Over the 20 years I've been formulating diets for a myriad of health concerns I've seen a lot of rewarding outcomes. One of them is helping dogs in a variety of situations start to move better, faster, and without pain, or at the very least,a greatly reduced amount of pain.. In some really advanced cases of osteoarthritis, the turnaround can be slower, and while it may not be 100% as it usually can be in younger dogs, being able to stand, walk, and climb stairs can be the difference between quality of life and euthanasia.
I've had the pleasure of seeing amazing changes in the agility dog crowd where speed and focus are improved. In the case of agility, diet can play a very big role because the foods themselves, the types of dietary fat and the timing of feedings can make a big difference. For all dogs though, the following information can be applied with success.
The diet being fed must be anti-inflammatory. I can't emphasis this enough. "Anti-inflammatory" has become a buzz phrase. People throw foods, herbs, fats, supplements at it. I just Googled it and got 24,000,000 results. Look for the same thing for dogs, and you'll get more advertorials disguised as magazine articles and veterinary opinion than you can imagine. So, what's the deal?
Inflammation is not a bad thing. It's the body's response to injury and very necessary for healing. The problem arises when inflammation becomes chronic. Degeneration of discs, osteoarthritis, gastrointestinal diseases and more...all of them include inflammation that's gone wild. Medications are the quick way to stomp the inflammation back down, and I think medication has a role at times. Chronic problems would mean a constant need for medication though, and I'd rather work to address the underlying cause.
Diet: First thing first. Be sure it's a balanced diet with all vitamins and minerals being fed at your dog's individual requirement. This alone has helped some of the dogs I've worked with. No other measure will work well if the diet itself isn't allowed to be as powerful as it can be. Part of that power is in fortifying the entire body.
Foods: Omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and I do focus on this, but don't forget that omega 6 fatty acids are called essential fatty acids because...they're essential! I like primrose oil because it provides a non inflammatory version of omega 6.
Fish is great food for these dogs, but I rarely base a diet on it. The very large fish can contain heavy metals (smaller fish are fine though), canned fish are high in sodium (high sodium is not a good thing for arthritis sufferers). The overall diet is what matters. Using some canned fish may be perfectly fine if the sodium content of the diet as a whole doesn't spike up. My personal choice is to include wild salmon oil, and that's because I know the purity (no heavy metals) and the vitamin D content which is critical.
Plenty of green vegetables (broccoli, kale, romaine lettuce, etc), orange/red veggies and fruits (carrot, red cabbage, beets, watermelon, etc) and even white veggies (parsnip, cauliflower, etc) add important phytonutrients to help battle inflammation. Rule of thumb: veggies that grow above ground will loosen stool; root veggies will firm it. Start with small amounts, watch your dog's stool firmness and adjust the foods as needed.
Beta carotene plays a role in recovery from exercise and other stresses. It's a phytonutrient cartenoid with antioxidant properties as well as having provitamin A activity. Foods that are particularly rich in carotenes (not just the beta variety) include sweet potato, carrots, winter squash, mango, melon, spinach, chard, kale, broccoli and bitter greens (beet greens, turnip greens, etc.) Herbal support should be individualized, of course. The more common ones like turmeric, stinging nettle, boswellia serrata, ginger...really, too many known and popular ones to mention (and some less known and very powerful), but the bottom line is that you shouldn't throw them all at the problem without understanding how they can affect other problems the dog may have. In fact, be sure that your veterinarian has actually diagnosed the problem because sometimes the dog presents the same way for a multitude of problems. There are veterinarians trained to prescribe herbs. My friend and mentor, Dr. Susan Wynn has written books that can be helpful to you and your vet. Follow this link to find out more about her, and her books.
Supplements: My experience says that more supplements are fed to canine athletes than any other group of dogs, and arthritic dogs rank second. It's understandable to want to have all bases covered, and with so much information combined with misinformation in circulation, people are encouraged to use the supplement-of-the-week. Keep in mind that I'm encouraging you to feed veggies and some fruits (more of the first than the latter) I keep learning daily and am fully aware of studies (few as they are in dogs, especially different breeds, and ages) and while vitamin C has been a long standing recommendation, you'll be adding it naturally from foods. Supplemental vitamin C is excreted in urine and when combined with calcium also excreted in urine, you can be producing the perfect setup for calcium bladder stones. Feed real foods instead!
Glucosamine, chondroiten and MSM can be very helpful, but I've found that the amounts of each make a very big difference. Results have been based on the proportion of one to the other.
Ellagitannins have great anti inflammatory action. I wanted to point you to an article showing this, but there are so many that I urge you to do a Google search and read up on it. It's quite amazing. I use Antioxidant Booster for this purpose. Here's a newsletter explaining the difference between ellagic acid and ellagitannins, so you don't get fooled.
Therapies: Chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, water therapy...all can be fantastic. Don't forget the basic walk though. Older, aching joints may start off slowly, but will loosen up a little over time. Keep the dog slim so as not to burden those joints with more weight than really necessary. For the canine athlete, recuperation time is a must, and while most people know it, I'm always amazed at how much better the dog can do simply by being rested while feeding all the right foods during that time especially.
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"A dog can express more with his tail in minutes than an owner can express with his tongue in hours.” ~ Karen Davison