Arthritis In your dog?
By Dr. Karen Becker
Just like older people, many dogs who are getting up in years develop arthritis, and while the condition is more often seen in large and giant breeds, it can affect dogs of any age, any size, and either sex.
The good news is that if your own dog is dealing with arthritis, there are many things you can do to help him remain comfortable and mobile in spite of his condition.
5 Critical Areas to Focus on If Your Dog Has Arthritis
In many cases, dogs with degenerative joint disease can be well managed with a natural, nontoxic protocol. The earlier supportive joint protocols are started, the better. In my experience, which is fortunately also a growing trend in the conventional veterinary community, a multimodal approach is best for slowing the progression of the disease and keeping arthritic dogs comfortable.
- Weight management — Keeping your four-legged family member at a lean, healthy weight is absolutely crucial in alleviating arthritis symptoms. An overweight dog with arthritis can have noticeable improvement in symptoms after losing just a small amount of body weight.
- Exercise — Dogs need to move their bodies more, not less, as they age. Although the intensity, duration and type of exercise will change, daily activity is still crucial to prevent musculoskeletal weakness. Muscles maintain your dog’s frame, so preserving muscle tone will also slow the amount of joint laxity (which causes arthritis) as well.
Daily, consistent, lifelong aerobic exercise is the very best long-term strategy to delay the onset of arthritis symptoms. Without it, dogs exhibit more profound symptoms much earlier in life.
- An anti-inflammatory diet — All dogs, and especially those with inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, should be fed a moisture-rich, nutritionally optimal, species-appropriate diet that is naturally anti-inflammatory, consisting of real, whole foods, preferably raw, organic, and non-GMO. It should include:
|High-quality, lean protein, including muscle meat, organs and bone (protein coming from animal sources should make up more than 80 percent of a cat’s diet)|
|Low to moderate levels of animal fat (depending on your pet’s activity level)|
|High levels of EPA and DHA (omega-3 essential fatty acids)|
|A few fresh cut, fibrous vegetables, pureed|
|No grains or starches|
|A whole food vitamin/mineral supplement that meets the additional E, zinc, iron, copper, manganese, iodine and vitamin D deficiencies often found in homemade diets OR enough of these hard-to-source foods in whole food forms, daily|
|Beneficial additions such as probiotics, digestive enzymes, and super green foods|
There is one commercially available “veterinary recommended” raw, therapeutic diet on the market that takes the guess work out of creating a balanced, fresh food diet for arthritic dogs.
Along with a nutritionally balanced, species-appropriate diet, it’s important to practice portion control at every meal. For most pets, this means a carefully measured morning and evening meal. And don’t forget to factor in any calories from treats.
You also need to know exactly how many calories your dog or cat should be eating per day. Use these calorie calculators to determine how many calories your pet should take in to lose weight or maintain his or her current weight.
- Increasing comfort and mobility at home — Arthritic dogs should be provided with non-toxic, well-padded bedding located in a warm, dry area of the house. A carpet-covered ramp or steps to access the bed or couch can be very helpful, along with a gently sloped ramp to the outdoors. Slippery floors should be covered with throw rugs or runners.
- Physical therapy — Physical therapy is an absolute must for arthritic dogs and should be designed to maintain and increase joint strength, muscle tone, and range of motion. This can be accomplished with therapeutic exercises, swimming, and massage.
In addition to therapies such as laser treatments and the Assisi loop, I’ve found that incorporating maintenance chiropractic, underwater treadmill, massage, acupuncture, and daily stretching, along with an oral protocol (discussed below) to manage pain and inflammation yields the best results possible for an arthritic dog, and can dramatically delay the need for pharmaceutical interventions if instituted early on in the disease process.
Essential Beneficial Supplements for Arthritic Dogs
Chondroprotective agents (CPAs) that protect the joints (e.g., glucosamine sulfate, collagen, MSM, eggshell membrane, perna mussel aka green-lipped clam, Adequan and cetyl myristoleate) are essential for dogs with arthritis.
CPAs slow the rate of cartilage degeneration, which is critical. The form, dose and type of CPA your veterinarian prescribes should be based on a careful assessment of your dog’s individual needs. CPAs should be blended with pain control options as necessary.
There are many natural remedies for arthritis that can reduce or eliminate the need for painkillers in the early stages, including:
|High-quality omega-3 supplement (krill oil)||Devil’s Claw|
|Ubiquinol||Supergreen foods (spirulina, astaxanthin)|
|Turmeric (curcumin)||Natural anti-inflammatory formulas (e.g., proteolytic enzymes and SOD)|
|Traditional Chinese Herbs||Homeopathic remedies such as Rhus tox, Bryonia, and Arnica|
|Boswellia serrata||Esterified Fatty Acid Complex (EFAC)|
There are also ayurvedic herbs and nutraceuticals that can be very beneficial for dogs with arthritis, depending on their individual symptoms.
Why It’s so Important to Continually Monitor Your Dog’s Condition
It’s important to monitor your pet’s symptoms on an ongoing basis, since arthritis is a progressive disease. Your dog’s body is constantly changing, and her treatment protocol will need to evolve as well, which is why partnering with an integrative veterinarian is so important toward your goal of maintaining your furry BFF’s quality of life for as long as possible without drugs.
In the vast majority of mild to moderate joint pain cases, if CPAs and natural pain control options are initiated early, the need for intermittent NSAID therapy can be minimized to those occasional bad days when the weather or activities temporarily exacerbate the dog’s discomfort.
Moderate to severe joint pain cases (requiring consistent NSAID drug administration to maintain quality of life) can rely on lower drug doses by using an integrative protocol that is instituted early on and evolves with a patient’s age.
I definitely recommend finding an integrative or proactive, functional medicine veterinarian to work with you to customize a comprehensive protocol for your pet. Practitioners who’ve gone beyond their traditional veterinary school training of simply prescribing nonsteroidal pain medication, to learn and incorporate complimentary therapies into their practice, will have many more options to offer your dog over the course of her lifetime.
Some newer regenerative medicine options reaching small animal medicine include stem cell therapy and PRP (platelet rich plasma) injections, as well as Prolo therapy. The safety and efficacy of these treatments depends on the condition and technique used, which is another reason to partner with a functional medicine or integrative veterinarian who is well-versed in these promising, emerging procedures.
I also recommend bringing your dog for a wellness checkup with your proactive veterinarian at least twice a year to review the status of her health, and to check the range of motion in her joints, the muscle mass she’s either gaining or losing, and to make adjustments to her protocol as necessary to ensure her quality of life is optimal.