Helping arthritic pets through diet
Arthritis is a very common problem in pets and affects 20% of pets older than one year of age. Most joint problems occur early in life; however, the signs of arthritis usually don't become apparent for many years. The pain of arthritis varies greatly; some pets may be reluctant to rise or jump while others may have a severe limp or other gait abnormality. Older cats often have vague pain signs such as changes in general behavior, grooming, sleeping patterns, and sometimes even urine or defecation accidents. These accidents are often a result of a painful cat being unable to climb fully into their litterbox resulting in urine or feces being left just outside the box. If your dog or cat is exhibiting any signs potentially associated with arthritis, see your veterinarian for a full examination.
What is the best diet for pets with arthritis or mobility issues?
As always, it is important to select a highly nutritious natural food with quality ingredients which does not contain artificial colors, preservatives or other potentially harmful additives. It is also important to feed a high quality protein diet to pets with arthritis to combat muscle wasting and muscle loss that often occurs in pets as they age.
There are commercial foods which are specifically designed—with glucosamine, omega 3 fatty acids and other features to help improve joint health—for "mobility issues". However, many of these commercially available "joint foods" have inferior ingredients as evidenced by labels that reveal no actual meat in the ingredients, relatively low protein levels, and often have glucosamine (or other joint health ingredients) that are well below therapeutic levels.
For these reasons, my preference is to select a high quality, relatively high protein food and then add separate joint supplements to the feeding regimen. In my opinion, this is superior to selecting a mediocre pet food because it has additional glucosamine or fatty acids. There are a number of dietary supplements available to combat the pain and inflammation of arthritis.
Dietary supplements to consider for pets with arthritis:
- Omega 3 fatty acids. Research shows pets given fatty acids have improved signs of pain as a result of reduced joint inflammation.
- Glucosamine/chondroitin. Joint supplements with glucosamine and chondroitin have been proven to help combat arthritis pain by helping joints make new cartilage and repair the damage in an arthritic joint.
- Green lipped mussel extract (GLME), glycosaminoglycan's, hyaluronan, avocado/soy unsaponifiables (ASU). Research supports the use of these cartilage-repairing supplements in many pets.
- Antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, methyl-sulfonyl-methane (MSM), denosyl (SAMe) are less well studied but may help some pets with arthritis.
- Miscellaneous therapies such as turmeric, boswellia resin, special milk protein concentrate, and manganese are much less researched, however, may also provide benefits to some arthritis patients.
Work with your veterinarian to determine which joint supplements may offer the most benefit to your pet with arthritis. As many supplements take weeks to exert positive effects in the joints, it is important to follow your veterinarian's advice on how to monitor your pet for an appropriate response.
Other tips for helping pets with arthritis:
- Control calories! Not only is it imperative to prevent obesity for your pet's best health, it has been proven that pets of ideal weight have a lower risk of developing arthritis than overweight pets. If arthritis does develop, it is less severe and occurs later in life than in overweight pets.
- Exercise. Pets with arthritis should get daily exercise to keep muscles strong in order to support their joints. Swimming is an excellent exercise with minimal joint stress and provides a large range of motion. Low-impact stair climbing and walking are also good exercise and more appealing than water to cats!
- Environment. To keep your pet as pain-free as possible, provide soft padded bedding to help reduce pressure on joints, place their bed in a warm room, and consider stairs or ramps to help them onto beds, couches or into automobiles. For cats, consider a tray-style litter pan for easier, pain-free entry and keep food in a low place so jumping is not necessary to access food and water.
- Physical therapy / alternative therapies. Massage and physical therapy can improve stiffness and muscle pain associated with arthritis. Your veterinarian can teach you passive range of motion exercises that may benefit your pet. Other alternative therapies include acupuncture, rehabilitation, low-level laser, electric nerve stimulation and herbal supplements. It is advised that you ask your veterinarian or a holistic veterinarian trained in these modalities if they are appropriate for your arthritic pet.
- Medication. Anti-inflammatory medication effectively treats pain associated with arthritis and is a very common therapy. Medications commonly used include aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and steroids. All of these medications can have significant side effects and must be used only under the guidance of your veterinarian. There are currently no products that prevent the development of arthritis or completely stop the progression of arthritis.
- Stem cell therapy. For pets not responding to typical arthritis treatments, stem cell therapy may be an option. These cells are taken from a pet's own fat and then injected into the ailing joint which helps the tissue to heal itself. Ask your veterinarian for more information on this procedure.