You’re starting to see the signs: your best buddy doesn’t bounce up to greet you quite as quickly as she used to. She doesn’t run quite as much as she once did, and when she does, she sometimes has a little hitch in her stride. She’s getting older, and she sometimes moves stiffly, slowly, when she wakes up in the morning. She’s less inclined to jump on the bed and snuggle next to you on the couch. And you know, in your heart of hearts, that all these signs add up to one thing: your dog is suffering from arthritis.
What is arthritis?
The type of pain and stiffness I describe above (commonly referred to as arthritis) is osteoarthritis, and it affects 25-30% of dogs (according to some estimates, that number is on the rise). It’s a chronic condition that arises when the cartilage surrounding a joint deteriorates, often because of chronic inflammation. Because cartilage covers the ends of bones and acts as a kind of barrier/shock absorber to keep them from scraping against each other, as the cartilage wears down, the bones it surrounds can rub against each other, which is uncomfortable at best and painful at worst.
Natural and easy ways to address arthritis
- Make sure your dog is the proper weight
One of the simplest but most overlooked ways to address arthritis is to make sure your dog is the proper weight. One of my friends once said to a dog that was on the plump side, “You aren’t fat, doggy! You’re just big-furred!” (He’s a nice guy, and he didn’t want the dog to feel bad for being on the heavier side.) However, if your dog has arthritis, they shouldn’t be “big-furred.” You should be able to easily feel your dog’s ribs when you press on their sides. When you look at them from the side, you should be able to see a nice waist tuck, and when you press on their chest, you shouldn’t be able to feel a big layer of fat. Here in America, we’ve gotten used to seeing dogs that are too heavy, so sometimes a dog that’s the ideal weight looks too thin to us, at least at first. Remember, especially when you’re dealing with arthritis, that it’s better for your dog to be slightly thin than slightly heavy. It will make a huge difference to your dog’s comfort and longevity.
Ok, stay with me on this one: if your dog is experiencing the joint pain and discomfort that comes with arthritis, then it’s especially important to make sure she’s getting appropriate and adequate exercise. It may seem counterintuitive… if it’s painful for her to move around, then you might feel like the last thing you want to do is make her move around more. But when our dogs don’t get exercise (especially if they’re overweight on top of it), not only do their joints have excessive strain, they also don’t get continually strengthened and stretched. It’s a recipe for disaster.
Of course, you want to be smart about what you ask your dog to do. Particularly if your dog is already showing signs of arthritis, you can (and should!) start them out with gentle walks so you don’t stress their muscles out. If your dog is in a lot of discomfort, a slow, short (10 or 15 minutes) walk twice a day is a great place to start. As they start to build up endurance, you can increase the distance and the speed. Let your dog guide you…you want them to be comfortable, but you also want to make sure their joints and muscles get used on a frequent, consistent basis.
For a long time, most people believed that “wear and tear” was the root cause of arthritis. However, we now know that chronic inflammation is what’s behind joint disease and damage. One of the biggest contributors to chronic inflammation is a processed-food (aka kibble) diet. The carbohydrates, fillers, and toxic chemicals in most kibbles, along with the methods used to make kibble, can all trigger inflammation. And because your dog’s body is hit with these inflammation triggers every single meal, they exist in a sort of low-grade, chronically inflamed state. Eventually, arthritis and other diseases of chronic inflammation (including cancer) occur.
Even if your dog has been eating kibble for years, changing them to a raw, balanced, varied species-appropriate diet can have a profound impact on their joint health. Case in point: we switched our senior dog, Cleo, to a species-appropriate raw food diet when she was about 15 years old. At the time, she was suffering terribly from arthritis: the pain was affecting every aspect of her life, and it was also causing her to be reactive towards other dogs (understandably—chronic pain can make anyone grumpy!). Within a relatively short time of changing her diet, she was feeling much better—enough that she could join us and our other dogs on the hikes she loved so much. She lived to be 19 years old, and she had a high-quality, pain-free life up until the very end.
While keeping your dog at the appropriate weight, feeding her a species-appropriate diet, and making sure she gets adequate and appropriate exercise can go a long way towards relieving arthritis, sometimes your dog may need a little extra help. If you’ve tried the first three tips and you feel like your buddy still doesn’t have all her zest back, there are a few more things you can try.
Two of the best anti-inflammatories are the omega-3 essential fatty acids EPA and DHA (essential fatty acids refer to fatty acids that your dog can’t make herself, but instead must get through food). If your dog has arthritis, you might want to try increasing the omega-3s she’s getting. While many people feed fish oil, I prefer to give my dogs supplementation in whole food form wherever possible. I feed my dogs whole raw frozen (or semi-thawed) sardines from our local Asian market. The sardines are packed with omega-3s, the dogs love them, they’re cheap, and they’re convenient. Make sure you get wild-caught sardines. You can also feed herring, mackerel, and other oily fish (if you feed wild-caught salmon, avoid salmon from the Pacific Ocean and from streams in the Pacific Northwest. It can contain bacteria that’s harmful for dogs).
