Joint and mobility issues, like arthritis, are some of the most common health problems among dogs. Arthritis symptoms in your pup can range from being hardly noticeable to completely debilitating, and it can be difficult to watch your best friend’s mobility decline. While unfortunately, canine arthritis can’t be completely “cured” (once the cartilage in your dog’s joint/s has been damaged, it is rare that it’s able to fully repair itself again), there are many things you can do as a pet parent to help keep their symptoms on the lower end of the spectrum – and feeding them an anti-inflammatory diet is one of the most important.
Depending on what you choose to feed – or not feed – your dog, their food can either act as a medicine or a toxin. It can help alleviate the symptoms of disease or fuel them. With just a little awareness and effort on your part, you can begin feeding your dog a diet that helps fight the progression of arthritis, alleviates their discomfort, and contributes to their well-being on every level.
But where to begin? A quick Google search for “arthritis in dogs” produces a whopping 63 million results in under a second! The sheer amount of information out there can be overwhelming. It may seem easiest to simply buy a kibble or canned dog food that is created especially for arthritic dogs and call it a day. But remember, while there are many great dog food companies out there, it’s hard to know which ones are trustworthy. Some foods branded as beneficial for arthritic dogs may still contain fillers and artificial ingredients that can actually contribute to the disease. Why? Simply put, because it’s cheaper for manufacturers.
Luckily, your job is simple: educate yourself on which ingredients are good and which are bad, and read the labels. This way you’ll ensure the food you choose doesn’t contain anything that’s going to contribute to chronic inflammation, which, as we’ll learn, is an arthritic dog’s #1 enemy.
Your #1 Goal: Reduce Inflammation
All forms of canine arthritis cause chronic inflammation in the joints, which leads to pain in the affected areas. Basically, inflammation of the joints in dogs is simply another way of saying your dog is suffering from arthritis – and it’s causing them pain. The more inflammation in your dog’s joints, the more pain they experience.
Inflammation of the joints in dogs occurs when the cartilage within a joint is damaged, either from an acute injury or from wear and tear over the years. A normal joint will have a thin layer of cartilage covering the bones and will be lubricated with joint fluid – ensuring the joint glides smoothly and freely without any friction or discomfort. A joint with arthritis becomes rough and the bone surfaces of the joint rub together, causing inflammation. The joint becomes stiffer and limited in its mobility, which mirrors itself in the stiff gait and limited mobility that pet parents of arthritic dogs are only too familiar with. When your pup ingests something that causes an inflammatory response in their joints, this causes the tissues to swell even more, which then puts painful pressure on the nerves. Feeding an anti-inflammatory diet is one of the easiest and most natural ways to combat this chronic inflammation so your pet starts to feel relief. So which foods should you favor to fight inflammation, and which should you avoid to prevent contributing to it?
Natural Foods & Supplements that Help Canine Arthritis
Before we get into which dog food is best for arthritic dogs, we’ll first mention that nature provides an arsenal of whole foods that are inflammation-fighting powerhouses that can help alleviate the symptoms of canine arthritis. While we often think of these things – veggies, fruits, etc. – as “people food,” they are both safe and extremely beneficial in managing your dog’s arthritis pain.
Here are a few of our favorite “people foods” & dog supplements for arthritic dogs:
- Fiber-filled veggies: Sweet potato, acorn squash, pumpkin
- Antioxidant-packed fruits: Blueberries, cherries, peeled apple, cantaloupe
- Vitamin-rich veggies: Broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini
- Leafy greens: Spinach, kale, collards
- Fatty fish: Salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines
- Lean protein: Chicken, turkey
- Omega-3 oils: Fish oil, green-lipped mussel oil
- Coconut oil (mix in with dog’s food or use to sauté dog’s veggies)
- Flaxseed oil (drizzle over dog’s food)
Herbs and Spices
- Fresh ginger root
- Turmeric (fresh root or powdered)
- Parsley (bonus = breath freshener!)
Read more about which whole foods will benefit your arthritic dog, plus get 5 of our favorite natural doggy dinner recipes here.
Essentially, quality joint supplements contain ingredients that stimulate the growth of cartilage, lubricate joints, inhibit cartilage-destroying enzymes, and more to improve the health of the joint. While omega supplements, on the other hand, focus mainly on reducing chronic inflammation, which reduces a healthy dog’s risk for joint problems and other countless diseases, helps relieve arthritis pain, and promotes a healthy heart, brain, and immune function.
Foods to Avoid If Your Dog Has Arthritis
While whole foods from nature are wonderful at helping alleviate your dog’s arthritis pain, we understand that most pet parents don’t always have time to feed veggies, fruits, and freshly prepared proteins at every meal – and sometimes you need the convenience of canned food or kibble.
The trick lies in knowing how to choose the right canned food or kibble for an arthritic dog. While many processed dog foods contain refined ingredients, added sugars, and harmful preservatives that all contribute to painful inflammation in your dog’s joints, knowing what ingredients to avoid will help you read and understand the labels to make the best choice for your pet.
