Joint Pain Relief for Dogs: How Diet Helps
Many pet parents believe that it’s normal for your golden gal or old man to “slow down” in their elderly years, but in fact age itself is not a disease. If your pup is slowing down or stiff in the mornings, they may be experiencing joint pain. Even if your dog isn’t actively limping, our furry pals can be surprisingly stoic and simply soldier on when they are in pain.
Thankfully, there are steps you can take to provide your best pal with some pain relief for those aching joints. With proper care and a healthy diet, your pup may soon feel more like themselves again — and get back to enjoying that daily walk!
What Causes Joint Pain in Dogs?
Joint pain in dogs can be triggered by a variety of causes, from genetic disorders to diseases or injuries.
Developmental Joint Pain
Some cases of joint pain in dogs are the result of a congenital disorder such as Wobbler Syndrome or a luxated patella, which is present from birth and may trigger joint pain as the dog ages.
Dogs may also be born with a predisposition for a painful joint condition such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia or knee dysplasia. Certain dog breeds — especially large or extra-large breeds like Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds and Newfoundlands — are more likely to develop these conditions, which generally have an impact later in the dog’s life.
Degenerative Joint Pain
Genetic causes of joint pain are already written into your pup’s DNA before they are even born, but joint pain can also be caused by the situations that may occur during the course of your dog’s life.
According to Caring Hands Veterinary Hospital:
“Degenerative joint issues are caused by repeated use over time of your dog's joints, including the wearing down of cartilage or the injury of tendons. The most common of these kinds of joint issues is cruciate ligament problems, where their tissues degenerate over time and with repeated use until more severe problems and pain develop as a result.”
There are many initial triggers that can eventually lead to degenerative joint issues, such as:
Traumatic injuries or stress fractures
Repetitive motion injuries
Infections that attack the joints, such as Lyme disease or other bacterial infections
Some hormonal or metabolic diseases/disorders
Arthritis (including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis)
Chronic low-grade joint inflammation
Malnutrition, especially during adolescence
Vitamin deficiencies at any age
Whatever the original cause, the resulting joint pain develops over time and is particularly exacerbated by obesity (which puts extra weight on your pup’s joints).
Top 10 Signs of Joint Pain in Dogs
If your best pal is displaying any of these common signs of joint pain in dogs, it may be worth a visit to your vet to take a look at those achy joints.
One of the first signs of joint pain is often overall low energy. If your pup is sleeping much more than usual and generally seems to be tired all the time, joint pain may be to blame.
“Slowing down” is often interpreted as a normal part of aging, but in fact it can be an indication of joint pain. Be aware if your pup seems stiff, has difficulty getting up in the morning or is lagging behind on walks.
3. Difficulty Moving
You may notice your pal frequently slips, or has trouble jumping, climbing stairs, sitting, standing or lying down. They may also struggle to squat or lift a leg to go potty, and therefore may have accidents in the house.
If your best pal doesn’t seem as interested in his daily walks and favorite games as he used to be, don’t just chalk it up to old age. Reluctance to run, jump or play is a classic sign that your pup’s joints may be hurting.
5. Rapid Change in Weight
Joint pain may reduce your dog’s appetite, causing them to lose weight rapidly. Conversely, some pups experiencing joint pain actually gain weight, as they are no longer able or willing to exercise as much.
All of us know what it's like to be grumpy when you don’t feel well! If your sweet pup has become moody or has had other sudden changes in behavior, joint pain may be what’s making them irritable.
7. Loss of Muscle Mass
Muscle mass protects your dog’s joints; unfortunately, muscular atrophy is a common symptom of joint pain. You may notice a loss of muscle over your pup’s limbs and spine, or that one leg is thinner than the other.
8. Targeting the Area
If you notice your best pal licking, chewing or biting at a certain spot on their body, that often indicates the area is painful. You may see a bald spot where they’ve been licking, or notice the joint is swelling.
You’ll know your best bud is in pain if they yelp or whine when you touch certain areas on their body. In some dogs, increased panting or drooling can also be a sign of pain or discomfort.
