Published: November 2020 | Updated: January 2023
Senior dogs hold such a special place in our hearts, and for good reason! They have been with us through thick and thin for many seasons of our lives. Unfortunately, like us, they don’t stay young forever. And, sometimes, when you are with your dog day in and day out, it is easy to miss the signs of aging.
You can view this article as a friendly reminder that monitoring your senior dog’s joint health is important.
When is a Dog Considered a Senior?
The definition of a senior dog changes with breed and size, with giant breeds reaching senior status at eight years of age or even younger, while smaller breeds may not be considered a senior until they are 11 years of age.
There are some characteristics that are commonly associated with senior dogs; such as decreased activity level, less energy, arthritic joints and weight gain. These characteristics can vary from dog to dog and some may not even show up until 10 years old or older.
Some are fortunate to reach senior status without any health problems, but many, like their human counterparts, suffer from a variety of ailments, most notably, conditions causing moderate to extreme dog joint pain.
Degenerative Joint Disease in Senior Dogs
Aging is a normal part of life. But when we talk about dogs, aging means more than just wrinkles and gray hair. As they get older, your dog's joints can start to feel stiff, sore and even painful.
One of the most common senior dog health issues is degenerative joint disease, or osteoarthritis. DJD is a chronic condition that can affect any joint in your pet's body, but it tends to affect the hips, elbows and shoulders most often. DJD causes inflammation of the cartilage lining the joints — called hyaline cartilage — which results in pain and stiffness with movement of those joints or muscles attached to them.
As DJD progresses, it can eventually cause osteoarthritis if there's enough damage to bones surrounding affected joints.
Osteoarthritis is estimated to affect one out of every five dogs in the United States.
Many dog owners worry that their dog is suffering from arthritis. Signs that your dog could be experiencing joint pain include:
- Reluctance to move;
- A previously active dog that is not willing to do the things it used to enjoy;
- Lameness (limping);
- A dog that responds unusually when you touch it by yelping, flinching, or biting;
- A dog that shows a general change in behavior, often seeming more irritable or tired;
- Muscle atrophy (a general wasting away of unused muscles) often making their hindquarters appear smaller and weaker than previously; and
- Excess licking, chewing, or biting at the painful area, sometimes even creating patches with no hair.
If the joint pain is severe or persistent, the dog may show other signs of pain including excessive panting (even when they are not hot), an increased heart rate, or fly snapping.
Fly snapping or fly biting describes a syndrome in which dogs appear to be watching something and then begin snapping at it.
A study by Frank et al. suggests that fly biting may be caused by an underlying medical disorder and typically resolves when the underlying medical issue is resolved.
Best Practices for Senior Dog Joint Care
First and foremost, dog owners who suspect that their pet is suffering from joint problems, such as arthritis, should consult with a veterinarian to build a plan for managing their pet’s pain and inflammation.
Before visiting the veterinarian, consider if you would rather have a holistic approach, a traditional approach, or an integrative approach. If you would like the traditional approach to be the main focus, a traditional veterinarian is recommended; however, if you want to integrate natural practices into their treatment, an integrative or holistic veterinarian could be your preferred route.
There are many pain management options available, ranging from prescription pharmaceuticals to environmental changes to more natural solutions for dogs.
Additionally, in 2018, it was estimated that 56% of pet dogs in the United States were overweight or obese. Yamka and colleagues found that overweight dogs had increased levels of arthritic markers, even though they did not show any lameness.
In their second study, the dogs that lost weight had a decrease in markers of inflammation, indicating that managing obesity may help manage arthritis, likely as a result of reducing the load exerted on the joints because the animals had reduced their body weight.
Swimming has been suggested as an exercise that helps dogs lose weight and build muscle without putting additional strain on the joints and connective tissue.
Bottom line: Keep your dog at a healthy weight and maintain an exercise routine that they can tolerate. Your dog’s digestive tract is absolutely related to their joint health.
Offer Anti-Inflammatory Foods
A healthy diet can help keep your dog's joints and muscles in good shape. That's because the right foods contain nutrients that help your dog fight inflammation.
Inflammation is a natural response to injury and infection. It helps the body protect itself from harmful bacteria, viruses, and other foreign invaders. But if your dog has inflamed joints or muscles, it can make your dog feel sore and achy, especially when they move around.
These foods can help reduce inflammation and aid in joint care for dogs:
- Raw fish: Foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids are considered anti-inflammatory. These include salmon, cod and trout. Simply add a small piece of the flesh of the fish to the top of your dog's bowl for added benefit (freeze for 2 weeks prior to feeding to eliminate potential parasites). Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help decrease inflammation when eaten regularly. This is because they help control the body’s production of inflammatory chemicals called cytokines.
- Chia seeds: These tiny seeds have been shown to help with joint pain and mobility issues in humans and animals alike. You can sprinkle chia seeds on your dog's food or add them to a special treat.
- Turmeric: Turmeric contains curcumin, which is believed to be one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory compounds available today.
Choosing a Supplement
And finally, in recent years, the market has been bombarded with over-the-counter joint supplements to help prevent or reduce the symptoms of arthritis. Glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM are among the most popular and most extensively researched ingredients, but evidence for the pain-modifying effect of cannabinoids and their drug derivatives is increasing and has been found to be incredibly beneficial.
CBD for Senior Dogs
Cannabidiol, the primary constituent of Canine Cush, has been found to possess a range of benefits for senior dogs. CBD can be used to help relieve anxiety, stress, chronic pain, and inflammation. It may also help with digestion, mobility, and cognitive function in older dogs.
In addition to its many health benefits, CBD may be able to help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety in your aging dog. When used as a senior dog joint supplement or an alternative medicine, CBD may be able to help your dog live a longer and healthier life.