How To Care For A Dog With Arthritis At Home
How to Care at Home for a Dog with Arthritis
There is loads you can do for your dog as they get a little stiffer in old age. Arthritis, the inflammation and degeneration of joints, will happen to the best of us. That’s the bad news. The good news is how many options you have before you have to get anti-inflammatories from the vet. And once your dog is on prescribed drugs, you have lots of ways to support your dog’s joints.
I’ll make a list of things you can do. I’ll start with the mildest and easiest interventions and move up to the strongest or most inconvenient or expensive options.
You are what you eat. I think that if a dog has been living on a diet of ultra-processed food all of its life (poor thing), then they are likely to be overweight or obese (like 70% of the UK dog population – I kid you not). Raw or fresh food, balanced and varied, is the key for me. If you’re not familiar with this way of feeding, have a chat with one of the good commercial raw food producers to get you started.
Feeding raw or fresh food gives the dog fresh protein, quality fats and nutrients. They are generally low in grain carbs (which help you put on and retain weight) and dogs really love them! Supplying quality building blocks stuffed with antioxidants is a great way to keep muscles and tendons healthy. Having lots of bone and cartilage in the diet (either in minces or as recreational bones) is thought to help protect from wear and tear. My experience is that raw fed dogs seem to have better mobility and a longer health span (the length of time in your life you’re really healthy).
If I could bottle the effect losing weight has on the mobility of a dog, I’d be a billionaire overnight. Physics teaches us that force is mass (weight) multiplied by acceleration. You can’t really change how much your dog charges around (acceleration), but you can significantly reduce the forces acting on joints by reducing the dog’s weight.
There are body condition score charts on the net where you can see and read what the ideal body shape for any given dog type would be. We use the 1-9 grading system. If you listen to the kibble companies, they’d have you on a 5/9 body condition score. I think a 4/9 grade is even better.
For me, the quickest way to reduce weight gradually and safely is to feed raw. Most dogs will do the work for you! On raw, feeding between 2-3% body weight should do the trick. Start at 2% and increase if the dog is over-hungry or losing weight too fast.
Dog supplements or ‘functional foods’ as they’re called in the US are highly concentrated extras you add to the diet to help achieve particular aims. Some people call then nutraceuticals. If your dog is young or middle-aged and not showing any signs of arthritis or stiffness, then you may not need to add much beyond a good omega-3 source and herbs.
If your dog is looking a bit stiff in the mornings or on chilly or damp days, then the range of supplements you can choose from is wide. Look at the ingredients of the products on offer. Go for those with good quantities of these each day:
- MSM (Methyl-Sulfonyl-Methane) approximately 1000mg per 10-20kg bodyweight
- Fish Collagen & Oil – approximately 500mg per 10-20kg bodyweight
- Turmeric about 500mg or ½ tsp per 10kg bodyweight
- Glucosamine Sulphate – 500mg per 10-20kg bodyweight
- Chondroitin 400mg per 10-20mg bodyweight
- Vitamin C – small dogs 100mg, medium 250mg, large 500, giant 1000mg
- CBD Oil 0.5-1mg per kg bodyweight
- Boswellia (Frankincense anti-inflammatory herb) – containing at least 75mg boswellic acids per 10-20kg bodyweight.
- Green Lipped Mussel – 0.5g daily up to 25kg bodyweight, raising to 1g daily for dogs over 35kg
- Marine oils – salmon, pollock, krill or algae – provide wonderful anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Dose – approx. 1000mg per 10-20kg bodyweight
- Flax oils – a non-fish source of omega-3s – dose – similar to marine oils.
- Antinol – a marine oil fish extract – can be a real game-changer.
It sounds self-evident, but just letting mother nature heal any bumps and strains has a lot to be said for it. It costs nothing and is the basis for a lot of treatment for arthritis. If your dog is not usually lame or stiff, then just keep them on the lead for a week, if they’re lame or sore, to allow the inflamed area to calm down and heal. If at any point you’re concerned, then nip along to the vets to get them checked.
If you’ve tried all the above and are still faced with persistent mild stiffness or lameness that doesn’t warrant a vet visit, then try homeopathics. A combination of Ruta grav, Rhus tox and Arnica in a 30c potency given twice daily, away from food, for two weeks might just help.
If you have an older dog who’s a little weak on their legs (or a growing puppy come to that), I always advise covering any shiny floors. Pups and oldies are prone to slipping, splaying and generally moving badly on floors with less grip. You can get grippy carpets/rugs easily to cover the shiny parquet or Lino slippiness.
Stairs, especially for older dogs, can be a trauma to joints. If their hips or stifles (knees) are bad, they’ll struggle to go up them. If their shoulders, elbows or wrists are bad, then coming down will be potentially problematic. Baby gates are worth their weight in gold here to limit access to stairs.
Getting a ramp for the car/van or four-wheel drive is often a good idea to save your back as much as helping the dog!
Manipulative Therapies: Osteopathy, Chiropractic, Canine Bowen Technique and Physiotherapy
You’ll need a referral from your vet, but these people are fabulous from mid-life onward for most dogs, whether they’re stiff or not. They’ll help the dog use their joints and skeleton to maximum efficiency, help guide you with exercises, observations and advice. Most vets under-use them. Ask friends or people in the park for recommendations.
I’m not mentioning acupuncture here as this is the realm of a vet or acupuncturist working under a vet.
Hydro I’m saving for last because, although especially useful for dogs in all stages of arthritis, can be a bit pricey and certainly demands a lot of time from busy owners. Most dogs take to it very well.
There are two main types of hydro – swimming pool assisted swimming and treadmill hydro in a walk-in tank. It’s a bit horses for courses – some dogs don’t like swimming in pools, some don’t like the confinement of the treadmill tank. If I had to choose, I’d go for a treadmill tank as it’s a more controlled environment where the hydro therapist can alter the water depth from a few centimetres to full submersion.
It’s definitely worth talking to your local hydro therapist. Most will work in conjunction with vets. They are, on the whole, a knowledgeable and highly dedicated bunch.
Most dogs need some pharmaceutical help in advanced arthritis. However, there are many options to support joints and help them with pain before you get to that stage. The time to start treating for arthritis is at the first hint of stiffness, if not putting support in place in mid-life. Talk to your vet about ALL the options, not just the ones available through their practice. Together you can give your pet the longest, strongest least painful health span.
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