Finally, if your best pal is holding their paw or foot up off the ground or “bunny-hopping" when running, it’s definitely time to investigate the cause of their limp.
What Are the Options to Treat Joint Pain in Dogs?
In some cases, treating your pup’s joint pain may ultimately require a surgical intervention in order to clean the joint or even replace it. Even if your dog’s joint pain doesn’t necessitate surgery, your vet may still prescribe painkillers to make your best buddy feel better.
Other therapies or treatments such as physical therapy, hydrotherapy, canine massage or laser treatment can also be helpful in improving your pal’s range of motion and reducing their daily discomfort.
However, don’t underestimate the power of simple changes in lifestyle! Helping your pet to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, as well as ensuring they are getting the proper nutrition, are two of the most effective ways to reduce joint pain — and keep your pal moving and playing!
How Can a Healthy Diet Help With Joint Health for Dogs?
A healthy diet helps to ease joint pain in dogs in four important ways: it reduces excess weight, builds muscle mass and firmness, reduces inflammation and provides important nutritional supplements.
If your pup is overweight, bringing them down to a healthier weight is often the single most important thing you can do to improve their joint health. Every ounce they burn takes pressure off of those vulnerable joints, easing pain, increasing movement and boosting your best pal’s overall quality of life.
The right diet will be especially crucial to your pup’s weight loss if joint pain is currently restricting their ability to exercise. The excess carbs and “junk” ingredients in most commercial dog foods contribute to pet obesity, as these “empty calories” can’t be used efficiently by your pet’s body and mostly end up excreted or stored as fat. Therefore, switching your dog to a clean diet often results in healthy weight loss right away.
A healthy, protein-rich diet also builds back your pup’s lost muscle mass. Those muscles surround and protect your dog’s joints, cushioning them from further degradation. Any high quality protein helps build muscle, but for a dog experiencing joint pain it’s particularly recommended to choose lean meats like chicken and turkey.
When treating joint pain in dogs, it’s crucial to feed a diet that reduces inflammation rather than exacerbating it. Omega-3 fatty acids provide one powerful and natural way to reduce inflammation, dramatically slowing the progression of joint disease.
Fish are the best source of this important nutrient, which is why herring oil can be found in all Nature’s Advantage dog dinners. Omega-3s are also naturally present in many of our single ingredient treats, such as freeze-dried minnows and salmon.
Grains and gluten, on the other hand, have been linked to an increase in inflammation — so ensuring your pup is on a gluten free and grain free diet makes a huge difference! Removing grains from your dog’s diet also means cutting out an incredible amount of excess carbs, and replacing those calories with quality protein that your pup’s body is naturally better able to utilize — which ultimately results in a healthier weight, as well.
Finally, it’s important that your dog’s diet includes a sufficient amount of antioxidants and fiber to supplement their overall health. Many fruits and veggies, such as blueberries and pumpkin, are natural sources of antioxidants and fiber — and we include both of these “canine superfoods” in all Nature’s Advantage dog food.
What Else Can Be Done to Provide Joint Pain Relief for Dogs?
There are many pet-friendly products that may be worth looking into to help your best buddy move easier, stay safe and reduce their daily discomfort.
An orthopedic pet bed supports your pup’s joints while they’re sleeping soundly, while petsafe ramps and stairs help them navigate your home without jumping. It may also be helpful to lay down some non-skid rugs or mats on hard floors to help your pup keep traction, and use a raised holder for Fido’s food and water bowls so they don’t have to bend or crouch to eat.
Finally, petsafe gates can block stairways or other potentially unsafe areas when you’re not home, while dog-lift harnesses can also be a good option to help your pup get about if needed.
If your pup is less enthused about their favorite activities than they used to be, they may be experiencing the effects of joint pain. But that’s no reason to resign yourself to your dog’s low-activity retirement right away!
With a nutritious grain free diet, medical attention and lots of TLC, you can help your best pal to feel much, much better — and maybe even be ready to catch that old Frisbee again!