Importance of Joint Health in Horses and Dogs
by Heather Carter
August 04, 2022
Joint health is vital to the overall well-being, health, and happiness of our pets. As active creatures, they are bound to have regular “wear and tear” throughout their bodies as they grow older but keeping the importance of joint health in mind can help prevent them from suffering painful joint related problems in their old age and help keep them active and healthy for as long as possible.
Anyone who has arthritis in their joints can tell you how debilitating and painful your life can become. The same thing goes for our furry friends, which is why maintaining your pet’s joint health is so important!
Joint Breakdown: What Makes Up A Joint?
Connecting Bones- Bones make up the structure of the joint. How they are shaped when your pet is developing determines their joint’s integrity and stability.
Joint Cartilage- Cartilage is a firm connective tissue between the bones that dampens the pounding effect when standing up, running, and jumping. When healthy cartilage is damaged or worn away, the bones have nothing to prevent their colliding, which causes significant pain and inflammation.
Synovium and Synovial Fluid- This is the lubrication between the bone and the joint cartilage that allows for the bones to glide across each other freely. Without the synovial fluid, the cartilage is susceptible to wear and tear and once the healthy cartilage is damaged, arthritis is likely to come up next.
Ligaments- Finally, the connective fibers along the sides of the joint are called the ligaments. They attach from bone to bone and prevent them from moving out of place.
Joint Disease Categories: Developmental Or Degenerative
Developmental joint issues come from either overdevelopment or underdevelopment of bones connected to the joints. For example, hip sockets are often too big and cause the hip bone to pop out and back in, causing the rubbing of the bones together. This constant friction can cause issues such as dysplasia in dogs, especially as they age.
Degenerative joint disease, or DJD, is one of the most common causes of arthritis in our pets. This occurs when the cartilage deteriorates around the bones, and they no longer have enough lubrication to keep them functioning properly.
Signs And Symptoms Of Joint Problems
- Limping/ Favoring One Side
- Not Using All Legs To Stand (Putting all their weight on 1-2 of their legs)
- Refusal To Jump/ Climb
- Swollen Joints
- Muscle Degeneration
- Licking The Affected Joints
- Changes In Temperament
- Depression Or Lethargic Behavior
Because of the pain and discomfort often associated with joint issues, our pets will frequently begin to act differently and may start changing from their typical behaviors and moods. You know your pet best! If you think something seems off with them, then contact your trusted veterinarian to find out their diagnosis and the best course of action.
Overall Joint Health
Exercise- Regular and safe exercise helps your pets build strong muscles, ligaments, tendons, and supports their overall health! A fit pet can run, jump, and move freely without hesitation or limits. However, your pets exercise routine must take into consideration your pet’s age and previous or current injuries to prevent any excessive strain being placed on their active joints. Work with your veterinarian to understand what will work best for your pet. Remember every pet is different and what works for one animal does not always mean it will work for another.
Weight Management- Always aim to keep your pet at a healthy weight throughout all stages of their life, but especially during the growth stages when their bones are still soft and are still developing. Keeping your pet from becoming overweight will reduce the risk of additional strain being placed on their joints.
Nutrition- The importance of good nutrition begins as soon as your pet is born. Giving them a healthy and balanced diet will prevent them from becoming overweight and will give them the nutrients they require to keep their joints and overall health in good standing. Speak with your veterinarian throughout your pet’s life to give them the ever-changing diet that they will need as they go through the various stages of life.
Joint Supplements- Joint supplements are not a magic cure-all! You need to make sure that you are feeding your pet’s properly, they are getting the right kind of exercise, and that all their other needs (coat, skin, happiness, etc.) are being met before focusing on additional supplements. Some nutrients that have been shown to improve joint health include:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids- Helps with skin and fur conditions, heart disease, cognitive function, and even arthritis. Strong anti-inflammatory.
Glucosamine- A naturally occurring compound of glucose (a sugar) and glutamine (an amino acid) that is a building block of the cartilage matrix. It stimulates growth of cartilage cells and has been shown to normalize the synovial fluid that lubricates joints.
Chondroitin- Chondroitin sulfate is a complex carbohydrate that helps cartilage retain water.
Hyaluronic Acid- Its main function is to retain water to keep tissues well lubricated and moist.
Proline- Also known as L-proline, is an amino acid. It is an important compound responsible for tissue repair, collagen formation, arteriosclerosis prevention, and blood pressure maintenance.
Collagen- Makes up the connective tissue like skin, tendons, cartilage, organs, and bones and can help reduce joint pain and enhance the integrity of cartilage.
Green Lipped Mussels- Potent anti-inflammatory effects that help support hip and joint health, as well as healthy mobility.
Eggshell Meal- Dried, ground eggshells that provide a natural source of calcium that promotes strong bones. It also contains eggshell membrane, a reliable source of glucosamine, chondroitin, hyaluronic acid, and collagen.
**Never start your pet on any kind of supplement without first speaking with your trusted veterinarian. They will be able to recommend what supplement will work best for your pet while also giving you the best idea what your pet may need. **
Regardless of your pet’s age, size, breed, etc. when it comes to joint health there are no guarantees. With age there will be different experiences of joint stiffness and pain. Our pets rely on us to do what is best for them to continue their overall health and happiness. Keeping your pet in good physical condition and giving them the nutrients in a balanced diet early on will help support them throughout the entirety of their lives, giving them the best chance at living a long, healthy, and active life!