Muscle Atrophy in Dogs: How to Spot the Signs And Manage

May 12, 2024

Muscle wasting in dogs is also known as sarcopenia, and it’s when our best furry friends start losing muscle mass and strength. This usually happens as they age, but it can also be due to less activity, not eating right, or other health problems. When dogs lose muscle, it’s not just about how they look; it can really affect their mobility and everyday life. Simple things like getting up, walking, or jumping can become tough for dogs if they’re suffering from muscle wasting.

Muscle Wasting In Dogs: The Joints Matter!

Keeping your dog’s muscles and joints healthy is super important throughout their life. Strong muscles help keep their joints in good shape, which means less strain every time they move. This is really important for preventing joint issues like arthritis down the line. Plus, healthy muscles can help avoid injuries, keep your dog’s metabolism in check and at a great pace, and make sure they stay mobile and active. That means more adventures with you!

Knowing about muscle atrophy and how to help prevent it also means more adventures for you. Taking care of your dog’s mobility health helps them lead a happier, more active life for longer.

Canine Muscle Atrophy Or Muscle Wasting: What Is It?

Muscle wasting in dogs, or sarcopenia, happens when they lose muscle mass and strength, usually due to aging, less activity, or health issues. It affects their mobility as well as the way they look and feel, but mostly it is important to prevent and manage because strong muscles are what protect their joints and reduce strains that may lead to things like arthritis. It’s all about keeping them thriving. So, how can you tell if your dog might be experiencing muscle wasting? Here are some common signs to look out for:

  • Your dog seems weaker or more tired than usual, especially during walks or play.
  • They might have trouble standing up, jumping onto the sofa, or climbing stairs.
  • You might notice that their muscles look smaller or feel less firm.
  • Sometimes, they could start losing weight, even if their eating habits haven’t changed.

What Causes Muscle Atrophy In Dogs?

Several factors can lead to muscle wasting in dogs, and understanding these can help you take preventative measures:

  1. Age-related muscle loss: Just like in humans, dogs naturally start to lose some muscle mass and strength as they age. This process can begin as early as middle age in some breeds, especially larger breeds that experience so much muscle mass growth in development.
  2. Lack of physical activity: Dogs who don’t get enough exercise can lose muscle tone and strength faster. This is especially true for dogs that spend a lot of time indoors or aren’t regularly engaged in physical activities. And, of course, that ties back in with age, as the older dogs get, the less likely they are to engage in physical activities.
  3. Chronic diseases: Certain health issues like heart disease, cancer, or hormonal imbalances (like hypothyroidism) can directly or indirectly lead to muscle wasting. Muscle atrophy in dogs due to these conditions is a sad side effect but one that we can help support them in.
  4. The impact of injuries and recovery: If your dog has been injured, the downtime during recovery can result in muscle loss, especially if they’re on restricted movement for a long time. They’re not unlike humans in that what we don’t use, we can lose.

Keeping your dog active, managing chronic conditions effectively, and ensuring they recover properly from injuries with adequate physical therapy can significantly help in reducing the risk of canine muscle wasting.

How Can I Prevent Muscle Atrophy In Dogs?

Preventing muscle wasting in dogs is all about keeping them healthy and active throughout their lives. Here are some key strategies to help:

  1. Regular exercise tailored to your dog’s age and condition: Again, just like it is for humans, it’s so important to keep your dog moving, but how much and what type of exercise they can handle might change as they age or if they have health conditions. Puppies might enjoy and benefit from frequent, playful activities, while older dogs might need shorter, gentler walks. Always match the exercise type and intensity to your dog’s current fitness level.
  2. Weight management to reduce stress on joints and muscles: Keeping your dog at a healthy weight is so important, and it also can be so tough. But, extra pounds can put unnecessary stress on both muscles and joints, which accelerates muscle loss and can lead to joint problems like arthritis.
  3. Routine monitoring of muscle and joint health: You can regularly feel your dog’s muscles and see where you notice strengths and weaknesses. In addition, regular check-ups with the vet may help catch early signs of muscle wasting or joint issues.

Exercises To Help Prevent Muscle Weakness In DogsPhoto: A woman does yoga with her dogPhoto_ A woman does yoga with her dog.

