By Sarah Griffiths, DCH and Inna Shekhtman
There are a number of factors and diseases that can affect your pet’s joint and bone health and their mobility. Understanding these factors can help you make the adjustments to your pet’s diet and wellness plans and prevent damage to joints and ligaments. If your pet is experiencing any of the following conditions, consult a holistic veterinarian to help create a customized wellness plan.
As we discussed in Part 1, feeding fresh food provides optimal nutrition that supports joint and bone health and naturally prevents inflammation of all body tissues. This helps protect against joint malformation during growth periods and degenerative conditions associated with old age. Eliminating processed foods from the diet and replacing them with fresh, raw foods is a great step towards preventing and reducing the effects of an orthopedic disease.
Conditions that Affect Musculoskeletal Health
Nutritional Deficiency and Excess
While nutritional deficiencies can occur for a number of reasons, the most common one is a poor diet. Nutritional deficiencies can also mimic other diseases so it’s important to rule out issues with the diet before diving into a diagnosis of disease. Nutrient deficiency and excess are especially dangerous for growing puppies and kittens because it can affect growth rate and tissue development. Giant breed puppies who grow quickly can be most adversely affected. Deficiencies can also occur later in life and can be created by poor diet and certain health problems like digestion and absorption issues. Adults need nutrients to maintain optimal health and though AAFCO provides some guidelines for us to follow, it only suggests the minimum requirements for most nutrients. For our pets to thrive during all life stages, we want optimal nutrient levels, not the bare minimum. For more information on this subject, click here.
Not sure if your dog is fat or fluffy? We joke but obesity is not funny! It can cause damage to joints, ligaments and contributes to heart disease and diabetes. If you’re not sure, here’s a guideline on how to tell if your pet is under/overweight.
This applies to both cats and dogs. It’s extremely important to ensure that your pet is maintaining their ideal weight. A fresh food diet consisting of foods our pets are naturally designed to eat like meat, organs, and vegetables can often help overweight pets get back to and maintain their ideal weight.
Go to our feeding guide to get started.
Thyroid disease, causing low hormone output, usually occurs in dogs. Symptoms include weight gain, skin lesions and, in severe cases, damage to ligaments and joints. For example, cruciate ligament tears are quite common in dogs with hypothyroidism . If your pet is displaying any of these symptoms it’s important to check with your veterinarian about testing your dog’s thyroid function. There is a comprehensive thyroid profile that can be done by Dr. Jean Dodds at Hemopet in California. Hypothyroidism can be addressed holistically with a fresh food diet, supplementation, herbs, homeopathy and through hormone therapy prescribed by your veterinarian.
Neutering your male dog before the age of 1 year can increase the risk of hypothyroidism by 3 times. (1)
Useful supplements to be considered:
Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)
Chronic kidney disease causes several imbalances in the body including calcium, phosphorus, and potassium. Increased BUN and creatinine in the blood (azotemia) causes a rise in phosphorus and a decrease in calcium. Hypokalemia (low blood potassium) occurs in later stages of kidney disease when animals are urinating frequently and potassium is lost. Dehydration is another major factor that occurs due to increased thirst and urination (PU/PD). Diet can play a huge role in keeping your pet hydrated in the face of kidney disease.
Low blood calcium levels (hypocalcemia) caused by kidney disease can cause muscle twitching and an uncoordinated or stiff gait. It can result in hyperphosphatemia (increased blood phosphorus levels) and can decrease bone density (osteoporosis) which contributes to degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis and spondylosis. There are specific foods and supplements that can help to correct these nutrient imbalances in the body. A great place to start is with a low-phosphorus raw diet that includes lots of moisture and naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals.
Supplements to consider:
Adding a good quality omega 3 fatty acid supplement is another great way to slow kidney disease and prevent inflammation. To learn more about how to pick an omega 3 supplement, click here.
