Anyone who has lived with an older, stiff and disabled dog has experienced the heartbreak of arthritis. This slowly progressive disease starts with almost undetectable discomfort, and may progress to the point that the animal refuses to stand, walk outside for constitutionals, or even eat. Arthritis actually comes in different forms, with different causes, and can attack dogs and cats regardless of breed or age.
Although causes may range from auto-immune rheumatoid arthritis (which is more common in humans, by the way) to Lyme disease and primary cartilage degeneration in young dogs, by far the most common type is degenerative osteo-arthritis. As our animals age, the bony joints begin to move less smoothly, and bony spurs may develop in the body's attempt to stabilise these "creaky" joints. Joint instability and bony proliferation cause pain when the animal moves.
Your pet may not be able to tell you if he or she is in pain due to arthritis. Many people expect their pets to cry, but old dogs and cats don't moan and complain about their aching joints! You may only see slight trouble in getting up and down, climbing stairs or jumping up on furniture or into cars, soreness hours after exercise, or even a new grumpiness.
This is one reason that yearly exams are so important for older dogs and cats. For some forms of arthritis, such as hip dysplasia, OCD, and rheumatoid arthritis, medical and surgical treatments work fairly well. For degenerative osteo-arthritis, there is no cure. The animal is usually sentenced to a lifetime of anti-inflammatory agents, including aspirin, cartrophen (Rimadyl), etodolac (Etogesic), and eventually, cortisone-like drugs.
Natural therapeutic treatments, however, can be extremely effective in diminishing the pain, slowing progression of the disease, and delaying or reducing the need for these drugs that have potentially severe side effects. The first treatment is to switch all food to a very high quality, premium, preservative-free diet, or preferably a home prepared diet (recipes can be found in Strombeck's, Pitcairn's and Volhard's books). A majority of painful dogs are greatly improved by diet change alone.
The next step is to start glycosaminoglycan supplements, which fortify the cartilage in diseased joints and may help reduce pain. These supplements are available from veterinarians under names like Cosequin, Promotion, Osteocare and Glycoflex. Glucosamine sulfate or glucosamine hydrochloride alone may also be effective, and these are available at most heatlh food stores. Antioxidant vitamins will probably be helpful for this pathologic inflammation, and homeopathic treatment is sometimes effective, as well.
Many pet owners wonder about herbal treatments. In my experience, popular herbs often recommended for arthritis (such as alfalfa, devil's claw and yucca) do not work well. On the other hand, the Ayurvedic herbs boswellia and curcumin as well as certain Chinese herbal combinations may be fairly effective. If herbal treatment is attempted, consult a veterinarian experienced in Eastern herbal prescription systems. Finally, acupuncture is very effective at reducing pain from arthritis.
Acupuncture will usually involve 4-8 treatments initially, but is usually reduced to "tune-up" treatments over the long term. Many animals with arthritis (or other musculo-skeletal diseases) compensate for chronic pain by "contorting" their spines, in an effort to relieve the pain. These animals definitely benefit from occasional chiropractic adjustments. Arthritis is manageable by a variety of natural and conventional treatments. It is especially important to slow progression of the disease by starting a good diet and glycosaminoglycan supplementation early, so if you suspect that your pet is "stiff," be sure to consult your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Information Bron Susan G Wynn, DVM