A mere six years ago, Cleo, my 12-pound terrier mix, was rocking the Pacific Ocean waves on a surfboard as a proud member of the SoCal Surf Dogs. When she neared the shore, she would propel her body off the foam board and land on the soft sand. And, then she would beg to get back on the surfboard for another watery ride — quite a feat for a dog who just celebrated her 12th birthday.
Today, Cleo has retired from surfing. She moves gingerly, but still sports mini-energy spurts and playing that defy her 17 years of age. I attribute part of her mobility to what I put in her food bowl, dole out as treats and select as veterinarian-recommended supplements.
We can’t stop the aging body clocks inside our dogs, but by making smart nutritional decisions, we can possibly delay or stave off the impacts of arthritis. The signs are hard to miss: your dog’s gait slows; he starts to limp or favor one limb; he hesitates before jumping on the bed or out of the car. Arthritic pain can make some
dogs grumpy and a bit snappy. Or, you may also notice your dog is excessively licking a leg, a possible indication of his attempt to deal with joint pain.
“If I could drive home one major point to pet parents, it’s this: Food heals or food harms,” says Karen Becker, DVM, an integrative wellness veterinarian and co-founder of the Companion Animal Nutrition and Wellness Institute. “So, what you put in your dog’s food bowl does impact your dog’s quality of life. And, so does the amount. Keeping your dog at a lean, healthy weight is also absolutely crucial in preventing or alleviating arthritis symptoms.”
Jean Hofve, DVM, holistic veterinarian, best-selling author and founder of the Little Big Cat website, agrees.
“We want to keep arthritic dogs lean so there are no extra pounds piling on those sore joints,” Dr. Hofve says. “Excessive fat tissue is also to blame for secreting hormones that promote pain in the body.”
Keeping our dogs at healthy weights can reduce their risks not only for arthritis, diabetes and heart disease, but possibly extend their lives. Annual surveys by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention reported that extra pounds on dogs can reduce the dog’s life span by two to five years compared to dogs kept at healthy weights and exercised regularly.
Dr. Hofve identifies these five “arthritis-fighting” foods safe to give your dog:
And, Dr. Becker adds a personal favorite: bone broth. “It is magical for dogs, especially older dogs,” Dr. Becker says. “Consider making homemade bone broth. The cartilage-rich bone broth must come from free-range organic animals and should not be made using onion stock.”
Topping the list of no-no foods to feed your dog prone to or with arthritis? Carbohydrates.
“Processed carbohydrates affect insulin metabolism and trigger inflammation,” Dr. Hofve explains. “Refined carbs found in pasta, crackers and kibble turn to sugar the instant they hit the digestive juices from the pancreas. Sugar is highly inflammatory and what isn’t used for energy gets stored as fat.”
And, skip the human ice cream treat. “Casein from conventional dairy can also be problematic for some dogs, so no ice cream, either,” she adds.
Beyond food and supplements, you can do a lot to help your dog fend off achy joints. Effective strategies include:
Non-joint jarring exercise such as swimming or walking on an underwater treadmill. “For dogs too fat or too painful or too weak to stand up, the best options are access to a hot tub, a bathtub or a safe pool, stream or lake to do water therapy,” says Karen Becker, DVM.
Chiropractic care and cold laser therapy sessions. “I’ve been working with a chiropractor for the last year and have seen total miracles in dogs between the chiropractic adjustments and cold laser therapies,” says Jean Hofve, DVM.
Acupuncture, acupressure or therapeutic massages performed by certified therapists and veterinarians. All aid in easing achy muscles and relieving the lactic acid buildup in the muscles. “Therapeutic massage improves circulation, helps the lymphatic system and eases muscular aches,” Dr. Becker says.
Keep your dog moving and don’t allow him to be a long-lounging couch potato. “Letting a dog who is still to just sleep all day is the worst thing to do for achy joints,” Dr. Becker says. “Dogs need to move their bodies more, not less, as they age, but in a purposeful, controlled manner.”
Veterinarian-prescribed medications to fight pain and ease inflammation.
To maximize your dog’s health, Dr. Becker and Dr. Hofve also recommend adding these key supplements (check with your vet about dosage) to reduce inflammation and ease pain, such as:
Chondroprotective agents (CPAs), such as glucosamine sulfate, MSM, eggshell membrane and adequan (intramuscular injection). “These CPAs slow the rate of cartilage degeneration,” says Dr. Becker. “Start your active dog on these now while his joints appear to be healthy and pain free.”
Turmeric root powder. This spice has shown in studies to reduce arthritic inflammation.
Yucca, ginger, cinnamon and Boswellia in small amounts. “They are packed with antioxidants, but don’t give too much,” Dr. Hofve says. “With dogs’ ultra-sensitive noses standing guard, a little goes a long way.”
Dr. Becker says, “The best game plan for your dog is to change his diet to a fresh, minimally processed and anti-inflammatory diet. Kibble sustains life, but it does not prevent inflammation or arthritis. And keep your dog moving. The longest a dog should go without a sustained 20 minutes of heart-thumping exercise is 48 hours.”
Arden Moore, The Pet Health and Safety Coach™, is a pet behavior consultant, master certified pet first-aid instructor, author and host of the Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio. Learn more at fourleggedlife.com.