By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
If you’re a dog lover like me, you want your canine friends to live long, healthy, comfortable lives. And that’s why – long before you see any symptoms – you should start protecting your dog from arthritis.
It’s Tough to Recognize Arthritis In Dogs
We think of arthritis as an elderly problem – and it’s true, that’s when pain appears. But the process can start early on, even when your dog is only 3 or 4 years old. Arthritis is one of the most common maladies dogs face; about 20% will develop it later in life, and the risk is greater for larger or very active dogs. And it isn’t just painful – arthritis will shorten your dog’s life.
Arthritis is simply the slow breakdown of cartilage between joints. And, since cartilage lacks nerve endings, it can proceed for years without any outward signs. Your dog won’t feel – or show – a thing until later in life. And once the cartilage is gone, your pet will wind up with bone rubbing directly against bone.
The pain can range from discomfort to debilitating. Often, it’s worst after periods of inactivity, and gets better with movement. As the pain grows, your dog will move less, exercise less, and go downhill faster.
While seeing our pets in pain can make our hearts ache, that isn’t even the worst part of dog arthritis. It can reduce mobility, as limbs and backs stiffen. It’s often accompanied by ligament damage – indeed, strained ligaments can be the root cause of dog arthritis. And that can mean loss of balance as well. And, of course, arthritis leads to bone damage.
Take it all together, and you’ve got a canine companion who doesn’t move well, and doesn’t move much. Some owners attribute the symptoms to simple old age – which is a pity, since so much more can be done for arthritis.
Preventing Dog Arthritis
Here are a few simple things you can do – the same things we do for humans – to help prevent arthritis in your dog:
The first step to preventing arthritis is preventing excess weight. Plenty of dogs – especially those living in small apartments, or in big cities with limited recreation opportunities– have the same problems we do. Dogs are getting fat. That extra weight creates extra pressure on joints, causing cartilage to wear down even faster.
The best way to prevent that excess weight – other than getting plenty of exercise – is to watch your dog’s diet. Don’t feed him fries off your plate or let him lick the ice cream bowl clean. Instead, make sure your dog has reasonably sized meals twice a day.
However, that’s not to say meal time has to be boring. In fact, you want your dog to have variety. Nothing but chicken, for example, won’t give your dog the full range of vitamins and nutrients he or she needs.
Instead, give your dog a mix of whole meats, and high-quality dog food. You can also add egg yokes and cooked vegetables. Dogs often go for string beans, broccoli, grated carrots, and string beans. Avoid any foods that contain lots of filler, like cereal and wheat. Your dog isn’t really made to eat whole grains – they do him or her no good, and in fact can stress a dog’s digestive tract. Here are more tips for switching your dog to a better diet.
There’s a sweet spot with exercise for dogs, a Goldilocks situation. Too much exercise puts extra strain on joints and bones. Too little leads to atrophy, not to mention weight gain and all the problems that come along with it. You want to give your dog just the right amount. For most dogs, that means playtime once a day, and at least one good long walk once a day.
Keeping active will help to strengthen your dog’s muscles – and those muscles can help stabilize and support joints. A fit dog can avoid arthritis much better than a weak one.
The only exception is injuries, as exercise on a compromised joint or ligament can be a direct cause of arthritis. If your dog pulls a muscle or strains a ligament – if your pup lands funny, or develops a limp – go to a vet, find out the problem, and shut down activity until it’s resolved.
And, just because the limp goes away in a day doesn’t mean the problem is gone. Remember, dogs are animals; in the wild, a sign of weakness makes an animal a target, which explains why dogs try to mask injury at the earliest possible moment. So, err on the side of safety, and listen to the vet’s timeline, instead of just going by your dog’s behavior.
Studies show that dog arthritis responds to the same sorts of supplements that help us humans. Namely, glucosamine and chondroitin. Chondroitin is a primary component of cartilage, and helps it retain water. Glucosamine is found in the fluid that surrounds cartilage, which acts like a shock absorber.
The effects of glucosamine and chondroitin in dogs haven’t been well-studied yet, but the available research demonstrates that supplementing with both can generate positive clinical effects in dogs, including alleviation of pain.
Omega-3s are another helpful supplement. These fatty acids help to reduce inflammation, which can contribute to arthritis – and to pain.
I also recommend green lipped mussel because it’s a natural source of chondritin and omega 3s, and plenty more nutrients as well – like antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes your dog’s body needs (and you do too). This is one of my favorite proactive supplements for preventing dog arthritis.
Make sure that the supplements you give your dog are specifically designed for dogs, as dogs need a different amount of these nutrients than we do.
Thankfully, grounding, or Earthing, is something dogs just naturally love to do. When your dog is running through the grass chasing a ball or napping in the yard, he’s absorbing the healing energy of the Earth. Just as with humans, connecting with soil or grass allows the gentle magnetic charge of the Earth to right imbalances in your dog’s body. Free radicals are neutralized.
So when you play, choose grass, dirt or sand surfaces over asphalt. Not only will you be helping prevent arthritis in your dog, but the softer surface lessens the stress of impact after a jump or a jog.
Dogs enhance our lives beyond description. It only takes some foresight and a small amount of effort to help preserve their quality of life as they age.
- Comblain F, Serisier S, et al. Review of dietary supplements for the management of osteoarthritis in dogs in studies from 2004 to 2014. Vet Pharmacol Therap. 39, 1–15. DOI: 10.1111/jvp.12251
- Perea S. Nutritional Management of Osteoarthritis. Compend Contin Educ Vet. 2012; 34(5):E4.
- Gupta RC, Canerdy TD, et al. Comparative therapeutic efficacy and safety of type-II collagen (uc-II), glucosamine and chondroitin in arthritic dogs: pain evaluation by ground force plate. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition. 2012; 96: 770–777. doi: 10.1111/j.1439-0396.2011.01166.x
- McCarthy G, O’Donovan J, et al. Randomised double-blind, positive-controlled trial to assess the efficacy of glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate for the treatment of dogs with osteoarthritis. Vet J. 2007; 174(1):54-61. Epub 2006 May 2.
- Rialland P, et al. Effect of a diet enriched with green-lipped mussel on pain behavior and functioning in dogs with clinical osteoarthritis. Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research. 2013;77(1):66-74.
- Bierer TL, Bui LM. Improvement of Arthritic Signs in Dogs fed Green Lipped Mussel (Perna canaliculus). Nutr. June 1, 2002; 132(6):1634S-1636S.
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