This month is all about love. Being the doting pet parent that we know you are, there’s no doubt your pup feels the love daily in the form of belly rubs, games of fetch, and well-deserved treats. But there’s one thing even the most devoted pet owners often tend to neglect: their dog’s joints.
In truth, taking a proactive approach to caring for your dog’s joints – before issues arise – is one of the best and most loving things you can do for them. Plus, it’s easy!
Here’s why: Even simple shifts can make a huge difference when it comes to preventing injury and slowing the progress of degenerative joint diseases like arthritis, which hugely affect your dog’s quality of life. Making small changes in your dog’s diet, exercise, and lifestyle now can help manage issues like chronic inflammation and unnecessary stress on their joints, which are big triggers for future problems. This can mean less potential pain and longer active life for your pup – and what loving pet parent doesn’t want that?
So in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, here are 3 ways to show your dog’s joint some love in 5 minutes or less. While these simple tips are a great first step in being proactive about your pet’s joint health and helping to prevent potential problems, they can also help reduce pain and improve the quality of life of dogs who are already experiencing symptoms of arthritis, hip dysplasia, or other joint issues.
#1: Pamper Your Pup with a 5-Minute Massage
Here’s one your dog will appreciate. Pet massage can balance an animal’s muscle tone, which aids in joint flexibility and mobility, helping to reduce the risk of injury. Plus, dog massage can decrease pain associated with arthritis or other issues (by releasing endorphins), reduce stress and anxiety, and improve circulation and lymphatic flow (which helps remove toxins and supply a healthy blood flow to the vital organs). Plus, it is a great way to strengthen the bond between you and your canine companion – all in just 5 minutes a day!
Step-by-Step: Daily “Maintenance” 5-Minute Dog Massage
Here are simple step-by-step instructions for a basic “maintenance” massage that can be done daily.
- Have your dog lie down on their side on a soft but even surface.
- Start by using the “effleurage” technique to initiate relaxation. With your entire palm, gently stroke your dog’s back using continuous gliding motions. Start at the head, and with smooth, sweeping strokes, move down towards the tail and then down each of the limbs. Repeat this about four or five times.
- Once your dog is relaxed, move into “petrissage.” Massage your dog’s neck using circular motions. Just like humans, dogs can hold stress and tension here too.
- Continue massaging in circular motions down towards your dog’s shoulders. Since your pup can’t reach this area of their body, they should especially enjoy this!
- Move down to their chest and front legs, still using circular motions.
- Massage your dog’s back using circular motions, moving up and down both sides of the spine. Not on the spine, but the muscles on either side. Remember to keep the pressure gentle and comfortable.
- Move down to the back legs and tail area using the same circular motions.
- Squeeze the tail gently and firmly without pulling, from base to tip.
- If during the massage, you feel there is a tight ball of muscle – what we commonly refer to as a knot – you can perform a gentle compression to help release it. Use your thumb to apply even pressure over the top of the knot, hold for about twenty seconds, then release.
- End the massage with more “effleurage,” making long gliding strokes down the length of the body.
- Throughout the massage, take your time but be sure to honor your pup’s wishes if they let you know they’ve had enough or don’t wish to be touched in a certain area.
#2: Make a Healthy Meal Swap
At TopDog Health, we’re a big advocate of feeding dogs people food (shocking, we know). Nature provides such a host of delicious whole foods that are jam-packed with natural anti-inflammatories, vitamins, and minerals that it’s a shame to deprive our dogs of them.
Adding some steamed veggies, fresh fruits, or leafy greens into your dog’s regular meals is a great way to reduce the inflammation in their joints naturally. While there are a few people foods to avoid (most notably onions and garlic), and you want to ensure you aren’t overfeeding them (swap out an equal amount of kibble for as much people food as you add), your dog will love the variety and extra nutrition boost.
