Early Prevention & Treatment of Joint Issues in Dogs

I was inspired to write today’s post after a recent conversation with a friend about their dogs hip dysplasia issue. This ones for you Issy 🐶

There are two major categories of joint problems in dogs, developmental and degenerative. Hip dysplasia is a textbook example of a developmental problem, where the joint did not develop correctly. In comparison, degenerative problems cover a number of areas; a textbook example of this is arthritis. The most common cause of arthritis in dogs can be referred to as cruciate ligament problems, meaning the ligament is degenerating over time and causes instability and osteoarthritis (a form of chronic joint inflammation caused by deterioration of joint cartilage). 

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis among dogs, leaving older dogs at the highest risk. Signs are often times nonspecific and may include:

  • Activity impairment: reluctance to exercise, decrease in overall activity, stiffness, lameness, inability to jump, changes in gait such as ‘bunny-hopping’.
  • Pain on manipulation: behavioral changes such as aggression or signs of discomfort.

In order to diagnose Osteoarthritis your Veterinarian will take a look in to your pet’s history and perform a complete physical examination. He/She will see if your dog shows discomfort when the affected joints are manipulated, if there is an accumulation of joint fluid, or muscle atrophy. In older canines, bloodwork and urine samples can help provide information on the dog’s geriatric baseline health. X-rays can show bone changes, narrowing of joint spaces, and other physical changes that are known to be associated with arthritis.

Here are a few ways to help your dog’s mobility: 

  • Weight Control – Weight loss in obese dogs can improve his mobility and help minimize further joint damage 
  • Hydrotherapy – Swimming is an ideal non-weight bearing exercise
  • Physical Therapy – ultrasound therapy, electric stimulation, massage, application of cold and heat to help relieve pain in the joints 
  • Acupuncture, laser therapy- help relieve joint pain 
  • Diet – research has shown that foods that provide high levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), an omega-3 fatty acid, can help decrease inflammation 
  • Natural Supplements – pills and foods that contain glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, have shown to ease arthritis symptoms in dogs

Now returning to developmental issues, the word “dysplasia” can be defined as an abnormal growth or structure. If your dog has canine hip dysplasia, the femur and pelvic bone don’t fit together due to the socket being too shallow. The femur would then slide out of the pelvic socket and may dislocate. This developmental issue alone can lead to arthritis in your dog as well. 

Another type of joint disease can be known as elbow dysplasia, caused by growth disturbances in the elbow joint, similar to hip dysplasia. Genes, nutrition, and environment can all contribute to the development of hip/elbow dysplasia, but adding joint supplements early in your dog’s life can decrease the severity if your dog is at risk. 

If your dog is suffering from any type of dysplasia, your furry friend may be suffering from severe pain as well as mobility issues. Your pet may struggle to get up, climb stairs, get into a car, or even squat to urinate and defecate. Many dogs lose their good natures because of immobility and pain. The relationship you have with your dog deteriorates because your dog won’t feel like playing, and it becomes an effort to do anything with your dog.

Your Veterinarian can diagnose hip/elbow dysplasia in your dog with a physical exam for increased joint laxity, limited range of motion, creaking, and atrophy of the muscles. Some dogs X-rays will show evidence of disease but they show no symptoms, and other dogs have no radiographic evidence of disease but have symptoms. The diagnosis is often made based on the physical exam and your dog’s symptoms. Some of the symptoms may be:

  • difficulty rising
  • limping or putting no weight on the leg
  • swelling of joints
  • elbows held away from the chest (elbow dysplasia specific)
  • waddling gait
  • back legs kept close together
  • short strides
  • shifting weight from one leg to another when standing
  • falling over when squatting to potty
  • muscle atrophy

To reduce inflammation, your dog needs to be eating grass-fed animals, not factory-farmed and grain-fed animals. If grass-fed animal based foods are not available to you, adding omega-3 fats can balance out your dog’s diet. Also, any food high in antioxidants are the perfect choice for fighting arthritis. Here are some foods that are loaded with high quality antioxidants you can feed your pup:

  • Phytoplankton
  • Astaxanthin 
  • Turmeric
  • Wild blueberries, goji berries and cranberries 
  • Herbs like oregano, basil, cinnamon, parsley, cumin and ginger are all high in antioxidants

There are numerous conditions affecting the bones and joints in dogs. Make sure to discuss with your Veterinarian whether your dog needs a supplement, if he/she needs to lose weight, and what exercises are best. 

Obviously, there are prescription medications that can be given, and surgeries your Veterinarian can perform for these joint issues if necessary, but the medications can cause side effects and the surgery can be an extremely painful experience for you pet. Working to prevent these issues in the first place are the best way to deal with them. Personally, I recommend starting with a healthy diet, supplements, and natural methods of prevention/treatment young, so you can try to help your dog avoid the serious Osteoarthritis and Dysplasias later in their lifetime. 

Again, I want to stress that I am not a Veterinarian and before trying anything with your pet please consult your vet! I am just here to share my learned knowledge and personal experiences with you so you know what kind of options are out there. 

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