It’s tough to see your once sprightly pup, who used to bound through the dog park, hobbling around with stiff legs. It’s not that he’s getting lazy in his old age, though—there’s a good chance he’s suffering from canine arthritis: Up to 70 percent of pups will develop degenerative joint disease, as their cartilage begins to break down over time. It’s more common in some breeds like Labs, Goldens and German Shepherds, but all dogs are susceptible: “Most over the age of seven will have some degree of achy-creaky joints,” says Amy Shojai, certified animal behavior consultant, veterinary technician and author of Complete Care for Your Aging Dog. Here are some of the natural ways you can help ease the pain:
Manage their weight
Extra lbs put strain on your dog’s joints, so large breeds and obese animals are at the greatest risk of having canine arthritis or joint problems, Shojai says. Injuries such as broken bones or poor nutrition can also predispose younger dogs to joint disease later in life. While exercise should help, “arthritis gets worse because it hurts the dog to move, and not moving makes the joint hurt worse, so it’s a vicious cycle,” she explains. One of the best low-impact ways to get your pup moving is swimming. And while they may not be up for a game of fetch, try taking your dog for a nice moderate walk. Start with 10-15 minutes a day, and increase this to about an hour, three times a week.
Feed them anti-inflammatories
Foods that are high in omega 3 fatty acids such as salmon, sardines and pure fish oils will significantly reduce inflammation, which will help heal the cartilage and ease the pain, says Judy Morgan, New Jersey-based veterinarian and author of From Needles to Natural. Celery, mango, papaya, ginger and alfalfa have also been shown to be helpful for dogs with joint issues. Foods high in solanine, such as white potatoes, tomatoes, red bell peppers and eggplant, can actually cause significant inflammation, so these should be avoided. Morgan also suggests staying away from all carbs, as these contribute to weight gain in dogs.
Try alternative treatments
Supplements that contain chondroitin (a naturally occurring substance found in the tissue of animals) or glucosamine (a natural substance found in shellfish) will slow the progression of arthritic changes, though they don’t actually heal arthritis. MSM (methyl-sulfonyl-methane) is a natural anti-inflammatory compound that helps muscles to heal. Essential fatty acid supplements (specifically those with fish oil) will help with joint inflammation too. And since the majority of a dog’s immune activity is generated in their digestive system, probiotics can improve the flexibility of their connective tissues, which are the sources of inflammation pain. Massage and chiropractic adjustments can be beneficial, as well as acupuncture, Shojai says. These treatments target the joints to relieve the pressure temporarily.