Here are 5 foods to avoid if your dog has arthritis:
If your dog has arthritis, grain-free food may be the way to go. Many processed commercial dog foods contain grains such as wheat, rice, soy, and spelt, which can cause your dog’s blood sugar levels to fluctuate and increase painful swelling. Limiting the grains in your dog’s diet can decrease their inflammation. However, please talk to your veterinarian before making any switches to your dog’s diet. There has been controversy surrounding grain-free diets so please consult your vet.
Corn is a somewhat controversial dog food topic, and staple ingredient and filler in many dog foods. Corn has a high carbohydrate content and while it provides a quick source of energy, it can also cause a sensitivity that leads to inflammation for some dogs. You would not see an immediate adverse reaction upon your dog ingesting it, but it could gradually worsen your dog’s inflammation over time.
3. Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Most dogs who eat a commercial diet (read: kibble and/or canned food) will have a plethora of omega 6-fatty acids in their system. This is because omega-6s, which are high in cheaper oils such as corn, soybean, safflower, sunflower, and canola oils, are less costly and more readily available for pet food manufacturers. Also found in meat and poultry, omega-6s are part of a normal dog’s diets, but should be kept to a minimum for dogs who suffer from arthritis. The body converts excess omega-6s such as linoleic acid in the body to arachidonic acid, which is highly inflammatory to arthritis sufferers. (Bonus tip: An easy and effective way to remedy this imbalance is to provide a high-quality daily omega-3 supplement. Omega-3 fatty acids produce hormones that decrease harmful low-grade chronic inflammation and work alongside omega-6 in such a way to maintain optimal health)
4. Fatty Proteins
This one is on the list because it is extremely detrimental for an arthritic dog to be overweight (and there’s a good chance they are, as obesity affects more than 50% of dogs in the U.S.). While protein is important in an arthritic dog’s diet because it supports strong muscles to protect joints, if they are carrying even a little bit of extra weight, try to favor lean proteins such as chicken, turkey, or grass-fed meat. While fatty fish such as salmon and tuna contain beneficial omega-3s, your main goal should be to provide a healthy diet while keeping calories down. We can’t stress this enough: it’s extremely important to understand as a pet parent to an arthritic dog just how crucial it is to keep them at an ideal weight. Decreasing the load on your dog’s joints is critical, and even the slightest bit of excess weight will compound their arthritis pain, decreasing their quality of life. If your dog is overweight, our Complete Guide to Weight Loss for Dogs has everything you need to know to get them back on track.
5. Added Salts, Sugars, and Artificial Additives
As a general rule, the more processed a food is, the more likely it is to contribute to inflammation. By definition, all manufactured dog foods are going to be processed to an extent, so it’s important to choose one that contains no added salts, sugars, or artificial additives, which are basically an unnecessary recipe for increased inflammation
When choosing a food for your arthritic dog, be sure to read the label carefully and avoid these 5 foods as much as possible to ensure what they’re eating act as medicine in their body, not a toxin.
Treats and Table Scraps
If you’re like most pet parents, the occasional treats and table scraps are one way you show your dog how much you love them. And that’s okay! Giving a well-deserved treat is such a wonderful way for you to bond with your pup that we actually never recommend you stop giving your dog treats, even if they’re overweight.
However, we do recommend you make a few modifications to how you give treats, especially for arthritic dogs. Remember that the more processed something is, the more likely it is to lead to painful inflammation. Dog treats are notorious for being highly-processed, containing high amounts of salt, fat, and sugar. There are several natural alternatives that your dog will enjoy just as much – think crunchy baby carrots, sweet pieces of cut-up fruit, or delightfully chewy dehydrated veggies. If you absolutely have to give your pup a treat out of a bag, find one with the most natural ingredients possible and break it in half or even smaller pieces to keep the calorie count down.
The same goes for table scraps – the more natural, the better. Before you give your pup anything from your plate, ask how far it is from its original form. For example, pasta, white bread, and cheese aren’t found anywhere in nature, but eggs, blueberries, and cauliflower are. Find healthy alternatives that your dog still enjoys (we promise, they exist) and stick to those. Your dog may get momentary pleasure from chowing down a chunk of cheese, but it’s not worth contributing to painful inflammation.
Canned Food Vs. Kibble
You’re now armed with the info you need to make an informed choice about the ingredients in your dog’s food. The next question may then be, canned food or kibble? In short, the canned food vs. kibble debate is not one that has a cut-and-dried answer. Canned and kibble dog food both have their good and bad points. Which food you decide to feed is really a personal decision based on many factors including what your vet advises. What’s important when choosing food for your arthritic dog is to avoid the ingredients we mentioned above, and to ensure you’re getting a quality product.
With that said, here are some of the pros and cons of both canned and kibble dog food to help make the decision clearer.
Canned Dog Food – The Pros
Canned dog foods typically have much less grain and carbs in them than kibble foods (a huge plus for arthritic dogs), even if you aren’t buying grain-free canned food. This is because kibbles require a large number of carbs – as much as 50% – so they can go through the machinery and be extruded into kibble form. Since this process isn’t necessary for canned food, these typically have more meat protein which is good for your dog (depending on their sources – remember, try to stick to lean proteins for arthritic dogs).
