Joint problems are a common problem of aging dogs. Just like their owners, the wear and tear of a lifetime of use can injure and put strain on the joints. This can develop into arthritis. When the cartilage begins to degrade due to strain or injury, pain results and can make dogs reluctant to move.
Big dogs are more prone to developing arthritis because extra weight places more stress on the joints, but all dogs are at risk. Problems like hip dysplasia, even though present earlier, may not be obvious until dogs reach the age of six or seven. The hips, elbows and knees are the most common problem spots, but dogs are so stoic they almost never show signs until a lot of damage has been done. Typical signs are reluctance to climb stairs, trouble getting up after sleeping, and reluctance to exercise.
You can’t reverse joint disease but you can slow down the progression and often prevent some of the worst problems. Here are five ways to help keep your dog’s joints healthy.
Prevent Joint Injury Arthritis almost always develops as a result of injury much earlier in life, even when your dog is a puppy. Over exercise, jumping too high, and running too hard before a puppy’s bones and joints are mature can injure the joints so supervise your young dog’s exercise routine.
Make Environmental Accommodations Even adult dogs can hurt themselves by jumping on and off the sofa, for instance. Make it easier for your dogs to do what they love without risking injury. For example, provide a dog ramp so they can easily get into and out of the car without jumping, or offer them a footstool so they don’t have to risk the leap.
Treat Injuries Promptly Veterinarians say it’s vital to treat any suspected injury as soon as possible to reduce or prevent joint problems as your dog ages. Dogs that suffer fractures from being hit by cars, for example, may need special treatment, forced rest or even surgical repair to help them properly heal.
Feed Appropriate Food Large breed puppies can grow too fast and become too heavy for their immature joints. Adult dogs put on too much weight when overfed, and obesity adds strain to the joints and makes it painful to exercise. Choosing the correct diet or adding joint-supporting dietary supplements can slow down the progression of arthritis or even prevent joint problems in your pets.
Keep Dogs Moving Arthritis and joint problems develop into a vicious cycle. When it hurts to move, dogs stop exercising and so they gain more weight which puts increased stress on the joints. Exercise also “feeds” the joint by pumping natural lubrication into the area. Gentle exercise keeps joints limber and healthy, helps slim down pudgy dogs, and just helps them feel better. Joints stiffen after naps, so it can help to provide a heated bed or gentle massage each morning to get your dog limber before a walk.
by Amy Shojai