Your Dog’s Arthritis and Joint Health
How to Manage Your Dog’s Arthritis and Joint Pain
Across all ages, about 20 percent of dogs suffer from arthritis. The condition can be mild and unnoticeable in your pet or debilitating to the point of excruciating pain and lameness. Your dog can have arthritis and joint pain, but you can help ease their discomfort by learning about and giving them the right nutrition and support for their condition.
The following guide will explain arthritis and joint pain in dogs: what it is, its causes, and what to do if you suspect your dog has arthritis. Then we will discuss nutrition and supplements to support joint health, including which foods to avoid, along with breed-specific arthritis issues. We’ll cover the types of foods that support arthritis and joint pain and how to find the one that’s right for your pet.
Causes of Arthritis and Joint Pain in Dogs
Arthritis is abnormal pain, stiffness, swelling, or decreased mobility in the joints and surrounding tissue. The joints are where two or more bones come together in the body. There is usually flexible tissue called cartilage between them, as well as a type of fluid. This cartilage keeps bones from rubbing together as they move. Over time, or due to illness or injury, that cartilage can wear down. Since cartilage has a limited blood supply, it does not heal quickly and sometimes it does not heal at all. According to recent research, scientists think that once bones stop growing the cartilage stops being able to heal. Without it buffering their bones, your dog can experience pain.
Arthritis is not one specific disease, even though it can get worse with time. Instead, it serves as the catchall category that doctors give to similar joint pain and problems from the more than 100 different categories of conditions or disease that affect the joints and surrounding tissues.
The two main types of arthritis are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Osteoarthritis (OA), also known as Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) is the deterioration of the joints. The signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis include:
- Favoring a leg
- Difficulty getting up and down
- Reluctance to climb, jump, and play
- Licking of affected area
- Appetite loss
- Fear of touch
- Swelling or tenderness
- Limited mobility
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects the joints and the whole body. Autoimmune diseases are those in which the immune system, which normally protects the body from disease and infection, mistakenly attacks healthy blood cells. Rheumatoid arthritis specifically attacks the joints by degrading the cartilage. The damage to the joints from RA occurs early in the disease progression. While RA is typically uncommon in dogs, it can appear during middle age in small and toy breeds such as Miniature Poodles and Shetland Sheepdogs. The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in dogs include:
- Lack of appetite
- Joint swelling
- Kidney disease
- Urinary tract infections
- Decreased appetite
- Unwillingness or inability to walk
- Limb or muscle atrophy
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Lameness in one or more limbs
To help support the joints in your pet, actively seek ways to increase or maintain the health of your dog’s joints. This can include many different activities, such as muscle building, taking supplements, or eating a diet that promotes joint health.
What Are the Causes of Arthritis and Joint Pain in Dogs?
At one-time, medical professionals were convinced that arthritis without another serious underlying cause was just the result of wear-and-tear on the body, which is like saying that arthritis is inevitable if your dog lives long enough. However, research shows that although inflammation in the presence of disease or injury is a good thing, chronic inflammation can cause arthritis and many other degenerative conditions in your dog. Inflammation from disease or injury indicates that white blood cells are starting the healing process. Nevertheless, chronic inflammation, which is around for weeks, months, or years can turn on the arthritis symptoms in your dog. In other words, arthritis could be the result of chronic, low-grade inflammation.
Dogs can suffer from many different conditions that cause arthritis, whether they inherit them, contract them, or have the risk factors that can lead to them. Although arthritis can strike dogs of any age or breed, there are common risk factors and causes that make your dog more susceptible:
A Genetic Predisposition:
Many giant and large breed dogs are inclined to osteoarthritis, while some toy and small dogs are susceptible to rheumatoid arthritis. Some dogs may carry the genes for a condition that leads to arthritis, but may never show the condition in their generation. This generation skipping is especially seen in cases of hip dysplasia, where the genes are expressed in their puppies.
Some studies show that overweight or obese dogs will develop osteoarthritis an average of three years before healthy weight dogs. In a 2015 Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) survey, researchers found that almost 54 percent of American-owned dogs are overweight or obese, which is a serious condition.
Joint Stress and Trauma:
This can occur from accidents or trauma that damages your dog’s bones, tissues, and ligaments, or high-demand activities that repeatedly stress their joints. These post-traumatic or repetitive motion injuries can cause damage to the joints and make them wear out more quickly.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that dogs produce on their own, vitamin C helps the body synthesize collagen. For pets with rheumatoid arthritis, there have been studies that state excess supplementation can aid the symptoms. However, researchers have shown that the natural vitamin C production plummets in stressed or sick dogs. Studies report that giving pets with osteoarthritis excessive vitamin C supplements can actually worsen symptoms. Additionally, too much vitamin C supplementation can cause diarrhea and gas pain.
