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Like humans, dogs tend to slow down as they age and experience some of the same types of ailments, including arthritis, which can significantly limit their mobility. Arthritis is a degenerative joint condition that affects more than 80% of dogs over eight. Although no cure exists for this condition, there are strategies for minimizing pain and retaining mobility. Here's what pet parents need to know about how to support senior dogs with mobility challenges.
The first signs of early-stage arthritis in dogs are often so subtle that pet parents often chalk them up to the normal slowing down that comes with aging. For instance, the animal may not keep up quite as well on routine walks or backyard play sessions. Other signs of emerging arthritis include the following.
Walking with a stiff gate
Reluctance to climb stairs
Difficulty getting in or out of vehicles
Limping or lameness in one or more legs
Licking or chewing on the skin around the joints
Difficulty lying down or getting up
Sensitive, tender, and/or stiff joints
Withdrawing to quiet areas of the home
Dogs in the developing stage of arthritis may also begin to gain weight as they become less active. The good news is that pet parents have a variety of options for promoting good joint health for dogs and minimizing arthritis-related pain and discomfort.
Although it is not possible to reverse arthritis in dogs, supplements and oils may help relieve the associated pain of the condition and preserve the functionality of the joints. Pet parents should look for products containing chondroitin and glucosamine. These ingredients increase water retention in the joints, which provides more cushioning and reduces inflammation. Joint supplements should also contain omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and glycosaminoglycans because all of these have been shown to have strong anti-inflammatory properties.
Because movement is good for overall joint health, it's important to continue to provide older dogs with exercise. Pet parents should consider exercise adjustments if they suspect that their dog may be suffering from arthritis. As a general rule of thumb, if the dog exhibits higher than average stiffness and soreness the day after exercise, it's time to consider adjustments in the duration and intensity of future exercise sessions. For instance, taking shorter walks more frequently in place of a long walk once a day may help decrease inflammation levels in the joints.
Other strategies for making exercise less likely to damage the joints are eliminating high-impact activities such as fetching and seeking softer surfaces for walks, such as grass or sand, rather than asphalt or cement.
Excess weight on dogs with arthritis increases the amount of pain the animal feels while walking or running and the rate at which the cartilage continues to break down.
Senior dogs should be fed a diet specifically designed to meet their nutritional and caloric needs. Weight management is important in younger dogs as well because being overweight can cause arthritis to develop prematurely.
Along with regular walks to strengthen muscles, dogs with arthritis can benefit from several strengthening and stretching exercises. Walking up, down, and sideways on hills helps retain muscle strength and promote good balance, and hydrotherapy such as underwater treadmill walking strengthens muscles without putting pressure on the animal's joints. Stretching exercises include grasping the dog's back leg just above the knee, slowly moving it back, holding it in that position for 15 seconds, and doing the same with the front legs. These exercises should be repeated two or three times per day. Placing a warm washcloth over the affected joints before stretching for 10-15 minutes and then icing the same area for the same length of time following the sessions helps minimize pain. Pet parents should consult with a veterinary rehabilitation specialist before adding strengthening or stretching exercises to their pet's daily routine.
Massaging helps relieve pain, promote good circulation, and reduce inflammation. However, pet parents should be careful not to directly massage the affected joints and be mindful about how the animal reacts to the touch. Always consult with a veterinary professional before beginning a massage regimen.
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