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Keeping Your Dog’s Knee Joints Safe

June 18, 2012 by  
Filed under Dog Health and Nutrition

We all know that as dogs get older they can begin to get sore joints.  But did you know you can actually do things to help postpone the time when your dog will have to live with painful knees?

Boston Terrier puppy

Small breeds like Boston Terriers are more prone to patellar luxation than larger breeds.

Knee safety starts before birth 

The first thing you can do to protect your dog’s knees is to choose a breeder carefully if you are getting a purebred.  Ask to see the breeding stock they use, particularly the pair that will be bred to create your puppy.  Particularly in small dogs like Yorkies, Poms, Pekes, Chihuahuas and Boston Terriers, who are prone to experiencing subluxation, you will want to make sure the parents have sound joints.

Subluxation, or patellar luxation happens when the dog’s kneecap becomes dislocated from where it normally sits, in a groove on the femur or thighbone.  Until the dog’s quadriceps muscles develop enough to pull the patella back into place.  The condition is painful at the moment the kneecap dislocates, but the dog doesn’t experience much discomfort after the fact.  He will likely walk with his leg held up strangely, but that’s more because of the immaturity of the muscle than because of any pain associated with the subluxation.  When the muscle develops, which can be helped along with physical therapy, the kneecap will be re-seated where it’s supposed to be.

When you interview breeders, you may also want to ask if their dogs are OFA or PennHIP certified to be free of dysplasia.  Although dysplasia is primarily a disease of the hips, the malformation that causes dysplasia can also cause pain in the knees because everything is connected.  Misalignment in one joint can cause the dog to limp, creating stress on other joints.

Puppy knee damage 

While your dog is going through growth spurts during puppyhood, your primary job is to keep the animal safe.  Just as when you have a human toddler in the house, you must pay special attention to the antics of your young, inexperienced pup.  Small dogs can become injured by jumping from couches and beds or even by playing too rambunctiously with your two-legged children.

Any injuries sustained in puppyhood can translate into arthritic problems later in life.  Because the joints are still in a developmental stage, they are especially prone to damage.  The muscles and cartilage that support the joints are not yet fully formed and may not be strong enough to provide the proper protection.

Although puppies shouldn’t necessarily be restricted from active play, they shouldn’t be enrolled in any formal sports training until their joints are more fully developed.  If you plan on starting agility, dock diving or other active sports, wait until at least the age of six months before you begin training.  The repetitive motion involved in formal training can damage the puppy’s sensitive joints before that age.

Protecting your dog’s joints during adulthood 

Once your dog is full grown, he or she can do most any activity, but there are still some important protective measures you can take to stave off the eventual onset of osteoarthritis.  Keep your dog’s play area free of holes, to the extent that’s possible if you have a digger.   It doesn’t take more than one errant step into a hole to painfully stress the ligaments around the knee, causing a sprain.

Allow your dog to warm up before strenuous exercise.  If you’re going to go for a run with your dog, start out with a brisk walk to stretch out the dog’s muscles (and yours!) before you begin running.  Although your dog won’t be doing hamstring stretches with you, a good walk can work out the kinks before beginning more strenuous endeavors.

If you participate in sports like weight pulling, make sure your dog has the proper training regimen before each event.  You wouldn’t just jump up from your couch and start bench pressing 300 pounds, so don’t expect a couch potato dog to just jump into a weight pulling competition.  Start slowly, with low weights, and add more weight as your dog’s endurance and ability build.

Keep your dog’s weight under control.  Obesity is just as much of a problem among canines as it is in humans.  Carrying extra weight puts excessive stress on all of the dog’s joints, making osteoarthritis a virtual certainty.  Feed your dog a balanced diet with only a few treats, and make sure you provide for daily exercise, either with a large fenced yard where the dog can run or with daily walks.

What do I do if my dog already has arthritis? 

With a little special care, your dog can live a relatively pain-free life even after osteoarthritis sets in.  Again, weight management is key.  Reducing your dog’s weight until you can see his or her waistline when you look at the dog from above will slow down the rate of progressive degeneration of the joints.

Water therapy is great for arthritic joints.  It can help with weight management by providing calorie-burning exercise without any jarring impact on the joints.  Many dog spas and day cares are now offering pool time for their clients.  If there’s not one near you, find a lake and take your dog for a swim.  Maybe you’ll both get into shape!

Your vet may prescribe medication to help with the pain, which can help get your dog moving again.  In addition, plain aspirin can help with pain, and glucosamine-chondroitin might help rebuild the worn down cartilage.

Anything you can do to reduce the stress on your dog’s joints will help relieve his or her pain.  You might try an orthopedic dog bed which provides support while the dog is resting, ramps to help the dog in and out of the car or onto and off of furniture, or even a doggie wheelchair when the time comes that the dog’s hind legs simply won’t provide support any longer.  Drs. Foster and Smith carry a wide range of assistive products to help your senior dog.

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