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Keeping Your Dog's Joints Healthy

Updated on January 1, 2016
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A large number of dogs and cats suffer from some sort of joint problem sometime in their lives. And it's not always in their senior years, although we see more of that because our pets are generally being fed and cared for better, and thus are living longer.

Younger animals can suffer, too. Joint problems can be congenital (such as cruciate ligament problems), developmental (such as hip dysplasia), and others can be the result of trauma (such as a fracture).

Other joint problems can be dietary, such as in obesity, and still others can be associated with hormonal or metabolic disorders, or even inflammatory disease, such as Lyme disease. Then, there's tendon, ligament or muscle disease, cancer or degenerative joint diseases.

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If your dog or cat shows lameness, and you aren't aware of any injuries that could have caused the problem, there are a number of tests that veterinarians can do to determine the source of the problem.

They usually start with a complete history and a physical. If the animal is in a lot of pain, they may even use a mild anesthetic to enable them to probe and manipulate.

Sometimes they can zero in on the problem quickly, other times it takes some sophisticated testing.

X-rays are probably the most valuable weapons in the vet's arsenal.

Not only do they often make the diagnosis obvious, but they demonstrate the extent of the problem, as well. But other tests can also play key roles.

A CBC, or complete blood count, can reveal the presence of a bacterial infection. What's known as a chemistry panel checks the blood for various substances such as phosphorous or calcium, and also gives an indication of the health of major organs.

Another blood test, that checks the liquid portion of the blood (serum), can pick up infections or immunologic diseases such as Lyme disease or rheumatoid arthritis. Often times the serum samples have to be sent to another lab for analysis.

A fluid that lubricates the joints, known as synovial fluid, can be tested, too. It can tell the doctor if any injury has occurred, if there's a problem with the animal's immune system, or if a bacterial infection is present.

Arthroscopy is a procedure that allows the doctor to look inside the joint for signs of trouble. At the same time, biopsy material from tissue lining the joint can be collected to test for cancer or to see if a defective immune system is the culprit.

Over the years a number of drugs and supplements have been approved and put on the market, helping to relieve the pain that animals with joint disease suffer. And, there are others that talk a good story, but that haven't been completely accepted by the scientific community.

One example is "large breed" puppy food that many manufacturers offer. They're lower in calcium and phosphorous which, some claim, reduces the instances of hip dysplasia, although there are no widely accepted studies to support the claim.

In one study I read about, researchers followed Labrador retrievers for 14 years. Study subjects were fed a balanced diet, but with 25% less food than their littermates. These dogs proved less likely to develop arthritis in their hips. In addition, these calorie-restricted diets were credited with delaying the onset of arthritis, with the disease occurring at an average age of 12 years rather than six.

The general consensus is that, while feeding a special large breed puppy food to your puppy isn't bad, there are no concrete studies that show it is better than a balanced puppy food formulated for all puppies.

There's a common belief, too, that high protein foods cause bone problems, which has owners switching dogs to lower protein feeds. What concerns veterinarians about this practice is that it tends to sacrifice lean muscle mass, creating other problems.

The nutraceuticals glucosamine and chondroitin have provided positive results in helping to relieve joint pain. They’re available from your vet or pet supply store in the form of supplements and treats. Many pet food manufacturers add them to their foods.

If you’re feeding a diet and treats containing glucosamine and chondroitin you probably should still use a supplement to provide the initial loading dose, and then see if the supplement in the food and treats can manage the maintenance dose.

12" Beef Trachea - 10 pack - Made in USA
12" Beef Trachea - 10 pack - Made in USA

Beef trachea is a natural source of chondroitin, for strong, healthy joints.

 

A popular treat that is a good source of chondroitin is beef trachea (windpipe), a dried tube of cartilage tissue commonly sold as “moo tubes.” The pet stores have them in 6-inch and 12-inch lengths.

Some butchers who slaughter the cattle they sell in their shops will sell the fresh trachea to you if you call them far enough in advance.

Be prepared to freeze the unused portion, though. When removed from the animal they're far too lengthy to be eaten by the dog in one sitting.

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You can help your pet maintain joint and bone health by keeping his weight normal.

Keep in mind that the common practice of free-feeding often leads to obesity since there's no control measure in place to monitor caloric intake.

The feeding guidelines on the pet food label are usually pretty close to the amount of food your pet should be consuming, based on his weight.

Because of variable factors such as genetics, lifestyle and general health; no pet food label can say how much of their product a particular animal needs to consume, but it's a good starting point. You can then adjust the portion as you see fit.

It's best to feed measured portions of a high quality diet.

It's also important to be selective about the type and quantity of treats you give.

And provide ample opportunity for exercise! Your pet gets the physical and psychological advantages, and you enhance your own health thanks to the inherent reciprocal benefit therein.


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I know people who have taken it upon themselves to learn massage therapy as a way to help their dog or cat get through the times when symptoms are more pronounced.

Your veterinarian, and and probably the vet techs, too, can teach you the techniques to use in order to relax your pet's stiff muscles and promote easy movement of joints.

And with your new found skills, you can earn big-time brownie points with your significant other.

Most everyone would agree that spoiling that special person in your life with a massage sure beats doing the laundry or mowing the lawn.

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    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 4 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      Very informative and trust-worthy read. I rescued a cocker spaniel (13 Yrs.) who seems to be slowing down and may be showing signs of hip or leg joint

      arthritis. Will it be harmful to give him human

      Chrondroitin or must I stick to "made for pets"?

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 4 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Audrey, thanks for checking in. I should think it would be OK to give your dog the human grade Chondroitin; just be sensitive to the dosage. You could check a pet Chondroitin product for the loading and maintenance dosages, and just use the equivalent dose of human grade for your dog.

      A salute for the rescue and a hearty Attagirl for the dog's longevity. If there's such a thing as reincarnation it probably would be a good gig to come back as vocalcoach's dog!! Great having you stop by. Regards, Bob

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 4 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      Bob - Thank you for confirming that it's ok to give "Dobro" human grade Chondroitin. Good idea to compare the equivalent dose for a dog. Thank you for your "salute", but it is my good fortune and my joy to rescue, and care for these precious angels. They bring such joy and unconditional love. And it is also my good fortune to have found you and your magnificent hubs. Oh I'm laughing out loud after reading your "reincarnation" line. It tickled me.... at the same time it touched me. Mahalo, Audrey

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