Arthritis and its cousin, rheumatism, are catch-all terms that encompass several dozen disease states of the joints and surrounding tissues, such as tendons, ligaments, cartilage, joint sac (or bursa), muscles and connecting tissues.
The Traditional Chinese Medicine Connection.
The typical arthritis patient is a mid- to old-aged (5-plus years old) dog. Lower back and hips are the most commonly affected areas, but I think I’ve seen arthritis in every possible joint. Studies show that cats can also develop arthritis as they age, and I have treated several severely arthritic cats in my practice. But, with cats’ propensity to be couch potatoes for 23 hours a day, I suspect most owners aren’t aware when their cats have a problem.
Most of the dogs I see have some form of structural abnormality, and due to the way they’re put together, they constantly put abnormal pressures on their joint surfaces, resulting in excess wear and tear and an increased production of harmful free radicals. Eventually, the joint cartilage erodes and loses its cushioning effects. Without the cushioning cartilage, a dog feels pain. As the cartilage continues to erode, bony growths may form, causing even more pain.
Typically, a dog has been slowly getting worse and is now having a difficult time moving. The dog prefers to lie in the sun and may groan when he gets up or lies down. There may be enough inflammation in his joints that we can detect a limp when he walks, and sometimes the joints are actually swollen.
Once arthritis has developed to the point of active joint degeneration and/or excess bone formation, I’m not sure we can ever really “cure” it. What I hope for is to reduce the pain so the patient can move about relatively pain-free, and I want to create a healing environment around the joints so the animal’s natural healing abilities can work their own miracles. Most holistic therapies take a month or more before results can be seen, so don’t give up too soon; also, we may have to continue with the herbs and other treatments throughout a pet’s lifetime. I’m confident we can improve our pets’ quality of life and I am happy to know that with the holistic approach, I am helping without causing harm.
Today’s conventional therapeutics for arthritis focus on using corticosteroids (cortisone), salicylates (aspirin and aspirin substitutes) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain and inflammation relief. None of these approaches is good for a pet’s joints in the long run. Their list of adverse side effects (including stomach ulcers, liver problems and even death) would take up this entire article. More importantly, these “medicines” actually inhibit healing of joint surfaces and tendons, and they may even add to degeneration of the joint surface—the very process we are trying to prevent and heal.
Furthermore, chondroprotective supplements (see “Pillar 6”) are powerful pain relievers, and with them you get the benefit of actually healing the joint surface. In my opinion, the long-term use of steroid products or NSAIDs is contraindicated; use them only when absolutely necessary and use them short-term (no longer than two to three weeks at a time).
Randy Kidd holds doctorates in veterinary medicine and veterinary and clinical pathology. After practicing traditional veterinary medicine for 10 years, he opened Honoring the Animals, a holistic practice in Kansas City, Missouri.
Information provided in “Pet Corner” is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified veterinarian.