How to treat and prevent stiffness in dogs naturally
Recently, I received a Facebook comment on my page. One of our readers was unhappy that I said that older dogs can jog and run with us. In fact, she said that it was her surgeon who gave her the advice that older dogs should not run because it will wear their joints and cause arthritis.
This discussion made me realize that it was time to write an article on joints and dogs. Every day I see stiff older, and even younger dogs, hobbling and limping around and most people do not know that these dogs could be much better.
MUSCLES OR JOINTS?
This is a question that people should ask when they see their dog limping or getting stiff. Many people are surprised when I say that the most common reason for dogs being stiff are not joint issues, but tight muscles. Dogs are not much different from people and often slipping, sliding, a fall, too much ball retrieving or other obsessive activity can cause them to be contracted and inflexible. On the outside, this can look like arthritis, but often it is not.
The word arthritis is a latin word for joint inflammation. The joint itself is composed of cartilage, which covers the spongy ends of each articulated bone. The smooth and slippery parts of many joints are made of hyaline cartilage that ensures effortless movement of joints. Most people have seen chicken joints with its almost translucent white-blue shiny surface - hyaline cartilage.
Some structures such as intervertebral discs or knee joints are also lined with fibrocartilage that is flexible and strong.
Joints also contain a lubricant viscous liquid called synovial fluid that helps joint movement and protects cartilage.
Research has shown that arthritic joints appear to have increased presence of protein digesting enzymes, lower production of synovial fluid and also a higher concentration of toxins and heavy metals. Chronic inflammation of joints often leads to deterioration of joint surface and later calcification, which leads to friction, pain and more stiffness.
5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TREATMENT AND PREVENTION
While joint issues are often seen in a mechanical way, I see arthritis as a result of a long-term process that starts much earlier.
There are 5 main factors playing a role:
- Toxin build-up
- Immune system function
- Lack of exercise
Feeding the right food is the most crucial part of preventing arthritis.
Avoid corn, wheat, milk products, toxic preservatives and flavour agents. These are some of the main causes of arthritis. If you want your dog’s joints to be healthy, a wholesome raw, or at least, cooked diet is a must. Raw bones are also essential building blocks for healthy joints. You can read more about them here.
Supplement essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, manganese, sulfur, zinc and more to ensure that the body has enough building blocks to build, nourish, lubricate and repair joints. The reason why so many of our clients report improvement in mobility on GreenMin is that virtually all dogs and people suffer from deficiencies of some minerals and amino-acids. This is because the entire food chain is now depleted of nutrients due to intensive agricultural practices.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) are also key to healthy joints as they reduce inflammation and promote joint regeneration.
Glycosaminoglycans are naturally occurring substances that are an important part of joint and cartilage regeneration. Most people know of glucosamine, but they do not know that most joint supplements on the market are synthetic. I have been using GlycoFlex in its three stages, which is made from Green Lipped Mussel.
Toxins are also one of the primary causes of arthritis. Joints appear to gather toxins that trigger the inflammatory process, which in turn trigger antibody production. The vicious cycle doesn’t stop until we feed proper food and detox the body. My dog Skai gets herbal liver support and cleanse once every six months for one month as a part of a preventive program. Dogs that are stiff, tight and arthritic should be on this protocol once every three months.
IMMUNE SYSTEM FUNCTION
Immune system function is definitely involved in most cases of arthritis. Sometimes the body creates antibodies against its own joint tissue, especially when joints are ‘toxic’ or improper food is given. In fact, most arthritic dogs on processed food undergo a miraculous transformation when they are switched to a raw diet. The immune system is closely connected to the gut and a raw diet combined with anti-aging probiotics will provide the right intestinal flora.
I disagree with the opinions that auto-immune arthritis just happens. In my opinion, it is a disease of an overworked and overwhelmed immune system that panics and starts attacking its own cells. Providing the right nutrients and detoxing the body is absolutely essential.
Injuries commonly go undetected. It is easy to see a lame dog, however, most dogs do not show any visible signs of injuries. Looking at the evolution of dogs, they are built mainly for trotting and walking, with the exception of brief intense sprints chasing prey animals.
Modern dogs suffer injuries from inappropriate exercise such as extended periods of ball retrieving, jumping up, chasing frisbees or too much swimming.
When I mention this, some of my clients look at me in disbelief and a few of them even get angry. However, it only takes a couple of consultations for them to realize that more trotting, searching, playing with other dogs or going for hikes and runs is the best way to go. A frequent visit to a physiotherapist or chiropractor is worth its weight in gold when it comes to disease and arthritis prevention.
PREVENT LACK OF EXERCISE
Older dogs must move to remain mobile. Many dogs and people get weaker because people wrongly assume they should not exercise as often because their body parts will wear down. In reality, the opposite is true. Endurance and walking, even uphill, is the best way to maintain strength.
About 10 years ago, when I was 38 I biked up one of the local mountains with a 70-year-old cyclist friend. I consider myself generally fit, but guess what? I didn’t bike up the mountain once a week like he did and my senior friend left me in the dust! It was funny. Since then, I keep up my exercise and make sure I do not let my age become an excuse for laziness.
Dogs usually love to move and if your dog doesn’t want to, it most likely is because he is sore and needs to see a physiotherapist, chiropractor or an osteopath. In my experience, veterinary colleges have seriously neglected the area of proper exercise and treatment and there are only a few vets who recognize the subtle changes and shifts in the spine that can be crucial in disease prevention.
BEWARE OF ANTI-INFLAMMATORY DRUGS
Anti-inflammatories are the most commonly used quick-fix for stiffness in dogs. Drug sales are also a huge business, despite many serious problems. It appears that potential side effects such as liver failure, kidney failure or gastrointestinal hemorrhage are not serious enough for some companies that keep coming up with more and more NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Instead, clients are told to check their dog’s blood values more often and we vets are seriously misinformed about what can be done other than drugs.
Even more serious is the use of steroids that amputate the body’s immune system functions. Corticosteroid hormones cause irreparable damage and shorten lifespans. I strongly advise you against using them.
All of the above drugs slow down the regeneration and healing process and do more damage than good. Taking them can be compared to taking a sleeping pill when your kitchen stove catches on fire. They make you go to sleep and the destruction continues.
Sometimes, I am asked about Cartrophen injections. To me, they are too expensive and achieve the same thing as good quality supplements. I am not in favor of injections because they are not a natural way of entry for any nutrient or building block.
Instead, I prefer using a turmeric based product Zyflamend that is clinically tested on people and works well in dogs. Start with a half a dose for two weeks and gradually build up to a full dose.
If you were ever told that your arthritic dog can’t be pain-free without drugs, it is false in 99 percent of cases.
The following plan works for most stiff dogs:
1. A good raw or cooked, grain and dairy free diet (that includes treats).
3. Liver cleanse.
4. Glucosaminoglycan supplement, such as GlycoFlex.
5. Zyflamend for performance in senior, arthritic or injured dogs.
6. Regular check-ups with your holistically-minded vet, an animal physiotherapist, chiropractor, osteopath or IMS (intramuscular needle stimulation) practitioner.
Wishing you and your dog many future play days.
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM