Photo via CB Photography
What can we do to help prevent joint disease in dogs, and are there natural options to treat joint pain?
We have available many good and safe medications for arthritis, but where we need to focus our effort is on preventing the issue from arising, and treating with things that have no side effects just as the dog starts to have very early signs of a problem, instead of waiting for the dog to be in pain.
Because the majority of dogs prone to arthritis are our constant companions we know 2 things that commonly happen as our friends get older: 1) They often develop arthritis of the knee/ stifle, hip, shoulders, elbows, back and feet. 2) They love to eat and often become overweight.
Unfortunately the second thing makes the first thing worse, so when we focus on preventing or treating joint disease, the place we start is with maintaining a healthy weight, or helping an overweight dog lose weight.
How do you know if your dog is overweight? If you can apply gentle pressure over the rib cage and feel ribs, this is good. If you have to push in half an inch or more to get to ribs, not so good.
You should be able to feel a waist or hourglass shape from the top of the back, as you run your hands from the shoulders to the hips. From underneath, as you run your hand from the center of the deepest part of the chest towards the hip, the stomach should curve upward toward the hips. If you find you feel a straight line, then your dog is too heavy. We use a Body Condition Score to help quantify a dogʼs physique and to provide a descriptions for normal weight animals, as well as those too heavy or thin.
How do you help your dog lose weight? There are certain things that dogs do to convince humans to feed them more. Most dogs love to eat, and they often always act like they want to eat. The first trick is to revamp these behaviors, and stop the begging, and replace them with good behaviors. If your dog is begging try substituting a toy or playtime. The next important thing is that what the bag of food says to feed is often too much. With your veterinarianʼs guidance, reduce the food and add things like green beans or carrots to fill the void. Switching to a high protein, low carbohydrate food can make a difference quickly, as can a balanced home cooked diet. Bones can help provide distraction and satisfaction, but you do need to make sure that your dog will not try to eat the bone whole, or get sick from it. Adding a vitamin supplement with a lot of B Vitamins can be helpful as well. Finally, because low thyroid function is common, ask your veterinarian about testing for thyroid function. Supplementation can make a world of difference.
There are loads of supplements available for joint pain & arthritis, and most are designed to treat a problem. Some can be used to prevent issues, or at least prevent them from happening as quickly. A Chondroitin & Glucosamine supplement is a good idea, and there are many forms available from capsule to chewable. Fish oil is helpful for controlling inflammation and adding luster to the coat and skin.
How will you know your dog is beginning to have problems? When your dog starts to slow down, or get tired more quickly, he may be maturing, but he may also be getting some discomfort starting up. If you feel the harness start to move differently in your hand, it may be a signal that your dog has changed her gate slightly, to shift off an uncomfortable hip. You all know your dogs better than anyone else ever will. If you feel something is off, it is wise to get it checked out.
What can you do if your pet is already developing arthritis or joint pain?
Again, one of the most important things to do is get your dogʼs weight under control if it isnʼt already. In Human Medicine, there are estimates that joint replacement surgery could be reduced by as much as 30 % if the patients would loose weight.
Exercise that helps stretch your pets legs and back is very helpful. Swimming is great, and locally we have Paddling Paws, a facility built just for dogs, with someone that will swim with your dog so it feels safe. Another choice is to passively stretch the legs by moving them through the normal range of motion. Also, you can move the legs gently away from the body, and then toward the body. The goal is to move the limbs through a normal motion while they are not bearing weight so the muscles can move freely, and hopefully loosen up.
Massage is very comforting and is something you can do on your own, or take your dog to a massage therapist trained to work with our four legged friends. Your dog will let you know what feels good. Start with rubbing your hands in opposite directions on top of your dogʼs back, and work your way up & down the spine. This will create some warmth and you may feel your dog stretching as you rub. Next, start at the shoulders and use your fingers and thumbs to apply gentle pressure to either side of the spine, about the distance of your thumb from the tips of the spine. work each area for about 5 to 7 of your own breaths, or longer if your dog leans into your massage. Massage the legs by gently kneading the muscles as you would bread. Work up and down the legs to get circulation flowing.
Other non-drug treatments that have been very helpful include acupuncture and therapeutic laser. Both methods provide pain relief by working with the body. Therapeutic laser causes blood flow to increase into an area, and gets the cells to dump out the junk and take on fresh nutrients. Acupuncture works by breaking up the stagnation causing the pain, and restoring balance to the body.
Nutritional supplements include a broader spectrum joint supplement that has MSM, and green muscle as well as chondroitin and glucosamine and other joint protectants. There are tons of these products available, and some work well, and some do not. get recommendations from folks you know, or your veterinarian. Fish oil stays important, and Bromelain can be a big help as well. To help with pain, Bromelain has to be taken at least an hour away from food. There are many Chinese herbal formulas to help with specific imbalances that may cause arthritis. Each dog is different, so we have to tailor a plan specific to her needs. Food therapy is very helpful in reducing inflammation, and I will discuss it in detail a little later.
If you have specific questions Iʼd be happy to answer them as best I can
Ruth M. Roberts, DVM CVA CVH
Sun Dog Cat Moon Veterinary Clinic