How To Keep Your Dog’s Joints Healthy


Joint issues are some of the most common causes of immobility and pain for our canine companions. Diseases such as hip dysplasia, luxating patella, and degenerative joint disease all impair your dog’s quality of life by affecting the joints. There are some aspects of joint disease that you can do nothing about. Luckily, however, there is a lot you can do to help your dog if you learn how to keep your dog’s joints healthy.

How To Keep Your Dog’s Joints Healthy

The best way to keep your dog’s joints healthy is to think ahead long before your dog suffers from joint issues. In other words, you should make good decisions for your dog’s joints when they’re puppies, as they grow, and when/if joint issues develop. Here are some things that you can do to set your dog up for healthy joints throughout life. 

Spay or neuter when your dog is done growing 

America is understandably concerned about the overpopulation of pet dogs in our country and resulting euthanasia rates. For this reason, dogs are usually spayed or neutered before they leave the shelter, regardless of age. Pet parents are often encouraged to spay or neuter their dogs when they are still puppies in order to prevent the possibility of an accidental litter.  However, ongoing research is finding that early spaying and neutering may have negative effects on dogs, especially some of the most popular breeds, such as golden retrievers. A recent study found that golden retrievers that were spayed or neutered before a year old had double the chance of developing hip dysplasia; dogs also tend to develop the disease earlier compared to dogs that get neutered at a year or older.  Canine cruciate ligament rupture, a painful occurrence that may require surgery to fix, is more common in neutered dogs. Several types of cancer are also more likely in dogs that get spayed or neutered early.  Therefore, if you want to prevent joint disease in your dog, wait until your dog is at least a year old before you have them fixed.

Supplement with glucosamine and chondroitin

Veterinarians recommend glucosamine and chondroitin for the prevention and treatment of joint issues such as osteoarthritis. It seems that dogs tolerate these supplements well and they can help dogs develop and maintain healthy joints throughout life.  Glucosamine affects the synthesis of collagen in your dog’s cartilage. It also seems to provide mild anti-inflammatory benefits. Chondroitin inhibits destructive enzymes that contribute to joint disease in your dog’s joint fluid and cartilage.  Together, glucosamine and chondroitin form the building blocks of cartilage, allowing your dog to build strong cartilage to support their joints. Research is still ongoing about using glucosamine and chondroitin. At this point, however, dogs don’t seem to have a negative reaction to even high levels. As such, there seems no reason not to give your dog the higher doses recommended by veterinarians.

Avocado/ soybean unsaponifiables (ASU)

ASU comes from soybeans and avocado. It has been clinically found to support your dog’s joint function and improve comfort levels. ASU appears to work better when combined with glucosamine and chondroitin to inhibit the mediators that break down cartilage.  The stimulation of collagen promotes cartilage repair. Furthermore, ASU inhibits the absorption of cholesterol and reduces pain and stiffness. Using it can reduce your dog’s dependence on pain medications. 

Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil

You may know that fish oil is good for your dog’s heart and skin, but did you know that it can also benefit your dog’s joints? Supplementing your dog with fish oil, especially deep-sea fish oil, may reduce the pain that your dog experiences as a result of joint disease.  While there was not a statistically significant benefit when using fish oil as a pain reliever in one study, dogs receiving fish oil experienced an improvement in their quality of life, used fewer pain relievers, and had better mobility. Their owners were better than the placebo group at guessing that their dogs had been receiving a meaningful supplement. 

Curcumin from turmeric and piperine from black pepper

Curcumin is an active component of turmeric that has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have found it effective in alleviating the pain and symptoms of osteoarthritis; it is reasonable to believe it to be effective for dogs suffering from other joint problems as well.  Turmeric is not useful without some sort of other elements to increase its bioavailability. Piperine from black pepper is an effective way to increase the bioavailability of curcumin; it also has anti-inflammatory powers as well. 

