How to Prevent and Manage Joint Problems in Dogs

Posted by Jackie Ly on

dog taking medication

Pain associated with joint issues like arthritis is often subtle and barely noticeable. 

All dogs require regular care throughout their lives to keep their joints healthy and robust. The way their body ages depends on lifestyle choices including a healthy diet, training, and exercise. Their joints become damaged and strained from a lifetime of activity and this can result in arthritis. 

But what is arthritis in dogs, and how can you prevent and manage it? Here are essential things to know to help your dog avoid arthritis, or help them recover from it.

What is Arthritis in Dogs?

Arthritis in dogs is a chronic degenerative disease. The most common joints affected are shoulders, knees, hips, and elbows. The cartilage that lines and cushions the joints  deteriorates as your dog ages. This exposes their bone ends, resulting in painful bone spurs. The joint lining also thickens and becomes irritated, restricting their movement.

Old age arthritis, commonly referred to as osteoarthritis, is quite common in dogs and is generally accepted to be the same as arthritis. Older dogs are more likely to develop arthritis as a result of regular wear and tear. With time, the synovial fluid loses its ability to lubricate the joints' cartilage, causing friction and inflammation between the bones, which limits movement and causes pain.

But it's also not unusual for dogs as young as six or seven years old to show signs of arthritis. In this case, it's usually due to secondary factors such as weakened ligaments, poor nutrition, old age, obesity, or immunity-related diseases.

If you've observed over time that your dog is reluctant to play, take longer to finish walks, yelp when touched, or have more trouble climbing stairs, this can be a sign that they have arthritis.

How to prevent bone and joint problems in dogs

Monitor their physical activity from a young age

Arthritis almost always results from an injury much earlier in life. Over exercising, jumping too high, and running too hard before your puppy's bones and joints are matured can injure their joints. 

Make sure to monitor their physical activity and training routine at a young age. Puppies need to move around, but only the right kinds and intensity of exercise can ensure proper bone development.

Make environmental adjustments

Let your dog enjoy their favourite activities without putting themselves in danger. 

For instance, provide your dog a ramp so they can easily enter and exit the vehicle without having to jump, or give them a footstool so they won't have to take the risky leap. 

Make adjustments to their environment to accommodate their daily activities so you don’t have to worry if an area in the house or furniture is dangerous for them.

Manage their weight: nutritious food and a balanced diet

Feeding them a nutritious, balanced diet gives their body the ideal time to grow. Their joints and bones benefit from a slower rate of growth than a sudden growth spurt. If you feed your puppy an excessive and rich diet, they grow too fast and their bones may not be able to support the rapid growth. 

This may cause joint problems and pain in the joints as they grow. Similarly, obesity caused by overeating puts additional stress on joints, which can speed up their degeneration.

To maintain your dog's ideal body condition fit for their skeletal structure, feed them a nutritionally balanced diet from the start, with appropriate portion control.

Take them to vet regularly

Your dog needs regular checkups from the vet to stay healthy and strong. A trained specialist can identify those conditions hiding under the surface, especially when it comes to detecting joint pain. There may be no obvious symptoms or behaviours of arthritis in your dog, and by the time symptoms like limping are noticed, there may already be irreversible joint damage.

Visit the veterinarian at least twice a year for full check ups that help with early detection and diagnosis.

Keep them physically active in a right way

Exercise should be a regular part of your dog's daily routine. Regular exercise ensures that your dog's bones have a proper support system, enabling them to grow at a healthy rate with less long-term strain on the joints.

This also involves occasionally shaking things up to avoid excess strain on their joints. For example, running only on hard surfaces might injure their hip joints. Consider your dog's body type when choosing and scheduling their exercises. 

Senior dogs still benefit from regular exercise too. While senior dogs may not be able to run as quickly, leap as high, or play as long as they could when they were younger, they still enjoy these activities especially when modified according to their energy level. 

Instead of going for a long walk, take your dog for a ten-minute stroll. Thus they may chase without jumping, roll the ball or drag the tug toy.

Give them joint supplements

While there isn't any evidence at the moment to support the use of supplements to prevent canine arthritis, they do help support the joints. Supplements that contain glucosamine and chondroitin can help slow down cartilage loss and keep your dog comfortable for a longer time.

Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation in arthritic joints. In dogs, the specific fatty acid, EPA, has been shown to have the most effect. Commercial joint diets and salmon oil both include EPA and DHA as their primary omega-3 fatty acids. Evidence-based medicine suggests that fish oil may be more effective than glucosamine supplements at relieving the symptoms of arthritis. 

How to manage bone and joint problems in dogs

Treat injuries as soon as possible

To lessen or prevent joint issues as your dog ages, veterinarians advise addressing any suspected injuries as soon as possible. If your dog has fractures from a vehicle accident, they may require extra care, confinement, or even surgical correction to help them heal properly. 

Don’t postpone treatment or think that injuries can heal on their own, as some may really require surgeries to achieve full recovery.

Enrol them in a swimming class

Dogs with joint issues can certainly benefit from swimming. In swimming, your dog can  exercise their muscles and joints without causing further harm since the buoyancy of the water lessens tension on the joints. Water that is at body temperature, or around 102 degrees, also relaxes the body and relieves tension.

Many retriever-type dogs like the water, and a hot tub or swimming pool is an excellent choice when the weather is nice. Small dogs can paddle in the bathtub. Eventually, a daily twenty-minute session improves dog joint issues.

Encourage them to a gentle walk

If you don’t have swimming facilities or if your dogs are not fond of water, you can do gentle walks instead. Start gently and encourage your dogs to take short walks, while gradually increasing the duration and pace of the walk. A short dog walk around the block also provides sniffing opportunities for reluctant dogs that prefer to laze on the couch. 

Start by going for 5 to 10 minutes short walks once or twice a day, and work your way up to a 20-minute walk at least once per day—twice daily would be ideal.

Take them to physical rehabilitation

Therapeutic exercise with a licensed small animal physical rehabilitation practitioner is an important stage to converting osteoarthritic, overweight, and inactive dogs to lean, physically fit dogs, excited about activities again.

Traditional pet rehabilitation methods include swimming, underwater treadmills, controlled walking over or around obstacles like tall grass and pools, passive stretching, and range-of-motion exercises.

Dogs enrolled in a physical rehabilitation and therapeutic exercise program may start to lose weight and improve their cardiovascular fitness.

Talk to your vet about long-term pain management

Treatment for arthritis often includes long-term pain medications. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) are known to be very effective as they block the inflammatory pathways to prevent formation of damaging chemicals or prostaglandins. 

Galliprant, Carprofen, and Meloxicam are the safest alternatives for treating pain and inflammation. Some are also believed to be more safe than others, like Rimadyl, Deramaxx, Previcox, Metacam. 

However, since NSAIDs interfere with prostaglandins, they cause negative side effects. It can lead to vomiting, decreased to no appetite, decreased activity level, and diarrhoea. These negative effects worsen over time that’s why NSAIDs are usually not advised for long-term use. If your dog is continuously on NSAIDs, their vet should examine them every 6 to 12 months for lab testing to check for any negative side effects.

Aside from medications, therapies are also recommended to manage arthritis pain. As previously mentioned, physical therapy may be quite helpful for dogs who have arthritis. It is recommended that they engage in appropriate forms of regular exercise. Hydrotherapy, often known as water therapy, is also effective.

Holistic therapies, like acupuncture and acupressure, help too. Acupuncture works well for dogs that have hip dysplasia or degenerative joint condition. Acupuncture also helps dogs with serious spinal cord problems and chronic back pain.

Targeted pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF) is another option. Dogs with both acute and chronic inflammation have responded positively to PEMF therapy. These outcomes are on par with or better than those of NSAIDs without the risk of side effects.

Surgery options

Sometimes, surgery is the most effective treatment for arthritis. In cases of pathologic instability, surgery may involve joint stabilisation, cartilage/bony chip removal, or joint replacement with a prosthetic joint. 

Another option is joint fusion (arthrodesis), which is particularly effective for the hock and wrist since it eliminates the pain associated with arthritis. 

Arthritis in dogs may be common, but that doesn’t mean your dog has to live with permanent joint pain all their life. Just like how vaccines help them from catching certain diseases, good preventative care such as the right exercise, supplements, and regular check ups will also help them avoid or delay the onset of arthritis.

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