Best Food For a Dog's Hip and Joint Health
As a dog parent, you have most likely heard mention of hip and joint health from your vet. Hip and joint issues are extremely common in dogs and can have a dramatic impact on your dog's quality of life. Osteoarthritis (OA) occurs in roughly 25% of dogs, according to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.
Even more, osteoarthritis can occur as a secondary condition to other hip and joint diseases like elbow and hip dysphasia. The prevalence of these conditions is related to multiple factors such as age, genetics, and diet.
Though there may not be much you can do as a dog parent about age and genetics, you can certainly make changes to your dog's diet to support their hip and joint health. This article will cover some of the best dog food options and lifestyle suggestions to help ensure your dog’s joint health.
What To Look For in a Hip and Joint Dog Food
Perhaps more important than focusing on a brand of dog food, you’ll first want to look out for certain key ingredients in your dog's food that can support their hip and joint health. These ingredients include EPA, DHA, proper calcium-to-phosphorus ratio, and high-quality animal protein.
Contains EPA and DHA
Two omega-3 fatty acids that are key to your dog’s hip and joint health are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These healthy fats fight inflammation, supporting healthy joints and bones. According to the American Kennel Club, these ingredients can also reduce the risk of heart disease and support your dog's vision and brain development in their early years.
EPA and DHA have very high bioavailability, which means when they enter the body, they are absorbed and can have a great effect. However, two issues stand in the way of the high bioavailability of EPA and DHA.
First, if you give your dog EPA or DHA as separate oral joint supplements, you will need an extremely high dose for an anti-inflammatory effect. Studies have shown this dosage is approximately 310 mg/kg.
The second issue is that these supplements are pure fat. So, if your dog gets them in high dosages, it will likely lead to diarrhea or other gastrointestinal upset. This makes them an exceptionally poor choice for dogs with sensitive stomachs.
Because of this, the most effective way to provide these very high doses of omega-3 fatty acids is in joint-protective diets. This will ensure the best possible absorption to support your dog’s digestive health. Joint-protective diets are formulated to support joint health but aren't calorically dense.
So, when looking at dog food options on Chewy, Amazon, or in the pet store, pay close attention to the label to ensure that omega-3 fatty acids are present.
Has an Appropriate Calcium-to-Phosphorus Ratio
As in humans, dogs need calcium to grow and maintain healthy bones. But too much calcium can cause adverse effects like weakness, listlessness, loss of appetite, and increased drinking and urination — all of which are signs of hypercalcemia.
In addition to calcium, dogs need the mineral phosphorus in their diets to help build strong and healthy bone structures. Calcium and phosphorus work in tandem to support bone health in dogs. Like calcium, phosphorus can also adversely affect your dog if given in too large of doses. Therefore, calcium and phosphorus must be present in your dog’s diet but in a specific ratio: 1.4 to 1 (according to the most recent research).
To make sure your dog’s food contains the proper ratio, you can look either online or at the food bag in the store at the average nutrient and caloric content breakdown. This is where the dog food will list the percentage of protein, fat, carbs, fiber, calcium, phosphorus, and all other nutrients present.
You can do the exact calculation if you wish, but generally, there should be a little bit more calcium than phosphorus in the food. For example, a healthy ratio could be 0.95% calcium and 0.72% phosphorus.
Includes High-Quality Animal Protein
High-quality animal protein is the third most important ingredient to look for in your dog’s food to support joint and bone health. Not all protein in pet food is created equal. High-quality protein, like that found in muscle and organ meat, contains more naturally-occurring ingredients like glucosamine, fatty acids, and omega-3s.
However, many brands touted as some of the “best” are using meat "meals" (like chicken meals) instead of organ and muscle meat. Meat meal is meat cooked down, highly processed, and turned into a grainy powder. This process often includes adding preservatives that could be harmful to your dog's digestive system.
There are also much less strict standards regarding what animal parts can be used to make meat meals, meaning it can include bones, teeth, hooves, and other non-meat animal parts.
Luckily, the type of protein used in your dog’s food is identified on the label. If the first ingredient is a meat meal or by-product (such as a turkey meal), you know that it’s not as nutritionally dense as if the first ingredient was "turkey." The more a food is processed, the more nutritional value it loses.
Provides Omega-3 Fatty Acids
As mentioned above, omega-3 fatty acids are vital to your dog's hip and joint health. They are also essential for dogs across the age spectrum from puppies to senior dogs as these fatty acids can support cognitive function.
In addition to EPA and DHA, other omega-3 fatty acids include alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, which comes from plant sources like vegetables, nuts, and seeds. When reviewing dog food labels, you can keep an eye out for things like ground flaxseed, chia seeds, green vegetables, and sweet potatoes, all of which contain ALA.
