CAM blogs

CAM Meets Alan Johnson

Alan Johnson, BVetMed MRCVS

Alan started working at Filham Park Veterinary Clinic in July 2018 after graduating from the Royal Veterinary College in London.  Clinically Alan has a keen interest in neurology and emergency critical care. In his spare time he enjoys going snorkelling, kayaking, paddle boarding, playing golf and walking his German Shepherd, Kevin. Alan is also a volunteer with the Plymouth StreetVet team.


Alan kindly agreed to answer he following questions:

What are your feelings on how we currently manage this common debilitating condition in dogs?

At the moment the majority of dogs are on long term anti-inflammatories, which I believe is appropriate and, in most cases, necessary. This being said, I think that the time constraints every veterinary surgeon faces limits our ability to explore other, additional, options because it involves longer, more in depth conversations that takes longer than most of us have. It may also affect client satisfaction as they want to go and see a vet, get a tablet or an injection and go home with a fixed dog.


As a veterinarian what do you feel is essential for managing canine arthritis effectively?

As a veterinary surgeon arthritis in dogs is one of the most common welfare issues I see in all my patients, on the day to day basis. What I find particularly frustrating is that owners are not concerned about their dog’s arthritis and regularly say “Oh he’s always walked like that”. Arthritis is a common and progressive disease and in order to manage it requires a range of multi-modal therapeutic options. The main thing most of these dog’s need is to lose weight and every vet or vet-nurse has experienced the frustration of owners who just don’t seem to care and in fact blame the arthritis for the weight gain. They say the dog doesn’t want to exercise and so gains weight; which is logical but flawed. I try and stress to owners that its 99% diet and 1% exercise that affects weight. (this is an exaggeration but needed to get the point across) The main adjustment, alongside NSAIDS (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to make these dogs more comfortable, is the vet or nurse to take the time to get a broader picture of what the dog does at home and on walks. Most of these dogs are on multiple medications but haven’t really had their exercise or lifestyle adjusted accordingly.

I recommend stair gates to prevent dogs going up and down the stairs more than they need to, as this places enormous loads on the forelimbs, which is entirely unnecessary. Many clients tell me that they’re dog receives one or two 1-hour plus walks a day but then struggles afterwards. In these cases, I explain to owners that two to three 15-20-minute walks is far better than one or two long walks. It reduces the loading of the joints, provides the body time to recover appropriately and continues to keep the patient happy by actually getting more walks. If you don’t take the time to ask the questions about the patient’s lifestyle we are missing out on, possibly, the best opportunity to improve our patient’s quality and longevity of life. I also feel that encouraging non-weight bearing or reduced weight bearing exercise to increase muscle supporting these arthritic limbs provides another avenue to rehabilitation.


How do you see treatment options for arthritis progressing over the next ten years?

I think the main treatment options in the future won’t be new drugs or medical treatment’s but will be increasing client awareness of what arthritis looks like and working together with clients, vets, physiotherapists and in particular increasing the use of veterinary nurses who have a broad and in depth of knowledge to provide multi-modal lifestyle changes and exercises that can be done at home, easily and fit in with the hectic modern lifestyle of the owners.


If you could have the opportunity to give one tip/piece of advice to an owner with a dog suffering from arthritis what would it be?

Reduce how long they exercise for and increase the number of walks they receive. By this I mean, no more 1+ hour walks, but instead aim for multiple 15-minute walks that fit in with our lives and provides our furry friends with less pain and more fun.