injury. Breeders and Pekingese enthusiasts recommend never allowing your precious pup to jump off furniture or climb stairs—these surprisingly dangerous activities are prime causes of the injuries that begin the degenerative osteoarthritis cycle.
Eat Less, Exercise More
Like many small breeds, Pekingese are prone to weight issues—or, rather, their favorite people are prone to overestimating their portion sizes and piling on the treats. The same biscuit is much bigger to your Peke than to his Rottweiler cousin, and you may need to limit his cookies accordingly for the sake of his future mobility. It's always a good idea to consult your vet or a trained veterinary nutritionist and read labels to determine the correct amount to feed per pound of pooch.
It's easy to overlook these portable pets' need for exercise, since they make such charming arm accessories. Don't be fooled—stunt jumping may be ill-advised for your furbaby, but he needs just as much leash time and active play as his larger doggy pals. A healthy weight and consistent, moderate exercise are two of the most important factors in preventing traumatic injury, allowing injured joints to heal and stopping DJD in its tracks.
Down on the Pharm
Most cases of DJD require pharmaceutical treatment. If your pup is in pain, your vet is likely to prescribe NSAIDs to fight inflammation and make your friend more comfortable. Aspirin—check with your vet for proper type and dosage—and the doggy painkiller Rimadyl are two of the most common.
Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements are somewhat controversial, largely because some human supplements contain the nutrients in forms dogs can't digest. Most veterinarians consider these cartilage building blocks effective in slowing or reversing joint damage when taken in proper form for dogs. Your vet can suggest appropriate brands.
Certain cases of DJD may require injections of chondroprotective—joint-cushioning—drugs. These are usually used when diagnosis is made in puppyhood.
Many doggy guardians and veterinarians report successful treatment of DJD pain and inflammation with veterinary acupuncture. Some animal hospitals have an acupuncturist on staff and this option may be helpful to your stiff and uncomfortable Peke.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Angela Libal began writing professionally in 2005. She has published several books, specializing in zoology and animal husbandry. Libal holds a degree in behavioral science: animal science from Moorpark College, a Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College and is a graduate student in cryptozoology.