Arthritic Lab experiences
So sorry to hear about Dega's most recent challenge. One of our last Labs had severe back arthritis most of her life (from an injury when she was a pup) -- we learned a lot so will share some of our experiences with you in case they help. Cayli started to show signs of arthritis around 6 yrs old and ended up in emergency a couple of times after a bit too much fetching -- she had a full life and lived well with her arthritis until almost 14 yrs old! Of course, she had it easier with all 4 legs but early management can make a big difference for ensuring a long happy life even with arthritis. It did mean adjustments for us, but up until the last year, she did pretty well without too much pain. Some of the most helpful things we discovered:
* Yes, start right away on Glucosamine/Chondroitin/MSM/Hyaluronic acid supplements. We stayed away from Rimadyl since some problems with Labs. Cosequin (I suspect this is what you have) is a big name used for both dogs & horses, but we found better results with other options. One thing my vet said is "all Glucosamines are not equal" and that definitely was the case. We studied/read a lot and tried a bunch of different brands... "Sea Jerky" which has a different Chondroitin source worked best for quite a while and then we switched to other brands and the "changes" seemed to help as well. There are related supplements like CetylM that didn't do too much good for Cayli, but have helped my arthritic horse. Moral of the story -- try different ones and see what works best for Dega.
* Per our vet's recommendation, we immediately bought ramps for our SUV/truck and used them for Cayli for 8 yrs -- reducing the trauma of jumping in/out helped significantly and we've continued to use them for our other dogs too (especially for jumping out of the truck).
* Make sure to keep doing plenty of slow/gentle daily exercise without doing too much on "weekend warrior" outings (she may not show her pain until later so you need to learn to stop before she'll hurt). Daily walks were crucial for Cayli but we had to be careful not to overdo -- she actually became very good about recognizing her own limitations and still wanted to do 2-3 easy retrieves (no more jumping for frisbees which she loved to do) but then would lay down and contentedly chew on her ball -- be sure to listen carefully to Dega and not push her. When Cayli couldn't retrieve any longer near the end, we'd throw the toy directly to her to catch and she still enjoyed the eye/mouth coordination game.
* Swimming was the best medicine! We tried wet and dry acupuncture (Cayli hated it) and other therapies, but the best was swim therapy. We have a local vet tech who was trained for physical therapy and manipulates a dog's body while swimming/retrieving in a heated pool. The improvement was incredible and gave Cayli an extra year of quality life. Some of the dogs in therapy were even in wheelcarts and the pool was the one place they could still retrieve and play. So keep Dega swimming (even if she can't do the dock part as much)!
* Pain meds: there were so many improvements during Cayli's life. We started with buffered aspirin (Ascriptin) when the arthritis was making her uncomfortable. Later, a great NSAID drug was introduced in the US -- Metacam (aka Meloxicam), which was previously only available in Europe/Canada. It's a great anti-inflammatory without the associated GI issues. We were doing daily doses of Metacam when she was older, but good to have something on hand now if Dega does a bit too much and is in pain (Ascriptin is available OTC or whatever your vet recommends).
Arthritis is frustrating (especially after all you've already been through) but my experience was early adjustments meant we did have a long and very happy life with our Lab. Good luck!