Canned dog food also typically has fewer chemical additives than kibble, as well as less artificial flavoring and coloring – which can all contribute to harmful inflammation. Canned foods don’t need the kind of preservatives that kibble does because they are preserved through the canning process.
Also, canned food contains more water than kibble, often being around 75% liquid, which helps your dog stay hydrated. Proper hydration is key for keeping joints adequately lubricated, allowing them to move and flex as needed. Dehydration can lead to stiff tendons and ligaments, which can cause heightened pain in arthritic dogs and increase the risk of injury.
Canned Dog Food – The Cons
One of the main cons of canned dog food is that it often uses thickening agents to make the food hold its shape. One of these thickeners is carrageenan, which has been associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), acid reflux, and intestinal ulceration. Also, most dog food cans are lined with Bisphenol-A (BPA), which has been associated with some health problems in people.
And there’s the cost as well. Canned food is almost always more expensive than kibble of the same quality, and cost can add up quickly – especially if you have a large dog or multiple dogs.
Kibble Dog Food – The Pros
The main advantages of kibble are cost and convenience. Kibble usually costs less per ounce than canned dog food, even when you compare foods of the same quality. Kibble is also more convenient to feed (you don’t need to open cans) and easier to store.
The Cons of Kibble
Most dog owners in the U.S. choose to feed kibble dog food because of lower cost and higher convenience. If you choose to do so for your arthritic dog, be sure you’re feeding one with quality ingredients and look for a product with higher protein, lower carbs, which typically means better nutrition.
Ingredients to Look for in Dog Food to Promote Healthy Joints
We’ve covered which ingredients to avoid in your arthritic dog’s food – whether it be kibble or canned food – so which ingredients should you favor?
Here are some of the top nutrients that decrease inflammation and contribute to healthy joints.
1. Omega 3-Fatty Acids
As we mentioned, omega-3 fatty acids are a powerful, natural way to reduce inflammation and balance the omega-6s in your dog’s body. While many dog foods and supplements use fish oil as an omega-3 ingredient, by far our favorite source is the green-lipped mussel, found in our Flexerna supplement, which contains a more diverse omega-3 profile to efficiently and effectively combat joint pain and inflammation.
2. Lean Protein
As we mentioned, lean protein plays an important role in taking care of the muscles and soft tissues that support the joints and contribute to the overall health of your dog’s musculoskeletal system, without as much of a risk of packing on harmful pounds. Look for chicken, turkey, or grass-fed meat.
Glucosamine is the oldest and most researched ingredient in the joint supplement world and is often added to dog foods aimed at keeping joints healthy. An amino sugar that is essential for maintaining healthy cartilage and joint function, glucosamine is naturally produced by your dog’s body. But over time, their natural production becomes inadequate at preventing joint damage and must be supplemented. If you have an older dog or a pup suffering from arthritis, be sure to help boost their reserve of this crucial nutrient.
Chondroitin is a cartilage component that promotes water retention (remember, hydration is key!) and elasticity needed for mobility and inhibits many of the degradative enzymes that break down cartilage and joint fluid.
Methylsulfonylmethane (or MSM) is naturally-occurring, easily-absorbed sulfur that is an essential building block for all cell membranes. In a nutshell, it is a cell rejuvenator, antioxidant, and joint healer that is highly effective at relieving pain and inflammation.
6. Hyaluronic Acid
Hyaluronic acid (or HA) is a gel-like substance that is naturally produced by your dog’s body, serving as a shock absorber and helping to lubricate their joint fluid. In older dogs, highly active dogs, or dogs that have suffered an injury, HA can become damaged and lead to joint issues. Supplementing HA has been shown to be effective in replacing damaged HA in the joints that commonly occur from overuse, age, or trauma.
7. Cetyl Myristoleate
A relative of the omega-9 fatty acid found in olive oil, cetyl myristoleate is a completely natural long chain esterified fatty acids found in certain animals, such as cows, whales, beavers, and mice – but not dogs (or humans, for that matter). It is a wonderful anti-inflammatory, as well as a pain reliever and immune system modulator.
8. Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
Unlike humans, dogs’ bodies are able to create their own vitamin C, but dogs with joint problems need more than what their bodies produce naturally. This antioxidant protects against free radicals that accelerate the aging process and aids in the absorption of the other ingredients.
While these are found in many quality canned and kibble dog foods geared towards joint health, you can also provide them to your dog in supplement form. If you want a shortcut to providing your pup with the last 6 ingredients on the list above, GlycanAid contains them all in one convenient joint supplement.
Simply put, food can do one of two things for an arthritic dog: it can soothe their system and promote healing, or it can be toxic, fueling imbalance and disease. The choice is up to you. Armed with this information, you can now begin feeding your arthritic dog an anti-inflammatory diet that will assist in preventing further deterioration of their joints and managing arthritis pain to help them live full, happy lives.