In my practice in Kansas City, I treat more cases of arthritis than any other single disease. I have found that a holistic approach for treating the broad category of arthropathies (any joint disease) is quite simply the best way to approach this multifaceted disease. I get much better results now than I ever did with Western medicines, and I see far fewer adverse side effects.
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, and muscles. There are many conditions that cause arthritis and/or rheumatism, including infections, trauma, old-age changes, and genetic factors. Each of these causes has its own preferred method of treatment, so get an accurate diagnosis from your veterinarian.
Symptoms of Arthritis
The most common arthritic problems I see in my practice are a potpourri of osteoarthritic and degenerative arthro-pathies. The typical patient is a mid- to old-aged dog (five years and older). Lower back and hips are the most commonly affected areas, but I think I’ve seen arthritis in every conceivable joint. (I see an occasional cat with arthritis, too. But since they tend to be couch potatoes, I suspect they are not often diagnosed by their owners.)
Alternative medicine may provide lasting pain relief.
Most of the dogs I see have some form of structural abnormality, and because of the way they are put together, they’re constantly putting abnormal pressure on their joint surfaces, causing excess wear and tear and an increase of cell-produced free radicals. Excess wear and tear results in erosion of the joint’s cartilage and eventual loss of its cushioning effects. Without the cushioning cartilage, a dog feels pain.
Typically, when I see dogs with arthritis, the dog has been slowly getting worse and is having a difficult time getting around. There may be enough pain and inflammation that we notice a limp when he walks, and sometimes the joints are swollen. X-rays may or may not show noticeable changes in joints, but chiropractic evaluation often reveals joints that are less flexible than normal.
Treating Arthritis in my Practice
I always tell people to figure a minimum of three to six months of treatment before we’ll see any appreciable results. But once we do see results, they can be long lasting, and we will not be using any drugs that can be damaging. When treating arthritis with alternative medicine, it’s important to keep in mind that each case presents a different picture of symptoms, and the individual patient’s symptoms will dictate what medicines should be used. In other words, there is no magic bullet, herbal or otherwise, that will treat all arthritis cases.
When I treat arthritis, I follow a six-step process, outlined below.
Step one: Acupuncture and chiropractic. These modalities are essential elements in any treatment regime for arthritis. Typically, after several initial treatments, I see an animal that exhibits much less pain, and we almost always see partial or nearly complete return of function. I see such good results using acupuncture and chiropractic that I think it’s just plain bad medicine not to use them.
Step two: Nutrition. Oftentimes, dietary change is enough to relieve arthritic symptoms. I recommend good, organic foods that are not overprocessed and contain no synthetic preservatives, hormones, or artificial flavors or colors.
Step three: Supplements. A veritable stewpot of supplements have worked seemingly miraculous results in some patients with arthritis. The two most important categories of these are chondroprotective agents and antioxidants.
Chondroprotective agents promote new cartilage growth, and thus decrease pain and improve joint mobility. I’ve found that several of the glucosamine products on the market have given my patients consistent (but certainly not 100 percent) results.
Antioxidants protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, which are produced when a cell is exposed to toxins. Free radicals are also produced by cells surrounding the joint whenever excess or abnormal strains or pressures are applied—for example, when the weight-bearing surfaces are out of normal alignment due to a skeletal disfigurement common in many breeds.
I add therapeutic levels of vitamins A, C, and E (along with selenium) to a pet’s diet for three to six months, and then decrease the dosage to preventive levels. Check with your local holistic veterinarian for exact dosage levels. Other nutrients that have shown some promise in treating arthritis include vitamin B3, vitamin B6, magnesium, manganese, copper, boron, and zinc. Omega-3 fatty acids from deep-sea fish and flaxseed oil (Linum usitatissimum) may also be helpful.
Step four: Exercise and massage. I belong to the “use it or lose it” school of thinking, and the research on arthritis seems to support this. The more we can keep a pet moving and flexing her joints, the better. A daily walk on grass can greatly retard the progress of arthritis. Light massage can ease some of the aches and pains and increase general body circulation. For many dogs with arthritis, however, even light exercise can be painful—this is where step five comes in.
Step five: Herbs for pain and inflammation. I like to use licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) to replace the anti-inflammatory action of the steroids I once used in my Western medicine practice. Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) has also been reported to be good for painful arthritis, with actions similar to cortisone. St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) eases pain and also helps in the healing process, especially of damaged nerves. Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is good for more actively painful arthritis or rheumatism with which muscle pain is also involved. Willow bark (Salix spp.) is rich in anti-inflammatory salicylates, compounds related to aspirin. Don’t use willow for cats without a veterinarian’s guidance.
Step six: Herbs specific for arthritis. I’ve found these herbs to be of great help in addition to the other medicines used. The key here is to match the herbal prescription to the critter and his/her particular form of arthritis.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa), frankincense (Boswellia serrata), and devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) are anti-inflammatory herbs that have been effectively used as specific remedies for arthritis. Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) has also traditionally been used to treat arthritis.
Randy Kidd holds doctorates in veterinary medicine and veterinary and clinical pathology. After practicing traditional veterinary medicine for ten years, he opened Honoring the Animals, a holistic practice in Kansas City, Missouri.
By Randy Kidd
Information provided in “Pet Corner: Natural Remedies for Arthritis” is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified veterinarian.