7 surprising secrets of joint care for dogs

Joint care for dogs is less to do with adding things like supplements for dog joints and more to do with avoiding a few key things.

Proper feeding is essential for dog joint care. But it’s also about avoiding:

  • trauma, injury and unusual wear and tear on joints
  • drugs like steroids and antibiotics
  • neutering

As with most health conditions, the most effective cure …is prevention.

But even if you already have a dog with joint problems, don’t despair. Dog degenerative joint disease gets worse over time, but there’s a lot you can do to slow its progression.

Let’s break it down.

This post is for general informational and educational purposes only. I encourage readers to see my full disclaimer here.

1 . Dog joint care = no jumping on cement

Jumping on hard surfaces is jarring to your dog’s joints, the same way it is for yours.

Be mindful of where you throw a ball for your dog. Choose grassy areas. The sand at the beach is fantastic. Concrete is the worst and should be avoided at all costs.

When you have your dog jump, throw the ball or frisbee in such a way that he jumps long and low to the ground. Acrobatic leaps high in the air might look spectacular but these moves are much more likely to result in injury and abnormal wear and tear on your dog’s joints over time.

If you jog with your dog, try not to do it on sidewalks any more than you must. Grass is much lower impact. Beach sand is hard to beat.

Even walking is better done on surfaces with some give in them. Swimming is a great low impact exercise that’s gentle on joints. Work it in to your dog’s routine.

All of this goes double for puppies up to about two years, or whenever their bodies are finally finished developing.

No long walks, no runs and no agility sports for the first 18 months at least.

Far better to have most of a puppy’s exercise be play sessions.

Play is more stop-start and periods of rest can always be chosen by the dog. It’s much gentler on the body than the repetitive action of long walks, typically of a duration set by the owner.

2. Lean weight = joint care for dogs

Obesity puts unnatural, added stress on your dog’s joints.

But what is a healthy weight for a dog?

It’s a fact that most dogs in the United States are overweight. As a result, we’ve become very used to seeing fat dogs. So much so that many of us struggle to know what a healthy weight even is. Frequently owners perceive a lean, healthy dog as being too thin and overfeed them in an effort to fatten them up.

Your dog should have a hint of the last couple of ribs from the side. The rest of the ribs you should be able to feel but not see. From above there should be a visible tapering at the waist.

3. Steroids and antibiotics damage dog joint health

Joint damage is among the many damaging effects of drugs like prednisone, particularly when taken at high doses or for prolonged periods. Antibiotics like enrofloxacin, sometimes prescribed to treat UTIs, also increase the risk of things like tendon rupture.

Vets and owners alike can become a bit blasé when it comes to medicating dogs.

Prednisone is often doled out for itchy skin. However, itchiness is a common symptom of improper diet. Fix the food and it resolves without the need for drugs. Always explore all possible alternatives to medication, because there will almost certainly be unintended side effects and damage. Some of that damage can be very hard or impossible to reverse.

What prednisone does to your dog’s body

4. Rethink neutering to give the very best joint care for dogs

This usually comes as a shock to most owners. In countries like the United States neutering is an almost automatic procedure. Vets push it and many of us are under the impression that neutering reduces the risk of conditions like cancer and improves dog behavior.

In fact, if you do your own research you’ll find that the weight of evidence suggests just the opposite.

Dogs with hip dysplasia and ACL tear in dogs

Neutering increases the chances of a large number of diseases in dogs, including cruciate ligament tears and hip dysplasia.

If you think about it, it’s commonsense. A dog’s body needs all its parts. If you remove the hormone-producing sex organs, it’s not surprising that there are flow-on effects for the rest of the body.

Dogs that are neutered grow taller and larger, with longer bones and heavier weights than dogs left intact. When your dog’s body is out of whack like this, it has consequences.

This 2014 study of Golden Retrievers found desexed dogs had much higher rates of joint disease like hip dysplasia (and cancers including mast cell tumors, hemangiosarcoma and lymphosarcoma). This was the case regardless of whether the dogs were neutered before or after one year of age.

Before deciding to neuter, read widely. Make sure you factor in your particular dog’s predispositions to various health conditions. Many large and giant breeds are already more likely to end up as dogs with hip dysplasia. They don’t need any more odds stacked against them.

Neutering: why the old advice is wrong

5. Get a proper dog bed

Orthopaedic dog beds are worth it. Don’t wait until your dog is a senior or has problems. Dogs spend a huge portion of their lives sleeping. Give yours proper joint support from the start.

Lying on well-cushioned memory foam beds rather than hard floors will also avoid your dog developing things like elbow hygromas.

Make the investment once and reap the rewards in your dog’s health and your own savings on vet bills you won’t have to pay.

6. Keep your dog’s nails short

Your dog’s nails should not touch the ground when he’s standing.

Overgrown nails are painful. They also throw out your dog’s skeletal alignment, interfere with his gait, and lead to postural problems.

How to cut your dog’s nails at home

7. Feed a fresh, raw species-appropriate diet

Avoiding kibble and other highly processed dog foods will improve your dog’s health in every way, including their joints.

Feeding whole, living foods also means you’re giving vitamins and nutrients in their natural forms, as they occur in nature which makes them readily bioavailable.

Another benefit is that it’s harder to overfeed this way. Both you and your dog have more chance of judging how much he’s actually eating, compared to trying to tell what’s in processed kibble and canned products that bear little resemblance to real food.

Feeding too much during the puppy phase has been linked to hip dysplasia in dogs, because of the excessive rate of growth this causes.

You want your dog to grow slowly.

It’s far better to give slightly too little food than too much. Australian vet Dr Ian Billinghurst says he’s observed over many years that puppies kept slightly on the leaner side, do better.

In conclusion: Joint care for dogs is holistic

As with all aspects of your dog’s life, the best way to achieve healthy joints is from the inside out. Feeding properly will go a long way. That and avoiding undue stress on your dog’s joints.

If your dog already has joint disease, you may want to explore massage, physical therapy and natural anti-inflammatories in order to manage pain and improve quality of life.

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