Mobility is an important part of a happy and healthy life for all pets. A pet without mobility issues will be able to run, play, and enjoy life much more than a pet with osteoarthritis. Mobility in pets is a major contributor to their quality of life, and issues with mobility often lead to a shorter lifespan for pets who are otherwise healthy. A proactive approach to joint health is the best way to help keep your pet happy, healthy, and pain free as long as possible. The causes of osteoarthritis, how to delay its onset, and how to treat it are all important fundamentals all pet owners should learn to help provide their pets long and healthy lives.
Cartilage is on the ends of animals’ bones where they meet to form a joint. Healthy joints contain cartilage to help absorb impact and help joints move smoothly. When cartilage becomes damaged or deteriorates, it is unable to absorb impact as well as it should. Since the cartilage can no longer absorb impact or lubricate the movement between bones, impact will instead be transferred to the bones causing pain and inflammation. Pets with osteoarthritis are experiencing the pain and inflammation associated with damaged or deteriorated cartilage. Cartilage becomes damaged or deteriorates when above average stress is put on the joint. For that reason, obese pets, very active pets (like agility dogs), and pets born with congenital defects are all prone to developing osteoarthritis. Other pets prone to arthritis include breeds with shorter limbs (Dachshunds, French Bulldogs), large breeds (Golden Retrievers, Great Danes, German Shepherds), and pets who have poor balance (missing a leg).
All pets, not just those prone to developing osteoarthritis, can benefit from their owners working to prevent joint issues down the road.
It is a well-known fact that exercise is good for the body! A pet who exercises regularly will maintain a healthy body weight, eliminating obesity as a possible cause for the pet to develop osteoarthritis. If you are unsure whether your dog is a healthy weight, feel along their side and down their back.
If you are unable to feel their ribs and spine it is likely your dog could benefit from shedding a couple pounds. Talk to your veterinarian about setting a goal weight for your dog. Exercising also helps to keep muscles and supporting tissues strong, which will help compensate for damaged or deteriorating cartilage in a joint. Full body exercises like swimming, walking up and down hills, or moving from a “sit” to a “stand” position are all great exercises to help strengthen muscles, tendons and joints.
But wait – didn’t you just say that very active pets are prone to developing osteoarthritis? How will exercise prevent it?
Well, yes and no. Regular exercise is very different from the intensive exercise that competition dogs experience. It is also not the exercise itself that causes competition dogs to develop osteoarthritis, it’s the type of exercise - like sharp twist and turns when pole bending, or landing on the ground and impacting joints when jumping over high obstacles - that makes it more likely a dog might injure themselves and damage the cartilage. Being sure to warm up and stretch before any kind of exercise will help to minimize the risk of injury by preparing muscles and joints for activity.
A good way to stretch is by using your dog’s favourite treat to encourage them to flex their body. Encourage your dog to touch their nose to their shoulder, their hip and then between their front legs into a bow, remembering to work both sides of their body equally.
Your dog might not be getting enough of the nutrients that promote joint health from their food alone, especially if they fall into one of the categories that make them prone to developing osteoarthritis. For these dogs, there are many tasty ways of getting more of these nutrients into their diet in the form of treats, chews, and liquids. These products often contain one or a combination of glucosamine, chondroitin, or MSM, all of which help to support joint health. Adding omega fatty acids into your dog’s diet as well can help increase the efficacy of glucosamine and chondroitin in supplements.
Your pet’s day to day life can also impact their joint health. Be mindful of where you bring your dog to play; hard surfaces like paved roads and sidewalks are not ideal play spaces. This footing does not offer a lot of shock absorption, transferring the impact of your pet’s paws on the ground up into their joints. Grassy areas or dirt paths are much more comfortable places for your dog (and you!) to walk, run, and play!
You should also be sure to keep your pet’s nails and fluff around their paws trimmed to an appropriate length. Paw fur that is too long can interfere with your pet’s grip on the floor, increasing the likelihood of slipping and injuring themselves. When nails aren’t trimmed regularly, pets might alter the way they walk to avoid the pain from putting pressure on their too-long nails. This unnatural movement can strain the joints and lead to osteoarthritis in the long run. Puppies and dogs under the age of 2 should also avoid rigorous or high impact sports. At this age, their bones and cartilage are very fragile and can more easily become injured than those of a fully developed dog.
If a dog is displaying signs of osteoarthritis, like limping or difficulty climbing stairs, their condition will need to be treated. Take your dog to their veterinarian to be examined. Your dog’s vet will likely test for Lyme disease as it could be the cause of your dog’s joint pain and inflammation. All the above preventative measures should be incorporated into their diet and lifestyle and will likely need to be paired with a veterinary prescribed regimen. Injections, prescription medications, acupuncture, and massage are all treatments a vet might prescribe to a pet with osteoarthritis, along with regular exercise, supplements, and maintaining a healthy weight. Heat therapy from FIR (far-infrared) wearables can also help to alleviate the pain and inflammation in a pet’s joints.
Prevention is always the best medicine. Talk to your vet if you are interested in adding a joint supplement into your pet’s diet. The Bark & Fitz Pet Food Specialists would also be happy to help you choose a supplement that fits your pet’s needs.