When most of us pick up a new retriever puppy, we make sure that it has all the health checks. Two of those should always include a guarantee against hip and elbow dysplasia, which is a genetic trait that causes painful arthritis in their joints. After the puppy shopping stage, we often don’t consider how important joint health is to a sporting dog’s performance and quality of life.
That can be a big mistake.
Your dog’s skeletal system is comprised of 319 bones, many of which meet in two main types of joints—synarthroses and diarthroses. Diarthrosis, or synovial joints, are freely movable, and generally, the ones that will eventually wear down on a hard-charging dog. But they don’t have to. There are three ways to ensure your dog’s joints stay in tip-top shape and they don’t develop any mobility issues, or arthritis, which can become debilitating over time.
A year-round exercise regimen that keeps a dog lean and toned will also keep his joints moving the way they should. Also, consider where you train your dog. If you’re allowing your duck dog to chase a dummy on concrete all day long, you’re keeping him in shape but also providing the perfect environment in which to pound his joints to powder.
Be mindful of the types of exercise and the places in which th ey occur. Run drills on grass, never pavement. Mix in swimming, which is always a good idea for a duck dog. Make sure your dog is working multiple times a day on surfaces that are forgiving. This will keep your dog’s muscles lean and strong, which aids in keeping the joints functioning as they should.
The Big Dogs
We can gain five pounds at duck camp in a few days and it doesn’t matter much. Put five pounds on a retriever, or 10, and you’ve increased his weight by 10 or 20 percent. That extra weight a dog is carrying around increases the force he’ll exert on every joint when he runs, which means he’s on the fast track to injury.
Watch your dog’s weight closely and feed appropriately. You should be able to feel your retriever’s ribs but not see them. If he’s got so much padding that you can’t feel them under his skin, it’s time to scale back his caloric intake. This is true for a 55-pound female that looks like a diminutive otter when she’s swimming back to you with a greenhead in her teeth, but is especially important when it comes to bigger dogs. That 100-pound Chessie that bowls over honkers for fun is far more prone to joint issues just due to his size and the undeniable reality of physics. If you’re running a good-sized dog, you have to pay attention to its weight and exercise regimen closely because that’s the retriever who is far more prone to having trouble getting to his feet after a day in the blind when he reaches middle age.
Human athletes takes supplements for multiple reasons. Mostly, they aid in performance or recovery. When it comes to canine athletes, supplements containing glucosamine hydrochloride are an excellent choice. Glucosamine hydrochloride is essential to creating and maintaining healthy cartilage, which is the connective tissue between bones that cushion joints.
Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to support joint health, as well as provide our dogs with a host of other benefits. The most common source of Omega-3 is salmon, but remember there are two options here—wild caught and farm-raised. Farm-raised fish generally contain far lower levels of Omega-3s, so while it’s usually more expensive, the benefits of finding a supplement or food source that contains wild caught salmon is worth it.
Another great ingredient that can be found in high-end supplements is avocado soybean unsaponifiables, also known as ASUs. ASUs provide a two-step benefit to canine cartilage by not only preventing damage in the first place, but also aiding in the healing process should an injury occur.
Remember, your dog’s skeletal system needs help. It needs to be in shape, it needs to carry only the weight it was designed for, and it needs a little extra love from some beneficial ingredients, which are found in a litany of quality supplements and foods. Address these three aspects of your dog’s joint health, and you’ll have a retriever that can function with the best of them even into those gray-muzzle years.