Blood Clot Abnormalities:
The forming of blood clots, or coagulation, is the natural way the body stops bleeding in an injury or a cut. Clotting disorders cause continued bleeding in the skin, mucous membranes, and joints. Repeated bleeding in the joints can cause the breakdown of cartilage and the onset of arthritis. Additionally, rheumatoid arthritis can create blood-clotting disorders, causing osteoarthritis.
Systemic Polyarthritis Disease:
Some types of arthritis are classified as systemic diseases. Rheumatoid is one of these, but there are several others, such as Lupus erythematosus and Vasculitis. Systemic diseases affect the whole body as well as the joints. Polyarthritis is a group of diseases that are not usually recognized as infectious, but are extremely responsive to immunosuppressive therapies. Some dogs have only subtle symptoms, but signs can be anorexia, weight loss, swollen lymph nodes, or fever. This particular disease is often the cause of unknown fevers. One study estimated that 20 percent of unknown fevers in dogs are due to Systemic Polyarthritis Disease.
Also known as septic arthritis in dogs, a bacterial infection is the inflammation of a joint with the presence of an infection in the joint fluid. The infection is due to some type of injury or surgery that allows the bacteria to enter your dog’s body. The joint would be hot to the touch, and your dog would most likely have a fever.
Due to abnormalities during your dog’s growth years, this condition is often found in larger breed dogs. Elbow dysplasia is actually several different conditions that can result from genetics, poor nutrition during growth, or trauma. Elbow dysplasia is a developmental defect in your dog’s elbow joints. Some dogs, about 12 to 18 months of age, can grow to a point where it is manageable without surgery. Most dogs with elbow dysplasia develop osteoarthritis later in life.
Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD):
High-impact activity or abnormal growth often causes this joint condition. The blood flow is disrupted to the bone under the joint cartilage, and the bone starts to die. During movement, the joint can catch and lock and sound like it’s cracking. OCD causes pain and swelling, and because the bone dies, the cartilage is susceptible to severe injury. Young, large breed dogs are most prone to get OCD.
There are several different types of inherited metabolic disorders in dogs; the most common is von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD). This disease is a form of hemophilia, where the blood does not clot because it doesn’t contain enough plasma protein. Even minor skin wounds can result in serious, excessive bleeding in dogs with vWD. Bleeding around the joints from this disease can cause osteoarthritis.
Knee dysplasia is a congenital defect that causes arthritis. Some dogs have “luxating patella,” which is an ailment that pops their kneecaps in and out of position. Sometimes dogs need surgery to correct this condition. Many dogs with knee dysplasia develop osteoarthritis later in life.
There is a wealth of evidence that rheumatoid arthritis causes at least eight different types of cancer. This is due to the medications often prescribed to manage RA. The inflammation associated with RA can also cause arthritis. Some cancers, especially bone cancer, are mistaken for osteoarthritis in the natural course of aging in dogs.
Rapid Growth as a Pup:
Many veterinarians blame overnutrition as a factor in puppies growing too rapidly and having skeletal disorders such as osteoarthritis. Overnutrition is feeding your puppy food packed with extra nutrients, especially calcium, causing them to grow disproportionately. Experts caution against this type of puppy food especially for giant and large breed dogs. Allowing your dog to feed freely, without limiting them is also a form of overnutrition.
Dogs with diabetes have elevated levels of glucose in their blood and urine, which is a result of their body’s impairment in regulating their insulin. Diabetes causes changes in the musculoskeletal system, the muscles, and bones, that can lead to joint pain, swelling, and nodules under the skin. Joint damage and arthritis are twice as likely to occur in dogs that are diagnosed with diabetes.
Commonly found as a cause of arthritis in dogs, hip dysplasia happens when the hip socket is formed abnormally. In most cases, the hip socket is not deep enough for the ball to fit in place snugly. The cartilage in the hip socket wears away faster than it can regenerate, which exposes the bone, causing movement to become very painful. This inherited trait is strongly affected by lifestyle and is evident in certain large breed dogs such as the Newfoundland, German Shepherd, Saint Bernard, and the Old English Sheepdog.
Another common type of arthritis is gout, which happens when there is too much uric acid in the blood. Uric acid crystals form in the joints, causing inflammation and pain. It usually appears in the paws, toes, neck, and joints, and looks like calcium-deposit lesions. Gout in dogs is rare but quite treatable. In your dog, some breeds most susceptible to canine gout include Dalmatians, German Shepherds, and Irish Wolfhounds.
