I’m often asked if there is anything that can be done to prevent arthritis in dogs and cats. While many of us like to use the word prevent when discussing various diseases, better terms to use may be minimize the chance of or delay the onset of the particular disease being discussed. While I believe we can do much to prevent problems such as arthritis, I hesitate to use the word prevent (even though I often use it with my clients or when I am being interviewed on the radio or television) because it implies something definite.
In other words, if I tell you that you can prevent arthritis by following a few simple steps, this implies that your pet will never get arthritis if you follow my advice. Unfortunately, I can’t make that guarantee, even though I know many of the owners who follow my advice will actually prevent arthritis in their pets.
Tips to Prevent, Minimize, or Delay Onset of Arthritis
With this in mind, here are my tips to “prevent,” “minimize the chance of,” or “delay the onset of” arthritis in your dog or cat.
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Keep Your Pet Lean
Keep your pet lean. A major cause of many health issues is excess weight. As is true with people, the incidence of many chronic, inflammatory, and degenerative disorders increases as body weight increases past the ideal norm. Clinical experience confirms that pets and people who are at or slightly below their ideal weight tend to be healthier and have fewer medical problems, including arthritis. The less weight the joints need to support, especially as the joints exhibit normal wear and tear throughout the aging process, the greater the chance arthritis will be delayed or prevented.
Minimize Excessive Wear & Tear on Joints
Minimize excessive wear and tear on your pet’s joints. Dogs and cats by nature like to play and exercise. A normal amount of exercise keeps the musculoskeletal system healthy. Excessive amounts lead to excessive pressure and wear on the joints. Just how much exercise is a “safe” amount is somewhat subjective and not necessarily easy to determine.
Many of my clients show their dogs or exhibit them in agility trials. I’m not opposed to letting pets enjoy such competition, but depending on the amount of training, there can be an excessive amount of wear on their joints. These pets, and any pets that could be considered “working pets,” benefit from lifelong joint supplementation, massage, physical therapy, and hydrotherapy in an attempt to maintain joint health.
Minimize Environmental Toxins
Minimize your pet’s exposure to environmental toxins. We live in a toxic world and can’t control every variable. However, there are things you can do to ensure that what goes in or on your pet’s body is as natural, organic, and healthy as possible.
With that in mind, I recommend the following:
1. Minimize vaccinations. I don’t know any pet whose body needs vaccines every year. Most of the vaccines we have available to us are excellent at inducing a long-lasting immunity of five years, ten years, or even longer. While the current conventional recommendation for immunization is to administer vaccines every three years, I believe even that is too much. In my practice, I do a blood antibody test called a titer test every year and vaccinate only healthy, young pets if and when the titers indicate that vaccines may be necessary (usually every five to ten years).
2. Minimize toxins in your pet’s food. Many pets are fed brand-name foods that contain animal and plant by-products and chemical additives and preservatives. These ingredients may harm your pet by causing inflammation, oxidation, and cell damage. Since there are a number of well-known natural foods available, not to mention homemade cooked or raw diets, there is no excuse for feeding your pet foods that may contribute to inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.
3. Minimize the use of flea and tick chemicals. Most pets I see in my practice do not need year-round neurotoxic flea and tick chemicals commonly prescribed by veterinarians. There are many safe, natural things you can do to control external parasites (such as regular bathing with any of the certified organic shampoos in the Dr. Shawn’s Organics line of topical pet products). If needed, chemical flea and tick control products should be used on a limited basis to quickly kill these parasites at the same time a natural program is instituted.
Regular Supplementation to Reduce Inflammation
Reduce inflammation through the use of regular supplementation. Several natural therapies that I prescribe for my patients reduce inflammation and oxidation, maintaining the health of these pets. Fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids, with both EPA and DHA) and antioxidants are very helpful.
Use joint supplements regularly. There is no question that pets suffering from arthritis should take one or more joint supplements regularly. However, all pets can benefit from regular joint supplementation.
To my knowledge, there are no controlled studies showing that starting joint supplements at an early age will prevent or delay the onset of arthritis, but it is my impression from clinical experience that this is the case. Since joint supplements tend to be free of serious side effects, there is no harm in administering these to your pet. If your pet is a working pet, I believe joint supplementation is especially helpful and should be started as soon as possible. Additionally, if your pet is a large-breed dog (these pets often experience arthritis earlier in life), joint supplementation is indicated beginning in puppyhood.
X-Ray to Check for Hip Dysplasia
I recommend that all pets be radiographed when they are anesthetized for any surgical procedure in order to check for arthritis and other health problems. When pets are spayed or neutered in my practice, we radiograph the hip to determine the presence or absence of hip dysplasia. Pets that shows signs of hip dysplasia during this evaluation, but that do not show clinical signs and are not candidates for surgery, are placed on joint supplementation and monitored regularly for the progression of the dysplasia or the development of arthritis.
This article was excerpted with permission from the book:
Natural Vet's Guide to Preventing and Treating Arthritis © 2011
by Shawn Messonnier, DVM.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com
About the Author
A graduate of Texas A&M University School of Veterinary Medicine and the author of several books, Dr. Messonnier is a regular holistic pet columnist for the Dallas Morning News. His popular column is distributed across North America by Knight Ridder News Service. Shawn has shared his thoughts on integrative pet care with millions of pet owners as a contributor to various pet publications and magazines. Visit his website at http://www.petcarenaturally.com.