Pets are more active too when the warm summer weather arrives. Here’s how to ensure their bones and joints are prepared for fun and frolic.
Summer weather finds pets and their human companions outdoors more often enjoying longer walks, new trails and more exercise in general. This increase in regular activity helps pets and people improve health but for some pets may bring pain or injury, especially if it’s a senior pet.
Exercise and movement support pets’ joints by bringing blood and nutrients to the area and also maintain proper muscle balance. Many dogs participate in canine athletics such as flyball, dock dogs, agility, Schutzhund (German for protection dog), or accompany their humans hunting, fishing or as running companions.
Varied terrain and chronic use can put extra strain and stress on joints. While exercise is encouraged, without long term positive support the body and joints can suffer, affecting endurance and performance.
As pets and their owners age, their joint surfaces become brittle and the joints lose their lubrication, compromising mobility. These types of problems can benefit from nutritional support whether due to the normal aging process or performance.
Joint problems can be developmental, degenerative, traumatic, infectious, immune mediated or related to cancer. (1) Early symptoms are intermittent lameness and morning stiffness (often associated with joint swelling and warmth). (1) Also, certain breeds can be predisposed to mobility problems, such as degenerative disc disease in Welsh corgis or dachshunds.
Hip and Elbow Dysplasia
Hip dysplasia (1,3) is a malformation of the hip sockets that allows excessive movement in the joint, causing chronic inflammation, calcium deposits and further breakdown. Elbow dysplasia is an abnormal development of the elbow joints. Both of these are typically found in larger dogs. Excessive or abnormal bone growth, or cartilage development, exercise, nutrition, hormonal imbalances and genetics may all play a role in its development.
There are many causes of arthritis. (1) Two of the most common chronic types in pets are osteoarthritis (OA), which is a degenerative change in the joint, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which is an autoimmune-based change in the joint.
Treatments for all joint conditions can be medical or surgical. An individual’s response to medical, or surgical, or a combination, depends on the location and severity of the joints involved. (1) A veterinarian needs to diagnose your pet properly to determine which are the best options.
A holistic approach for your pet involving special nutrients, specific herbs, acupuncture, and chiropractic manipulation is also an option.
Herbs and Nutrients to Support Joints and Performance
Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) are nutrients that are produced by the body. They are necessary in preserving cartilage stability and lubrication. As our pets age, they lose the ability to manufacture sufficient levels of GAGs. The result is that cartilage loses its gel-like nature and ability to act as a shock absorber. (2) Glucosamine, along with other supplemental GAGs; Chondroitin sulfate and hyaluronic acid help the body produce GAGs. (2)
Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) has anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain reducing) effects. (2) Boswellia serrata has several mechanisms of action, including inhibition of inflammation, prevention of decreased GAG synthesis, and improved blood supply to joint tissues. (2) Both herbal and nutrient supplements for joints are best used long term, as you may need to supplement for 4-6 weeks before significant improvement is achieved. (2)
A diet rich in antioxidant nutrients protect against chronic degenerative diseases including osteoarthritis. (2,3) Results from the Framingham Osteoarthritis Cohort Study indicate that a high intake of antioxidant nutrients, especially vitamin C, may reduce the risk of cartilage loss and disease progression in people with osteoarthritis. (2) While dogs and cats can manufacture their own vitamin C in their bodies, they may require more than their body can produce when treating chronic joint disease.
Regular exercise and training, along with herbal and nutrient support are important for prevention and wellness care, as well as continued quality of life for your pet through every season.
(1) The Merck Veterinary Manual. Merck & Co., Inc. 2008
(2) Pizzorno J, Murray M. The Textbook of Natural Medicine. 3rd Ed. Churchill Livingstone Elsevier. 2006.
(3) Pitcairn R, Pitcairn S. Dr. Pitcairn’s New Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats. 3rd Ed. Rodale Books. 2005
(4) Schwartz C. Four Paws Five Directions: A Guide to Chinese Medicine for Cats and Dogs. Celestial Arts Publishing. 1996