by Dr. Larry Siegler
As our companions age, many will develop arthritis, a common degenerative joint
problem. Gradually you may notice that your feline friend no longer jumps up on
the counters or furniture as easily. Your dog may hesitate to jump in the car or
will climb stairs more slowly. You may notice your companion is stiff upon rising.
These are all signs of painful joints. Up to 25–30% of companion animals suffer
Osteoarthritis is a chronic, slowly progressing condition that is caused by the
deterioration of the cartilage surrounding a joint. As this deterioration progresses,
the bony structures begin to rub against one another causing pain and discomfort.
Hip Dysplasia is a genetic disease that leads to joint deterioration and arthritis.
It is more common in large dog breeds. These and other degenerative joint disorders
involving cartilage and joint deterioration can be treated quite successfully with
a comprehensive treatment program developed for the animal.
There are many ways ways to treat arthritis and joint stiffness or soreness from
a "natural" approach. While NSAIDs (Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs) such
as Rimadyl, Deramaxx, EtoGesic and others are commonly prescribed for arthritis,
I prefer to reserve their use until after all other means have been exhausted and
the animal is still showing signs of suffering. NSAIDs can be damaging to the liver
and gastrointestinal system when taken over long periods of time and can have other
side effects as well. NSAIDs provide pain relief, but do nothing to help repair
damaged tissue and prevent further deterioration. Arthritis and joint pain can often
be controlled for years using diet, supplements, herbs and acupuncture, and many
animals may never need NSAIDs.
One of the best defenses and treatments for arthritis is a high quality Glucosamine/Chrondroitin
sulfate supplement. Glucosamine stimulates the production of glycosaminoglycans
(GAGs), important proteins found in cartilage, and proteoglycans, the water-holding
molecules that make up cartilage. Glucosamine has been shown not only to help with
pain, but also to rehabilitate damaged cartilage. These nutrient compounds may also
have anti-inflammatory activity within the joints. A typical dose would be at least
1000 mgs. per 50 lbs. of body weight daily, but this should be determined for your
companion's specific needs with your veterinarian. I often recommend that dogs be
started on a good joint supplement that includes Glucosamine by the time they are
8 or 9 for larger breeds, and 10 or 11 for smaller breeds, even when no symptoms
are present. Preventing joint deterioration can go a long way to easing the effects
of aging for your companion.
MSM, (Methylsulfonylmethane), is another supplement used in the prevention
and treatment of arthritis. MSM is a naturally occurring sulfur compound found in
every cell of the body, which helps to maintain healthy connective tissue and membrane
flexibility. It can assist in reducing inflammation and swelling associated with
arthritis and other diseases or injuries.
Diet is a key factor in the treatment of any chronic condition. Feeding
your companion a quality diet is the foundation of good health, and this is the
most important thing you can do for your dog or cat. Many animals with chronic conditions
such as arthritis have shown dramatic improvement on a raw food or home-prepared
diet. Please see our articles
What You Need to Know About Your Pet's Food and
All About Raw Food for more information on this important health topic.
Some people are not comfortable with feeding raw food. If this is true for you,
I recommend a combination of home-prepared cooked meals, a very high quality canned
food or dehydrated food, and the best quality kibble you can afford. If the
animal has food or environmental allergies, these must be addressed, as allergies
can contribute to inflammation and many degenerative health conditions.
Weight control is of utmost importance. An overweight animal will suffer
much more from arthritis pain and the disease process will be accelerated. Gentle
exercise is very helpful whether the animal is overweight or not. For dogs the ideal
exercise is swimming or using underwater treadmills. Dog “spas” and therapy pools
are becoming more common all over the country. See the website for the
Association of Canine Water Therapy for a practitioner and pool listing in your state.
Digestive Enzymes & Probiotics are essential. They aid the digestion and
assimilation of the nutrients in cooked and processed foods. Poor digestion and
leaky gut exacerbate and contribute to chronic inflammatory conditions such as arthritis,
allergies and degenerative conditions. Maintaining a healthy gastrointestinal
system will go a long way in preventing these complications. Good options here are
Essential Fatty Acid Supplements (preferably one with fish oil) help
reduce inflammation and can be quite helpful in the treatment of joint problems.
In addition, essential fatty acids help maintain gastrointestinal health and aid
in the treatment of allergies. I often recommend giving a higher dose than recommended
on the label. If your companion develops loose stools, reduce the dosage a bit to
allow the system to adjust.
There are a variety of herbal remedies and supplements available to address
degenerative joint problems, which can be safely used in conjunction with Glucosamine
and other nutraceuticals. Keep in mind, however, that response to these or any remedies
will vary by individual. It is sometimes necessary to try one at a time until the
best option is found (giving the supplement or remedy a minimum of two weeks, and
preferably longer, to determine effectiveness).
Chinese herbs can also be very beneficial in the treatment of joint disorders.
It is best to have the guidance of a veterinarian trained in Chinese Medicine to
select the proper remedy for your companion's specific condition.
Adequan® is a polysulfated glycosaminoglycan similar to Glucosamine.
It is also a cartilage component similar to Glucosamine, but Adequan is derived
from the windpipe cartilage of cattle. Adequan has numerous beneficial effects including
the inhibition of harmful enzymes involved in joint cartilage destruction, stimulation
of cartilage repair, and increasing joint lubrication. Adequan is only available
by injection from a veterinarian.
Acupuncture can be extremely helpful for animals with arthritic conditions.
I have seen dramatic improvement in both dogs and cats with arthritis following
acupuncture and with regular treatments. For a list of practitioners in your area
see the American Holistic
Veterinary Medical Association Directory.
Chiropractic adjustments and massage can also be quite beneficial as an
animal will often contort their spine when trying to move in a way to minimize joint
pain. For a list of practitioners see the
Chiropractic Association website, or the
Association of Animal Massage & Bodywork website.
Constitutional Homeopathy using single, high potency remedies has also
produced good results for some arthritis patients. For a list of practitioners
see the The Academy of Veterinary
Additional supplements such as high-potency antioxidants are also commonly
recommended for the arthritis patient. The inflammatory reactions of arthritic
joints contributes to the oxidation activity of free radicals in the body, which
is very damaging to cells and can increase the risk of cancer.