As featured on Grey Matters Blog for the Grey Muzzle Organization
In my first two blog posts on the Grey Matters Blog, we discussed simple signs to look for to identify if your dog has joint pain. We then introduced the concept of “The Pain Trial” which every dog owner should know about and be able to discuss with their veterinarian. I have listed these posts for easy reference, in case you missed them:
TopDog Health Series:
- Is my dog in Pain? What to look for and how to listen.
- The Pain Trial Concept for Dogs: What is it and why is it important?
Now the conversation is going to shift focus from how to identify joint pain to what we can do to help our dogs. My goal is to answer some of the major questions that may exist in your mind and provide you with both practical and useful information that you can use to move forward in helping your dog’s joints.
A Holistic Mindset Is Key to Maximizing Your Dog’s Joint Health
When you think of improving your dog’s joint health you need to think holistically about the joints. Yes, improving what is going on ‘inside of each joint’ is important but also improving upon what is going on ‘outside of the joint’ is equally as important. What do I mean by this?
The joints are a part of the musculoskeletal system. That system includes the muscles supporting the joint, the ligaments and tendons surrounding the joint, the bones that come together to make up the joint, and of course the joint itself; comprised of joint cartilage, joint fluid, and the joint capsule. The problem that I see is that people often overlook the importance of these muscles and soft tissue when in reality they are critical to the support and success of the whole system.
Fact: As a dog begins to experience increased joint pain they begin ‘slowing down’, not being as active, sleeping more or sleeping longer, essentially they slowly begin to move around less and less.
In the early stages, this is very very subtle. Most dog owners never even ‘see’ the change that is actively occurring right before their own eyes until one day they are like ‘Wow’ Daisy has lost muscle. We all understand the concept; ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it’ well the same holds for our dogs. Maybe you used to walk your dog 2 miles a day and now they only want to go 1.5 miles….that decrease in exercise has an impact on the amount of muscle the body needs.
Fact: The less active you are the less muscle you need.
Think about this: If you had to pick up a 100 lb box every day, multiple times a day then your body is going to essentially grow the muscles required to pick up that 100 lb box more efficiently (ie. you will build the muscle needed to pick up 100 lbs).
My point is this, when it comes to your dog keep in mind muscles are critical to joint support and overall health, therefore we need to think about ways we can build and strengthen the muscles around the joints which are causing problems for our dogs.
We have videos detailing a variety of exercises that you can do with your dog to build and strengthen their muscles. The stronger the muscles, the better support your dog’s joints have. The fewer the muscles the more stress is placed directly on the inside of the joint and therefore more pain.
Note: I often talk about learning how to ‘Think Like a Personal Trainer’ for your dog. If you and your dog need additional coaching on physical exercises that would benefit their joint health, I strongly encourage you to seek out a professional canine rehabilitation expert to assist both of you. These newer groups of experts are exploding across the country and their knowledge base and access to incredible conditioning equipment are becoming more and more accessible every day.
Note: I am not going to go into great detail about the importance of weight management but I have to make mention of it. Please make sure that your dog is at their ideal body weight to reduce additional stress on the joints.
The World of Joint Supplements for Dogs
The first thing most people think about when they want to help their dog’s joints is glucosamine. Glucosamine is the oldest and most researched ingredient in the joint supplement world. Because of that, it has been discussed the most in media and by doctors, far longer than any other ingredient concerning joints. Yet glucosamine is only one of many natural ingredients that can provide immense value to the comfort of your dog’s joints.
In today’s marketplace, you can find hundreds if not thousands of products that promote joint health via glucosamine and this can be massively confusing to even the most astute consumer.
Here is a list of some of the other major ingredient players in naturally improving joint health. Chondroitin sulfate, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), hyaluronic acid, Vitamin C, Manganese, Cetyl-Mysritoleate (CM), Omega 3 Oils. You can check out my personally formulated joint supplement GlycanAid HA. You can also find a comprehensive list here.
What You Need to Know #1: Combination joint supplements work better than single ingredient supplements.
What You Need to Know #2: Not all ingredients are created equal and for me, a dog owner who loves my dog like my own child, I am super critical and very cautious about quality.
Having been on the inside of the joint supplement manufacturing world for over 10 years now and an active member of the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC), I am hyper-critical of the source, quality, and origin of raw materials that go into any product. For myself, I am more concerned about where the raw materials for a product come from than I am about where they are squished together. If a product boasts that it is made in the USA, the first question I ask is…..GREAT but where do you get the ingredients from?
My Best Advice to You: As a pet parent make sure you do your research. Make sure that at first, you don’t focus on price and instead focus on finding a product made by a company that aligns with your belief system. If you care about quality ingredients then find a company that focuses on that. If you care about simply getting the best price and ingredient origin is not a high priority then focus on that. Also, it never hurts to ask the advice of your trusted veterinarian before making a purchasing decision.
The Value Behind Omega 3’s
Like glucosamine, it has long been accepted and researched that a diet high in Omega 3 Fatty Acids is beneficial to joint health. This truth still exists.
