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Julie Hill Barton and her dog, Bunker. Barton is the author of “Dog Medicine.”

Q: Lately, my 12-year-old dog appears more stiff and uncomfortable. What can I do to help her as she ages?

A: Luckily, there are many available therapies to aid our geriatric animal companions with pain and discomfort brought on by arthritis and joint disease. The number one way to achieve long-term joint health well into our pets’ older years is to keep them thin. Excessive weight on the joints is detrimental to their long-term health and, as they age, that excess weight can lead to a very poor quality of life and even euthanasia. So, keep the weight off and offer them regular and consistent exercise. Keeping the joints moving and mobile helps keep muscles strong and joints limber.

I also recommend adding a daily glucosamine/chondroitin supplement into their diet. Although there is some controversy surrounding this supplement, I have seen it provide joint support and comfort in my patients.

Typically, the dog foods on the market that are labeled “with glucosamine/chondroitin” do not have the levels needed to support joint health, so adding more to your pet’s diet is recommended. Ask your veterinarian for recommended products and dosing. Omega-3 supplementation is also a great way to help with joint support and also benefits the hair coat.

There are many drugs available to treat pain in animals including non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, opioids, nerve pain drugs, pain receptor modulators, etc. When an animal gets to a point where they need some drug intervention, it is recommended that you discuss the pros and cons of the different drugs with your veterinarian. Some drugs require frequent blood tests to make sure they are not causing internal issues.

Other non-drug modalities that are useful in treating pain and discomfort, and that we’ve used with great success in our clinic, are acupuncture, therapy laser, massage and physical therapy.

Q: My cat loves to eat my dog’s food and to save money I started feeding her the dog food instead of cat food. My cat loves it but I worry that this might not be the best thing to do. Is feeding dog food to a cat the wrong thing to do?

A: First, we must look at the nutritional needs of cats versus dogs to answer this question appropriately.

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Cats are obligate carnivores. This means they must eat animal meat to survive. Cats cannot be put on a non-meat protein source diet (i.e., vegetable protein) and survive. This is because they cannot produce enough taurine (an essential amino acid) to keep their body functioning. So, they must ingest taurine in their diets and taurine is ONLY found in animal products such as meat, eggs, etc. A taurine deficient diet will lead to heart disease and death in a cat.

On the other hand, dogs are omnivores and can survive on a plant based protein diet. They do not require animal protein to make all the essential amino acids that are required for life. This is why dog food products have little to no taurine in them.

In essence, by feeding ONLY dog food to your cat you are starving her of the essential taurine that she needs to survive.

However, in general, it is not a problem that your cat eats dog food, except for the extra calories, as long as she is eating cat food as well. I highly recommend that you try to encourage your cat to eat mostly cat food on a regular basis.

Just like with dogs, it is vital that you keep your cat’s weight down as extra weight can dramatically affect their joints. Meal feeding a good quality canned diet twice daily has been shown to support a more healthy weight for most cats. I often recommend switching to this type of diet for cats as the canned foods have fewer carbohydrates and more fluids which support weight loss and hydration.

Dr. Julianne Miller is a Flagstaff veterinarian. She can be reached at


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