Joint problems in dogs aren’t limited to seniors. Younger and younger dogs are getting diseases like hip dysplasia or elbow dysplasia … or knee problems like luxating patellas or cruciate ligament tears.
You might think there’s not much you can do to prevent joint problems in dogs. Sure, you can give your dog supplements that slow down joint degeneration. And you can ease any pain or discomfort with herbal or homeopathic remedies … but if she’s destined for joint problems, you probably assume nothing you can do is going to stop them from happening.
But what if that’s wrong? What if you could help your dog avoid joint disease?
3 Common Mistakes That Lead To Joint Disease
Avoid these 3 common mistakes dog owners make … and you could have a dog with healthy joints and good mobility for years to come.
Mistake #1: Over-Vaccinating – Especially For Distemper
There are several studies that point to vaccination, and especially distemper vaccination, as a major culprit in causing joint issues in dogs. Here are just a few of them.
- The UK Canine Health Concern’s 1997 study of 4,000 dogs showed a high number of dogs developing mobility problems shortly after they were vaccinated.
- Veterinarian Dr Jean Dodds has observed ”… delayed adverse effects include…canine distemper antibodies in joint diseases of dogs.”
- The Veterinary Products Committee (VPC) Working Group on Feline and Canine Vaccination has noted “…evidence that canine distemper virus (and possibly vaccines) may be involved in canine rheumatoid-like arthritis through the formation of immune complexes.”
In 1999, in a well-known study at Purdue University, puppies received rabies shots and the usual cocktail of core and non-core vaccines. The authors found that the vaccinated but not the unvaccinated puppies developed autoantibodies to their own collagen. A follow-up study noted similar results in dogs that had just the rabies vaccine or just the multivalent vaccine.
The vaccinated dogs in this study were literally destroying their own collagen!
In a 1989 study, Bari et al found anti-collagen complexes in all joint disorders in dogs. They found autoimmunity to collagen in 72.4% of dogs with rheumatoid arthritis, 88% of dogs with infective arthritis and 52% of dogs with osteoarthritis. Dogs with cruciate disease also had increased autoantibody levels. They also had higher levels of anti-collagen antibodies in the synovial fluid (which surrounds joints).
Why Dogs Need Healthy Collagen
Collagen is the elastic protein that holds skin together. It also makes up 70% to 90% of muscles, tendons, ligaments and other joint supporting tissues. When collagen breaks down in the body, the joints become less stable, the muscles and connective tissue loosen and become more brittle, and joint disorders start to occur.
Collagen not only protects joint cartilage, but it also protects tendons and ligaments against tears.
So when you know that vaccination damages collagen, it makes sense to limit your dog’s vaccinations to help her avoid joint disease and injury in the future.
Your Dog Only Needs One Distemper Vaccine
In the case of distemper, repeated vaccinations are completely unnecessary.
Veterinary immunologist Dr Ronald Schultz did a study where he vaccinated puppies with one dose of distemper vaccine. Just 4 hours later he placed them in a room with distemper-infected dogs. None of the puppies caught distemper … all of them were protected from that one shot! And Dr. Schutz had already proved many years earlier that protection from core vaccines (including distemper) lasts at least seven years, and most likely for the life of the dog.
So once your puppy has been vaccinated against distemper, there’s no reason to keep repeating this vaccination for the rest of her life. Yet many veterinarians continue to recommend distemper shots for your dog over and over again. They’ll vaccinate at 8, 12 and 16 weeks as a puppy, and then year after year (or at least every three years) for the rest of her life.
So, remember that one properly timed distemper vaccination is enough! Don’t risk harming your dog’s joints by giving more.
Mistake #2: Early Spaying Or Neutering
Spay/neuter is always a controversial topic but it’s an important one because it can have a major effect on your dog’s joint health When puppies are spayed or neutered before they’re fully grown, they lose the sex hormones that regulate normal growth.
In each long bone, dogs have a band of cartilage near the joint, known as a growth (epiphyseal) plate. This plate builds bone as your puppy develops and gets larger and taller. Once your puppy reaches maturity, the growth plate closes and your puppy reaches his full height.