Nutrition and Supplements to Support Your Dog’s Joints
What you feed your dog can have a big impact on their joint health and arthritis pain. Providing them a high-quality diet designed to promote bone and joint well-being should be your priority. There are additives and supplements to look for in your dog’s food that helps support this type of diet.
For supplements, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) does not perform the same stringent review and approval process as they do pharmaceuticals. They evaluate dietary supplements for safety after they are already on the market. The evaluation is done mostly through “adverse event” monitoring, in which consumers fill out a safety report after they have identified a problem, and the FDA can investigate. Unlike pharmaceuticals, this means that the FDA will only remove from the market supplements that cause harm. This does not mean that the FDA removes supplements for not working or providing a placebo effect.
Currently, some independent laboratories buy and evaluate supplements on the market for efficacy and share their reviews. These organizations receive profits when the public buys the products they review through their website. Please be aware that supplements, whether found in nature or synthesized in a lab, can have side effects. Although, compared to pharmaceuticals, these may be less serious. However, they may still interact with other medications that your dog is taking. Carefully research each supplement you propose to give your dog and consult your vet when you are unsure. Some of the foods and supplements available to treat arthritis include:
L-carnitine is synthesized from two amino acids: methionine and lysine. Laboratory tests have shown that methionine supplementation promotes anti-inflammation in the joints. L-carnitine helps with cellular energy production and slowing damage from the environment, and is currently recommended for rheumatoid arthritis. There are no negative side effects from having excess L-carnitine in the body, which means it is a safe supplement to give your dog. The dosage for acetyl-L-carnitine is 25 mg per pound (of your dog’s weight) every 12 hours.
This supplement comes as a powder, tablet, or tea, and is helpful in managing arthritis symptoms such as pain, stiffness, and swelling. It also is a diuretic, which means it aids in expelling water and salt from the body as urine. Alfalfa is high in many vitamins and minerals such as A, D, E, K, B vitamins, biotin, calcium, folic acid, iron, magnesium, potassium, and protein. Alfalfa is known as the father of all herbs for its nutritional superiority. There is no need for concern about toxicity levels when supplementing with alfalfa, but it is an anticoagulant so there are cautions about using it for anemic dogs. Anticoagulants decrease the clotting in the blood. Dogs with anemia already have difficulty with blood clotting. The dosage for alfalfa is about 1 teaspoon of the powder per 50 pounds (of dog).
Dog food can include antioxidants such as vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin A, carotenoids, selenium, and sometimes herbs like rosemary and turmeric. Some of these elements are found naturally in the ingredients of the food, but occasionally they are added as supplements to boost the antioxidant content of your dog’s diet. Antioxidants, whether they are already produced by your dog’s body or obtained through food, are a part of the defense system against excessive free radicals. The body naturally produces free radicals that have many important functions in maintaining health, but they can also cause damage to the cells. This damage causes aging and can result in things like cancer and other metabolic disorders. Antioxidants bind to the excess free radicals and neutralize them, so they cannot cause harm. Research shows that antioxidants can reduce some of the pain and swellings of arthritis, and possibly even prevent further damage in the joints.
This is part of the carotenoids group, which is a group of powerful antioxidants found in many fruits and vegetables. Researchers have found that beta-carotene reduces the swelling that arthritis can cause. Good food options for dogs that have high concentrations of beta-carotene are carrots, sweet potatoes, and small amounts of pumpkin. Sweet potatoes are particularly good because they also contain vitamin C, dietary fiber, and B vitamins. However, you should use caution in feeding sweet potatoes to dogs who are prone to forming calcium oxalate stones since they are high in oxalate.
Although not strictly a supplement, chicken feet have bones, skin, and tendons in them. Some people eat chicken feet as an alternative to taking glucosamine and chondroitin supplements. The FDA did some cursory research on chicken feet and its efficacy in treating arthritis, but there is no definitive proof that chicken feet work in decreasing arthritis symptoms. However, your dog may enjoy the flavor of them. There are many videos and recipes available online that can help you prepare raw chicken feet to be yummy, safe snacks for your dog.
Chinese Skullcap (Scuttelaria lateriflora):
There is little scientific evidence that skullcap is effective for treating arthritis pain and inflammation. However, there is proof that skullcap supplementation may lead to liver toxicity and possibly cancer. Plus, some ingredients in skullcap supplements may be dangerous. Traditionally used to treat sleep disorders, anxiety, stroke, cholesterol, rabies, allergies, skin infection, and inflammation, skullcap comes in many different forms and they are not interchangeable for what they claim to treat.
