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Tips for Keeping Your Furry Friend’s Best Foot Forward
Being a savvy pet owner, you spent your dog’s entire life so far trying to be the best. Right from the start, you've worked with your veterinarian to ensure your puppy’s diet was appropriate, vaccines were up-to-date, he was parasite-free, and more. Many owners have even offered nutritional supplements for maximum health, such as multivitamins, oral joint health products (often containing glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate), and even fish oil containing omega-3 fatty acids for optimal skin/coat health and brain development.
Now years have passed, and your pup is no longer a spring chicken. Perhaps his vision and hearing aren’t as sharp as they once were, coat quality isn’t quite as lustrous, he sleeps a bit more, or a few extra pounds have somehow crept up on him. As he ages, does he still bound to the door, excited for a walk whenever you get out the leash? Or does he amble nimbly once the cold weather hits?
With the days drawing in and winter preparing to rear its ugly head, what can we do to help our canine charges fight the cold and maintain mobility? Lots. Peruse this list and attempt to incorporate one, two, or all six ways to best Jack Frost this winter and keep your pet moving comfortably.
1. Have a veterinarian examine your dog at least once annually. Twice a year might be necessary for older dogs, or dogs diagnosed with a specific condition such as osteoarthritis, hypothyroidism, or Cushing’s disease. A lot can change in your dog’s health in a single year. These appointments provide the perfect opportunity to discuss diet, activity level, medications, nutritional supplements, and more.
2. Manage weight to ensure an appropriate body condition. Rather than worrying about exactly how much food your dog consumes daily or what the scale says, take a different approach. Can you easily feel your dog’s ribs? When standing over your dog looking down, can you observe the end of the rib cage and see a nice tucked-in waistline? Considering the obesity epidemic facing domesticated dogs in America, the answer is likely “no” to both these questions. Either decrease the number of treats and amount of food offered or ask your veterinarian for diet options to facilitate weight loss. Every extra pound places unnecessary strain on joints.
Work with your veterinarian to make certain that your dog is at the appropriate weight and determine what diet is best for the dog. A dog's weight and diet should be determined by its age, breed, lifestyle and health. It can sometimes be challenging for owners to accurately assess their own dog's proper weight, as they might not realize how much weight their dog has lost or gained because they see them every day.
3. Keep moving! Not only does exercise maintain muscling over joints to help stabilize the bones and associated soft tissues of the hips, shoulders, elbows, etc., even low-level exercise facilitates weight loss. In fact, studies show that exercise combined with dietary restriction results in more weight loss than dietary restriction alone.
Be certain to introduce new activity slowly, and avoid being a “weekend warrior.” Slow and steady wins the race. Always monitor your dog’s response to exercise and be aware of the weather—use sweaters and boots to protect them from the cold when necessary.
4. Consider massage or physical therapy to keep your dog comfortable. Swimming is a great non-weight-bearing activity, especially on cold, windy winter days that are uninviting for outdoor exercise. Look for a facility that has an indoor pool for canines, or ask your veterinary practitioner to recommend a reliable massage therapist.
5. If needed, use towels, ramps, and other aids to help your dog rise, navigate stairs, and enter/exit vehicles. Place carpets on slippery floors to avoid injury.
6. Offer a quality oral joint health supplement to provide key ingredients required for maintaining joint health and exerting anti-inflammatory effects. Examples include glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, avocado-soybean unsaponifiables (ASU), among others. Supplements should be given under the guidance of a veterinarian who is familiar with the product. The addition of any supplement, even "natural" or "herbal" products can be potentially deleterious, especially if your pet is receiving other medications (e.g., to treat heart disease, seizures, gastro-intestinal disorders, etc.). Choose supplements manufactured by reputable companies that follow pharmaceutical-grade quality assurance/control procedures and that rely on science to support their products rather than testimonials.
This article was written by Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc