Joint Care: Healthy Joints, Happy Dog
Healthy joints make for happy dogs, no matter what age or stage of life.
When everything is working as it should be, cartilage and lubricating fluid protect bone, allowing your dog to enjoy smooth movement and a full range of motion. While some dogs are more prone to joint problems (especially as they enter their golden years), there is still plenty you can do to promote optimal joint health and proper joint care.
In this blog, you’ll find everything you need to help keep your dog’s zoomies pain-free.
Joint care and exercise
Regular movement is essential to keep your dog’s joints functioning at their best.
We’re often asked what the “best” form of exercise is—for healthy joints and in general—but the truth is there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer here. (That’s not our style, anyway.) Each dog has different needs; the best and safest exercises depend on your dog’s age, breed, body condition, and overall state of health.
Want to optimize your dog’s fitness? Chat with your vet. In the meantime, here are some general tips to consider before making your pet sweat:
- Avoid jogging with puppies. Most puppies and young dogs have the energy to keep pace, but the trouble is they don’t know their limits. Hitting the pavement too hard can stress their developing skeletal system and create long-term damage.
- Extra weight, extra caution. If your dog is on the heavier side, that excess weight makes them more prone to joint injuries. Conditioning should be slow and gradual so they can safely adjust to a change in routine.
- Take special care with smoosh-faced breeds. The “smoosh” that makes dogs like pugs and bulldogs so lovable also poses challenges when it comes to exercise. Narrower nostrils, shorter airways, smaller tracheas, and longer upper palates mean these breeds have a harder time breathing in the best of times and cause troubles with cooling down because of air obstruction. Therefore, exercise should be paced and incremental.
Walk your way to healthy joints
Walking is a great, low-impact form of exercise for dogs and humans alike. Scheduling regular walks will help keep your dog’s healthy joints in top form, but there are other health benefits, too:
- Bodyweight maintenance. More than half of dogs in North America are estimated to be overweight, with approximately 25-30% considered obese. To help your dog achieve and maintain optimal body weight, they’ll need to burn more calories than they consume. Walking is a fun and effective way to shed those extra pounds.
- Digestive and urinary health. Did you know that regular walking actually helps regulate your dog’s digestive and urinary tracts? Some dogs like to “go” on a schedule, and many do not have free access to the outdoors to manage that schedule on their own. Heading out on a walk can prevent issues like constipation and highly concentrated urine (putting your dog at risk of bladder infections).
- Mental health. Like us, dogs hate being bored. Without sufficient stimulation, they may stick their nose (or their teeth) where they don’t belong. Walks not only provide physical stimulation, but they’re excellent exercise for the mind and senses, too: new paths, new scents, and new people and pets to interact with.
Inflammation and injury: Healthy joints
Limping or lameness can result from injury or debilitation of one or more parts of your dog’s body (bones, muscles, nerves, skin, and so on).
Sometimes the cause of the limp is obvious, and sometimes further investigation (a vet exam and/or diagnostic imaging like x-rays) is needed to isolate what’s responsible for their pain.
When you notice your dog isn’t moving with its usual grace (or lack thereof), take note of:
- Which leg appears to be affected. If more than one looks to be giving your dog grief, it’s time to pay a visit to the vet.
- Whether they can put weight on their affected leg(s). If your dog completely drags their leg, tries to carry their leg when walking, or has taken to hopping to avoid putting pressure on it completely, it’s best for them to be seen by a professional.
- Whether your dog is in pain. Dogs are experts at hiding pain (for more on this, give our post on canine pain awareness and management a read). If your dog is showing signs consistent with severe pain, leave it to the experts. The last thing you or your dog want is to accidentally aggravate the injury.
If your dog has a mild, non-emergency limp, start with a self-assessment. Here’s how it’s done:
- Ask for help in gently restraining your dog so neither you nor they get hurt in the process.
- Check each toenail for broken nails or infection at the nail bed (where the skin attaches to the nail). Signs of infection include redness, pain when touched, inflammation, and discharge.
- Look between each toe, pressing as you go. Keep an eye out for any swelling, redness, or foreign bodies (like a thorn or a splinter).
- Check foot pads for cuts or portions that have sloughed off. If the affected area is mild and small, treat your dog to daily foot baths and keep paw(s) wrapped and protected when outdoors (removing for airflow when indoors).
Healthy joints involve a whole lot more than just joints. This means that the most effective approach to joint health management is one that considers the whole dog, from head to tail (much like our Waggle Mail dog subscription boxes do).
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