Anyone who has a senior dog is familiar with the signs. You know the ones I mean: she doesn’t jump around to greet you quite as much when you get home. When she runs, there’s a little hitch in her stride, and she sometimes moves like she’s in pain. Her body is stiff, and it takes her longer to get going in the morning. She doesn’t jump up on the bed like she used to. All of these signs add up to one thing: your precious friend is suffering from arthritis. There’s good news, though: there are some simple things you can do that will help ease your dog’s arthritis naturally. Read on to find out more.
Natural and easy ways to address arthritis
1. 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. How can you tell if your dog is the proper weight? You should be able to easily feel your dog’s ribs when you press on their sides (although you shouldn’t be able to feel their ribs unless they have a very short coat). When you look at them from the side, they should exhibit a nice waist tuck, and when you press on their chest, there shouldn’t be a big layer of fat. If you’re using a body condition score chart, aim for a score of 4-5 on a 9-point scale. Keep in mind that most of us are 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. Keeping them on the lean side will make a huge difference to their overall comfort and longevity.
2. Exercise is key
If your dog is experiencing the joint pain and discomfort that comes with arthritis, then it’s vital she gets appropriate and adequate exercise. It may seem like a strange suggestion…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. 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, it’s important that you’re mindful about exercising your dog. Particularly if your dog is already showing signs of arthritis, you can (and should!) start them out with gentle walks so you don’t hurt them. 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.
As we’ve learned more about arthritis, we’ve come to understand that chronic inflammation, not “wear and tear,” is behind joint disease and damage[i]. Want to know what one of the biggest contributors to chronic inflammation is? A processed-food diet. Turns out the carbohydrates, fillers, and toxic chemicals in most kibble, along with the methods used to make kibble, can all trigger inflammation[ii]. And because your dog’s body is hit with these inflammation triggers every single meal, your dog exists in a sort of low-grade, chronically inflamed state. Eventually, arthritis and other diseases of chronic inflammation (including cancer) occur[iii].
So, if your dog is suffering from arthritis, even if she’s been eating kibble for years, it can be incredibly beneficial to switch her to a raw, species-appropriate diet. I can speak from personal experience here: we switched our senior dog, Cleo, to raw when she was already almost 15. 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 grouchy!). 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 to 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 needs some help, consider supplementing.
Two of the best anti-inflammatories are the omega-3 essential fatty acids EPA and DHA (essential fatty acids are fatty acids your dog can’t make herself, but instead must get through food). If your dog has arthritis, you might want to increase 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 can be fatal to dogs[iv]).
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[v]. One option to try is Dr. Mercola Krill Oil for Pets.
MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) is a great supplement if your dog has 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 used MSM from Wolf Creek Ranch (www.wolfcreekranch.net) for Cleo, and it seemed to make a big difference.
Turmeric paste is an amazing anti-inflammatory. To make your own turmeric paste, follow this easy recipe:
- ½ cup organic turmeric powder
- 1 cup water
- ⅓ 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.
Note: Very rarely, pets 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 really no need to add the ginger or the cinnamon to your recipe.
Yield: ~2 cups
Store in glass mason jars (this recipe fills four ½-cup mason jars). You can freeze 3 of the filled mason jars and keep the other jar in the fridge. It will keep for about 2 weeks when refrigerated. Krista Powell of Vibrant K9 told me you can tell when the turmeric paste has lost its potency because it starts to smell metallic. She also said when turmeric is given in this paste form, it’s about 2,000% more viable than when it’s taken as a pill. Pretty cool, since people can consume this turmeric paste too!
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.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate
Glucosamine[vi] and chondroitin sulfate are two powerful supplements to use when your dog has chronic arthritis. Glucosamine 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, beef gullets, and duck feet are good sources 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.
5. 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! One time in particular really stands out in my memory: one evening 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 a few drops of oil made.
Massage therapy and TTouch are also great for giving relief to dogs with arthritis. The good news is you can learn both massage and TTouch techniques yourself (I found some reference books through Amazon, and I’m sure YouTube also has some great videos). Once you learn these techniques, 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 seem to be very effective.
So, there you have it: 5 ways to ease your dog’s arthritis naturally. Give these ideas a try–your senior dog will thank you!
Do you have a dog with arthritis? What natural methods do you use to help keep them thriving? Let us know in the comments below!
[i] Qian Wang et al, “Identification of a central role for complement in osteoarthritis,” PMC, last modified June 1, 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257059/.
[ii] “The Kibble Situation,” Meridian Veterinary Care, last modified February 8, 2014. https://meridianvetcare.com/pet-kibble-situation/.
[iii] “The Kibble Situation,” Meridian Veterinary Care, last modified February 8, 2014. https://meridianvetcare.com/pet-kibble-situation/.
[iv] Jennifer Lee, The Inner Carnivore self-pub., 2014), 71.
[v] “Why this Common Food May Not Be Your Best Bet for Essential Omega-3s…,” Dr. Mercola Premium Products, accessed November 19, 2017. http://krilloil.mercola.com/krill-oil.html.
[vi] Lorie Long, “Using Glucosamine to Prevent Canine Osteoarthritis,” Whole Dog Journal, last modified September 27, 2017. https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/7_8/features/Canine-Osteoarthritis_15644-1.html.