As the temperature outside drops, we're not the only ones who can feel the cold. Our canine companions can feel the chill too. So what can we do to help?
Cold weather can significantly impact a dog's joints, leading to discomfort and reduced mobility. Joint pain and stiffness can become even more evident in advanced osteoarthritis or if previous joint injuries.
The physiology of joints in cold weather
The anatomical structure of a joint means that the various parts are affected by the cold differently. Let's see how low temperatures can affect the outside, the inside and the joint itself.
Outside the joint
Every joint has muscle tendon insertions at either ends. This allows the joint to perform the required motion by shortening or lengthening of the muscles related to these tendons.
According to a study published in The Journal of Experimental Biology, muscle function in canines can be impacted by cold weather, leading to reduced support for joints and possible atrophy when exercise levels decrease. (source)
Inside the joint
Studies have shown that the synovial fluid, which is the oil/ lubricant inside a joint, can thicken in cold weather.
As the joint is no longer as well lubricated, this can induce stiffness and reduce its efficacy. In dogs, the stiffness can lead to pain or discomfort. (source)
The joint itself
A 2015 study looked at the effect of temperature on the symptoms of dogs with osteoarthritis. The cold was found to exacerbate inflammatory responses in the joints, leading to more significant discomfort. (source)
When looking at the back joints, or the vertebrae, it was also found that cold weather can increase intervertebral disc disease (IVDD). This is even more significant in dogs that are prone to this, such as Dachshunds. (source)
Recognising the signs of joint disease and discomfort in dogs during cold weather
It's not always obvious when your dog is in pain from their joints. Here are some symptoms to look out for:
- Limping gait. Watch your dog; are they walking normally or do they limp to one side?
- Reluctance to move. You may think your dog is being lazy if they spend more time sitting or lying down, but this may not be the case. Remember to always consider whether there might be something else wrong with them, if they are not as active as before.
- Difficulty in getting up or lying down. This could also include them not wanting to sit down or lie down on hard surface e.g. hard floor boards. They may also be more fidgety and change positions often.
- Audible signs of discomfort
- Change in personality, including increase in aggression
- Obvious swelling in the joints. This is quite rare in the case of osteoarthritis, but more common in more serious situations.
Ways to protect your dog's joints in cold weather
Finally, here are the tips and meaty advice bit that you've been waiting for!
What steps can you take to ensure that your dog is as comfortable as ever this winter period?
Nutrition and Supplements
A well balanced diet should be rich in essential nutrients and low in calories that prevent excess weight gain. This applies in the majority of cases, unless if the dog is malnourished or has high calorie requirements.
Any excess weight will put extra strain on your dog's joints. This can exacerbate joint issues, increasing the pain and stiffness. Winter time is when most of the joint problems will become more noticeable. The cold exacerbates joint issues both directly and due to decreases activity.
For joints, motion is lotion. If your dog doesn't use their joints and keeps active, they will start losing their function.
Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and other fish, can also help reduce inflammation. Try to buy dog food that contains salmon, cod or other fish if you think your dog may have joint issues.
One example with 36% salmon is Wainwrights puppy food, but they also make similar food for adult dogs.
Joint supplements for dogs tend to contain one or more of the following:
- chondroitin sulphate,
- hyaluronic acid
Each of the above have specific functions and often work even better in synergy.
Our FETCHED collagen for dogs formula also contains glucosamine and hyaluronic acid and is 100% natural. We use type II collagen comes which from bovine sources and is just the right type needed for your dog's joints.
Regular, low impact exercise is key to maintaining joint flexibility and building up muscle strength. This can include walking, swimming, but also light jogging or playing fetch to make it more entertaining.
Don't overdo it though, especially in cold weather. Short and more frequent walks are better than long hikes when the weather is cold due to the physiological changes described above.
Warmth and Comfort
Don't we all love cozying up by the fireplace at Christmas?
Well, our dogs like that too. As they age and their joints become more arthritic, a warm and cozy bed away from drafts can make a big difference to them. If close to a radiator or heating source, even better.
Do ensure that they also don't overheat, as that could be harmful to them too.
Waking up in the morning with warm joints and peripheries can truly help a dog suffering from arthritis.
Last but not least in the physical care section are the dog massages.
These have gained in popularity lately and can be beneficial especially for older dogs or those with arthritis. Similar to gentle exercise, they can help stimulate blood flow and release muscle tension.
Consult with a canine physical therapist for tailored exercises. Gentle massage can also help increase blood flow to stiff muscles and joints, reducing discomfort.
Having regular check ups with your vet can prevent small problems from developing into bigger issues.
Early detection allows you to offer the best joint supplements at the right time, or to address under issues that may be lowering their quality of life.
Remember that motion is lotion so it's important for a dog to keep active in order to maintain flexibility and strength in their joints.
In some cases, your vet may also recommend prescription medications to help manage joint pain.
In conclusion, I've gone over quite a few things you could do to help your dog during the cold periods this winter. From choosing the right supplements to the right diet, nutrition and exercise, our dog health articles can help you keep your dog healthy and happier for longer.
Gamperl AK, Syme DA. Temperature effects on the contractile performance and efficiency of oxidative muscle from a eurythermal versus a stenothermal salmonid. J Exp Biol. 2021 Aug 1;224(15):jeb242487.
June RK, Fyhrie DP. Temperature effects in articular cartilage biomechanics. J Exp Biol. 2010 Nov 15;213(Pt 22):3934-40. doi: 10.1242/jeb.042960. PMID: 21037073; PMCID: PMC2966351.
Barandun MA, Bult S, Demierre S, Vidondo B, Forterre F. Colder Ambient Temperatures Influence Acute Onset Canine Intervertebral Disc Extrusion. Front Vet Sci. 2020 Apr 7;7:175. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2020.00175. PMID: 32318591; PMCID: PMC7154144.