Just like people, dogs can get arthritis in their joints as they get older. They are also prone to diseases like hip and elbow dysplasia that affect the stability of the joints and can create pain and discomfort. A number of different factors affect a dog’s likelihood of developing joint problems and pain. Some you can control while others will be beyond your control.
You have no control over your dog’s genetic makeup. Some lines have a higher incidence of joint issues within them. When searching for a dog, choose to get one from a breeder that does hip and elbow x-rays on all their breeding stock to ensure they do not breed dogs that have dysplasia in the elbows or hips. Although this does not guarantee that your pet will never develop dysplasia, it does reduce the likelihood. Unfortunately, these are diseases that are controlled by multiple genes and it is impossible to bring the risk down to zero.
Injuries will also increase the likelihood of your dog developing arthritis at a younger age than would otherwise be expected. While not all injuries can be prevented, making sure that your pet recovers properly and receives the physical therapy necessary to make as strong a recovery as possible will help delay the onset of arthritis in his joints.
Your dog’s weight plays a key role in how pressure is on his joints. Large breed dogs are already at a disadvantage because their legs support a much larger body mass than those of small dogs. Add excess weight due to obesity and you are asking a lot of your pet’s joints. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight is a key aspect of reducing pain in dogs that have already developed joint disease and puts less stress on a healthy dog’s joints, making them less susceptible to developing joint disease.
When your dog is young, his bones are growing and his joints are very prone to being damaged. This is why it is important to avoid overly strenuous exercise until he is fully grown. Dogs naturally want to please their owners and will push themselves past the point where they would otherwise stop, thereby overtaxing their joints, just to make you happy. Activities you should avoid with a young dog include jogging, running, and jumping. This doesn’t mean your pet can’t do it on his own but don’t have him do it with you as that is when he will push himself to keep up.
Proper nutrition is another key aspect of keeping the joints healthy, particularly as a puppy. Rapid growth is hard on the bones and joints of a dog. Puppies need proper nutrition and a good quality food are important. Many breeders now choose to feed their large breed puppies adult food from the start. Puppy foods are often very high in fat and protein which encourages rapid growth and weight gain. Puppies fed adult food or a puppy food designed specifically for large breed puppies will have lower levels of protein and fat. The puppies will grow more slowly but still have all their nutritional needs met. You should never supplement puppies with additional minerals and nutrients like calcium as this can lead to bone deformities and growth issues. Your pet’s food is carefully balanced to ensure that he receives the correct ratio of nutrients; adding supplements interferes with this balance.
There are a number of different ways you can support your dog’s joint health, whether he already has disease or you are simply trying to delay onset and keep him healthy. The main choices are supplements, physical therapy measures, alternative medical practises, and medications that reduce inflammation and control pain.
Supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega 3 fatty acids can help maintain joint health, reduce inflammation, and increase comfort levels. They are a nice alternative to prescribed medications which may have side effects in the earlier stages of disease although advanced cases are more likely to require prescription medications to manage pain and inflammation.
Physical therapy often focuses on gentle stretching, massage, and exercises performed in water where there is less stress on the joints. Alternative therapies like chiropractic and acupuncture can also be very effective in managing pain and keeping your pet comfortable. The importance of keeping your pet active and at a healthy weight can not be overestimated. Sometimes, losing weight can be enough to bring pain to manageable levels without any medications or procedures necessary.
Although a certain level of arthritis is unavoidable as your pet ages, there are many things you can do to keep him healthy, comfortable, and active with no serous loss of quality of life.