As your faithful companion enters its senior years, you may find it starts to suffer from arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is a chronic, degenerative joint disease caused by wear and tear, which affects our four-legged companions as well as us. Little bony spurs develop on the edges of the joints, which thicken up and become inflamed, explains veterinarian and veterinary behaviourist Dr Jacqueline Ley. The result is restricted movement, and painful, stiff and swollen joints, she says.
Surprisingly, it’s not just older dogs that can suffer the effects of this debilitating condition. I’ve seen some dogs that show signs of arthritis at age two other dogs that have hurt a joint in an accident are more likely to suffer arthritis at a younger age, Ley says.
If you have a large breed of dog, there’s also a stronger likelihood it will develop arthritis. Some dogs, especially the larger breeds, come with a predisposition to developing arthritis, Ley says. Underlying conditions, such as hip dysplasia, can also lead to arthritis developing in the hip joints.
Early signs of arthritis can include the dog being slow to rise or sit. They may also show a reluctance to jump onto a chair or into the car and to climb stairs. Some dogs can also become irritable with other dogs and the people they live with. Any change in a dogs disposition or the way it gets around can be a red flag that the dog has arthritis, Ley tells Dogs Life.
If your dog is arthritic, regular exercise is important. Without regular exercise, the arthritic joint will stiffen up and be much harder to get moving again. To help your dog, aim for regular, short walks of around one kilometre, Ley advises. Its also good to introduce swimming as a form of exercise it eases the pressure on the joints and the resistance of the water gets the muscles working. If your dog doesn’t like swimming, try taking them walking in chest-deep water.
Carrying extra kilos can contribute to arthritis. Is your dog within its ideal weight range? Your veterinarian or vet nurse can help you to gauge your pets optimum weight, Ley explains.
Its never too early to start keeping an eye on your dogs waistline. Watching your dogs weight is something you should do from puppyhood. Often, roly-poly puppies grow into roly-poly adult dogs and that starts the whole process, she says.
Managing your dogs diet
One of the best ways to help your dogs arthritis is by careful management of its diet. There are many healthy additives that work to encourage and maintain joint health, Ley says.
Fish oils and essential fatty acids have been proven to be beneficial. Glucosamine and chondroitin have also gained wide acceptance as effective arthritis treatments, she says. Glucosamine helps with cartilage formation and repair, while Chondroitin is part of a large protein molecule (proteoglycan) that gives cartilage elasticity. These nutritional supplements are extracted from animal tissue: chondroitin sulfate from animal cartilage, such as shark cartilage, and glucosamine from crab and other shellfish.
Some premium brands of dog food designed for senior dogs often include special additives like these to help maintain joint health. Some dog owners purchase arthritic relief products for their dogs from health-food stores or supermarkets. However, Ley advises not to take this self-prescribed line of treatment.
These supplements are designed for people, not dogs, she says. Your best course of action is to talk to your veterinarian for an individual treatment plan, including supplements, anti-inflammatory medication and any dietary changes.
When you do change your dogs diet, the golden rule is to introduce it slowly, Ley says. Some supplements, like shark cartilage, have strong odours and flavours, and most dogs seem to like them. But if your dog is apprehensive at first, you can mix it with your dogs food, some gravy or Vegemite, she suggests.
The natural approach
Natural animal practitioner Susan Scott agrees that a dogs diet plays a big part in managing arthritis. Arthritis is a result of toxicity in the body caused by eating an incorrect diet made up of dry or processed foods, she says.
The toxicity starts to accumulate in the joints, and the body needs to find a way to get rid of it, so it will come out in the skin or accumulate in the joints, she explains.
Your dogs best defence against arthritis is a raw-food diet just like its canine ancestors ate – according to Scott. In the wild, they didnt eat cooked grains; they were omnivores like us, eating meat and vegetables, she tells Dogs Life.
A large portion of their diet was also the gastrointestinal contents or droppings of grass-fed animals, and anything decomposing because they were the scavengers of the wild, she adds.
A raw-food diet should consist of a mixture of pulped up vegetables and meaty bones. Use chicken or lamb and occasionally beef. The meat should be left on the bone and be butcher-quality meat, Scott advises, adding to be cautious about buying packaged pet food that have preservatives and colourings.
Vegetables need to be finely pulped using a blender. Fruit can be mashed and they should all be ripe. The vegetable pulp can also be mixed with coconut milk. Recommended fruits and vegetables include:
- Apples high in fibre and sweetens the other vegetables.
- Carrots full of vitamins and contain the anti-oxidant beta-carotene.
- Celery the best vegetable for moving uric acid out of the body, which is a major cause of arthritis.
- Beetroot cleanses and detoxifies the body.
- Parsley helps to eliminate toxins (specific for the whole urinary tract).
- Pawpaw contains an enzyme called papain, which helps to break down the enzymes in meat.
You can also feed your dog bananas, broccoli and cauliflower.
Foods to avoid
Onions are toxic to dogs. You should also avoid vegetables from the nitrate family – tomato, potato, capsicum or eggplant, as these can aggravate arthritis, according to Scott.
If you are changing the diet of your older dog, Scott advises not to feed your dog raw meat initially you will need to partially cook the meat, or you will aggravate the problem, she says. Scott recommends seeking professional guidance from a natural practitioner when changing your older dog over to a raw-food diet.
Changing your dogs diet is a detox process that will help your dog be happy, fitter, healthier and pain-free, Scott says. There are other additives that can also help:
- Psyllium – to clean the bowel.
- Apple cider vinegar and alfalfa – to help neutralise acidity.
- Burdock or Yellow Dock – to purify the blood.
- Devils Claw an anti-inflammatory herb.
- White willow bark to help with arthritic pain.
Feeding raw bones carries a small chance of being harmful to your dog - there is a slight risk of infections with raw bones and there is the chance that bones may get stuck in your dog’s mouth or digestive tract (slightly more likely with cooked bones as they are harder to digest). It is important to choose appropriate sized bones. Speak to you veterinarian for more advice. Dr Graham Swinney, ASAVA (Australian Small Animal Veterinary Association).