Most pet owners notice their furry friend slowing down as they age. For many dogs, the cause may be osteoarthritis. This condition can lead to gradually worsening joint pain and stiffness, hindering your pup's active lifestyle.
A diagnosis of osteoarthritis may lead you to research anti-inflammatory foods for dogs. Importantly, anti-inflammatory foods should be used alongside appropriate veterinary treatment.
But what is inflammation, and what are the hallmarks of an anti-inflammatory diet? We'll address these questions and more below.
What Is Inflammation?
Most of the time, inflammation is a natural and essential part of your dog's immune system. A healthy inflammatory response eliminates invaders like bacteria, viruses, and parasites. In the short term, this acute inflammatory response protects your dog's body from disease. Symptoms of acute inflammation include redness, swelling, heat, and pain.
Inflammation in Dogs with Arthritis
Unfortunately, long-term inflammation in dogs turns this helpful response into a problem. Chronic inflammation can lead to arthritis, allergies, cardiovascular disease (heart disease), and other serious issues. In dogs with arthritis, the joint's protective cartilage breaks down, extra fluid accumulates, and sharp bone spurs form. These changes result in pain, swelling, muscle loss, and limited movement.
Inflammation in Healthy Dogs
A dedicated anti-inflammatory diet may not be needed in healthy dogs that maintain an appropriate weight. In these pups, the immune sytem is balanced and produces its own anti-inflammatory effects. Similarly, dog food ingredients and supplements are unlikely to help reduce inflammation in the short term.
Other Chronic Inflammation Conditions in Dogs
Still, dog foods with anti-inflammatory benefits can be helpful when managing chronic inflammatory conditions. Diseases that involve chronic inflammation in dogs include:
Food sensitivities or allergies
Skin allergies (atopic dermatitis)
Chronic allergic bronchitis
Osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease)
Inflammatory bowel disease (chronic enteropathy)
Lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus)
Can Diet Help Treat Arthritis in Dogs?
Anti-inflammatory foods alone can't cure osteoarthritis or other inflammatory diseases. The same is true for supplements like omega-3 fatty acids. Still, changing your dog's diet may help reduce inflammation alongside proper treatment from a veterinarian.
Caloric Intake and Inflammation
The simplest, best anti-inflammatory diet for your dog is one that contains an appropriate amount of calories (1,2). Overweight dogs are more likely to injure their joints, which increases their risk of developing osteoarthritis later. Extra fat tissue also secretes hormones that can worsen chronic inflammation.
Maintaining a healthy weight can help your dog avoid arthritis later in life. If your dog is overweight and has arthritis, losing weight can improve their quality of life. Consult your veterinarian to treat arthritis and manage your pup's weight.
Alleviating Symptoms of Arthritis
Anti-inflammatory foods are most helpful when combined with proper treatment from a veterinarian. Generally, managing osteoarthritis symptoms involves a combination of lifestyle changes, medication, and sometimes surgery. Changes at home might include weight loss, exercise on soft surfaces like grass, and a heating pad for sore joints. Medication and surgery will depend on your pup's specific needs.
What Are Anti-Inflammatory Foods?
Depending on your dog's situation, dietary changes may help reduce inflammation. There is no single best anti-inflammatory food. Still, that means there are multiple ways to build an anti-inflammatory diet.
Hallmarks of a Wholesome Diet
Anti-inflammatory foods for dogs should include high-quality proteins, complex carbohydrates, fiber-rich vegetables, and beneficial fats. Certain commercial dry dog food brands can fulfill these requirements. Alternately, your pup may prefer wet food. Wet food can also provide extra hydration, which can be helpful for senior dogs suffering from kidney disease.
Prescription Dog Food to Fight inflammation
Some dog food brands also offer prescription diets for joint health. Prescription dog foods have been scientifically tested for effectiveness. Talk to your veterinarian for anti-inflammatory dog food recommendations.
Anti-Inflammatory Ingredients: Omega Fatty Acids
Fatty acids are essential nutrients that have also been studied for reducing inflammation. These compounds support healthy skin and blood vessels. Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory benefits for dogs with osteoarthritis (3,4).
Commercial Dog Foods with Omega-3s
If prescription dog food isn't right for your pup, you can still look for anti-inflammatory ingredients in store-bought brands. Keep an eye out for the main protein source of your dog's food: fatty fish like salmon is a source of omega fatty acids.
Fish Oil Supplements
Omega-3 fatty acid supplements are also available, usually in the form of fish oil. When shopping for supplements, look for high-quality brands that provide third-party testing results. Follow the manufacturer's dosing instructions and consult your veterinarian before starting a new supplement. That way, you can make omega-3s a safe and helpful part of your pet's diet.
Homemade Dog Food
Talk to your veterinarian if you're interested in switching to a homemade diet for your dog. Eliminating commercial dog food entirely can put your pup at risk of nutrient deficiencies. For most dogs, it's best to meet in the middle by adding supplements or anti-inflammatory food to their existing diet.
Anti-Inflammatory Foods for Dogs
Fruits and Vegetables
Feeding your dog nutritious snacks is another way of incorporating anti-inflammatory foods into their diet. Fruits and vegetables are accessible and cost-effective snacks with potent anti-inflammatory properties. They also tend to be low in calories. Remember, less than 10% of your dog's daily calories should come from snacks or treats.
Treats that Fight Inflammation
Dog treats with natural anti-inflammatory properties include:
Apple slices (core removed)
Banana slices (peel removed)
Plain cooked sweet potatoes
Avoid Foods Toxic to Dogs
Certain foods like garlic, onions, grapes, raisins, and chocolate are toxic to dogs. Even though some of these foods may have anti-inflammatory properties, the risk will always outweigh the benefits.
Final Thoughts: The Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Ultimately, the best anti-inflammatory foods for your dog will depend on their unique needs. Healthy dogs with an intact immune system can fight inflammation on their own. However, dogs with chronic diseases like osteoarthritis may benefit from anti-inflammatory supplementation. Remember, even the most powerful anti-inflammatory compounds work best alongside proper veterinary treatment. Strategies like medication and maintaining a healthy weight may be needed depending on your dog's diagnosis. Contact your vet to address inflammation and protect your dog's health.