It’s hard to overstate the importance of your dog’s joint health. Healthy joints are what allow your beloved pet to enjoy long walks, chase after balls, and play in the yard with your kids. So when it comes to this important issue, I’ll tell you right off the bat that it’s something you need to take into your own hands – because there is no better advocate for your dog than you.
So, where do you begin? As always, education is key – there is far more to joint health than simply giving your dog a joint supplement or the commonly prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS). The first step is to gain a broad understanding of all the pieces to the puzzle.
The musculoskeletal system is comprised of bones, muscles, tendons (which join muscle to bone), and ligaments (which join bone to bone). In addition, it also includes the components of the actual joint itself, such as the joint capsule, cartilage, and joint fluid.
All of these individual structures work together to keep your dog up and moving every day, therefore we need to keep all of these structures healthy. That makes sense, right? However, most pet owners are simply unaware of how to do this.
Where We Go Wrong
Here is an all-too-common scenario: Rudy is a 5-year-old Labrador Retriever who weighs 105 pounds (a good twenty pounds over what is considered healthy) and lives the typical lifestyle of a domestic dog. He gets two to three walks a day and otherwise is fairly sedentary while his family is at work. One day, while having a good old time in the backyard, Rudy injures himself and begins to limp on his left hind leg. He is quickly brought to his veterinarian and diagnosed with an ACL tear. His veterinarian recommends surgery, which he has the following day.
Now, up to this point, Rudy has never shown any signs of joint health issues. During the surgery, the instability in his knee is corrected. He gets sent home with Deramaxx, one of the many NSAIDs on the market, and some pain medication, i.e. Tramadol, for two weeks. As expected, Rudy recovers from surgery with the veterinarian’s recommendations to walk him on a leash for several weeks, and within eight weeks he is back out in the yard, playing again.
But did Rudy fully recover? Does his family have a plan for his future now that he has had this injury? Does his family truly understand the repercussions of how this joint injury will affect his long-term health, or do they simply take their veterinarian’s word for it and expect everything to be fine?
The problem with this scenario is that it is far too common. Never once was Rudy’s family educated that everything from this point forward changes in regards to his long-term joint health – and his overall health and wellness for that matter.
Where We Continue to Go Wrong
As the story continues, eight months later Rudy has another accident, and this time he injures his right hind leg. Yet again, he has to have surgery for a torn ACL – and the cycle repeats itself. Fast-forward two years and Rudy is still 105 pounds, happy as ever, but his family becomes concerned that he seems to be having a harder time getting up, and overall, he is not playing as much as he used to. He goes to his veterinarian again, who now takes x-rays of Rudy’s hips, knees, and spine. The veterinarian explains that Rudy is developing dog arthritis in both knees, as well as his lumbar spine, and therefore prescribes him Deramaxx, the NSAID, again. As expected, this medication makes him “feel” better and since he “seems” better while on it, his family continues to use it for the next several years. Everyone seems satisfied. Everyone, of course, except Rudy.
Could this scenario have been different? Could more have been done to help Rudy and his family at the time of his initial injury, and perhaps even prevent it in the first place?
Changing the Course
The answer is, obviously, yes. This scenario could have been much different for both Rudy and his family, and it all starts with a little education. Had the veterinarian, or even Rudy’s family, taken the time to look at the bigger picture and plan for the many future issues that Rudy would develop over the years, the whole situation could have been improved or potentially even avoided altogether.
For starters, Rudy’s weight issue should have been addressed much earlier on in his life. Excess weight means excess stress and strain on a dog’s joints, leading to more problems, earlier in life. Statistics tell us that in the United States, 50% of all dogs are clinically overweight and in many cases, obese. This statistic is astounding. For some reason, our society tends to disregard the importance of maintaining a balanced diet and healthy weight, not only for ourselves but also for our pets. In 2002, Nestle Purina released their 14 year-long Life Span Study that illustrated exactly what we already know (obesity wreaks havoc on health), yet disregard it. The results showed that overall, dogs who were fed a lean diet and maintained an ideal body weight lived on average two years more than those dogs who were not kept at a healthy weight. And wouldn’t you love to have your dog around for an extra two years? Check out our weight management guide here.
In the case of Rudy, the responsibility for his excess weight falls on the shoulders of both the veterinarian and the family. Either the veterinarian did not do a good enough job communicating the importance of this issue or providing tangible solutions for the family, or maybe the family did not think it was serious enough to follow through on the veterinarian’s suggestions. Whatever the case, Rudy is the one who suffers.
Second, had the veterinarian emphasized to the family that Rudy’s post-surgery rehabilitation was just as important as the surgery itself, there is a strong chance that Rudy would have never had the second injury at all. Proper post-surgery rehab consists of so much more than on-leash walking and painkillers.
If his family had been educated about proper nutrition, supplements, exercises, etc., Rudy would have been allowed to rebuild the strength in his injured leg back to its original condition – and therefore would not have had to overcompensate to such a great extent with this other hind leg. And it is this overcompensation that led to the second injury.
Lastly, had the veterinarian or the family understood the power of certain natural ingredients – in the form of supplements, food, etc. – that promote and maintain joint health, Rudy would have again been in much better standing to avoid injury and lead a happier, healthier life.
At the end of the day, I reiterate that you – and only you – are the best advocate for your dog. Therefore, it is up to you to gain an understanding and develop a plan for joint health that is going to work for the lifetime of your dog.
- Make sure to keep your dog at a healthy weight.
- Make sure that if your dog has an injury, you seek professional physical rehabilitation advice to ensure the best long-term recovery and
- Understand what a full recovery means.
- Make sure that you exercise your dog regularly to maintain muscle tone and flexibility, so they don’t overdo it one day and sustain an injury.
- Incorporate a joint support supplement that is proven to be of high quality and safe for your dog.