How to care for your arthritic dog

Dr. Josee Gerard pictureBy Dr. Josée Gerard, BA, DC, CVSMT
Certified Animal Chiropractor

As our four-legged friends get older, it’s not uncommon to see them lose some of their “spunk” and mobility. In my practice, I often hear that a patient “used” to be able to run around and jump in and out of the car, but as they age, their bodies seem to protest a lot more.

Arthritis, also known as osteoarthritis or osteodegeneration is a progressive process that usually happens slowly over time. Depending on the breed, symptoms of stiffness, slowing down, and progressive inability to do activities can first appear around the ages of 7-9 years for German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers, and at about 10-12 years of age for smaller breeds.

However, arthritis can also be seen in younger dogs that have suffered an injury (such as an ACL tear or a broken/amputated limb), and as a result are putting undo weight and pressure on one of more of their limbs.

The primary symptoms of arthritis will be characterized by stiffness and slowness after a period of inactivity, such as when getting up in the morning. The stiffness will seem to improve as the day goes along, after your dog has had a chance to stretch, walk and otherwise engage those sleepy bones and muscles.

However, too much activity will also cause their little bodies to become stiff and tired. So a fine balance between moderate activity and rest is recommended, the aim is to keep the mobility in the joints of the spine and body, and also to exercise the muscles, tendons and ligaments so that they remember they have a job to do.

Some of the best activities for a dog with arthritis are walking, swimming, underwater treadmill and exercises that build the core muscles (such as sit/stand on back legs to take a treat). Also very beneficial is the use of massage to keep the affected muscles engaged, as well as doing range of motion exercises with the joints (wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, ankles and toes).

Many guardians will also supplement their pet’s diet with joint preservation supplements such as Glucosamine, Chondroitin, MSM and Hyaluronic Acid. Most of these ingredients can be found all bundled up in easy to take products, usually available at high-end natural pet food stores. The liquid formulas are usually better, even though they may cost a little more, they are also more absorbable, and you will see the effects quicker than a product in pill form.

Along with different types of physiotherapies, one of the best complementary therapies for a pet with arthritis is chiropractic care. A Certified Animal Chiropractor can help ensure that all the joints of the spine and limbs have the best mobility, neurological function and structural alignment possible for their current stage in life.

By preserving the structural integrity of the skeletal system with chiropractic adjustments, your pet can distribute its weight more evenly across all four limbs, rather than compensate for a weak leg, and possibly put undue pressure on the other limbs (perhaps putting them at risk for also developing arthritis).

As arthritis in a joint progresses, it can also put pressure or impinge the nerves and/or spinal cord. This can cause a decreased signal of the brain to that area of the body. For example, if a dog develops arthritis in the low back, the nerves to the bladder can become impinged, and in turn, the communication between the brain and the bladder is decreased, resulting in dribbling, leaking and urinary incontinence.

Gentle chiropractic adjustments can not only help restore structural alignment, but also help to influence proper muscle function, as well as remove nerve impingements, leading to more appropriate brain-nerve communication. It is important to always check with your primary veterinarian first in order to get a proper diagnosis of arthritis.