Caring for our dogs into old age can be a heart wrenching – but ultimately rewarding – experience. Like humans, dogs suffer from a number of aches and pains as they reach their twilight years, including the development of painful and arthritic joints. Everything an owner needs to know about arthritis is discussed below.
What Causes Arthritis in Dogs?
Arthritis occurs when the cartilage in the joints (especially in the knees and hips) begins to deteriorate over time, resulting in loss of joint lubrication and mobility. There are a number of factors that go into determining whether your dog will develop arthritis, as well as the severity of his or her condition. Some breeds are genetically predisposed to arthritis, such as German Shepherds or Great Danes. Other animals may develop arthritis due to an injury experienced earlier in life, while some are at a greater risk if they are overweight. The vast majority of advanced-age seniors (beyond 12 years old) will experience some form of arthritis.
What Preventative Steps can an Owner Take?
One of the best preventative measures in mitigating the early onset and the effects of arthritis is to keep your pet active throughout its life and at a healthy weight, since as little unnecessary stress on the joints as possible is important for continued joint health. If your dog is extremely active, such as a participant in Agility competitions or frequent vigorous activity, supplementing your dog’s diet with antioxidant-rich foods to reduce inflammation, as well as foods that promote collagen production, such as unflavored gelatin, can be beneficial. For pet owners purchasing a puppy from a breeder, it is important to do your research and look for an ethically bred dog with documentation that the parents have Orthopedic Foundation for Animal certification passing knee, elbow, and hip certifications.
How Can Arthritis Pain be Managed?
If your dog develops arthritis, there are three components of managing pain at home: regular exercise, nutritional support, and modifications within the house. While it may sound counter intuitive, allowing your dog to walk, run, or swim can actually help fight the pain by improving circulation to the area and building strength around sore joints. If your dog’s mobility is especially poor, hydrotherapy is beneficial for arthritic dogs as the therapeutic properties of the water not only soothe joints and reduce inflammation, but the buoyancy allows full range of motion without pain.
Next, you should make sure your dog is eating as high of quality food as you can afford in order to minimize inflammation. Grains, corn, and soy are common causes of inflammation that can exacerbate arthritis symptoms. You can also provide supplementation such as gelatin, described above, or other supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin, methylsulfonylmethane, and coconut oil.
Next, make appropriate changes around the house. Give your dog an orthopedic pet bed if unable (or not allowed) to access soft furniture, and provide ramps when steps become painful. Harnesses are also available that help owners assist their pets up and down stairs, which are especially beneficial for large-breed dogs.