Arthritis is a condition characterized by joint pain. You may have heard of arthritis affecting your friends and family, but dogs — especially overweight dogs — are more prone to arthritis, too. In fact, according to a Banfield Pet Hospital study, obesity is a leading cause of arthritis in dogs. Banfield vets have seen a 66 percent increase in canine arthritis cases in the past decade.
Although there are more than 100 types of arthritis, dogs are most likely to develop osteoarthritis, the most common form.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease caused by the inflammation of joint tissue. This condition usually develops later in life and is a chronic, progressive disease, that worsens over time.
Cartilage is a rubbery material lining the joints. It allows for both smooth movement of the joint and acts as a shock absorber. In osteoarthritis, this layer degenerates, causing pain and inflammation.
Symptoms of arthritis in dogs
Your dog may not be able to communicate verbally with you, so look out for changes in behavior. If you have any concerns, bring your furry friend to your vet. Warning signs your dog may have arthritis.
Your dog may start sitting leaving a leg hanging out from the side to take the weight off their painful joints. They may also be reluctant to climb stairs or refuse to let you touch their joints. They also may lose interest during playtime or walk more slowly than usual.
How does being overweight aggravate arthritis?
When we move, our joints take the load of our body weight. The more weight, the more stress on our joints.
Dogs who suffer from joint pain and discomfort will reduce their activity. Reducing their activity leads to weight gain, which in turn will worsen their arthritis symptoms. It’s a vicious cycle.
Preventing excess weight gain can not only help prevent arthritis, but it can reduce symptoms of the disease should it develop.
How can I help my dog lose weight?
If your dog is overweight, develop a weight management plan that includes both adequate exercise and a healthy diet. Strive to help your dog lose about 1 percent of his body weight per week.
Losing weight more quickly is a sign your dog isn’t receiving enough calories for a healthy lifestyle.
Follow these tips for a natural remedy to degenerative joint disease:
Reduce portion size: Reducing your dog’s caloric intake by around 5 percent will help your dog lose weight without drastically cutting his food intake.
Cutting your dog’s calorie intake too much forces his body into “starvation” mode, which actually will make it harder for your dog to lose weight.
Gradually reduce your dog’s portion size so his body gets adjusts to the change. For example, disguise a decrease in dog treats by breaking treats into two pieces. You also can switch to low fat treats and long-lasting chews such as dried tendons, bones and steer sticks. Avoid marrow bones because they have high-fat content.
More protein and fewer carbohydrates: Like humans, protein in the diet will build lean muscle. Without adequate protein in their diet, dogs will struggle to build the muscle to carry out daily activities and support their joints. More muscle will also increase their basal metabolic rate, the amount of energy burned at rest.
Prepare meals from scratch: Consider making your dog’s food so you know exactly what they’re consuming. Remove the skin and fatty areas from meats. Add some vegetables to your dog’s diet, but don’t eliminate meat. Feeding your dog a solely vegetarian diet, will not only provide too few calories, but it also will leave your dog feeling hungry.
Most dogs need at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day. Larger breeds will need more exercise. A great way to gauge if your dog is getting sufficient exercise is if they start to slow down by the end of their walk. Find a beautiful local park to exercise your dog.
Low impact activities will put less stress on their joints and will, therefore, be more enjoyable for arthritic dogs. A longer period of lower impact exercise, such as walking or swimming, instead of running, may help with your dog’s symptoms of arthritis.
If your dog is disabled, this can make exercise and an active lifestyle tricky. Nowadays, there are plenty of aids for your pet. Wheelchairs, hip supports, harnesses, splints, and orthotics are now available.
Encourage an active lifestyle
Once you’ve established an exercise routine, stick to it. Take your dog to a beach every once in a while, so they can burn energy swimming and digging. Swimming also puts less stress on their joints, so it’s a great option for dogs with arthritis and joint pain.
You also should also make sure your dog doesn’t spend the majority of the day sitting. Lead by example! Get up every 20 minutes and walk around your house or play with your dog.
Like their human counterparts, losing weight in dogs is a balance of both an active lifestyle and a healthy diet. Make gradual changes to help your dog lose weight and improve his joint health.
With weight loss, you should start to see improvements in your dog’s symptoms of arthritis and quality of life.
Maia Fletcher is a freelance writer based in Gisborne, New Zealand. When she’s not writing articles for her Tumblr page and local site Tairawhiti Gisborne, you’ll probably see her playing catch with her fur babies.