This is a brand name, joint supplement for your dog. Cosequin contains chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine, and manganese ascorbate. The manganese ascorbate improves the uptake of the glucosamine and chondroitin (see below for benefits) in the body. Possible side effects of Cosequin include vomiting and diarrhea, however, giving the supplement with food may reduce the symptoms. Some dogs may be allergic to this formulation also. The top complaint about this product is the price. However, many people feel that after a time it works well to alleviate stiffness from arthritis in their dogs.
There is debate around the muscle enhancing drugs in dogs and whether Creatine supplementation is effective, necessary, and safe in dogs. While the debate may not completely apply to Creatine it is worth mentioning. Creatine is an amino acid that is naturally occurring in an animal’s liver. It supplies energy to muscle tissue and is thought to repair muscle. Creatine cannot build muscle alone, but in theory, if you combine supplemental Creatine with exercise it can help your dog overcome muscle atrophy, which is the weakening of the muscles around a joint because the arthritic joint is painful to move. Creatine is not toxic in large doses, although there is some suspicion that over time it could be bad for the kidneys, liver, or the heart. The side effects of Creatine supplementation are well known and include muscle cramps, gas, diarrhea, and severe dehydration.
This is a patented milk protein (called MicroLactin) concentrate from hyperimmunized cows. MicroLactin inhibits the white blood cells to the site of inflammation that is arthritis. The recommended dosage for Duralactin is 1000 mg for 40 to80 pounds of dog every 12 hours.
Elk Velvet Antler:
Velvet is the outside covering of the antler that develops during the elk growing period and is harvested at the time the ingredients are most active. Those ingredients are chondroitin sulfate, pantocrine, glycosaminoglycan, some amino acids, collagen, and hyaluronic acids. Chondroitin and collagen are thought to aid in decreasing joint inflammation and arthritis pain. The FDA conducted several studies on the efficacy of elk velvet antler and concluded that it has significant clinical implications in treating arthritis. The dosage recommendations from the manufacturers are four to 10 mg per pound (of the dog) per day. Studies have found that there are few negative interactions with other medications and it appears to be safe.
Glucosamine Sulfate and Chondroitin Sulfate:
Both glucosamine and chondroitin are components of cartilage that the body produces naturally. In laboratory testing, glucosamine sulfate showed anti-inflammatory properties that helped regenerate cartilage. Chondroitin sulfate helps the body retain water, and is often prescribed as a treatment for osteoarthritis. Professionals in the U.S. often recommend the supplements together to ostensibly treat the pain and loss of function from osteoarthritis. However, research on the effects of glucosamine and chondroitin took as a supplement is mixed. Most of the studies concentrate on the supplements’ benefits on joint structure, knee and hip osteoarthritis, and other parts of the body. Overall, these studies say that if there is a benefit to these supplements, it is modest and slow to act (up to three months). If you decide to try these supplements, there are no harmful side effects for excess dosage, and some veterinarians swear by the efficacy.
Green-Lipped Mussels (Perna canaliliculus):
Green-lipped mussels, (also called Perna muscles) are a nutritional supplement native to New Zealand. Rich in omega-3s, amino acids, minerals, and carbohydrates, green-lipped mussels are thought to have the same anti-inflammatory effects as fish oil. Green-lipped mussels are well tolerated, but they can sometimes lead to some nausea and flatulence. The recommended dosage is 15 mg per one pound of dog of the powdered extract.
Licorice is a member of the pea family and it is a legume. Its medicinal components include glycosides, saponins, and flavonoids. The glycoside in licorice has a similar makeup to the body’s corticosteroids. Corticosteroids reduce inflammation and stop the production of enzymes that are part of the inflammation process. You can find the herbal form of licorice as a tea, oil, salve, tablets, fluid extract, or powdered root. The dosage is dependent on not only your dog’s weight but on what form of licorice root you choose. For powder, the dosage is about 1/8 teaspoon for every ten pounds of dog. If your dog is on blood thinners or diuretics, please consult your vet before giving him licorice root.
A naturally occurring compound found in the body and in fruits, vegetables, and grains, MSM is part of the connective tissue formation in the body. MSM as a supplement for arthritis is meant to decrease pain and inflammation. The therapeutic dosage of MSM in dogs is about 50 to 100 mg per 10 pounds (of dog). MSM is not considered toxic in high dosages, but it may cause diarrhea and abdominal discomfort. As with vitamin C, owners must keep an eye on their dog’s stool for dosage effects when they choose to supplement.
Omega Fatty Acids:
Two types of omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Researchers have shown that omega-3’s can decrease the symptoms of arthritis, including inflammation and pain. Some studies also suggest that consistent use of omega-3’s can decrease the need for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). At this time, researchers do not completely understand the mechanism for how omega-3’s work in the body. Experts recommend giving your dog canned salmon to get omega-3’s.
