Preventing Arthritis In Dogs - Some Quick Tips
Dogs get arthritis?
All animals can get arthritis. (Horses are particularly prone to it due to the fact that most are still working animals).
The same factors that affect arthritis in humans also affect them in dogs. For example, local geography and humidity levels can trigger and worsen arthritis. There is nothing one can do about this, but there are things you can do to help prevent your dog from getting arthritis and make it less worse if they are unfortunate enough to be stricken with it.
Keep your dog a healthy weight
Obese dogs are more likely to get arthritis. In many cases the recommended amounts on dog food packages are far too high. This is particularly true if your dog has been fixed - as a general rule, spayed and neutered dogs need a bit less food than intact ones.
Some breeds, particularly labradors, are also more prone to putting on the pounds. By keeping your dog a healthy weight, you reduce strain on his joints.
Exercise your dog consistently
Dogs need regular exercise. While a senior dog may need less than a puppy, they still need some. Even if your dog is lazy and has to be hauled off the couch, make sure he goes out for his walk. (Which will also have the pleasant side effect of giving you regular exercise).
Older dogs benefit from quiet, consistent exercise rather than a lot of chasing around. Dogs that are starting to develop arthritis need to be exercised at least once a day, preferably more often, but lightly. A dog that sits around will end up stiff.
Prevent and treat injuries
In many cases, arthritis starts at the site of an old injury, particularly a soft tissue injury close to a joint.
Don't let your dog roam and keep your dog on a leash outside of fenced areas if there is traffic around. Dogs may dart out into traffic and get hurt.
If your dog is limping or lame while out on a walk, take him straight home for a rest rather than pushing things. Show and competition dogs should not be forced to compete or train when lame or 'off' any more than horses should. Use an ice pack on injuries and do contact the vet if a dog remains lame for more than a day or two.
Feed a joint supplement
Feeding your older dog an appropriate joint supplement can delay the onset of arthritis, slow it and manage symptoms.
The standard joint supplement for dogs is glucosamine and chondroitin. Adding fish oils to your dog's diet can also help joint health (and heart and brain health as well). Some arthritic dogs benefit from supplementation of Vitamin C. Dogs that already have arthritis should be given MSM.
There's some indication that garlic may also be helpful. A variety of herbal supplements are on the market. These may or may not work for your dog.
Never give dog-specific joint supplements to cats and vice versa.
Provide the dog a comfortable place to sleep
Dogs that sleep on the floor, on the ground or on dirt floors in dog houses are more likely to develop arthritis. Provide your dog with a comfortable bed that is large enough for them. If you do keep your dog in a dog house or kennel, then you can put a bed in the kennel or give him a nice pile of old blankets he can make a nest out of.
Providing a comfortable dog bed will also help discourage your dog from sleeping on (or in) your bed or on the couch. Greyhounds and other sight hounds must never be asked or forced to sleep on the floor, even with good carpet.
If your dog gets arthritis anyway, what can you do?
First of all, you should work with your vet. In extreme cases he may even recommend joint fusion surgery, but this is expensive and seldom necessary. In order to manage your dog's arthritis consider the following:
1. Continue the joint supplements and MSM. You may want to add a prescription anti-inflammatory or other arthritis drug at the recommendation of your vet.
2. Consider acupuncture. Acupuncture has been demonstrated as quite effective to make an arthritic dog comfortable, although it should be used as part of a holistic approach, not a 'magic cure'.
3. Make your dog's life easier by raising its food bowl on a low table and providing steps so he can climb on the couch (if you have always let him on the couch with you, he may get very frustrated when he can't jump up there any more). Discourage jumping and standing on the hind legs, as both of these can make painful joints feel worse.
4. If your dog is overweight, it needs to lose weight.
5. Physical therapy exercises are available for arthritic dogs. In most cases, you can do these with your dog yourself after being shown how to do so by a professional. If possible, take your arthritic dog swimming - just as with humans, water exercise is beneficial to arthritic dogs.
Monitor old injuries
In many cases, canine arthritis shows up first at the site of an old injury. If your dog has had a broken leg or a significant soft tissue injury, even if properly healed, then that joint is particularly vulnerable to arthritis.
Keeping a quiet eye on it and making sure that it is kept flexible and exercised will help prevent single joint arthritis developing at the injury site.
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