Aging happens to the best of us. Before you know it, physical activities that used to be a piece of cake, like getting up off the couch after watching your favorite show, becomes so much work, you decide its just easier to stay put and watch another show. For our dog friends, we are pained as we sometimes watch them struggle to stand after a nice nap and end up staying put to nap a little longer.
In many of our canine patients, this struggling is due to the development of osteoarthritis, or inflammation of the joints. Arthritis typically comes from joint abnormalities such as hip or elbow dysplasia or injuries such as an ACL rupture, that cause chronic irritation in the joint. The result is pain, swelling, lameness and exercise intolerance and can be crippling to our furry friends.
Unfortunately, the occurrence of arthritis and joint pain isn’t limited to our oldies, those white faced 12, 13, 14 year old dogs. We veterinarians sometimes see limited activity due to arthritis in animals as young as three or four years old. Fortunately, there are several simple changes one can make to a pet care routine that will slow the progression of joint damage and pain associated with arthritis.
A great starting point is talking to your friendly veterinarian and putting a plan in place to help Fido regain some of his youthful vigor. I’m going to give you a kick start and some ideas to motivate yourself and your dog to do something about that pesky thing called age and not give in to the passage of time!
The first step toward helping deal with joint pain is maintaining a healthy weight! This is true of both humans and dogs. The first way to do this is by restricting diet by either cutting back on their normal food or changing to a weight loss diet specifically designed to limit calories. It is critical that our dog’s food is measured in cups, not scooped unknowingly into a bowl. I know we all like the smile it puts on Fluffy’s face to offer him treats and goodies, but there are other ways to show our love (the attention of a walk or throwing a ball around). If treats are a must, I encourage you to use a little of the morning kibble, carrots, or other low cal veggies as treats.
Although it isn’t likely they’ll be joining us on hikes up Mission Peak, a regular exercise program is essential for weight control, muscle tone, and strength in arthritic dogs. I recommend starting with a short walk, one block or less, and gradually increasing the distance. This may be difficult, initially, to work into your busy schedule, but in the long run, will be invaluable for both you and your dog! Another great exercise option is swimming. If your dog is a swimmer, take advantage of that and give him increasing lengths of time to swim and enjoy.
Once we’ve reached a satisfactory body condition, lean and trim, it is helpful to consider joint specific diets designed to increase Omega-3 Fatty Acids. These fatty acids are shown to decrease inflammation and improve lameness, hopefully cutting down on the reliance on anti inflammatory medications. Prior to starting a joint specific diet, omega-3 supplements are a good idea. An additional supplement that is a must, the earlier the better, is a glucosamine/chondroitin. These supplements have actually been seen to decrease pain and inflammation and actually provide the building blocks to help make a happier, healthier joint. As a side note, these nutritional supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, so its important to use a high-quality product that combines glucosamine & chondroitin sulfate ingredients with avocado-soya unsuponifiables (ASU); to verify, check the label.
I know that life gets busy, and it’s easy to hang up the leash and give into the longer naps and more TV, but I encourage you to pick the leash back up, turn off the television, and get moving! You and your dog will not only enjoy the immediate benefits of exercise, you will be setting both of you up to live longer, better quality lives together.