ALA combined with EPA and DHA is the trifecta when it comes to essential fatty acids that will keep your dog running and jumping through all of its life stages.
The Best Way To Manage Hip & Joint Disease in Dogs
If you are a dog parent already navigating joint disease with your pup, there are several strategies you can apply to help them live a full, happy life. However, the most common strategy is weight management. Similar to joint problems in people, the less weight on the body, the less pressure will be on the joints. The same goes for dogs.
Additionally, we know that adipose tissue (or fat), is very pro-inflammatory. So if your dog is carrying extra fat on their body, that releases inflammatory messengers into their body — which not only aggravates arthritis but also creates a chronic inflammatory state in the body. This can make arthritis and other joint diseases progress more quickly.
Here are some easy tips you can implement to help manage your dog’s weight through diet and exercise.
Reassess Portion Size
Most dogs eat two meals per day. However, the amount they eat at those times (plus any snacks between meals) is key. If your dog is overweight, the first area to check is how much you feed them. The exact amount will be based on their age and what type of food you feed them.
For example, kibble or dry dog food has different daily serving amounts than wet dog food. And you’ll also want to keep treats in mind. If you offer dog treats throughout the day, you may also need to cut back on the amount of their regular food offered at meal times.
Most pet food labels will have a weight feeding chart that you can consult, but we also recommend checking with your veterinarian to ensure you’re feeding your dog the proper amount based on their breed, age, and sex.
Transition Your Dog to Human Grade Food
As mentioned earlier, the quality of food you feed your dog matters. Food full of over-processed meats and fillers will have a very different impact on your dog’s overall health than food made with whole, minimally-processed ingredients high in protein and full of vitamins, antioxidants, amino acids, and healthy fats.
Human-grade dog food must meet very strict production standards, so switching to one of these minimally processed options is a great way to help support a healthy weight.
Weigh Your Dog Regularly
Another way to manage your dog’s joint disease is to keep tabs on their weight. Keep a chart or a document on your computer to ensure your dog stays on track — even a few pounds can adversely affect their bones and joints. To weigh your dog, you can either step onto a scale while holding your dog and subtract your weight from your combined weight. Alternatively, you can call your vet and ask if they allow drop-ins strictly for weight checks.
Increase Your Dog’s Exercise
Lastly, exercise is another great aspect to assess when managing your dog’s joint health. However, this can be a little tricky, especially if your dog has trouble moving already. You should talk to your vet about this, but if your dog can, think about increasing walks throughout the day or playing a little extra around the house or in the backyard.
Any added movement will help with weight control as well as keep their joints lubricated, which can help reduce joint stiffness. You may also want to consult your vet about mobility support as they may have exercises ideal for your specific dog’s needs.
And lastly, if you’re unsure if your dog is starting to show signs of joint or hip issues, you can start to monitor for potential mobility issues. You’ll want to keep an eye on how they ambulate and their overall wellness. Have they started to limp a bit? Have they lost interest in sprinting after their ball at the dog park? Do they cry out when they run or stand up after lying down for a long time? Are they having trouble walking up or down the stairs? These are all things that may signal hip or joint pain. As always, when in doubt, call your vet.
Add Hip and Joint Support With Paw-up Dog Food Topper
Implementing all of the previously mentioned strategies and diet recommendations can help your dog’s joint and bone health. Paw-up Dog Food's Functional Pour Overs are designed to give your dog an added nutritional boost without a ton of added calories.
Like the rest of our high-quality pet food, our dog food toppers are human-grade and made from thoughtfully sourced all-natural ingredients. Below, we'll highlight one of our newest toppers — made specifically to target hip and joint care.
Functional Pour Overs: Hip & Joint - Chicken Stew
The ingredients in this tasty stew are clean and simple, but highly effective. They include cage-free real chicken, bone broth, carrots, butternut squash, tapioca, fish oil, and turmeric.
Pour this irresistible recipe on top of your dog's kibble, or mix it with their wet or dehydrated food for a boost of flavor — and an extra helping of EPA and DHA to support their joint health.
In addition to our Chicken Stew Pour Overs for hip and joint health, we also have toppers for skin and coat health, immune system support, and heart health.
Switch to Paw-up Dog Food Today
If you’re interested in switching your dog to a clean and minimally-processed diet, look no further than Paw-up Dog Food. As one of the only truly human-grade pet food companies in the USA, we take our pets' food as seriously as our own.
We have multiple products to keep your dog happy, healthy, and drooling. From clusters and dehydrated dry food (grain-free options, too!) to wet food, toppers, and treats, there's something for every dog at Paw-up Dog Food. Shop our entire collection of dog food toppers to find one to suit even the pickiest eater!
*Health Disclaimer: This post is educational and doesn’t constitute health advice. Please consult your pet's veterinarian or other healthcare professional for specific guidance on this topic.