For more information about kidney disease, including holistic solutions, check out the following Red Dog Blue Kat blogs:
Liver disease affects both dogs and cats. It causes cirrhosis and portal hypertension (constriction of the blood vessels leading in and out of the liver). This results in malabsorption of carbohydrates, fats, and certain vitamins. Additionally, liver disease can cause secondary GI disorders including pancreatitis which further affects digestion and absorption of nutrients. Nutrient malabsorption can result in damage to bone, joint, ligament and muscle tissues through degeneration and impact injuries. Supplementation and high-quality food are essential for managing liver disease.
Bone Broth is a cost-effective and natural way to increase collagen and other joint-protective nutrients in the diet. Check out our article and recipe here.
Supplements to consider:
Pancreatitis is an inflammatory disease of the pancreas, a small digestive organ located near the liver. It can cause disruption of nutrient absorption as it provides digestive enzymes to break down ingested food. This can lead to nutritional deficiencies of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, and E), calcium, zinc, selenium, vitamin B12 and more. These vitamins and minerals are all important nutrients for the musculoskeletal system and serious damage to joints and bone can occur if the body is lacking. Obesity and hypothyroidism can contribute to pancreatic disease.
Ensuring that your pet is getting plenty of dietary enzymes and healthy food sources along with omega 3 fatty acids and probiotics will help to support animals with a history of pancreatitis and may also help prevent it.
Foods and supplements to consider:
Canine-Specific Digestive Enzymes
Probiotics (see below)
Raw, Green Tripe (packed with live enzymes that support pancreatic health)
Check out the blogs below for more supplement recommendations:
Diabetes is a disorder of the pancreatic cells causing irregularities in blood sugar levels (high blood glucose). Special attention needs to be given to the types of dietary energy being fed (eg. protein, fat and carbohydrate). Diabetes greatly increases the risk of canine and feline arthritis and osteoarthritis. Luckily, it’s quite manageable with a fresh food diet which is high in protein and low in starchy foods which keeps blood sugar levels stable. Diabetes is often diet-related so what you feed your pet really matters.
If you’re switching your pet from a dry food to raw food diet, be sure to keep a close eye on blood sugar levels. Protein is a blood sugar stabilizer so the raw diet often changes blood sugar levels quite dramatically. You must pay close attention to blood sugar levels and adjust insulin as needed. We recommend doing this with your vet until you find a new groove with where your pet’s blood sugar is at on the raw food diet.
For more information on how to prevent diabetes from Dr. Karen Becker, DVM, click here.
Arthritis and Osteoarthritis
Arthritis is a disease in which joint inflammation causes pain, stiffness and limited mobility. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease of the joints which destroys joint tissue and causes mobility complications. It can greatly reduce the quality of life for your pet. Correct diet and supplementation can prevent disease and slow the degenerative process.
Supplements to consider:
Canine hip dysplasia or CHD is a debilitating developmental disease in which the hip joint grows incorrectly during puppyhood. This can also occur in the elbow joints (elbow dysplasia). Malformation of the joint can cause lifelong mobility complications and is often painful. Though there is a genetic factor at play, especially in large breed dogs, diet can make all the difference when it comes to protecting your puppy against developing this disease. (1)
Start your dog off right to help prevent this disease. Feed your puppy raw! Also ensure that your fats are balanced to decrease inflammation during growth spurts by adding a rotation of fish, fish oils, flax oil, and other omega 3 sources. If your pet is diagnosed with this disease, swimming is a great low-impact sport that can help to reduce wear and tear and pain for your dog. Consultation with an orthopedic veterinarian is important in these cases.
Extremely active pets can suffer from a number of injuries due to day to day vigorous movement and impact. Joints, tendons, and ligaments need extra nutritional support to stay strong and fully functional in the face of an increased workload. Prevention starts with stretching, warming up and cooling down after work. Cross-training and regular exercises to work on balance and precision are important too. Be sure to watch your dog closely for signs that work might be too hard. Slow down if you think it's too much and then build up the work slowly.
Great preventative supplements for sports:
Homeopathic Arnica and Arnica creams and gels are a great solution for sprains and strains. Consult your holistic vet to determine the best recovery program for your pet if they have become injured.