Dogs and cats are born to run, jump and play, free of pain and joint problems but some still develop joint and mobility issues that can seriously affect their quality of life. The good news is that many joint problems are not part of the normal aging process and are preventable if addressed early on.

Acquire a healthy pet

Preventing serious health issues including joint problems starts with acquiring a healthy pet.
Some joint problems such as hip dysplasia are inherited. Certain large breed dogs — Newfoundland, Saint Bernard, Old English Sheepdog, Rottweiler, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Alaskan Malamute, Labrador Retriever and Samoyed — are more prone to hip dysplasia than others.

If you are interested in making a large breed, purebred dog part of your family, please take the time to research potential breeds and breeders. The Canadian Kennel Club is a good place to start. It has good information on its website (www.ckc.ca) that can help you choose the right purebred dog for your family and find a reputable breeder that adheres to its Code of Ethics and Code of Practice.

Adopting a rescue animal is another matter altogether. Many pets up for adoption have little information about their history. Knowing which breeds are predisposed to joint conditions (or any other illnesses or diseases) can help you understand how to care for them and avoid potential problems down the road.

Don’t let your pets get fat

Carrying too much weight puts a huge amount of stress on your pet’s joints that can result in permanent damage to ligaments and tendons. Obesity can also lead to other serious illnesses such as osteoarthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, kidney and liver problems and many forms of cancer. The best ways to prevent obesity are:

Feed your pet a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet such as raw or grain-free kibble. Avoid foods and treats that contain high-carbohydrate fillers such as corn, wheat, rice and soy that are usually high in calories, promote inflammation and contribute to weight gain.

Don’t allow your pets to eat whenever they want. Determine the proper amount of food you should be feeding your pet based on your pet’s age, lifestyle, feeding recommendations on the bag and whether or not your pet is currently overweight. To curb overfeeding, measure out your pet’s food, feed once or twice a day at the same time and make sure to offset the treats you give your pet by reducing the amount of food you feed.

Make sure your pets get an adequate amount of exercise. That means at least 20 minutes of sustained, aerobic exercise, three times a week. Consistency is also important. Only exercising your pet on weekends can lead to injury. For large breeds prone to joint problems, studies have shown choosing more moderate exercise such as running and swimming instead of jumping in their early years will help reduce the risk of developing joint problems later in life.

Protect your pets from injury when they are young

Injuries early in life, even minor ones, can result in joint disease as your pets age. Puppies fall down stairs, jump from high places, and often take off after squirrels or other distractions forgetting they are on leash. Kittens can jump from high places and land awkwardly or get injured when removed from the tight places they find shelter. Any of these seemingly minor incidents can set the stage for joint problems down the road. You can help keep your pets from getting injured by puppy/kitty proofing your home and train your pup to properly walk on leash.

Supplements that promote joint health

There are many quality supplements on the market from reputable manufacturers that can help promote joint health in your pet. Remember that not all supplements are created equal so make sure to do some research and consult with your veterinarian as to what’s best for your pet.