Readers are concerned about their elderly dogs. Sporting Gun's vet Neil McIntosh offers some advice ...

Q: Both my elderly Labradors have suffered pretty badly from arthritis in later life. Is there anything that can be done to prevent this?

A: Great question, but one to which there is no simple, conclusive answer. There are many treatments for osteoarthritis, but there is no doubt that the best one is prevention. This starts before birth with careful selection of parents, who should have been hip and elbow scored.

Puppies should be raised with adequate nutrition, avoiding calcium supplements. Youngsters should have carefully regulated exercise, and maintenance of a lean body mass is essential. There is now evidence to suggest that early neutering should be avoided. Thereafter, continuing care with body weight, avoiding “weekend-warrior” exercise and a bit of luck in escaping injury are all important.

For me, the single factor that results in increased arthritis in pet dogs is obesity, while in working dogs it is injury. Remember that bone and cartilage have a poor blood supply so cannot recover the way muscle does. If arthritis does occur, early and persistent treatment can prolong working life and improve welfare.

If a gundog hasn’t been scored, should you buy it?

Hip and eye scores are a guide to the condition of a pup’s sire and dam but it’s not a guarantee that their offspring will have the same scores – they could be higher, or lower. If you look on the Kennel Club website it will give you ideal scores for each breed.

Labradors are usually shown with a hip score because some lines have had problems in the past. Hips can be done by your vet who will X-ray your dog.

The normal age for this to be done is about 12 months. The vet will then give you an idea of how good or bad they are and if they are worth sending off to the Kennel Club.
If you intend buying a dog that’s more than one-year old, particularly a Labrador, it would pay you to get it checked out first – especially if it’s a bitch you want to breed from.