How to prevent joint pain in your large breed puppy
This blog post I wanted to talk about the most exciting topic-- prevention! I love helping pets of all walks of life, but my most favorite is treating puppies. Why? Not only because they are cute any loveable... but mainly because I love a preventative approach to health.
Too often I get asked to treat geriatric pets with chronic musculoskeletal problems that I just cannot fix. I often wish I had a time machine so I could go back in time and help establish some preventative strategies for the animal BEFORE the problem began.
There is so much owners can do to strategically plan for their pet's quality of life and maybe (just maybe) this post will open your eyes to things you can do now before you have a geriatric large breed dog with crippling joint pain and arthritis.
1) Investigate the breed
For any pet parent wanting to add to the family.. it's important to get familiar with the breed you are choosing. Certain breeds come with certain genetics that can predispose them to certain health issues.
Meet the breed
If you are looking for a certain breed, I highly recommend you go to a "meet the breed" event, often hosted by the American Kennel Club (AKC). At an event, you can meet the breed in question, talk to the pet owners about what their dog is like, and get a perspective on any particular health challenges the dog may face. Bonus, you might also meet a breeder or be put in contact with a reputable breeder at one of these events.
You can also volunteer for pet rescues or dog shelters or even pet sit and get to know the breed before making a long term commitment. I highly recommend taking in a senior pet so you will be able to see and understand any chronic health issues you may deal with down the road with your animal.
Ask your vet about the breed
It's also never a bad idea to get established with a a veterinarian and ask their opinion on what breed(s) struggle with certain health issues. If you don't currently have a vet relationship, consider volunteering at an animal shelter or vet office and get to know the types of dogs. Don't be afraid to ask about the pet's health status and what concerns the animal may be dealing with.
Find a reputable breeder
Once you have an idea as to which breed you are looking to move forward with, it's important to then find a reputable breeder. A reputable breeder will have done health testing on both the mother and father of the puppies and be able to produce records of the most common genetic diseases and how their dog rated prior to breeding.
For musculoskeletal issues, I highly recommend you ask the breeder about any genetic testing they have performed and if they have done any diagnostic testing (such as OFA xrays) to rule in or out certain health problems.
A great website for health testing is ofa.org as it provides more information as to what health testing is required by breed. (CHIC program)
A reputable breeder is also likely to provide a contract upon purchase to guarantee the health the animal. They may also have stipulations about certain veterinary procedures to help guide you in your efforts to reduce the likelihood of future issues (I.e. spay/neuter dates.)
2) Ask your vet about early protection
Once you have chosen a breed and gotten a puppy, congratulations! Your next step is to find a veterinarian that aligns with your health goals for your pet.
I highly recommend a TEAM of veterinarians (yes, more than one), especially if you have a pet with breed specific health issues. For example, in human medicine, we wouldn't go to a gastroenterologist with a question about a weird mole on our back. That's the job for a dermatologist. Case in point, it never hurts to have a vet for specific health concern.
Food is medicine (if utilized correctly.) Although you may go to the pet food store and think you are choosing the best pet food, it never hurts to do a little more research.
It's important for your large breed puppy to have BALANCED meals. What does that mean? It means that the amount of vitamins and minerals is appropriate for a growing dog. A well rounded diet can prevent us from imbalances and deficiencies that can cause abnormal joint development.
Common joint disorders due to inadequate nutrition can include: rickets, osteomalacia, osteodystrophy, and more.
For more information about what pet food is balanced, please visit the AAFCO website or find a certified veterinary nutritionist on the ACVN website:
How to find a certified veterinary nutritionist
I also recommend that you also consider processed VS unprocessed food. If we humans ate dry cereal everyday, we may not be our healthiest self. There is a lot of new exciting research coming out about the benefit of fresh foods VS kibble. I recommend the following resources to learn more about raw, cooked, and fresh foods:
How to find a holistic pet nutrition consultant
It is also important we don't feed our pet TOO MUCH. Obesity is a huge contributor to joint issues. It's important that whatever food we choose, we need to make sure that we are feeding the right amount of calories. Foods with empty calories or foods that are too high in sugar / fat may negatively impact the health of our pets.
If you'd like to know if you're feeding the right amount, I have included a resource to help you calculate the ideal amount of pet food:
Ask your vet about joint supplementation. There are a plethora of joint supplements offered, so it will help to ask your vet which is researched and proven to work the best for your desired breed. Certain dogs also have different needs, so whereas one ingredient or one brand may work well for your neighbor, it might not be the right fit for your dog. Joint supplements provide the building blocks the body needs to form a strong foundation for the bones and joints.
3) Consider pet's age and know the warning signs of pain
Consider the lifespan
It's important to consider life span in large breed dogs. The age old saying "a dog's year is equivalent to 7 human years" is not entirely accurate.
