So, what do you do to relieve pain and mobility limitations in your arthritic dog — and more importantly, what can you do to possibly even prevent this disease from showing up in your dog?
Two simple but powerful solutions: exercise and diet. By keeping your dog engaged in some form of daily exercise, you can prevent him from transforming into a canine couch potato. By not dishing up overflowing bowls of kibble and excessively heaping on treats, you can keep him from morphing into a hairy ottoman.
Research conducted in 2015 by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found that more than one half of adult dogs in the United States are overweight. Sporting extra pounds can not only spur arthritis, diabetes and heart disease, but reduce the dog’s lifespan by two to five years compared to dogs kept at healthy weights and exercised regularly.
“Combining an exercise routine (like taking daily walks on level surfaces, rolling the ball during fetch sessions and swimming in safe bodies of water) with proper diet that keeps your dog at a healthy weight can positively affect the health of your dog,” declares Nancy Soares, DVM, president of the American Animal Hospital Association and owner of the Macungie Animal Hospital in Macungie, PA.
Adds Denis Marcellin-Little, DACVS, DECVS, a certified canine rehabilitation veterinarian and associate professor of orthopedics at North Carolina State in Raleigh, “Being overweight can certainly accelerate the progress of osteoarthritis and make mobility much more limited. Mobility is immensely important in dogs for their longevity, comfort and joy.”
And here’s a surprising fact: excessive fat tissue not only packs on the pounds and impairs mobility, but these tissues (known as adipose tissues) actually secrete hormones that promote pain.
“Adipose tissue is a major endocrine organ within the body that secretes hormones and other substances and these substances secreted trigger an inflammation cascade, which brings about pain,” explains Dr. Soares.
Even if your dog is diagnosed with arthritis — be it in the form of hip dysplasia, osteoarthritis of the knee or other joint, our experts assess some tactics to ease the aches and pains:
1. Nutraceuticals do best in supporting roles. Consult your veterinarian about the possible benefits of providing supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM to your adult dog before or at the early signs of arthritis. “While most products in this category are not studied and cannot make claims regarding their efficacy, anecdotally, anti-inflammatory benefits can be seen,” says Dr. Soares.
2. Think outside the (conventional) box. Acupuncture, acupressure, therapeutic massage, hydrotherapy and laser therapy may be beneficial, but make sure they are administered by professionals who are certified. “Hydrotherapy is a form of exercise, so it is effective, but realistically, it is easier to take your dog on a walk than finding a place that offers an underwater treadmill,” says Dr. Marcellin-Little.
3. Fight the pain safely. Pain management medications prescribed by a veterinarian, such as anti-inflammatories and analgesics can reduce swelling and pain in the joints, but steer clear of human medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) as they are both extremely toxic to dogs.
4. Weigh the benefits of surgery. Yes, some dogs do well with joint replacement surgeries, but make sure the operation is performed by a board-certified orthopedic surgeon. “Our pets deserve specialty treatment when advanced care is warranted,” says Dr. Soares.
5. The jury is still out on stem cell therapy to treat arthritis in dogs. “There is limited clinical evidence to support the expense and invasiveness of stem cell therapy,” says Dr. Soares. “Additional research is underway to determine the best treatment and efficacy for the best outcome.”
The parting message: “The big three weapons in combating osteoarthritis in dogs are managing pain with medications, losing excess weight and exercising regularly to help your dog stay strong and have good joint mobility,” says Dr. Marcellin-Little. “Your dog will feel better and move better and hopefully, enjoy a long, quality life.”
What Should You Feed an Arthritic Dog?
We can’t stop the aging body clocks inside our dogs, but by making smart nutritional decisions, we can possibly delay or stave off the impacts of arthritis. The signs are hard to miss: your dog’s gait slows. He starts to limp or favor one limb or hesitates before jumping on the bed or out of the car. Arthritic pain can make some dogs grumpy and a bit snappy. Or, you may also notice your dog is excessively licking a leg, a possible indication of his attempt to deal with joint pain.
Jean Hofve, DVM, holistic veterinarian, best-selling author and founder of the Little Big Cats website, identifies these five “arthritis-fighting” foods safe to give affected dogs:
1. Wild-caught salmon (not from fish farms), sardines or herring. All three are packed with omega-3 fatty acids touted for their anti-inflammatory properties.
2. Leafy green vegetables, such as kale or chard and spinach if your dog does not have digestive issues with oxalates. These greens contain antioxidants that also keep inflammation in check.
3. Blueberries, cranberries and apples. They contain less fructose (sugar) than most fruits and are loaded with anti-inflammatory agents and fiber.
4. Whole ground bone-in chicken, game birds or other poultry. “Oxtails for bigger dogs and turkey necks for medium-sized dogs,” adds Dr. Hofve. “The cartilage lining the joints contains all the cartilage building blocks your dog needs to repair joint damage to the extent that is possible.”
5. Green-lipped mussels. Dr. Hofve ranks them as arthritis-fighting super foods. “These mussels contain not only glucosamine, chondroitin and hyaluronic acids, but also the full spectrum of omega-3s.
To maximize your dog’s health, Dr. Hofve also recommends adding these key supplements touted to reduce inflammation and ease pain, such as:
• Chondroprotective agents (CPAs), such as glucosamine sulfate, MSM, eggshell membrane and adequan (intramuscular injection). These CPAs slow the rate of cartilage degeneration. Start your active dog on these now while his joints appear to be healthy and pain free.
• Turmeric root powder. New studies show that this spice has the ability to lessen arthritic inflammation, boost the immune system and act as an antioxidant. Also consider adding turmeric root to your dog’s diet as a preventive aid in the battle against arthritis. A little bit goes a long way. Consult your veterinarian for the right amount for your dog.
• Yucca, ginger, cinnamon and Boswellia in small amounts. “They are packed with antioxidants, but don’t give too much,” says Dr. Hofve. “With dogs’ ultra-sensitive noses standing guard, a little goes a long way.”
By Sarah Zumhofe