Natural Options to Prevent and Alleviate Arthritis in Our Pets
A common experience for many is that our wonderful joints, often so fluid and functional in our youth, can get worn down and develop arthritis over time. Nobody enjoys running and jumping and physical play any more than our pets: cats, dogs, horses, goats, even the hamster on a wheel! And naturally, we can end up seeing a lot of arthritis in animals.
Pets can develop arthritis from general wear and tear, especially in the absence of nutritional support for the various tissues of the joints. Some pets may be born with a tendency to develop poorly formed joints, as in hip dysplasia; these animals deal with arthritis from a young age. Arthritis can also be a consequence of a specific catastrophic injury, like a broken bone or torn cruciate ligament or herniated spinal disc. Less obvious is that subtle injuries, like spinal misalignments or a painful fractured nail that healed but left a change in the gait pattern, can lead to chronic imbalances in the body that contribute to abnormal wear and eventual arthritis.
Prevention where possible is the best medicine. There are both whole food and supplement based nutritional approaches to support the joints and minimize inflammation, including such possibilities as glucosamine/chondroitin, omega-3 fatty acids, and raw food diets where appropriate. Suitable activity such as regular exercise and adequate space and surfaces for natural movement is crucial to support muscle and connective tissue strength. The smooth slippery surfaces we have inside many of our homes are good for cleanliness but provide poor traction for athletic activities. Providing appropriate rugs for traction in areas of activity can be very helpful for house pets, most remarkably perhaps for house rabbits whose natural resting posture really requires traction to prevent chronic spinal stress.
Long nails and hooves interfere with the normal gait pattern and can create chronic stress in the joints and in the feet. Once nails have gotten quite long, it may require a well-trained groomer or veterinary office to help regain a more normal nail length. Often animals start walking better almost immediately after their foot is allowed to regain its normal orientation.
Chiropractic Care for Arthritis
Chiropractic care can play a big role in preventing and managing arthritis. Many things can cause the spine to lose proper alignment and function: rough and tumble dog play, cats misjudging their favorite high perches, falls due to slippery or uneven surfaces, repetitive athletic activities, weak core muscles, congenital vertebral malformations, and trauma. Early chiropractic care for puppies at 2-6 months can reveal and correct imbalances in the spine, creating better balance in the gait and optimizing movement during development. Puppies who experience a trauma such as being dropped or getting a limb or their head stuck somewhere are priorities for chiropractic evaluation. Joints in the limbs can become misaligned which can lead to improper development and early arthritis if not corrected. Often animals will experience a trauma like a fall and seem to recover after a day or two, but this recovery is often compensation rather than true recovery. Chiropractic care is often very beneficial for these animals.
A less commonly appreciated role for chiropractic is seen with rescue animals. Many rescued pets bring emotional and physical traumas that can be quite hidden. Emotional traumas can be buried in, and released from, the spine. Evaluating new rescue pets can help resolve hidden physical traumas and emotional baggage stored in the musculoskeletal system and allow for balanced, open movement that keeps joints healthier, with the side benefit of improved emotional health.
Musculoskeletal optimization such as chiropractic care not only helps prevent arthritis by keeping the joints working closer to their optimum alignment; it also helps treat arthritis by allowing the nervous system to coordinate as well as possible to compensate for arthritic changes in the joints. Physical therapy is another approach that can improve the muscle strength and balance in an animal. Physical therapy can include exercises and underwater treadmill work done by a trained therapist as well as exercises owners are trained to do with their pets at home.
Pharmaceuticals vs. Herbs
The dominant approach to arthritis in mainstream medicine is the use of pharmaceuticals such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and drugs that act to modify pain perception in the brain. Often these can significantly improve quality of life in animals, but many animals develop side effects like diarrhea or vomiting, development or progression of kidney disease, mental dullness, or rear limb weakness. Even those that do well with these drugs may eventually need other support to improve their quality of life. Fortunately, there are several other excellent options to help control the pain of arthritis.
Herbs can be used to modify arthritic pain by accessing many different pathways. Some arthritis patients may suffer from significant muscle spasm, others from dry cracking joints, and yet others from joint swelling. Some patients are worse when they first get up, others after exercise, and others when it is damp and rainy outside. Each of these represents a different pattern, and different patients will have different combinations of patterns that can be addressed by creating a personalized herbal formula or using time-tested Chinese herbal formulations.
Acupuncture for Pain
Finally, acupuncture has an excellent track record for alleviating arthritic pain, both in the literature and in clinical practice. This ancient art involves the placement of very thin, atraumatic needles in specific locations around the body. It can have profound effects on pain, muscle spasm, local blood flow, and healing. Often patients start off with weekly treatments for a month and then taper to monthly treatments for arthritis, though protocols can vary. Many animals really relax and seem to enjoy their acupuncture treatments.
In summary, there are many excellent ways to marshal the body’s resources and help the muscles and metabolism harmonize to improve comfort and regain some of the mobility and joyfulness of natural movement that is affected by arthritis. Fortunately for our pets, there are more and more veterinarians who specialize in these holistic options and can provide holistic options for arthritic complaints and prevention.
Written by Amy Matthews, VMD, Phd (Immunology), trained in chiropractic, herbs and acupuncture. All Creatures Holistic Health, Center Shops, 3 Turkey Hill Rd, East Granby. 860-888-7796. AllCreaturesHolisticHealth.com.