A dog is considered to be "mature" by age 3 and is considered to be a senior by as early age 7. Keeping this in mind, there is not a lot of time to waste when it comes to prevention!
Signs of pain
The biggest signs of joint pain is not what you would think. Pets DO NOT vocalize when things hurt because they have an innate survival instinct. Rather, they will modify their way of getting around to avoid painful behaviors.
Signs of pain can include:
Sitting sloppy with a leg out
Resisting stairs or jumping up
Not wanting to play or go for walks
Not wanting to be pet in certain areas / flinching to touch
Excessive grooming to one specific area
Hiding/ disengaging from family
Holding a leg up or skipping
Base wide stance
Avoiding slick floors
Identify problems before there is pain
The best way to identify pain is to know your pet's normal. What is your pet's normal routine? What does getting around comfortably look like? What is normal joint range of motion?
My favorite way to identify dysfunction is to do functional testing. Functional testing can look like:
Range of motion testing (Ex: cookie stretches for the neck)
Repeated change of position (Ex: sit to stands, etc)
Gentle spinal palpation
A small "spine health" routine can go a long way. It's much like tooth brushing to prevent regular cavities.
4) Routine testing
Regular wellness checks
The best way to ensure future wellness is by investing in routine wellness appointments with your pet care team.
I highly recommend monitoring weight, checking blood work levels, and discussing proactive strategies to minimize joint inflammation.
If you do not have a purebred animal or don't know the lineage of your pet, there are a plethora of at home genetic tests you can perform with your dog. A quick saliva swab can provide detailed insight into the future health problems your pet may struggle with. We loved getting our dog's DNA tested!
You may also find a reproduction vet or take your pet to a veterinary school and ask about genetic testing to find out about the future health status of your pet.
To see is to know for certain. If you are worried about structural issues, ask your vet about moving forward with diagnostic imaging.
A great website for health testing is ofa.org as it provides more information as to what health testing is recommended by breed. (CHIC program)
5) Alternative prevention strategies
When it comes to musculoskeletal disorders:
Conventional vet medicine focuses on identifying symptoms of disease and then treating symptoms as they arise. Unconventional or alternative therapies focus on treating dysfunction before symptoms of disease arise. Therefore, for many reasons, it is important to have a well balanced approach of both conventional and unconventional care for your pet.
Age appropriate exercise / conditioning
Did you know that rigorous games of fetch are actually detrimental to your puppy's joint health? Although you may want to tire your puppy out to avoid behavioral issues, it is important to choose low impact exercises that won't effect future joint development.
I strongly recommend that if you are investing in a working breed with a certain task or job in mind, that you enlist the help of a canine conditioning expert. Curated exercise routines can help build up your pet's muscles so they can be well prepared for the task at hand. A well-conditioned dog is less likely to suffer from acute injuries and is more resilient in their daily routine
Find a rehab practitioner
Bodywork (chiropractic / massage)
Getting your pet adjusted is a lovely way to help prevent future joint discomfort. Much like humans can get adjusted, veterinarians or human chiropractors can get certified in animal chiropractic. An animal chiropractor will assess the spinal column and extremities
In the following research study conducted on 17 litters of boxer puppies, 46.5% of control puppies developed spinal arthritis whereas only 25% of the chiropractic puppies(adjusted every 8 weeks) developed signs of spinal arthritis at one year old. That's pretty significant!
Finding a qualified practitioner for your pet can be challenging as the profession is still growing, but I highly recommend finding someone certified by the AVCA or IVCA. You can read more about who is qualified by reading the following blog post:
Did you know you can get your pet a massage? Massage is not only for pampering, it can be a therapeutic part of your pet's maintenance regimen. Especially if your pet is an athlete, their muscles will be under regular stress and massage can restore balance to the myofascial system.
You can find a qualified provider here
Eastern medicine has been around for hundreds of years. Many holistic remedies have a long track record of being safe and efficacious. Chinese herbs and homeopathic remedies are derived from nature, instead of being manufactured in a lab, and, as such, often have less serious side effects. A holistic or integrative vet may be able to guide you on alternatives to conventional pest control, vaccine schedules, food therapy, pain relief, and more.
When you add a holistic or integrative vet to your team, you are likely to have a conservative professional that will afford you a different lens to look at your pet's wellness regimen
You can find a holistic vet here:
*This blog post is based on my opinion and should not constitute, nor should it replace, veterinary advice. Please ask your vet about joint pain strategies and make an informed decision based upon what is right for you and your animal.*
I want to let you know you came to the right place for integrative and holistic health for your pet!
We are certified by the AVCA which is a top notch and rigorous certification program of 200+ hours class time followed by a written and practical board exam. We take 10 yearly hours of continuing education because we value knowing the most in order to provide the best.
When choosing adjustments for your pet, choose someone licensed, trained, and certified.