Joint health concern for your pets, too


As the winter season settles in, the chill of the cold air often make us more aware of our joint health problems- the same goes for your pet. Though commonly bothersome in the winter, joint discomfort can be a year round-pain that affects your pet's quality of life.

"Joints are areas where bones come together," explains Dr. Sharon Kerwin, an associate professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. "They are a combination of bone, ligaments, cartilage, and the joint capsule and fluid. If anything damages the cartilage or another structure in the joint then arthritis or deterioration results."

Unfortunately, at this point in time, there is no cure for arthritis.

Symptoms can be treated but arthritis is often progressive and gets worse with time.

Though no cure has been found yet, there are ways to prevent or postpone the onset of your pet's joint problems.

"While genetics do play a role in the development of some joint issues, weight control and proper diet are essential in both prevention and treatment," notes Kerwin. "Keeping a young dog, particularly large breeds, on a diet that does not have too much energy from carbohydrates and fat is essential to keeping them from growing too quickly. This is important because if they grow too quickly it can result in both excessive fat and the formation of a "mismatch" between bone growth and muscle development, which can lead to excessive stress on cartilage."

The specif ic ingredients in your pet's food, and the amounts of each ingredient can have astounding affects on your pet's joint growth and health.

"One of the main ways diet can be a contributing factor for joint health issue is if there is an imbalance in the ratio of calcium to phosphorous," explains Dr. Dan Bauer, a professor of animal nutrition at the Texas A&M College of Veterinar y Medicine & Biomedical Science.

"For growing animals an imbalance in this ratio can result in metabolic bone diseases which greatly affect joint health."

Making sure your pet is getting a complete and balanced diet can help to prevent joint problems in younger pets or ease joint health problems for older animals.

Large dog breeds such as German Shepherd's, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers and Irish setters are especially susceptible to joint health problems, such as hip dysplasia. Getting your pet the proper nutrition at an early age can potentially help avoid such problems.

Dietary supplements such as glucosamine and Omega 3 fatty acids can also help ease your pet's joint pain.

"Recent research has shown that the dietary supplement glucosamine, which is an important dietary adjunct that supports joint health, increases mobility and decreases pain," adds Bauer. "It is not a cure, and more research needs to be done, but many people believe it might be able to slow down progression of joint health problems. "

Omega 3 fatty acids can also help ease joint pain by reducing inflammation.

"When joints rub together it creates inf lammation, the Omega 3 fatty acids potentially can alleviate some of that," notes Bauer. "Human grades of these dietary supplements can be used on animals and are worth a try if your pet is in pain, however, it is important to first talk to your veterinarian about dosages and specifics regarding your animal."

If joint health problems are plaguing your pet, Dr. Kerwin suggests keeping your pet slim and trim as good body condition is important in maintaining your pet's health. Muscle mass should be promoted by moderate, low -impact exercise like swimming and walking.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M.

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2009-06-25 digital edition

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