Keeping your dog in good shape without putting too much strain on their joints and muscles can be a balancing act, especially as they age or if they have specific health issues. Here are some ideas for physical therapies and exercises that can help:

  1. Recommended exercises: For strengthening muscles without overdoing it on the joints, consider exercises like swimming or underwater treadmills, which are super gentle. Regular walks, especially on soft surfaces like grass, can also be beneficial. Even simple games that involve gentle stretching or balance exercises can make a big difference. And, don’t underestimate the power of yoga with your dog!
  2. Role of physical therapy: Physical therapy can be a game-changer for dogs with muscle and joint issues. It’s not just about recovery; it’s also about maintaining muscle and making sure joints stay flexible. Therapists might use techniques like massage, stretches, and specific exercises that target the areas your dog needs the most help with.
  3. Tips for safely exercising a dog with joint issues or muscle weakness: Always warm up your dog with a gentle walk or a light massage before any exercise. Keep sessions short and sweet if your dog is older or has health issues, and always watch for signs of fatigue or pain. After exercising, a cool-down period can help their muscles relax and recover. Again, remember how you feel before or after a workout or exercise session and imagine they’re not much different in how they feel.

The Importance of Diet And Nutrition In Maintaining Dog Muscle And Joint Health

Diet and nutrition play a tremendous role in maintaining your dog’s muscle and joint health. Here’s how you can support your best friend with the right nutrients:

  1. Key Nutrients for Muscle Health: High-quality protein sources are essential for maintaining and building muscle. Protein helps repair and grow muscle tissue, which is crucial, especially in active and older dogs. You can find quality proteins in foods like chicken, turkey, and fish.
  2. Foods for Joint Health: Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly those found in fish like salmon and cod, are beneficial for joint health due to their anti-inflammatory properties. Ingredients like flaxseed and certain fruits and vegetables (e.g., spinach and strawberries) also contribute valuable antioxidants and other nutrients that can help maintain healthy joints​​.
  3. Balancing the Diet: When considering the best diet for your dog’s joint health, steering clear of traditional supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin might be a smart move. Recent scientific reviews suggest that while these supplements have been popular for joint issues, their effectiveness isn’t as clear-cut as once believed. In fact, studies have shown that glucosamine and chondroitin might not provide the significant benefits or improvement in joint health that many dog owners hope for. To support overall health without typical joint supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin, focus on a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrients. Incorporate lean proteins, healthy fats, and a broad range of fruits and vegetables to ensure a well-rounded intake of essential vitamins and minerals.
  4. Role of Antioxidants and Anti-Inflammatory Foods: Antioxidants play such a crucial role in reducing oxidative stress, which can contribute to inflammation and joint problems. Foods rich in antioxidants, such as berries, leafy greens, and sweet potatoes, can be particularly beneficial. Anti-inflammatory foods, including those high in omega-3 fatty acids, can also help manage joint inflammation.

How May Bernie’s Marvelous Mobility Help Dogs With Muscle Weakness?Photo: A Boxer runs through a field of wildflowers.

When creating Bernie’s Marvelous Mobility, we focused on choosing ingredients that worked. We looked at the science that showed the popular ingredients like glucosamine and chondroitin just weren’t as effective as newer, more conclusive research suggested other ingredients to be. Here’s how we chose ingredients we knew would contribute to joint health and mobility, and in turn, help prevent muscle atrophy in our Bernie and Lady.

  1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Flaxseed Oil, Anchovy Oil, Algal Oil): These oils are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are crucial for reducing inflammation associated with joint pain and stiffness. Omega-3s, particularly EPA and DHA, are known for their anti-inflammatory properties which can improve mobility in dogs with joint issues.
  2. Astaxanthin and Blueberries (Antioxidants): Astaxanthin is a potent antioxidant that helps protect cells from oxidative stress, a key factor in inflammation and joint damage. Blueberries are also packed with antioxidants, supporting overall cellular health and reducing inflammation.
  3. Turmeric/Curcumin and Boswellia: Both turmeric and Boswellia are well-known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin is the active compound in turmeric, and has been shown to reduce joint inflammation and pain, while Boswellia acids inhibit inflammatory processes, offering benefits for overall joint health.
  4. Green-Lipped Mussels: These are another source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, and they also contain unique nutrients that support joint lubrication and repair.
  5. Undenatured Type-II Collagen: This ingredient is critical for maintaining cartilage integrity, which is essential for preventing joint wear and tear and supporting overall mobility. It’s not new, but relatively new on the market in joint health supplements for dogs.
  6. Yucca Schidigera and Decaffeinated Green Tea Extract: Yucca Schidigera aids in digestion and nutrient absorption, which is crucial for joint health, while decaffeinated green tea extract provides antioxidants without the risks associated with caffeine.

At the end of the day, there’s not much we can do to stop an aging dog from getting old or from creating different genetics in dogs. But we can take steps to make sure they’re getting the best diet, exercise and lifestyles they can, and all those efforts go toward preventing muscle atrophy. It’s all about letting them live their best lives, and Bernie’s Marvelous Mobility supports that 100%!


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