May issue

May issue
May issue

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Cold shoulder... and other joints

Now that the colder weather is here my seven-year-old boxer, Boris, is much less bouncy than usual. In fact, when he gets up in the morning he really seems quite stiff in some of his joints and on a very chilly day he’s almost reluctant to go for his morning walk, although once he’s got going he does seem to find all his energy again. I have to say, I know how he feels, as my joints aren’t great in the cold weather either!

He doesn’t seem to be in pain as such, just slowing down a bit and I don’t like the idea of putting him on drugs long term. Is there any way of making an older dog’s life a bit more comfortable in the winter?

Pam Duncan, Chelmsford

Alison Logan, vet, advises...

Stiffness is painful, as I am often telling my clients, and I speak from experience. Chronic pain is also very wearing (and, again, I speak from experience) and can have all manner of subtle effects such as depressing one’s mood. As you have quite rightly noticed, it is the colder weather which can often make stiff joints play up and need some extra support. Boris is only middle-aged, but Boxers are indeed very bouncy by nature which puts stress on the joints. His relatively young age is no reason to dismiss the stiffness you describe as not needing drugs long term although, fortunately, there are alternatives to try first.

First port of call is Boris’s weight. Is he the correct weight for his size, ie is he at an ideal body condition with a waistline, just able to discern his ribs? If he is overweight then losing that weight may be all that he needs to be less stiff, especially if he becomes fitter at the same time. Swimming is a great form of exercise, being non-weight-bearing, and could help him improve his general level of fitness as well as achieving an ideal bodyweight and muscling up.

Two or three short walks per day are going to suit stiff joints better than one long walk. Choosing softer terrain will be less concussive on the joints, and days when the ground is frozen hard will be particularly problematical. Try to avoid that special long walk at weekends when you have more time than during the week. Boris is going to fare best on a constant walk regime.

There are also dietary measures you can take. Feeding a food formulated with joint support in mind is one way, or adding a glucosamine/chondroitin/essential fatty acid supplement such as Yumove to his usual food. There are also joint chews and the like, but do allow for the extra calories they involve. Carrying extra weight is really not a good idea for the joints – I cannot over-emphasise that fact!

A magnetic collar is also worth considering. I have had some really good results, and this is certainly a straight forward thing to do.

Giving non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug or NSAID is not an admission of defeat. Doing this can be very useful for determining if the stiffness is painful: if it improves with a trial course of NSAID, or even if there is just an improvement in the overall demeanour, then there must have been an element of pain present. The NSAID may be needed on a regular basis, or for spells of a few days during a flare-up precipitated by over-exercise or cold weather, for example. The choice of NSAID depends on how a particular dog reacts to it, just as in humans one NSAID may suit one person but be ineffective or cause a stomach upset in someone else.

Walking my dogs is the best part of my day, when I can switch off and just enjoy their company and the countryside. Looking after their joints is important from puppyhood so that they too can look forward to their walks into old age.


  1. Dr John Howie, Nutritionist and co-founder of Lintbells5 January 2012 at 10:52

    The reason dogs – and in fact us too – get stiff joints in the cold weather is due to the changes in the atmospheric pressure rather than the actual cold or wet conditions. When there’s a drop in atmospheric pressure the joint tissues swell and the pressure of the fluid inside them can cause stiffness and discomfort.

    Of course there can be other reasons behind painful joints. The protective cartilage that covers the joint surface can wear away with age and the exposed bone can then become damaged, causing pain. As joint decay advances, the surrounding muscles, ligaments and tendons can become weaker. This becomes something of a viscous circle as increased pain reduces mobility leading to muscle wasting and further loss of joint support.

    The core nutrients associated with joint health are Glucosamine and Chondroitin. Younger animals are able to produce Glucosamine from their diet, but as they age, this ability drops, so supplementing with Glucosamine HCl and Chondroitin is a good start to maintaining joint health. You should also look to reduce the inflammation and a natural way to do this is through the use of green-lipped mussel, which contains a unique omega 3 called ETA – a powerful anti-inflammatory and very beneficial for joint health.

