How to Prevent Arthritis in Dogs?

Preventing dog arthritis

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How to Prevent Arthritis in Dogs?

Preventing arthritis in dogs is a much better option than trying to cure it. Because most forms of arthritis are degenerative, you must adopt a long-term strategy to preserve the joints of your dog.

x-ray of dog's jointThe first step is to maintain a healthy lifestyle for your dog. Overweight dogs are much more likely to develop arthritis. Dogs that do not get consistent exercise are also more likely to get arthritis. You want your dog to develop strong joints while ensuring those joints are not over taxed.

Do not engage in extreme activities with your dog. If you take your dog for two twenty minutes walks per day, and then go on a six-hour rigorous mountain hike with your dog, your dog'’s health will suffer. This is no different from an athlete who must slowly ramp up physical activity to avoid injuries. With long distance runners, running a marathon is often not the challenge. It is ramping up the mileage during training without getting injured that is the biggest obstacle. Your dog is not different. Manage your dog's exercise so that it is consistent, and your dog will be healthier and happier.

Try to avoid excessive jumping with your dog. This will vary by dog. For example, jumping off a bed or couch for a dachshund can lead to significant back problems after years of the activity. For other dogs, this size jump is normal and safe.

Nutrition can also play a role in developing arthritis. It is essential to provide a proper diet for your dog to have good joint health, and good health in general. Limiting obesity is important as well. There is another important consideration, and that is the rate that a young dog grows and puts on weight. A study of Labrador Retrievers studied the development of hip dysplasia over the first two years of development. The dogs were put in two groups. One group was provided a large daily allotment of food that allowed them to eat effectively as much as they wanted.  The second group was provided 25% less food. The study found the dogs provided unlimited amounts of food were 2 to 3 times more likely to develop hip dysplasia by two years of age. Providing a dog, particularly during the first two years of growth with an adequate but not excessive amount of food is critical to the joint health of the dog.

In another study, Labrador Retrievers were again separated into unlimited and limited diet groups, and the effects of Osteoarthritis were examined over an eight-year period. The study found that the limited-fed group had a much lower rate of osteoarthritis, and the severity of osteoarthritis was much lower. The diets of both groups met the nutritional requirements for the dogs. After eight years, the control group weighed an average 74.1 lbs, with 15 out of 22 dogs having lesions in at least one hip, and 19 out of 22 dogs having lesions in at least one shoulder.  The limited-fed group weighed an average of 54.3 lbs, with 3 out of 21 dogs having lesions in at least one hip, and 12 out of 21 dogs having lesions in at least one shoulder.

Glucosamine for Prevention of Arthritis

Osteoarthritis, a form of degenerative arthritis, results when the dog cannot maintain the cartilage in its joints. The cartilage deteriorates, and the joint begins to fail. Maintaining healthy cartilage is critical to preventing osteoarthritis.

One of the most important nutrients required to make cartilage is glucosamine. This amino sugar is a naturally occurring molecule used in animals, fish, plants and fungi. As dogs get older, they produce less glucosamine. This can lead to a degradation of the cartilage and the onset of osteoarthritis.

Making joint health more problematic is the construction of the joint and cartilage. Cartilage does not contain blood vessels. To get nutrients to the cartilage so that it can be maintained, the nutrients must be carried by the synovial fluid in the joint. This fluid is the lubricant that allows a joint to move smoothly. With insufficient synovial fluid, the joint will not move smoothly, and it will wear more quickly as a result. In addition, the cartilage will not receive enough nutrients to be maintained.

Because glucosamine is so important to cartilage construction, it has been used as a supplement to treat osteoarthritis and to promote joint health. Many dog owners, especially owners of dogs competing in skills competitions, have started using glucosamine as a preventative measure. The assumption is that maintaining adequate glucosamine levels will prevent or slow the onset of osteoarthritis. There is little to no research on glucosamine as a preventative treatment. Dog owners should consult with their vet before deciding if glucosamine could benefit a dog as a preventative measure.

Using Glucosamine to Prevent Canine Osteoarthritis , Lorie Long, The Whole Dog Journal, August 2004
Kealy RD, Olsson SE, Monti KL, et al. Effects of limited food consumption on the incidence of hip dysplasia in growing dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1992;201:857–863
Kealy RD, Lawler DF, Ballam JM, Lust G, Biery DN, Smith GK , and Mantz S. Evaluation of the effect of limited food consumption on radiographic evidence of osteoarthritis in dogs . J Am Vet Med Assoc, 2000;217:1678-1680.

Preventing Arthritis in Dogs and Cats, Veterinary Medicine (accessed 8/2011)

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