If you can’t find sardines or other whole raw fish, consider supplementing with krill oil. I find krill oil to be a better choice than fish oil because krill have less contaminants and are lower in mercury than fish (because they’re at the bottom of the food chain). Plus, krill oil has more omega-3s than fish oil. One option to try is Dr. Mercola Krill Oil for Pets.
MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) is one of the best supplements available for dogs with arthritis. MSM occurs naturally in every cell in the body; it’s a sulfur compound that helps maintain flexible membranes and strong connective tissue. MSM is great at reducing inflammation (remember, chronic inflammation is what causes arthritis), and it also aids with reducing the swelling that comes along with arthritis. I’ve used MSM from Wolf Creek Ranch and been really happy with it.
Turmeric paste is an amazing anti-inflammatory. There are lots of recipes available on the internet for how to make turmeric paste, but the one I use I got from Krista Powell at Vibrant K9:
Turmeric paste recipe (yield ~2 cups)
- 1/2 cup organic turmeric powder
- 1 cup water
- 1/3 cup raw (unrefined) organic cold pressed coconut oil
- 2 tsps. freshly ground organic black pepper
- Organic ginger powder (optional)
- Organic cinnamon powder (optional)
Bring the water and turmeric to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer 7-9 minutes (until you have a thick paste). If you need to add additional water to achieve the right consistency, do so.
When you have a thick paste, cool the paste until it’s warm. Add the freshly ground pepper and oil (and the cinnamon and ginger, if using) and stir well. Let the mixture cool.
You can give the paste with every meal. Start out with 1/8 tsp and gradually build up (to a heaping tablespoon). Giving too much too quickly can give your pet diarrhea, so take it slow. And be careful when you’re cooking it—the paste will stain!
Note: very rarely, dogs that are fed this paste will start to smell like a litterbox. The ginger and/or cinnamon may help this, so if your pet gets stinky, try adding them in. Otherwise, there’s no need to include the ginger or cinnamon.
You can store the paste in glass jars (mason jars work well). The paste will keep for about 2 weeks when stored in the fridge (if you think it’ll take you longer than 2 weeks to use it all, keep whatever you won’t use in the freezer). When it starts to smell metallic, it’s no longer potent.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are two powerful supplements to use when your dog has chronic arthritis. Glucosamine in particular has been shown to help with arthritis pain, and it may also help rebuild and strengthen cartilage that’s been damaged by chronic inflammation. Whole raw chicken feet are a great source of glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate (like I said, I prefer to provide nutrients in whole food form wherever possible, because they tend to be more bioavailable and better absorbed). Green-lipped mussel also contains high amounts of glucosamine. If needed, you can also give your dog a high-quality canine glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate supplement.
- Alternative therapies
Sometimes when our senior girl, Cleo, overdid it a bit—especially when she was 17 or 18—she needed a little extra help to get back to her best. And one of my favorite ways to help ease her joints and help her bounce back fast was with essential oils. I found Young Living’s Frankincense oil to be especially powerful for her. I would either put some in my hands and massage her with it, or I would drop it down her back (6-8 drops spread out down the length of her spine). The results were always amazing! I remember one evening when she was having some trouble getting up from her bed to go for a walk. I dropped the Frankincense down her spine, and within 30 seconds, she jumped up and ran to the door; when I opened it for her so we could go on our evening walk, she proceeded to jog (with no indication of stiffness or pain) down the street. She didn’t stop jogging (sometimes breaking into a full-out run) until we got back to the house. My husband was there and was shocked at what a difference it made. Powerful stuff, I’m telling you.
Massage therapy and TTouch are also great for giving relief to dogs with arthritis. The good news is that you can learn both massage and TTouch techniques yourself, and once you learn them, you can do them anytime your dog is in discomfort. Both are gentle ways to help your dog feel better, and I can tell you from experience (I’ve used them for Cleo and other dogs that were in pain) that both are highly effective.
So, there you have it: how to ease your dog’s arthritis easily, using natural methods that get to the root cause of the problem instead of just masking the symptoms. The more of these ideas you put into practice, the better off your dog will be. So, give them a try. Speaking from personal experience, I know how good it feels to see your senior dog full of energy, full of life, and free from pain and discomfort.
-By Kristin Clark
Editor-in-Chief, Raw Pet Digest
Founder, Raw Pets Thrive Movement