Yet just like the world of combination joint supplements, it can be very confusing while trying to make the right purchasing decision for your dog. The two most recognized Omega 3’s in the consumer world are EPA and DHA. What most people don’t know is that to get the full natural anti-inflammatory benefits of Omega 3‘s your dog would need to consume 100mg/kg of EPA alone (reference Dr. Bauer Study). You simply cannot look at the total fish oil content, you need to turn the label over and look at the levels of EPA. This is a tremendous amount.
That being said there is also the HUGE concern again about the source and a HUGE concern about safety and quality. Is the fish being used sustainably harvested? Have the oils been tested and proven free of toxins and other heavy metals due to pollution of our oceans?
My suggestion for you is to again do your research and find a company that takes these matters very seriously and also consult your veterinarian.
Note: There is an emerging golden child of Omega 3’s that research has shown has incredible natural anti-inflammatory properties that are beneficial to dogs joint health. This specifically is the purified extracted oil from the Green Lipped Mussel of New Zealand also known as the Green Shelled Mussel of New Zealand. Not only has the oil from this mussel shown incredible benefits but how the mussels are farmed and harvested is truly amazing. The mussels grow in the ultra-clean waters of the bays surrounding New Zealand. It is 100% bio-sustainable and in fact the Green Lipped Mussel farming industry is the most recognized eco-friendly aquaculture in existence today. This potent natural anti-inflammatory can be found in our Flexerna Omega.
Fact: Omega 3 oils should be an active part of any dog’s joint health.
The Pharmaceutical Options and Maskers of Pain
Since this entire blog series on the Grey Matter Blog has been all about the pain in dogs, it is obvious that our last discussion needs to be about what drugs are available. Most of these you may be familiar with but there are two bigger concepts that I want you to take home.
The first and most obvious one is the group of drugs referred to as NSAIDs or Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories. Included in this group is Aspirin itself but I would strongly encourage you to avoid any long-term use of this and instead focus on utilizing the more targeted drugs developed specifically for dogs. The most popular in this group hands down is still Rimadyl® which is the brand name for the drug carprofen. Since going off-patent a few years ago, carprofen is now available under many different names but you will still always see the name carprofen on the bottle. It is available in 25mg, 75mg, and 100mg tablets.
Also in this group are the following drugs: (brand name first, drug name second)
Metacam® (meloxicam)-Note this is also now available in generics
Depending on your veterinarian and their experience, they may choose one brand over the other but all of them are potentially life-changing for a dog in pain. That said like every drug in the world, this group of NSAIDs can have potential adverse effects so discuss any risks with your veterinarian.
Important Take Away:
It has been shown that in some cases you may need to “find” the right NSAID for your dog, therefore if one does not seem to help that much you may want to mention to your veterinarian that you would like to try a different one.
This goes the same for any potential adverse effects. Just because your dog does not tolerate one does not mean they will not tolerate any of them.
All of these drugs should be given after your dog has food in their belly. If your dog is not eating then absolutely do not give any of these medications to them and call your veterinarian.
If or when your dog needs additional pain management your veterinarian may introduce some opioids into the mix. This group of drugs can change the game when it comes to effective pain management. They are in most cases extremely well-tolerated and on the whole very safe. The most common opioid prescribed for daily use in veterinary medicine today is Tramadol. It is available in one strength of 50mg tablets though can be compounded into smaller dosages for smaller dogs. It also has a very wide prescribed safety margin in terms of dosing.
Other commonly used opioids are:
Leave it up to your veterinarian which would be best for your dog.
Other Pain Drugs:
There is one honorable mention that I would like to also add here. It is Gabapentin also known as Neurontin®. This drug is an anti-seizure medication that also has been used in managing chronic pain in dogs and cats.
Lastly, I want to leave you with two important concepts that I think are vital. The first is understanding synergism. Synergism is defined as the interaction or cooperation of two substances that together produce a greater effect than the sum of their separate effects. The reason I want you to understand this concept is that often the combination of drugs even occasionally at lower dosages can have a greater effect on relieving your dog’s pain than simply relying on one drug alone. This is a conversation that your veterinarian would appreciate having with you.
The second concept is one which I warmly named “Tweaking”. Strange, right? The big idea is this, when it comes to joint disease you must accept the fact that this is a progressive disease therefore it is going to worsen over time. Therefore you must be open to “Tweaking” your dog along that way. For my patients, I always start with my natural options like joint supplements and omega 3’s. From there, in the future when I need to, I will add in an NSAID. Then again when I need to I will add in an opioid or a combination of opioids and gabapentin depending on what I think will best suit that particular dog and condition. Throughout all of this, there is still the need to focus on exercise, stretching, massage, and muscle development.
At the end of the day, my goal is to make sure that my dogs and my client’s dogs are maintaining the absolute best quality of life that they can realize. If you found this information useful please make sure to share it with your friends who have dogs or on social media. The goal is to help any dog who potentially is suffering silently in pain and help them.