Have you ever thought about your dog’s joints? Are you doing anything to improve dog joint health to prevent damage in the future?
A joint is just what its name implies: it’s the place where two bones meet.
Joints vary in their size and the amount of movement they provide, but any joint can be vulnerable to injury. The ends of the bones (the joint) are surrounded by a fibrous joint capsule, which is filled with a thick molasses-like joint fluid. Surrounding the joint is a tremendous amount of soft tissue, tendons, ligament and muscles that simultaneously move and support the joint. All of these components act synergistically to protect the joint during movement.
Cartilage And Its Role In Joint Health
Each bony end is covered in a smooth, porcelain-like surface called joint (articular) cartilage. It’s this cartilage that allows unimpeded gliding and rotation of the joint.
Articular cartilage contains a high concentration of nerve fibers, which are so sensitive that even small changes in the viscosity (thickness or gooeyness) of the joint fluid can cause an achiness in the joint.
The nerve-rich cartilage protects the joints from damage.
Visualize your dog jumping an over a fallen log on the trails. He jumps the log by launching his body into the air and then depends on the joints in his front limbs to absorb the shock of the landing.
During the landing, his front limbs need to lock at his wrists and absorb the shock at the same time. In order to absorb the concussion of landing, all the elements of the joint need to work synergistically.
Here’s the rub …
- If the supporting soft tissue isn’t well balanced, the joint won’t be properly supported and may be restricted or too loose in its movement.
- If the joint fluid is too thin, it’ll be less able to absorb the force of the landing and the bone endings may be allowed to bang together.
The sponginess of the cartilage can help absorb some of this stress and will also signal the brain that the bone ends have painfully come in contact with one another.
If the dog fails to respond to the pain, the bone ends can collide and cause damage to their cartilage – and in the worst case scenario, fracture the bones themselves.
When Joint Damage Occurs
With its limited potential for healing, damaged cartilage is replaced with an inferior type of cartilage called fibrocartilage that’s prone to chipping and breaking.
If the joint capsule becomes inflamed, hydrolyzing enzymes are released and disrupt the joint fluid by breaking down its proteins.
This loss of nourishing and shock absorbing joint fluid weakens the cartilage even further and the injured and worn joints face a downward spiral of jarring, friction and pain.
Whenever any part of an animal is damaged it becomes inflamed, and the joints are no exception. When the tendons surrounding the joint become inflamed, it’s called tendonitis. If the joint itself is inflamed, it’s called arthritis.
The Rescue: Exercise & Nutrients
I get asked this all the time: should you exercise a dog with hip dysplasia or suffers from arthritis?
Consistent repetitive motion in moderation helps to tone the muscles around the joint and this will support the joint and keep the joint fluid viscous.
Getting up and moving around is the best thing to maintain joint health. But strenuous activity such as jumping and fast directional changes should be avoided in animals with existing joint damage or inflammation.
Underwater treadmills and swimming pools are also great options for pets with existing joint damage. This allows them to build muscular strength and it supports joint health, while limiting the weight-bearing load on the joints and articular cartilage. Weak muscles can lead to joint instability, which increases the risk of joint injury, so it’s important to find some form of comfortable activity for dogs with joint pain.
How To Improve Dog Joint Health
Remember when I compared joint fluid to molasses? Many are surprised to learn that joint fluid does consist primarily of a select number of very unique sugars. When you consider how well molasses or caramel could absorb sharp impacts, this shouldn’t be surprising. But the sugars in your joints aren’t as simple as table sugar. They combine amino acids to create compounds with some exceptional shock absorbing properties.
A great source of these specialized fluids is in the joints of other animals.
[Related] Making bone broth is an easy way to up your dog’s glucosamine intake. Here’s an easy recipe.
For dogs eating a raw diet with ground or whole bones, the joints in that food can give them a good supply of joint protecting nutrients. However, most pet foods today don’t offer this.
Dogs eating a cooked diet or dogs with existing joint disease can benefit from some easily accessible joint supplements. I would recommend adding, at the very least, glucosamine, chondroitin and hyaluronic acid. The best dog hip and joint supplements will contain a combo of these.
These three nutrients can help replace lost viscosity of joint fluid, be used as a building block to repair joint cartilage, and to lubricate joints, respectively.
Glucosamine For Joint Health
When glucosamine is absorbed by the body, it converts into chondroitin and hyaluronic acid molecules that are two to three times the size of the glucosamine molecule. Chondroitin is a component of cartilage that gives it a spongy texture, helping the cartilage resist compression. Hyaluronic acid is contained in synovial fluid that lubricates the joints and gives the fluid a more viscous consistency.
When glucosamine is given orally, about 30 to 40% is actually absorbed into the bloodstream.
Because chondroitin and hyaluronic acid are larger and don’t pass the gastric barrier easily, only about 10% of these substances are absorbed into the bloodstream, while the rest is broken down in the stomach. Although this is a small amount, it’s better than no supplementation at all.
Daily glucosamine supplementation automatically works to thicken the joint fluid. But in the inflamed joint, hydrolyzing enzymes enter the scene and break down the fluid. So the next day the glucosamine supplement thickens the fluid again, and the enzymes begin to break it down again.
You need to keep on it for it to be effective.
You can also add the following help minimize this release of hydrolyzing enzymes and reduce inflammation and discomfort:
- MSM (an organic source of sulfur)
- Omega-3 fatty acids
[Related] There are other supplements you can give your dog to reduce the pain and inflammation. Find them here.
Joints are an amazing part of animal anatomy. Modern engineers still cannot replicate the complexity and functionality of nature’s design. But joints can be delicate, so it’s important to treat them right, feed and maintain them, and keep the muscles around the joints toned and limber, especially for athletic and older dogs. When it comes to dog joint health, it’s never too early to start protecting.