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You’ve probably heard the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” But, as any senior dog owner can tell you, this is a myth. But if your dog is in pain, they may not want to learn these new tricks. Maybe, you should be asking yourself: Why won’t my dog try and learn new tricks?
It may be the result of a joint disease called osteoarthritis. One in four dogs in the United States suffers from some type of arthritis. Osteoarthritis, or arthritis in dogs, is a degenerative joint disease and by far the most common.
Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that cushions the joints slowly breaks down, leading to pain, swelling, and decreased mobility. It’s a progressive condition, meaning it gets worse over time. However, the American College of Veterinary Surgeons says that with proper treatment, “many dogs can live comfortably for years following a diagnosis.” Finding the proper treatment that helps prevent and manage the joint pain is critical to maintaining your dog’s quality of life.
What Dogs Are Most at Risk?
While this disease is more common in older dogs, any dog can develop osteoarthritis. The AKC Canine Health Foundation reports that certain dogs are more likely to develop this condition. Those predisposed include large and giant breeds, obese dogs, senior dogs, dogs that have suffered injuries such as fractures or ligament tears, dogs lacking proper nutrition, and those with congenital joint disorders, such as hip or elbow dysplasia.
A dog’s activity level can also affect joint cartilage and risks for arthritis, especially in some competitive sporting or working dogs. Infections, such as Lyme disease, can also cause the onset of arthritis, as can metabolic diseases, such as diabetes and Cushing’s disease.
How to Recognize Osteoarthritis in Your Dog
Some dogs show signs of arthritis as early as 1-year-old, and veterinarians report that as many as 80% of senior dogs display symptoms. Your dog may be developing osteoarthritis, according to Dr. Jerry Klein, AKC’s Chief Veterinary Officer, if they show symptoms including:
- Stiffness, lameness, or limping after lying down
- Reluctance to walk up stairs, run, jump, or play
- Changes in appetite
- Sudden irritability when touched or petted
- Loss of muscle mass in the rear limbs
- Difficulty with urinating or sudden accidents in the house
When you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to take your dog to the veterinarian for a full checkup. The vet will conduct a physical exam, talk to you about what you’ve observed, and may request additional tests to investigate any affected joints.
Treatments for Osteoarthritis in Dogs
If your dog is diagnosed with arthritis, your vet will recommend a plan to manage the condition and minimize pain, depending on the dog’s age and the severity of the disease. For dogs that may be predisposed to arthritis, veterinarians may suggest starting preventative treatment at an early age to protect young joints and treat them ongoing as a dog ages.
Similar to treatments in humans, management plans for dogs may include trying several different therapies simultaneously, such as joint supplements, weight management, activity modification, low-impact exercise, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), physiotherapy, massage and acupuncture, and sometimes surgery.
Joint supplements are one of the most common long-term treatments recommended to help reduce inflammation and pain, improve function, and slow progression of joint damage and arthritis. Supplements for humans and dogs commonly include glucosamine and chondroitin, as well as green-lipped mussel (GLM).
Glucosamine is a naturally occurring compound used to alleviate pain and stiffness by suppressing inflammation in the arthritic joint, inhibiting cartilage degradation, and boosting the repair of damaged cartilage. Unlike NSAIDs, glucosamine has proven safe for long-term use, so a joint supplement containing glucosamine can be helpful as an early intervention for dogs predisposed to osteoarthritis, as well as a treatment for dogs suffering from progressive joint damage.
Chondroitin sulfate is another natural substance aimed at stimulating cartilage repair. Often used in conjunction with glucosamine, chondroitin reduces pain, improves joint function and mobility, and reduces arthritis progression. Chondroitin sulfate can be obtained from many sources, such as fish, pigs, cattle, birds, and sharks.
Green Lipped Mussel
Derived from green-lipped mussels, native to New Zealand, GLM is another proven joint supplement ingredient for humans and dogs. GLM contains beneficial nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, amino acids, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals which have natural anti-inflammatory and joint-protecting properties. Studies have shown that when combined with glucosamine and chondroitin, it can help decrease pain and preserve joint function.
Joint Supplements: What to Look For
When looking for a joint supplement for your dog, it’s important to carefully read the product descriptions with a focus on:
Many products use the ingredients of glucosamine and chondroitin. Look for ones that include scientifically proven levels of key ingredients to have the best chance of relieving joint pain and maintaining healthy joints.
Manufacturing and product requirements
Choose products manufactured to the highest pharmaceutical quality standards.
Follow the dosage instructions provided on the supplement packaging. Some supplements will have you start your dog at a higher dosage initially and taper down.
Taste and smell
Most dogs will readily eat supplements that come in the form of a treat or chew. Other supplements may be in a pill form that you’ll have to administer. Pill-hiding treats or other soft foods your dog really enjoys, like cheese, can also help hide pill-form supplements.
Protecting your dog’s joints with the right supplement is an ongoing, daily commitment that will help ensure a good quality of life, while you enjoy that irreplaceable companionship in life’s adventures that your dog provides.