Here are our favorite joint-friendly whole foods to give to your dog:
- Fiber-filled veggies: Sweet potato, acorn squash, pumpkin
- Antioxidant-packed fruits: Blueberries, peeled apple, cantaloupe
- Vitamin-rich veggies: Broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini
- Leafy greens: Spinach, kale, collards
- Fatty fish: Salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines
- Lean protein: Chicken, turkey
For more anti-inflammatory, dog-friendly people foods and recipes, check out our blog article here.
#3: Give Them Green Lipped Mussel Oil
Bet you weren’t expecting this one. While most pet owners typically have an idea that omega-3 fatty acids are good for their dog’s joints (which is certainly true), the go-to tends to be fish oil. But the real powerhouse when it comes to omega-3 supplements? Green-lipped mussel oil.
Here’s why green-lipped mussel oil is the ultimate supplement to reduce inflammation in your dog’s joints:
It Contains a Secret Weapon: ETA
While fish oil only has two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), green-lipped mussel oil also has a third: ETA. ETA not only helps block the enzymes that contribute to inflammation, but it also goes one step further to lower the production of these enzymes at the gene level.
You Need Less of It
Since the ETA found in the green-lipped mussel is hundreds of times more potent than the EPA found in fish oil, you can give your dog a comparatively lower dosage. This means you can provide them with better joint health for less money out of your pocket.
It’s Considered a Superfood
In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, the green-lipped mussel is considered a superfood because it contains a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fats, amino acids, antioxidants, enzymes, and many more nutrients.
When choosing a green-lipped mussel oil for your pup, make sure you’re getting a high-quality supplement to ensure the best results. TopDog’s Flexerna supplement contains SuPernol®, a concentrated, purified, potent oil from the green-lipped mussel. To give your dog Flexerna, all you need to do is add one or two pumps to their food once a day, or give them one or two pills per day, and let the green-lipped mussel oil do the rest.
Bonus Tip: A Healthy Weight = The Holy Grail of Joint Wellness
While this isn’t technically a “5 minutes or less” tip, it’s so important that we had to include it. Excess weight on your dog’s frame equals excess strain and stress on their joints, which over time wreaks havoc on the whole musculoskeletal system. Not to mention that being overweight can lead to a whole slew of other non-joint related issues for your pet like hypertension, diabetes, heart and kidney disease, and cancer.
To help your pup avoid a host of health problems, here are a few of our favorite quick tips to start getting your dog to an ideal weight:
- Cut down on kibble – There’s no way around this one. As a rule of thumb, do not believe what the guidelines or instructions say on your bag of dog food. In today’s society with the average dog’s lifestyle, pet food manufacturers are recommending way too much food. For more info on finding out how much kibble is right for your dog, read our article here: 7 Tips for Getting Your Dog to a Perfect Weight.
- Provide regular exercise – Regular is the keyword here. Everyone knows exercise is good for their dog, but so often our busy 9 to 5 lifestyles result in what we call “Weekend Warrior Syndrome” for our pets. This means our dogs tend to be mostly sedentary Monday through Friday, then go way too hard on the weekends with marathon activity sessions. Keep in mind that consistency, rather than intensity, is better. A 10-minute run with your dog after work every day is better than an hour-long run on Saturdays. (P.S. Weekend Warrior Syndrome is also a big no-no when it comes to joint health. Lacking the proper conditioning, your dog’s joints are more prone to injury during marathon activity sessions).
- Break treats into pieces – Some of our clients are surprised when we advise them to continue giving their overweight dog treats, but this ritual is so important to the pet/pet parent relationship that we avoid advising against it. Instead, break the treat into smaller pieces so they’re getting fewer calories – we promise your dog won’t notice (and they will always want more anyway, no matter how small or big the treat is).
At the end of the day, natural wear and tear on your dog’s joints over their lifetime is going to happen, but there are so many simple things you can do to arm them with the best chance they can have to enjoy a long, comfortable, active life. Not only will your dog thank you, but your wallet will also too – surgery and/or pain medication following an injury or development of the disease can get pricey. So in the spirit of St. Valentine, get out there and show your dog (and their joints) some love!