Image via iStock.com/Nataba
By Paula Fitzsimmons
Arthritis in dogs may be common, but that doesn’t mean your pup has to be resigned to a life of pain and discomfort. While genetics plays a role in dog arthritis, so does good preventative care.
“There are various habits pet owners can develop earlier rather than later to help delay onset of—even if it is not possible to entirely prevent—arthritis in dogs,” says Dr. Jo Ann Morrison, a board-certified veterinary internist with Banfield Pet Hospital in the Portland, Oregon area.
From proper diet and exercise to fish oil and glucosamine for dogs, learn how to prevent arthritis in your pup.
Keep in mind, however, that any conversation involving diagnosis, treatment and how to prevent arthritis in your dog should, of course, begin with your veterinarian.
1. Start a Nutritionally Sound Diet Early
A puppy’s joints and skeletal system benefit from a slower rate of growth through nutritionally complete diets, says Dr. Morrison. “Some developmental orthopedic diseases may be exacerbated by growth that happens too rapidly, so a slow, steady growth rate is recommended.”
According to Dr. Elizabeth Knabe, a veterinarian with Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic in Marshfield, Wisconsin, “Owners that feed too much or feed too rich a diet can make the puppy gain weight faster than the bones can handle,” which can lead to orthopedic problems that can result in arthritis.
By feeding your puppy a dog food specifically designed for him, you can help keep your puppy’s development on the right track. For example, Hill's Science Diet puppy healthy development dry dog food is a complete and balanced diet that is formulated for supporting proper puppy growth.
2. Take Your Dog to the Vet Regularly
Dr. Morrison recommends dog parents partner with a veterinarian they trust so they can provide guidance throughout the course of the dog’s life. “Regular visits to the veterinarian, including twice-yearly comprehensive examinations, are recommended to ensure early detection, diagnosis and treatment planning for any signs of arthritis or conditions that could lead to arthritis,” she says.
Your veterinarian will also inform you on ways to recognize pain or discomfort in your dog in the early stages. “Your pet may exhibit subtle signs or behaviors at the onset of a condition like arthritis, and by the time signs like limping are noticed, there may already be irreversible joint damage,” says Dr. Morrison.
3. Exercise Your Dog the Right Way
Puppies need exercise, but the right kind of exercise for dogs and the right amount can ensure proper bone growth, says Dr. Knabe.
“Too much running on hard surfaces can impact proper bone growth, especially in the hip joints if they are loose to begin with.” A better workout may be with another puppy, she says, “as they will both tire at about the same time and will take breaks when they need it.”
Consider exposing your dog to water and swimming when he’s young, recommends Dr. Jessica Ennis, medical director at Cherry Hill Animal Hospital in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
“[S]wimming [is] a great activity that is easy on the joints. Early familiarization with water will make exercising as a senior [dog] or [one] with arthritis that much easier. Some pets can’t benefit from this incredible treatment for arthritis because they are fearful of water,” says Dr. Ennis.
Any exercise for dogs should take body type into consideration, says Dr. Robin Downing, hospital director at the Downing Center for Animal Pain Management in Windsor, Colorado. “For instance, a Bulldog should not be asked to run alongside a bicycle during a ride. Labs generally love to swim, but not so much for typical Poodles. Also, regular exercise (a bit every day) is better for dogs than the weekend warrior approach.”
4. Ask Your Veterinarian About Dog Joint Supplements
While there’s no current data supporting the use of supplements to prevent arthritis in dogs, they do play a role in supporting the joints.
“Joint supplements with glucosamine and chondroitin can help slow the loss of cartilage and keep your pet comfortable longer,” says Dr. Ennis. “Omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA found in fish oil are [also] powerful antioxidants. They will help scavenge free radicals, reducing toxic damage and fight inflammation in the body,” she says.
Some balanced dog foods have the added benefit of containing dog joint supplements. Hill's Prescription Diet j/d joint care dry dog food and Hill's Science Diet adult healthy mobility small bites dry dog food contain omega-3 fatty acids and chondroitin and glucosamine for dogs.
Besides fatty acids and fish oil for dogs, “The molecule MicroLactin in Duralactin canine joint plus soft chew dog supplement decreases inflammation systemically by a different mechanism than NSAIDs, and the inflammation in osteoarthritis joints is also reduced,” says Dr. Downing.
Not all supplements for dogs are created equal, says Dr. Morrison. “Talk to your veterinarian about the best supplement options for your dog based on their unique needs and medical history, while keeping in mind that some dogs may do better on multiple supplements.”
5. Keep Your Dog Trim
Obesity puts excessive strain on a dog’s joints, which results in faster wear and tear, says Dr. Ennis. “Not only will weight loss help your pets avoid arthritis, [but] it can also greatly improve the severity of signs in pet already diagnosed with arthritis.”
Keep your dog at a healthy weight and an ideal body condition throughout his entire life, recommends Dr. Morrison. “Your veterinarian can help you correctly identify your dog’s body condition score and adjust his or her nutritional plan and recommended exercise routine as needed to attain or maintain an ideal state.”
Your dog’s genes don’t necessarily mean he’s destined to develop arthritis. A good preventative care plan initiated as early as possible can go a long way in keeping dog arthritis at bay.