Winter cold and damp spring weather can cause extra aches and pains to older pets’ joints due to arthritis. In the initial stages, signs of arthritis can be subtle. Arthritis (also called degenerative joint disease, DJD, or osteoarthritis) is the result of chronic wear-and-tear or injury to the joint. Cartilage becomes thinner or even disappears; this, along with bone spurs and inadequate joint fluid, contribute to painful inflammation.
Dogs with DJD don’t want to play as much, and may resist long walks or hikes that they used to relish. They may resist using the stairs; they may appear stiff, stumble, or have trouble getting up from a seated or down position. The inflammation and pain that go with arthritis can even cause house-soiling problems if there is not an easy way to get to the yard.
There are several veterinary pain medications commonly given to dogs, such as carprofen (Rimadyl), but this drug has caused serious, sometimes fatal, side effects in dogs. It may be better to use different NSAIDs or even opioids. Human pain relievers are potentially toxic to dogs (and cats). Never give your any human drug without specific directions and close supervision from your veterinarian.
Fortunately, there are many safe and effective natural and holistic treatments for canine arthritis.
Weight management: The most important factor in arthritis is diet. If your dog is overweight, losing the extra pounds will make an enormous difference to the joints. A natural diet of raw or homemade food, or even canned food, will help take the pounds off. Minimize dry food in the diet, since it is calorie-dense and much more fattening than other forms of food. Low-carb or grain-free diets may not be any better if they make up for the lack of carbohydrates by increasing fat, or if they simply substitute starchy vegetables for grains.
Moderate exercise is also important. While it might seem logical to minimize activities that seem painful, not exercising will actually make the problem worse over time. However, avoid strenuous exertion that could result in injury.
Energy Medicine: Holistic veterinarians understand that no physical condition is purely physical. All disease, including arthritis, begins as an energy imbalance long before it produces symptoms in the physical body. Energy healing techniques, such as homeopathy, homotoxicology, Reiki, meridian therapies, and flower essences can resolve the energetic imbalances underlying physical ailments. Unless these imbalances are addressed, true healing is impossible.
Nutritional supplements can help maintain and improve joint health. However, they are not quick fixes. It may take several weeks for them to build up in the system to where improvement is noticeable from the outside, although your dog will probably feel better much sooner.
Omega-3 fatty acids are powerful anti-inflammatory products. Several pet food makers now add Omega-3s to joint-formula pet foods, but the quality of those oils is likely not very good (they go rancid quickly), and because they are expensive, the amounts are minimal. It’s best to supplement Omega-3s separately. Nordic Naturals makes excellent quality fish and cod liver oils for pets that are renowned for their freshness, purity, and safety.
Joint supplements such as glucosamine, hyaluronic acid, and chondroitin, are thought to maintain joint fluid and nourish cartilage, as well as having antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Both research and experience suggest that glucosamine sulfate alone is the least expensive and most effective product. Green-lipped mussels (Perna canaliculus) are another excellent source of all these compounds as well as a wide array of Omega-3 fatty acids.
Antioxidants: to help minimize and resolve inflammation, which is the primary cause of joint pain. These include antioxidant vitamins C and E, astaxanthin, alpha lipoic acid and essential fatty acids. Antioxidant combinations are more effective than single products.
Anti-inflammatory herbs: Boswellia serrata (frankincense) is used for arthritis in many traditions. Please consult with a veterinarian trained in the use of Traditional Chinese Medicine or western herbs. The common spice turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a powerful antioxidant that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. Native Americans used Yucca schidigera for arthritis pain; a happy side effect is that Yucca also reduces flatulence and stool odor.)
Massage, physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, prolotherapy, Bowen therapy, and other holistic treatments may also be helpful for arthritic dogs. To find a local practitioner, call the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association at (410) 569-0795.