Over the years, I’ve developed a general six-pillar protocol for arthritis, adapted from the treatments of several other holistic practitioners. Each pillar helps me simplify my thinking while building a strong therapeutic base, and each one can be adapted to the individual patient.
Pillar 1: Diagnosis
Our diagnostic objectives—achieved from a good medical history and physical exam—are twofold: 1) to give us a starting place on the roadmap to healing, and 2) to rule out some of the diseases that can be confused with arthritis, such as fractures; joint diseases; viral, fungal and bacterial infections; and bone- or joint-related cancer.
Pillar 2: Prevention
A pet needs to have an underlying scaffolding that is structurally sound. Look to nature—coyote or fox—for the model of an ideal canine skeleton. The more removed from these natural standards the animal appears, the more likely it will have structural and/or alignment defects that eventually can create arthritis. Genetic predisposition also plays a role.
Two other preventive factors go hand in hand: exercise and maintaining ideal weight. A joint must move to produce necessary lubrication, and a well-lubed joint also supplies the nutrients that maintain healthy, joint-cushioning cartilage. A fat, out-of-condition animal does not want to exercise and when he does move, he puts excessive stress on weight-bearing joints.
Pillar 3: Herbs
I use licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) for its potent anti-inflammatory action. It replaces the steroids (cortisone) I once used in my Western medicine practice. With licorice root, although it may take a month or two to see results, we avoid the adverse side effects of cortisone.
Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) also has been reported to be good for painful arthritis, with actions similar to cortisone.
St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) eases pain and helps in the healing process, especially of damaged nerves.
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is especially good for the more actively painful arthritis or rheumatism where muscle pain is also involved.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is an anti-inflammatory herb that has been effectively used specifically for arthritis.
Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens), an herb from South Africa, is a potent anti-inflammatory and is specific for treating arthritis and rheumatism.
Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and yucca root (Yucca spp.) are herbs that traditionally have been used to treat arthritis. The best part of using alfalfa and yucca is that they probably can be grown in your own backyard.
For all the herbs, I prefer to sprinkle them on top of the animal’s food. However, some of the specific arthritis herbs (such as devil’s claw and turmeric) may have increased action in the concentrated doses found in tinctures and/or capsules. In this case, I use the human dose listed on the product label, adjusted to the pet’s size.
Pillar 4: Good Nutrition
The more I learn about arthritis, the more I believe the experts who claim that most, if not all, cases have their origin in some sort of metabolic imbalance. Lean critters are healthier—research indicates that food restriction throughout a pet’s lifetime, especially during its early years, creates an end-result lean body type that develops far fewer arthritic problems.
I’ve also found that a change in diet often will be enough to relieve arthritic symptoms. Use pet foods that contain no synthetic preservatives, pesticides, or artificial flavors or colorings.
Other nutrients that have shown some promise in treating arthritis include vitamins B3 and B6, magnesium, manganese, copper, boron and zinc. Omega-3 fats—from deep-sea fish and flaxseed oil—also may be helpful.
Pillar 5: Pain Control
Arthritis pain can be severe, and easing the pain can be the one crucial step in our overall arthritis treatment plan. The idea is to get the pet to feel comfortable enough to allow him to exercise enough to keep his joints moving and to maintain an ideal weight and to help him maintain a lean body mass that is healthy enough to want to exercise, to . . . well, you get the idea.
Alternative medicines have given us the perfect answer here: I’ve found a combination of acupuncture, chiropractic and herbal medicines (along with nutritional supplements) better and safer to use than any of the methods currently offered in Western medicine. The combination of acupuncture and chiropractic works so well, in fact, I think it is just plain bad medicine to not use them.
Pillar 6: Healing Supplements
I usually recommend therapeutic levels of vitamins A, C and E (along with selenium), added to a pet’s diet for three to six months, then decreasing the dosage to protective levels. Check with your holistic veterinarian for dosages, as they’re related to the size of the animal and to the severity of the disease.
Many arthritic conditions respond to chondroprotective agents, which not only promote new cartilage growth but also decrease pain and improve joint mobility. Perhaps the best is glucosamine, used at the regular human dosage schedule, altered to fit your animal’s weight. Others include chondroitin sulfate, MSM and SAM-e. I consider adding these if glucosamine hasn’t seemed to work after a few months’ trial.
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.
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Pet Corner: Natural Arthritis Relief for Pets