Although this chemical given as a supplement shows the promise of reducing arthritis symptoms, the evidence to date is inconclusive. The amino acid methionine also produces SAMe and can be found naturally and synthetically. SAMe is converted into glutathione, which is an antioxidant, and into methylthioadenosine, which is anti-inflammatory and a pain reliever. This liver uses and produces most of the SAMe. Some dog owners report that SAMe works as other pain relievers do, but takes longer. If your dog is taking antidepressants, consult your vet before giving him SAMe. The recommended dosage for SAMe is 10-14 mg per lb (of dog) daily.
Although St. John’s Wort has been given for arthritis pain and inflammation; there is no scientific evidence that it is effective in decreasing these symptoms. St. John’s Wort is an herb with the active ingredients of hypericin and hyperforin. These two chemicals raise the level of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract and the brain, and is thought to affect anxiety, mood, and possibly sleep. Some memory and learning functions are also associated with serotonin. If you are considering giving your dog St. John’s Wort as a supplement for his anxiety or phobic conditions, be aware of the contraindications. If your dog is on blood pressure medication or drugs with a sedation effect, consult your vet before giving your dog St. John’s Wort. Dosage is 1/8 of the adult human dose per 10 pounds of dog.
Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Studies show that turmeric works at preventing inflammation better than reducing joint inflammation in both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The recommended dosage is 1/16- 1/8 tsp of dried powder (or ½ capsule/pill) for every 10 pounds (of dog) and you can give it to them one to three times per day.
A powerful antioxidant that dogs produce on their own, vitamin C helps the body synthesize collagen. However, researchers have shown that the natural vitamin C production plummets in stressed or sick dogs that their. For osteoarthritis, studies report that excessive supplementation of vitamin C can actually worsen symptoms. For rheumatoid arthritis, studies say that excess supplementation can really help the symptoms. Further, too much vitamin C supplementation can cause diarrhea and gas pain.
- Overall, if you want to give your dog a vitamin C supplement look for either calcium ascorbate or sodium ascorbate, rather than ascorbic acid. Both are easier on your dog’s stomach. A conservative dosage in an otherwise healthy dog is 18 mg per pound (of dog) per day, which is the normal natural production rate of dogs. Split the supplement between feedings during the day, to aid in absorption. Slowly increase the amount over a few days, keeping an eye on your dog’s stool. Back off the dosage if your dog has loose stool as a result of the prior day’s dosage. In dogs under extreme stress or illness, some holistic practitioners recommend three to four times this dosage.
A medicinal plant from Mexico, Yucca has several physiologically active phytochemicals in it, as well as saponin. According to folk medicine, Yucca is good for arthritis and inflammation. Saponins are anti-protozoal, which means they are used in the treatment of infection by protozoa. The active properties isolated in yucca in the laboratory have properties similar to those in anti-inflammatory drugs. However, few studies prove yucca’s efficacy. In small doses, yucca is generally regarded as safe for use in animal food and supplements. Experts recommend that you shouldn’t feed yucca supplements to your dog more than 4-5 times per week.
What to Avoid Feeding Your Dog with Arthritis and Joint Pain
Food can act as medicine in the body. However, it can also act like a toxin. Different foods can cause inflammation and worsen the symptoms of arthritis. Some foods just have no nutritional value, and can act as an empty stomach filler. If your dog has arthritis or joint pain, avoid feeding them the following foods:
- Corn: Another controversial dog food topic, corn is a staple ingredient and filler in many dog foods. Corn has high carbohydrate content and while a source of quick energy, it can also cause a sensitivity that leads to inflammation for some dogs. This would not be an immediate reaction upon eating it, but would gradually worsen your dog’s inflammation over time.
- Omega-6 Fatty Acids: Most omega-6 fatty acids come from canola, corn, and soy oils. Also found in meat and poultry, omega-6’s are part of a normal dog’s diets, but should be kept to a minimum for dogs who suffer from arthritis. The body converts excess omega-6’s such as linoleic acid in the body to arachidonic acid, which is highly inflammatory to arthritis sufferers.
- Grains: Many grains are a source of inflammation and can aggravate arthritis symptoms. Many processed commercial dog foods contain grains such as wheat, rice, soy, and spelt. Limiting the grains in your dog’s diet can decrease their inflammation.
What to Do If You Suspect Your Dog Has Arthritis or Conditions That Lead to Arthritis
If you suspect that your dog may be suffering from arthritis or joint pain, the first step is always to consult your vet. There may be underlying conditions that your vet can diagnose and treat. There are things that you can do to support his joint function and health. These include:
- Take your dog to the vet for regular checkups. Your vet can diagnose if your dog has arthritis and any underlying conditions or inflammation that have led to arthritis. As a last resort, surgery may be recommended, and you should consult with your vet on the best plan.