Swimming and other low-impact exercises

High-impact exercise can have negative effects on your dog’s joint health, but low-impact exercises like swimming have powerful beneficial effects. Swimming throughout your dog’s life can build muscles to help support the joints, delaying or staving off the symptoms of joint disease.  Even once dogs experience joint problems, swimming can bring improvement. Relatively little swimming for only eight weeks resulted in clinical improvement of dogs with osteoarthritis.

Don’t overfeed or over-exercise your puppy

Studies have found that puppies allowed to “free feed” or eat as much as they want throughout growth are more likely to suffer from hip dysplasia than puppies that have controlled diets. It is essential to give your puppy enough calories to help them grow big and strong but you’ll want to control their intake carefully so that they remain lean and grow slowly.  Large breed dogs are especially susceptible to joint disease as a result of overeating. You’ll want to feed your large breed dog food specially formulated for large breed puppies.  Too much exercise can be hard on your puppy’s joints as well. Intense exercise can even damage your puppy’s developing joints, causing them to develop arthritis and other joint issues earlier. The rule of thumb is five minutes of exercise per month of age up to twice a day until a puppy is fully grown. Keep in mind that large breed dogs may not be fully grown until they are older.

Keep your dog at an ideal weight throughout life

Even being a little bit overweight can predispose your dog to joint problems. Severe obesity makes joint problems considerably more likely. Obesity has been tied to the development of hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis of hips and other joints. Other studies have found that dogs who are affected by joint disease see improvement in their symptoms when they lose weight. While we aren’t entirely sure all of the relationships between obesity and joint disease, it seems clear that keeping your dog at an ideal weight is important for joint health. 

Don’t let your dog exercise too strenuously

Strenuous exercise throughout your dog’s life can strain their joints and cause arthritis and other joint issues to develop earlier. Working dogs that run intensely have more susceptibility to these problems. Dogs that regularly jump and land hard are especially at risk. This includes dogs who jump high in order to catch frisbees or other fetch objects, dogs who leap over obstacles, and dogs who jump up in order to herd livestock. Your dog will work as hard as you let them, so make sure to rest them regularly in order to prevent them from damaging their joints.

Which dogs are susceptible to joint problems?

Giant and large breeds are more likely to develop degenerative joint disease and hip dysplasia. Breeds especially prone to these problems include German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and Golden Retrievers. Mixes of these breeds that inherit the large size and body type of these breeds are also more prone to these disorders.  On the other hand, luxating patella, the condition in which the kneecap pops out of place, is much more common in toy or small breed dogs. Chihuahuas, Maltese, Bichon Frise, and French Poodles all have a genetic predisposition for this disorder.

What if my dog is already suffering from joint problems?

Many of the preventative ideas that we’ve suggested here, such as supplementing with chondroitin, glucosamine, and fish oil, will benefit your dog when they are already suffering from joint problems as well as helping to prevent joint problems from worsening or beginning.  Swimming has also been shown to improve joint health when dogs show symptoms of joint disease. You can also do some things to make your dog’s life easier. Using rugs and runners make it easier for dogs with joint issues to lie down, get up, and navigate your home.  If your dog is really struggling to stand, you can fit them with a harness that makes it easy for you to lift them when they need to stand up. Sometimes, surgery is a viable option for a dog suffering from joint concerns.

Summary

Nobody wants their best friend to develop the mobility issues and pain associated with joint disease. Luckily, there are lots of things you can do to keep your dog’s joints healthy. Be careful to monitor your puppy’s diet and growth and supplement your dog throughout life with the healthy nutrients that they need to develop strong joints.

Coral Dawn Drake

My fiance, Justin, and I live with our two little dogs, Sofie and Lisa, and three chickens in Gainesville, Florida. Justin and I are homebodies who occasionally enjoy a good adventure. I love living in Gainesville, and I love Florida. I can’t imagine anywhere more beautiful or strange than this hot, marshy place where people are guaranteed to be nothing other than themselves. Justin is always reminding me to relax. Relaxing doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m always busy. Making art or editing photos, digging in the yard or trying to grow some new moss or plant. There never seems to be enough time to do everything that I want to do. Life is so, so full and I want to plunge into every second of it.

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