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What is Muscle Atrophy in Dogs?

by Geoff Works |

If your canine buddy is overweight or recovering from injury or surgery, it could reduce your pet’s overall physical activity. In some cases, reduced activity could lead to muscle atrophy in dogs. 

Muscle atrophy happens when your dog’s muscle tissues waste away because they’re no longer being used the way they were before. Even though it’s completely natural to be inactive post-injury or surgery, there are some cases where it could ultimately lead to muscle atrophy. 

But sometimes, the signs of muscle atrophy aren’t as obvious and don’t necessarily take place after injury or surgery. Old age, for instance, will naturally lead to Sarcopenia, a condition where your dog’s muscle tone and mass tend to fade over time. If your dog has a longer coat, the signs of muscle atrophy could be harder to spot. 

Fortunately, they are steps you can follow to immediately stop the onset of muscle atrophy in dogs. But first, let’s take a closer look at the common causes of the condition.

Common Causes of Muscle Wasting in Dogs

  • Age 

As your dog gets older, its physical activity will naturally decrease. Moreover, its nutritional needs could get disrupted because of your dog’s ability to process protein. Any losses in its protein reserve could eventually lead to other complications in the immune system.  

  • Injury

Since muscle atrophy in dogs starts with decreased activity, an injury could further contribute to lethargy. Be proactive in helping your dog speed up its healing process before the condition can set in.  

  • Surgery

Surgery is another common cause of your dog’s refusal to stay active. As it recovers, you might notice your pooch spending its days dozing off as its body repairs the damaged area.  

  • Osteoarthritis

Otherwise known as Degenerative Joint Disease, osteoarthritis usually affects weight-bearing joints like the knees, elbows, and shoulders. Unfortunately, there’s no cure for this condition although there are treatments that can help slow its progression to improve your dog’s quality of life.  

Can Muscle Atrophy in Dogs be Reversed?

The answer will depend on the cause. If aging is the culprit, then you cannot completely stop the condition from developing. However, you could prevent its onset.

On the flip side, if the muscle atrophy is caused by inactivity due to injury or surgery, it’s possible to reverse its effects. Here are three preventive and restorative ways on how to deal with muscle atrophy in dogs. 

  • Exercise

Rest is important for dogs recovering from an injury or surgery. However, your pooch also needs to move around a bit to prevent the onset of muscle atrophy. 

Try to schedule a moderate exercise session with your pet through daily 20-minute walks. Or try to incorporate muscle strengthening exercises to keep the muscle wasting at bay. Even if your dog has osteoarthritis, it’ll still need to engage in mild physical activity. Just make sure your dog doesn’t end up straining its joints too much. 

  • Diet

Maintaining a healthy diet is another way to restore and prevent muscle atrophy in dogs. Specifically, your dog will need plenty of protein in its diet, which it can get from these sources

Some examples include:

  • Poultry like duck, chicken, pork, fish, or beef
  • Muscle meat from an animal’s thigh or the area surrounding the ribs
  • Organs
  • Grains and oilseeds (soybeans, corn wheat)

And if you’re worried about feeding senior dogs with protein because it could cause kidney complications, that’s only a myth. Just remember to adjust how much protein you’re feeding your dog to be safe. More importantly, talk to your vet before implementing any drastic dietary changes. 

  • Vitamins & Nutrients

Similar to humans, your dog needs essential vitamins and nutrients to battle muscle atrophy.

To help fight the condition off, feed your dog foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. Research shows how important polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are essential in managing conditions like arthritis and chronic kidney disease. 

Foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Fish – tuna, salmon, sardines
  • Shellfish
  • Nuts and seeds – walnuts, chia seeds
  • Plant oils – canola oil, soybean oil
  • Eggs
  • Yogurt

What Dog Muscle Atrophy Treatment Options Are Available?

Various treatments are available to help address muscle atrophy in dogs. You can carry out these treatments at home or consult a professional. 

  • Hydrotherapy

Veterinarians consider hydrotherapy as one of the best treatments for muscle atrophy. As a low-impact form of exercise, the water’s buoyancy can help alleviate the weight on your dog’s joints. Moving around in the water can also help your pooch grow and develop its muscles.

Taking your dog to a swimming pool or even just your bathtub is enough for a hydrotherapy session. You can also encourage your pet to use water treadmills to help it recover faster.  

  • Massage

Massaging your dog in the affected area can help increase blood flow and circulation. In turn, it’ll encourage faster healing and decrease its pain and discomfort. 

While you can perform the massage yourself, it’s best to have a professional do it to apply the right amount of pressure. In some cases, no pressure should be applied because it could complicate the condition further.  

  • Dog supplements

There are supplements you can give your dog to help with muscle loss. One example is the MYOS Canine Muscle Formula, which is an effective treatment for the condition. 

In fact, it even showed promising results for geriatric dogs with mobility issues. The supplement helps by inhibiting the production of myostatin, a protein that prevents muscle cell growth.  

Managing & Preventing Muscle Atrophy in Dogs

Follow our tips to help your dog deal with muscle atrophy. Just remember to consult your vet to decide on the best course of action or treatment. Age, size, breed, and health history are just some factors that come into play when deciding on the right type of treatment. More importantly, always aim for long-term goals to improve your dog’s quality of life in the years to come.

To learn more about canine health, visit the LickSleeve blog.

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