Joint health is a hot topic among pet owners—considering roughly one in five adult dogs suffer from joint pain or mobility issues. One of the most commonly diagnosed orthopedic diseases in dogs? Much like with people, it’s osteoarthritis. There’s a sturdy capsule that surrounds joints that contains fluid and cartilage to cushion the bones and facilitate motion. And when this protective cartilage deteriorates, pain, inflammation, and mobility challenges ensue. While there is no cure for osteoarthritis, early intervention can aid in slowing the progression of this degenerative disease. Here are five ways you can support your dog’s joint health as he ages to help keep him active and pain-free.
Keep your dog moving.
According to a 2018 U.S. survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), “55.8% of dogs classified as overweight or obese.” Not only is this statistic alarming, but it could explain why joint disease continues to be a common problem in our nation’s dog population. When an over-conditioned pet is forced to carry around added weight, it puts unnecessary stress on his joints, contributing to pain and inflammation. Other factors such as age, genetic background and underlying disease can also impact a dog’s predisposition for joint problems, but obesity is one element that is completely preventable. Keeping your pet moving each day will help him stay trim and build lean muscle, which not only helps him get around more comfortably but can also contribute to joint stabilization. Avoid high-intensity, high-impact activities, especially if your dog is not accustomed to this type of exercise. Walks, gentle jogs and playful romps are great ways to get your pet active but watch for signs that he may be uncomfortable.
Pay attention to subtle signs of pain.
Animals are experts at hiding pain and discomfort, a learned protective mechanism in the wild. Pet owners need to understand that even small, unnoticeable signs may be indicative of developing joint disease or pain. Look for the classic signs of orthopedic disease and notify your veterinarian if you notice the following:
- Struggling to rise or lay down.
- Difficulty maneuvering stairs
- Inability to jump
- Reluctance to exercise
- Limping or other gait changes
- Muscle wasting, especially around hips and thighs
- Aggression when touched
- Changes in appetite
While osteoarthritis cannot be reversed, the process can be slowed with intervention — and the earlier, the better. Waiting until your dog is in overt pain before seeking treatment could result in chronic pain and reduced quality of life.
Consider a joint supplement.
Supplements are popular among people and the market is taking off for pets, too. While some ingredients have proven their efficacy for canine joint health in research trials, others are only anecdotally helpful. These supplements are known to be beneficial:
- Glucosamine hydrochloride
- Chondroitin sulfate
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Avocado soybean unsaponifiables (ASUs)
- Boswellia serrata
Other agents, such as curcumin, hemp oil, and eggshell membrane also show promising benefits for dogs. Some veterinarians recommend beginning chondroprotective supplements as early as puppyhood, especially when predisposition to joint disease may be a concern. Of course, always consult with your veterinarian before giving your dog any supplement or nutraceutical.
Realize comfort is key.
As our dogs age, we want to do whatever we can to make their (and our) lives easier. This may include introducing devices that aid mobility or simply provide comfort. If your dog struggles on hardwood floors, is hesitant to jump into your vehicle, or refuses to take the stairs, he likely needs an assistive device. Depending on your dog’s individual needs, you may find the following products helpful:
- Help ‘Em Up Harness
- Buzby’s ToeGrips
- Yoga mats, rugs or other non-slip floor support
- Ramps or stairs
- Carts or wheelchairs
- Therapeutic bedding
- Elevated feeding bowls
Visit with your veterinarian.
If your pet suffers from painful joints, exercise and daily supplements will only help so much. Your veterinarian will need to examine your pet to characterize the degree of joint disease, perform a pain assessment and look for other possible causes for his signs, such as a ruptured ligament or dysplasia. These are all important steps in creating an appropriate treatment plan and getting your companion back on track. At this visit, you can expect to discuss pain control options, additional therapies like polysulfated glycosaminoglycan or joint injections, and integrative options such as laser therapy, acupuncture and physical rehabilitation. A multi-modal approach that addresses these many facets of joint care is essential in combatting this common problem in dogs.
By Jane Costa, DVM
- Johnston, S.A. Osteoarthritis. Joint anatomy, physiology, and pathobiology. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice. 1997. 27(4): 699–723.
- 2015 AAHA/AAFP Pain Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats