As the cold of winter sets in, we often complain about sore, stiff, and aching joints – all symptoms associated with arthritis. Yet we are not the only ones who suffer. Our dogs experience the same aches and pains, especially in the cold and damp weather. I am often called upon to help dogs who are stiff in the morning, have trouble comfortably sitting or lying down, and who cannot walk as far as they did in the summer.
Arthritis includes a cluster of conditions involving damage to the joints. The most common form of arthritis, called osteoarthritis, is often a result of injury and/or aging. Abnormal anatomy also contributes to early onset osteoarthritis, as strain is placed on joints in an incorrect manner. Arthritis can occur in any joint, and is a continuous process. How fast it progresses is something we as owners have some control over. The earlier we start, and the more methods we use, the better our results.
There are many actions owners can take to help their dog cope with arthritis, as well as slow its progression. The following five factors are crucial:
- Diet and body weight
Your dog must be at a healthy weight, and be eating a high quality diet. I prefer a natural feeding plan, or at minimum, a grain free diet. Omega 3 fatty acids should be supplemented by adding salmon oil to the diet.
- Joint support supplements
There are a huge number of joint support supplements. It is important to choose a quality product, designed for dogs (not humans!). This is not an area to pinch pennies. Choose a reputable brand, preferably NASC (National Animal Supplement Council, a quality assurance group) certified.
- Adjustments and low level laser therapy
Chiropractic adjustments address nerve, muscle and skeletal function. Keeping the nerves working properly is crucial to the function of the muscles. Since the muscle move and pull on the bones and joints, keeping muscles flexible and fit is essential. Laser therapy enhances blood flow, stimulates cell function, and decreases pain and inflammation.
- Exercise and physical therapy
Being active maintains flexibility, muscle tone, and is crucial for weight management. Proper exercise that does not excessively pound the joints is important. Simple things like walking up hills can provide a workout with minimal concussion. Swimming is also great when available. Ball work is great for wintertime or dogs recovering from orthopedic surgery.
- Pain relief
It is vital to manage pain. Where there is pain, there is also inflammation, which damages many parts of the joint. The dog does not use the affected joint normally, and the muscles weaken. Strength and flexibility are decreased, and the problem worsens.
Prevention of arthritis is obviously important in all dogs, but especially so in hip dysplasia prone breeds and giant breeds. All of the points discussed above apply to these cases, starting when they are puppies. Maintenance chiropractic adjustments, proper diet and supplements, and exercise tailored to maintain joint and muscle function can delay or slow the progression of arthritis, in dogs prone to arthritis as well as those already affected.