- Exercise your dog. Even with arthritis, it is still critical to keep your dog moving. Exercising can keep his muscles strong and blood circulating. It is a balancing act, however, because too much or too little can worsen his condition.
- Massage therapy. Whether you hire someone or learn to perform it yourself, massage can improve your dog’s flexibility and circulation.
- Give your dog supplements. Review the section above to select the supplements that make the most sense to you. Include your vet in this decision, and ensure that nothing you give your dog is contraindicated with his other medication. Anytime you supplement your dog’s diet, you should do so in a slow manner to ensure that his digestion is not being disturbed. Most supplements take the time to build up in the system before their effects are visible. Keep a journal of how well your dog tolerates the supplements, and note any behavioral or medical changes.
- Acupuncture. Some dogs have shown a positive response to acupuncture treatments.
- Consider your home environment. Dogs with arthritis should be kept warm and dry, if possible, so as not to aggravate their symptoms. Further, soft bedding can help their sore joints. Ensure that they have good access to where they need to go and cut down on their need to climb and jump up. If your home has hardwood floors, ensure they have good traction by putting down rugs or runners to keep your pet from slipping.
- Feed your dog high-quality food that helps to keep him slim. Decreasing the load on his joints is critical. Overweight dogs decline more quickly and struggle with more medical problems, decreasing their quality of life.
- Administer pain medication. Work with your vet to determine if you need to give your dog more than supplements.
What You Need to Know About Pain Medication for Arthritis and Joint Pain
There are prescription injections such as hyaluronic acid (Legend) and Polysulfated Glycosaminoglycan (Adequan). Legend is injected to regulate the cells in the inflamed joint. It is supposed to heal the joint lining and increase the joint fluid viscosity. The FDA approved Legend for use in horses. The medication may be injected in dogs as an off-label use, and can be used in conjunction with other medications. The typical schedule for using this pain medication is once a week for the first four weeks, then monthly once it is built-up in the system.
Adequan is made from polysulfated glycosaminoglycan (PSGAG), which is similar to the natural fluid that lubricates your dog’s joints, and it is injected to help build and reform cartilage. Some people see improvement in their dogs after just two to three injections, and side effects are few.
Other pain medications include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), buffered aspirin, and corticosteroids. You should never give your dog medication meant for humans. The dosage and formulation of some human medications can easily kill some small dogs. NSAIDs for dogs include the prescription medications of carprofen (Novox or Rimadyl), deracoxib, firocoxib (Previcox), and meloxicam. Side effects of NSAIDs are few, but they include kidney, liver, and digestive issues. Buffered aspirin is an over the counter pain reliever or NSAID for dogs. It is buffered or coated so that it does not break down in your dog’s intestines. Aspirin, especially when you give it long term, can cause stomach upset and ulcers. Pay strict attention to the dosage instructions if you decide to use buffered aspirin for dogs.
Corticosteroids are medications such as Prednisone and Dexamethasone that can markedly reduce the swelling and inflammation of arthritic joints. However, corticosteroids contribute to additional joint damage and breakdown, so there are better choices for a treatment plan.
The Doctor’s Take on Feeding Your Dog with Arthritis
Our expert, Dara Rewers, DVM, is a Holistic Veterinarian with Ancient Arts Holistic Veterinary Services. She tells us that the least processed, whole food nutrition is the best food for your dog’s arthritis and to keep the joints healthy. Whole food nutrition is best for an anti-inflammatory diet, which means you give your dog food with no GMO’s, wheat, corn, egg, soy, or gluten. This also means that the food should not contain antibiotics, and should ideally be pasture-raised and grass-fed (particularly if it’s beef, bison, and lamb).
Additionally, Dr. Rewers recommends Chinese herbal supplements, such as those she uses in her practice. She explains that supplements such as green tripe and venison jerky are also great for supplementing protein (amino acids) and enzymes, which both help with inflammation.
Dr. Rewers warns dog owners to avoid gluten as much as possible. Also avoid using too much peanut butter since it often has aflatoxins, which are carcinogenic toxins often found in agricultural crops such as peanuts. Lastly, avoid dairy, as it causes inflammation.
Food for Dogs with Arthritis and Joint Pain
Hippocrates famously said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” in 431 B.C. However, since those days we have largely ignored this sage advice and turned to synthesizing medicine separately from food in part because we can. We have ignored the impact of the food that we eat and feed our pets, and turned to treating problems that come up after the fact with synthetic chemicals. Instead of reactive treatment, Hippocrates’ advice tells us that we have another choice: to choose food that can treat our ailments and even prevent them. For our dogs, this means that the choice of food is critical to their health, and specialized formulations can help you bring out your dog’s best health.
