Arthritis and Nutrition for Dogs

By Ryan Llera, BSc, DVM; Robin Downing, DVM, CVPP, CCRP, DAAPM

Nutrition, Pet Services

Approximately 25% of dogs across all ages suffer from painful osteoarthritis in one or more joints with the incidence increasing with age. Because dogs are living longer, it is more likely than ever that every dog owner will face the issue of osteoarthritis at some point.

My dog was just diagnosed with osteoarthritis. My veterinarian says that my dog can benefit from changing her food. What does that mean?

Nutritional science reveals that pet owners can make a huge impact on the quality of life and activities of daily living of dogs with osteoarthritis by carefully choosing appropriate nutrient profiles, depending on what your dog needs.

My veterinarian says my dog is overweight and that this contributes to her osteoarthritis pain. Is this true? What should I do?

For generations it was presumed that the extra weight simply put extra stress and strain on joints with osteoarthritis, and that was the extent of the effect. However, research reveals that the fat (adipose tissue) that accumulates in overweight and obese dogs actually secretes inflammatory and pro- inflammatory hormones that contribute to the inflammation and pain of osteoarthritis. That means weight and obesity are even more important factors in dogs with osteoarthritis than we once thought.

Step one in an overweight or obese dog is weight normalization with a focus on normalizing body condition as well. It is not enough just to make the number on the scale smaller. The goal is to help your dog burn fat and preserve or build muscle. Your veterinarian can prescribe a specific nutrient profile and daily portion to accomplish that goal. A lean body condition means a well-defined waistline should be visible when the dog from above. We should see a tucked-up abdomen when we view the dog from the side. Finally, we should be able to easily feel (not see) the ribs on the sides of the chest just behind the shoulder blades. Your veterinarian can help you look for and interpret these landmarks.

"The goal is to help your dog burn fat and preserve or build muscle."

In dogs with osteoarthritis, it is much better to target a very lean body condition versus a slightly heavy one. If your veterinarian uses a 1-to-5 body condition scoring, the target should be 3/5. If your veterinarian uses a 1-to-9 body condition scoring, the target should be 5/9. These targets are just a bit leaner than what used to be considered ideal.

Once my dog is lean, is what can I do nutritionally to help my dog’s osteoarthritis?

Your veterinarian is the best source for evaluating the nutritional science and the various nutritional products labeled for joint support. We know that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA & DHA, provides demonstrable joint support. It is important for the level of omega-3 fatty acids to be high enough to make an impact on the joints. One option is to supplement the chosen ration with a triglyceride form of omega-3 fatty acid that is easily absorbed. Another common supplement that can be given or is added to diets is glucosamine. Some clinically proven diets to help meet these nutritional goals are available from your veterinarian and include Hill's® Prescription Diet® J/D®, Rayne Clinic Nutrition™ Healthy Reduction-MCS™, Royal Canin Advanced Mobility®, and Purina Pro Plan Veterinary JM Joint Mobility®. Again, your veterinarian is the best source for a recommendation.

What if my dog has another disease beside osteoarthritis?  What do I feed her?

Many older dogs with osteoarthritis have other diseases as well, such as heart disease, chronic kidney disease, liver disease are some examples. Chronic diseases in dogs can now often be managed effectively using specific therapeutic nutrient profiles. Your veterinarian will help you to set priorities from a nutritional perspective in order to choose a nutrient profile that is the best fit depending on the specific dog and her particular needs. There are a multitude of diets available to address multiple conditions at once.

In many cases of osteoarthritis, your veterinarian can reduce the need for medications simply through the use of therapeutic nutrition. Working closely with your veterinarian will take the guess work out of choosing from so many options.

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