Arthritis is one of those age-related ailments that afflicts both humans and canines. We tend to avoid thinking about it until we have too. For ourselves, we can tell when it might be developing and can see our doctor when we feel the pain. But what about our dogs? Dogs are notoriously stoic. They tend to conceal pain. This is due to a deep canine instinct that centuries of being domestic pets hasn’t erased. In a wild pack of hunters, a slow dog jeopardizes the group’s ability to hunt. The pack will push weaker members out to ensure the survival of the group. So your dog is not likely to let you know he’s in pain until the pain is severe and he can no longer ignore or hide it.
That means we pet owners have to be proactive about arthritis. We need to understand the condition, take steps to protect our pets from it and know when to take them to the vet for treatment.
What Is Arthritis?
Arthritis is so common it is easy to assume we understand it well. But it is more than just stiff joints. Arthritis is a degenerative joint condition with multiple causes. When the cartilage in a joint becomes damaged, it fails to protect the bones of the joint adequately. Friction develops between the bones because the cartilage is not padding them, and that in turns stimulates bone growth, which leads to pain and stiffness.
Your dog is unlikely to cry out or limp until the arthritis is very advanced. He may just be slower in his movements, less eager to play. And it is easy to dismiss this as normal aging. As arthritis becomes more severe, your dog might become guarded in his movements and try to avoid certain activities. The dog who once ran to the door when you said the word ‘walk’ might ignore you when you pick up his lead. While aging is inevitable, and simply being alive does cause wear and tear on every creature body, arthritis has causes beyond simply aging.
Wear and tear is the most common culprit. Jogging on pavement damages joints in both humans and dogs. Years of jumping around on the patio, leaping off the stairs onto a hard surface and running can take their toll. Arthritis can also be caused by infections, acute injuries, obesity and other joint conditions. Some breeds are more prone to develop arthritis. Large breeds, particularly German Shepherds, are at risk, but so are some smaller breeds, especially ones with long bodies such as dachshunds.
Preventing and Treating Arthritis
Prevention is always better than cure. While we can’t prevent every case of arthritis, we can take some solid steps to protect our dogs. If we can’t prevent it, we can at least delay and slow its development. It comes down to the two key fundamentals of health – diet and exercise.
- Diet: Beware of any herbal supplements that promise to prevent or cure arthritis, and never give your dog supplements that are marketed for humans. Even if the key ingredients are the same, the pills could contain filler that is not recommended for dogs, and the dosage would not the be same as for humans. There’s no magic potion. But a few nutrients have been shown to protect joints. The three things to provide in your dog’s diet are glucosamine, chondroitin and omega 3 oils.
Connolly’s RED MILLS Leader and Engage lines of dog food contain all three. The Leader line of premium dog food comes in nine varieties to make sure all dogs can benefit from the complete nutrition it offers. The puppy, adult and senior formulations each come in different size kibbles for small, medium and large breeds. The Engage line is designed for very active dogs. The Duck and Rice and Salmon and Rice recipes are particularly good for dogs who work hard all day and need sustained energy.
No matter what food you choose for your dog, make sure the amount you feed is appropriate for your dog’s size and activity level. Obesity leads to arthritis and other health problems.
- Exercise: Keeping your dog fit is one of the most significant steps you can take to prevent arthritis. It may sound contradictory because wear and tear is a leading cause of joint deterioration, but regular exercise also strengthens muscles and keeps your dog trim. Try to walk him on unpaved surfaces such as dirt trails when you can, and take your games of fetch to the grass instead of the patio. Even letting him walk on the grassy section alongside a paved path will help. Discourage jumping on hard surfaces.
Stairs can also put a strain on a dog’s joints, particularly leggy breeds such as greyhounds and lurchers, so you shouldn’t feel guilty if you don’t let your best friend come upstairs with you. Tricks that put your dog’s body in an unnatural position such as dancing and begging should also be kept to a minimum. If your dog is reluctant to do these tricks, it might be because they hurt his joints.
One situation that can often put an exceptional strain on the joints of an active dog is pregnancy. When a bitch is pregnant, she is bearing more weight than usual and is less active than usual. Arthritis is not usually at the top of a dog owner’s concerns when caring for a pregnant bitch, but nutrition is. For a pregnant bitch you need to look for a food that offers complete nutrition and protects her joints. Connolly’s RED MILLS Engage Mother and Puppy food provides 39% meat content to ensure the mother and growing pups get plenty of protein. It also contains glucosamine and chondroitin as well as full fat linseed, a great source of omega 3 oil.
Detecting arthritis early also means you can provide your dog with relief sooner and minimize his suffering. When you bring your dog for his annual jabs, ask your vet to check him for signs of arthritis. And if you notice your dog is reluctant to go for walks or stays in his bed more, bring him in for a check. Your vet can provide good pain relief and slow the progress of arthritis.
You can do one more thing for your dog to keep his joints comfortable whether or not he has arthritis. Get him a thick, soft bed. Good cushioning will reduce strain on his joints and keep him warm. With so many great options on the market today, you can find a comfortable dog bed just the right size for your dog and the right style for your home. Look for one with a secure, sturdy washable cover.
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