For dogs with arthritis and joint issues, there are many choices that support their joint health. Some include natural food ingredients and others incorporate into the food supplemental nutrients specific to reducing inflammation, supporting cartilage, and minimizing arthritis symptoms. Other additive ingredients, through either the food or a supplement, include fish oil, antioxidants, and manganese. If your dog has special medical needs like arthritis, it is critical you know what goes into his food. Extra fillers, preservatives, or ingredients that he is sensitive to can cause more inflammation.
Some brands make formulations that stress reduced calories for the ideal body weight. This would help arthritic dogs avoid carrying extra weight on their joints if they are at the proper weight. Others have formulations that support digestive functions and even shiny fur. Although these may not specifically support dogs with arthritis issues, they point out that as a dog owner it can be difficult to choose the best formulation for your dog. If your dog has multiple issues or even one serious issue, you may still want him to have shiny fur, good digestion, and arthritis support. Below are some of the features and formulations available in stores and how they help support arthritis and joint health. Some even overlap with shiny fur.
- Grain-Free or Low-Grain: In some dogs, grain can cause chronic inflammation because they have a sensitivity to it. Since grain is used as a filler in many dog foods, a low or grain-free formulation can significantly decrease the inflammation and reduce any further damage to joints.
- Reduced Calorie: Excess weight on your dog means more strain on their joints and frankly all of their organs. Reduced calorie food can make your dog stay slim as their metabolism and rate of exercise slows, or trim off some of the excesses they already have.
- Holistic (Organic): This type of food, especially organic, will not have any artificial chemicals or preservatives that can cause new inflammation in your dog. According to FDA guidelines, when marked as “natural” food, it means the food ingredients have not had any chemical alterations.
- Wet and Dry Food: Nutritionally, there should not be a difference between wet and dry food. Some people (and dogs) prefer one over the other based on smell, appearance, and taste. One reason to feed your dog the wet food is if they no longer have teeth to chew dry food, or have other dental issues.
- Low Fat: This formulation falls under the same intent as the low-calorie food. It is meant to keep off or take off any extra weight, keeping the burden lighter on your dog’s joints.
- Low Protein versus High Protein formulas: Neither formulation is automatically better for your dog. Proteins are not created equal, and some are better for your dog than others. You should always evaluate the source of the protein in the food. Every protein source has a different level of amino acid, and ability to be broken down. This ability to break down into amino acids is known as the biological value. For dogs with kidney problems, high protein formulas are not recommended. Adult dogs should be getting about 15-30 percent protein in their diet. Older dogs need quality protein in their diets because they may have trouble metabolizing it, but they still need to manage their weight. The best bet for arthritis symptoms is a quality high-protein source.
- High Fat: Some older dogs have the opposite problem, and are underweight. Extra fat in the food does make it more palatable and may encourage them to eat.
- High Fiber: Some professionals theorize that a high fiber diet can decrease inflammation and help control weight, but the mechanism is still unclear. High fiber diets are often fed to older dogs because they suffer from constipation.
- Senior: Senior dog foods are often labeled as such because they have lower calories and higher fiber than regular adult dog food. Older dogs often have a lower energy requirement.
- Meat By-Products: Meat by-products are non-rendered “parts” that are not meat and come from other body parts such as lungs, spleen, kidneys, blood, brain, bone, and intestines from slaughtered mammals. Some companies say that they are higher in nutritional value than the meat. However, there is no consistency in what the by-product is specifically, so the true value is unknown.
- Raw: This dog food emphasizes raw meat, bones, fruits, and vegetables. With the rise of processed foods came the rise of obesity, food intolerances, and many other chronic conditions that featured inflammation. Some of the cooking and processing that your dog’s food goes through kills the enzymes they need to help with digestion. Some of these foods also take into account the ancestry of dogs from wolves.
There are other features in dog foods that have nothing to do with the nutritional content, but companies advertise them. These other features include:
- A Food Shape that Promotes Slower Ingestion: For some dog breeds, bloating is common because they practically inhale their food. Fast eating can also cause vomiting.
- Safe: When a manufacturer advertises safety, they mean the food is not tainted, evidenced by no recall history. Sometimes recalls are performed because there are unapproved additives, and sometimes because the food has been found to be harmful and has caused problems in dogs.
- Foods That Are Comparatively Expensive: We often judge the quality of dog food based upon the price, since price often reflects quality. Chemical coloring, flavoring, fillers, and preservatives are often cheaper to add to dog food than purer ingredients. Further, the type of processing used can bump up or lower the price of the food. Lastly, more expensive foods often have current research associated with them, so they are updating their formulations as scientists come up with better and better recommendations for your dog’s health.