    Synovial fluid in the joint helps lubricate and cushion it during movement but in older age it can start to thin. Hyluronic acid thickens the synovial fluid and has been shown to reach the joints within two hours if fed as a supplement.

    Yumove is formulated to provide highly effective levels of all these key nutrients for joint health in your dog – you can find out more at And you might be interested to know that we now produce a version to help owners’ joints too called iMove (

  2. I'm with you - I don't like the thought of anyone being on daily medication unless it is absolutely needed i.e. they will die without it.

    For walks, what about a nice, warm jacket? I know popular theory is that dogs & cats have fur coats & don't feel the cold, but tell that to my (young) dog who would rather stand shivering at the back door than go for a pee on a chilly morning - let alone go for a walk in the cold!
    Inka has a warm "winter jacket" for walks, and a fleece jumper which I bought for him on-line (I'd link, but I don't know if links are allowed). On particularly chilly nights, he sleeps in his jumper, and I've noticed he sleeps 'better' (i.e. falls asleep easier, and stays asleep for longer) with it on when it's chilly vs not having it on; and it's also a good 'stopgap' for going for a pee in the garden - it's easy to put on & take off.
    You should be able to get something similar from a pet shop, though the ones I've seen haven't been big enough for Inka (he's 24" tall & 21Kg), or have only been thin.

  3. You could try Glucosamine, Chondroitin and MSM, which with this combination or just the Glucosamine would be very helpful. Also Green Lipped Mussel can be good. You could also try massage of the affected area, or use Tellington Touch, Reiki healing (you would need a qualified practitioner for this), Accupressure or Homeopathy.

  4. Hydrotherapy is fab :) We take our 10 year old Collie/Lab cross to a hydrotherapy centre in Warrington and it's really helped his joints.

  5. Joint Aid for Dogs added to food will help- I have a 5yo 45kg American Bulldog who had TPLO as a youngster and he runs around all day with me on the farm in all weathers thanks to this. He is also fed on the BARF diet with the emphasis on raw meaty bones.

  6. Why not give Tumeric a go, its easy to get,(asian shops even cheaper than supermarket,) its natural, so no side effects, helps with joint pain, acts as anatural pain killer and also helps with skin and coat problems, My staffy Tobi is like a new dog since starting him on half a teaspoon per day on his evening meal

  7. I second the comment about Joint Aid for Dogs - my 13 year old mongrel can now jump back over the fence by the lake to chase the ducks (that's an unwanted side-effect lol!) Cheapest place I've found is petsupermarket but do your own search just to check. I also recommend serrapet, which has worked nothing less than a miracle on my dog's arthritic elbow, to the extent that he has had no problems for 18 months since I started him on it. You can buy it from Also a coat for colder weather is a good idea - you can always take it off once your dog has warmed up.

  8. My gsd has joint problems in hips and knee and also spinal problems, my vet who is a rehab specalist Lowri Davies at The Smart Cinic in Wales, says to always put a coat on a dog with joint problems! Also a Herbal vet suggested celadrin for use alongside glucosamine and chrondrotin, for dogs who get stiff during winterI used to buy this from holland and barrett!
    i use synoquin for amber's joingt tablets , these contain all the glucosamine and chrondrotin, she is also give omega 3 oil for anti inflammotry properties!

  9. Keeping joints warm, as suggested above, with a warm coat can help. Gentle exercise but not over-exercising. Reducing pressure on joints by helping the dog in the car with a ramp or by lifting for example. Another natural supplement substance that's beneficial to joints in addition to what's already been mentioned is Cetyl Myrristoleate It's the main ingredient in a joint supplement for dogs called Cetyl M

  10. I have an elderly bitch with hip dysplasia and arthritis. The vet told me that she would likely be stiff after long periods of inactivity, but once she "warmed up" from activity she may appear less stiff. He recommended short but frequent exercise. It may help your boxer, for example, if you gave him a short stroll in the morning, 5-10 mins, and then did a longer walk later. You could just try it and see what works.

    I would also recommend visiting the vet and getting him checked just in case.

  11. I use Fullolife on both my labradors! Works a treat throughout Winter and they love the taste!!