There are several studies showing that the risk of joint disease is much higher if your puppy is sterilized before the growth plates close. Growth plates close at different times depending on the size of your dog and in giant breeds can be as late as 2 years old. Sterilizing your dog too early can mean a higher risk of joint diseases like hip and elbow dysplasia, cranial cruciate tears, or patellar luxation.
Spay/Neuter Increases Breed Joint Disease Risk
Certain breeds are also more prone to these risks.
A 2013 study at U-C Davis compared the effects of early sterilization on Golden Retrievers vs Labrador Retrievers. The results showed that in Golden Retrievers, neutering at under 6 months doubled the incidence of joint disorders to 4 or 5 times that of intact dogs, whereas in the Labrador Retrievers, neutering only doubled the incidence of joint disorders in both sexes.
And a new study published in 2016 found that sterilizing German Shepherds under 1 year old increased the incidence of joint disorders from 7% to 21% in males, and from 5% to 16% in females.
Spaying or neutering your dog is a personal decision involving many different factors. But if you do decide to sterilize your dog, you can do a lot to protect against joint problems by waiting until he’s fully grown … meaning about.2 years old for a large dog.
Mistake #3: Ignoring Your Dog’s Gut Health
You probably know about the importance of your dog’s gut health in preventing conditions like food allergies and intolerances or irritable bowel disease. That makes sense … after all, they’re all diseases related to the digestive system.
But did you know that an unhealthy gut can cause inflammation throughout the body and also contribute to joint disease? So when you see your Golden Retriever start getting stiff and limpy in middle age, you might just chalk it up to arthritis as part of the aging process, especially in a breed that’s predisposed to having joint issues.
But your dog’s arthritis symptoms could just be one of the common signs of leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut can cause many health disorders. Early-onset of joint disease can be one of them.
What Is Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut syndrome is when the lining of the digestive tract known as the intestinal mucosa becomes weakened. Its usual job is to allow nutrients into the bloodstream and protect the body from larger, harmful particles.
With leaky gut, the mucosal gut lining will allow things like bad bacteria, undigested food particles and toxic waste to leak into the blood stream. This can damage the immune system and cause overall inflammation in the body. Joint disease can be just one of many possible leaky gut symptoms.
How To Manage Leaky Gut
It can be hard to diagnose leaky gut because it can cause so many different diseases. If your dog also shows other signs of leaky gut like allergies, skin issues or digestive issues, it could mean leaky gut is also causing your dog’s joint issues.
A healthy gut is important, no matter what. So taking steps to improve your dog’s gut health is always a good idea. Here are a few things you can do to start healing your dog’s gut:
- Feed a species appropriate, whole food based diet
- Minimize vaccines and pharmaceutical drugs
- Use natural healthcare remedies and pest preventives instead of chemical products
Take Control Of Your Dog’s Joint Health
So … is joint disease just due to bad luck or bad genes? Not necessarily. You do have some control.
Of course, if you adopt your dog from a shelter or rescue, she’s probably been spayed and vaccinated. But you have control over her future care … including just saying no to that unnecessary distemper vaccine.
And if you’re lucky enough to get your dog as a puppy, her risk of joint disease is not just a matter of fate. Because now you know about three things you can do that can really help reduce that risk!
Bari AS, Carter SD, Bell SC, Morgan K, Bennett D. Anti-type II collagen antibody in naturally occurring canine joint diseases. Br J Rheumatol. 1989 Dec;28(6):480-6.
Bell SC, Carter SD, Bennett D. Canine distemper viral antigens and antibodies in dogs with rheumatoid arthritis. Res Vet Sci. 1991 Jan;50(1):64-8.
Niebauer GW, Menzel EJ. Immunological changes in canine cruciate ligament rupture. Res Vet Sci. 1982 Mar;32(2):235-41. PMID: 7079605.
Hart BL, Hart LA, Thigpen AP, Willits NH (2014) Long-Term Health Effects of Neutering Dogs: Comparison of Labrador Retrievers with Golden Retrievers. PLoS ONE 9(7): e102241.
Hart BL, Hart LA, Thigpen AP, Willits NH. Neutering of German Shepherd Dogs: associated joint disorders, cancers and urinary incontinence. Vet Med Sci. 2016 May 16;2(3):191-199.