- For Allergies and Sensitivities: Dog food allergies manifest as non-seasonal itching either in the whole body or centered in the ears and feet. It is also seen as ear and skin infections, vomiting, diarrhea, or gas. Foods that are hypoallergenic can be either new proteins to your dog such as deer, duck, or salmon, or are food proteins broken down into such small molecules that the body does not recognize them as an allergen. Many of these types of dog foods are used to determine what your dog may be allergic or sensitive to.
- Anti-inflammatory: These dog foods contain low inflammatory response ingredients, and possibly some additional supplements specifically targeted to decreasing inflammation and joint pain.
- Treats Osteoarthritis: These dog foods are identical in intent to the anti-inflammatory dog foods.
- Balanced Nutrition: For your dog, a balanced diet should contain protein from an animal, vegetables, whole grains, fatty acids, and micronutrients. Your dog requires more than 50 specific nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus and should be able to easily absorb them. A balanced diet is especially critical for dogs with problems such as arthritis.
- Digestive Flora Support: These dog foods contain ingredients that are easily digestible and have additional ingredients such as prebiotics, which are supplements that promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut. Some of these foods also contain soluble and insoluble fiber to help move your dog’s stool along. Signs that your dog may need digestive support are gastrointestinal warning signs such as vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, anorexia, weight loss, and nausea.
- Prescription Food: The prescription dog food brands claim to benefit dogs following a vet’s diagnosis. The theory is that the dog receives the prescription for the food and the vet monitors the effect that food has on the patient. In order to claim that a food can prevent or treat a certain disease, the manufacturer must have research that proves it. Prescription dog foods make a claim and are regulated federally, as such. Some people feel that prescription dog food is strictly a marketing ploy between veterinarians and a pet food manufacturer to charge higher prices. When you review the list of items in these foods, they do not necessarily show better ingredients. The last point from those who are against prescription dog food is that it is over-prescribed by vets who may not be well versed in nutrition, but only “trust” a brand name.
How to Find the Best Dog Foods for Arthritis and Joint Pain
We have gone over all of the ingredients that are touted for treating the symptoms of arthritis and joint pain. We have seen so far that some may work, some may not, and that there are many different advertising words that can be used to market them. To put it all together though, the following are the words you should look for on dog food packaging if your dog suffers from arthritis or joint pain:
- Low-fat from meats
- Low grain
- Digestive enzymes
- Limited and specific nutrients
Breed Specific Ailments
Whether you have a Rat Terrier or a Doberman Pinscher, certain breeds are just more predisposed to certain conditions than others. For example, large breed dogs are more predisposed to poor conformation, which is when a dog does not conform to the standard of physical perfection for their breed and may be more likely to develop arthritis. Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, and German Shepherds are more susceptible to hip dysplasia and developing arthritis. Dalmatians are most likely to develop gout.
Small breed dogs are more susceptible to rheumatoid arthritis that often leads to joint pain and swelling. Bichon Frises are more likely to develop patellar luxation, a form of knee dysplasia. Knowing your dog’s breed and common ailments that may occur can help you know what to look for early and what to feed them to keep them healthy and with low inflammation over their lifetime.
Easily Manage Your Dog’s Arthritis and Joint Pain with Darwin’s Natural Dog Food
Effectively managing your dog’s arthritis and joint pain requires a comprehensive treatment plan to decrease his inflammation and prevent further damage to his joints. For food, many of the world’s canine nutrition experts turn to a raw diet. For arthritis and joint pain, the right raw diet takes into account your dog’s special needs: maintenance of a healthy weight, all-natural ingredients, no fillers, reduction of inflammation, and the right balance of nutrients.
If your dog is suffering from joint and mobility issues, the right pet food can help. Just as people turn to good nutrition for holistic healing, species-appropriate raw dog food can go a long way toward easing certain health conditions in your dog. Darwin’s raw meals feature fresh meat and vegetables that are rich in nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Because our raw food doesn’t contain grains, refined carbs, and high-starch ingredients, your dog is better able to maintain a healthy weight and less likely to suffer from inflammation.
If your dog’s arthritis is severe, ask your veterinarian about Darwin’s prescription diets. Our Intelligent Design Canine Joint and Mobility Support (JMS) diet is high in protein to support your dog’s musculoskeletal structure. The special formula is designed to better maintain cartilage, decrease inflammation, and provide vital antioxidants. The prescription meals feature ingredients specifically chosen to ease symptoms: for example, turkey necks to nourish joints; bovine trachea and green-lipped mussels to provide natural glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates; and high-quality sardine oil for an Omega-3 boost. With the right food and proper care, you can help your beloved pet regain the spring in their step.