From nutrition and weight management to acupuncture and stem cell therapy, integrative and holistic treatments for osteoarthritis in dogs and cats are effectively reducing pain, improving mobility and enhancing quality of life.
Normal pain-free mobility is as important to your dog or cat’s enjoyment of life as it is to your own. Unfortunately, osteoarthritis, with its associated discomfort and stiffness, is a very common health problem in animals. In fact, it’s the most common cause of chronic pain in dogs — arthritis affects up to 20% of the canine population, and it’s becoming increasingly recognized in cats too. Luckily, there are many complementary ways to help alleviate osteoarthritis, reduce the pain, and improve your best friend’s quality of life.
Complementary help for osteoarthritis
Nutrition and diet are profoundly influential factors in most health problems, and joint health is not excluded. For starters, diets high in carbohydrates (grains and potatoes) can promote inflammation, which will exacerbate arthritis. Furthermore, high-carb high-calorie diets promote rapid growth and obesity; two factors that contribute to osteoarthritis and joint problems. Research has shown that diets proportionately higher in protein, calcium, Omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants increase lean body mass and support healthy cartilage as puppies grow.
The importance of weight management cannot be overstated when it comes to arthritis! Studies have shown that this single factor can make more of a difference than any other treatments or supplements. This is profound information to be aware of, since many veterinarians and their clients are more likely to reach for prescription pain medications rather than address and correct obesity or bodyweight issues. Not only can weight loss be a more effective approach to osteoarthritis, it is far healthier, safer — and cheaper! — than daily medications.
Exercise and movement
Regular exercise helps keep a dog or cat’s whole body healthy, including his bones and joints. Exercise promotes healthy muscle mass and blood flow, which supports better joint function and helps prevent degenerative changes in the joints. More specifically, movement of the limbs and joints promotes circulation of the synovial (joint) fluid, which supports healthy cartilage. Studies have shown that dogs with arthritic pain actually benefit from regular movement. In these cases, it is important to choose low impact exercise and do not let your animal overdo it.
Professional physical therapy is becoming more readily available for dogs and is an excellent way to support and maintain flexibility and strength, as well as provide mental stimulation and fun, in canines with arthritis or other musculoskeletal problems. PT options include the underwater treadmill, warm water pool swimming, and specific floor, step and ball exercises tailored to your dog’s condition and needs.
Indoor cats need exercise too. Be sure to provide your kitty with climbing trees, perches and interactive playtime. Experiment with different types of toys and try a laser pointer to encourage your cat to exercise. This offers both mental stimulation and physical benefits to your kitty — and it’s fun for both of you!
Don’t forget about accessories you can provide in/around your home to support a dog or cat with osteoarthritis or joint health issues. These items may include steps or ramps to help your animal get onto furniture or in/out of cars; thick cushioned or orthopedic foam beds for more comfortable resting (remember, dogs and cats spend a lot of time resting); and raised or elevated food dishes to alleviate strain on your animal’s neck and spine. For kitties, make sure to provide litter boxes with lower sides that are designed for “easy access”.
Nutritional supplements and herbal medicines
- Supplements such as glucosamine sulfate, chondroitin and hyaluronic acid (HA) are all natural components of cartilage and help to replenish or support the body’s cartilage.
- Because I focus on food (functional) medicine in my holistic veterinary practice, I like to recommend a daily serving of bone broth as one of my favorite joint supplements. A quality bone broth will deliver the nutrient components found in a typical joint supplement, but with more diversity and better bioavailablity (absorption and utilization in the body).
Food supplements and herbs with anti-inflammatory properties are helpful in managing osteoarthritis by supporting comfort and better mobility function.
- Omega 3 fatty acids provide numerous benefits for the body, and are widely recommended to support joint health too. Common Omega 3 products include fish oils, krill oil, calamari oil and cod liver oil. It is important to choose a high quality product, and always refrigerate the bottle once it is opened.
- 1-TDC (1-Tetradeconal Complex) is a natural product containing a unique type of fatty acid oils that inhibit inflammation and provide effective cellular lubricant for the joint tissues. This product comes in a capsule form.
- Herbal medicines or supplements can be an excellent option for controlling pain and improving comfort, and are typically much safer in comparison to prescription drugs. Common herbs indicated for arthritis include curcumin (turmeric), boswellia, California poppy, yucca and corydalis (see page xx for more about herbs for canine arthritis).
- A rapidly-growing category of herbal medicines now being used for animals are CBD oils, derived from hemp and cannabis plants. Many cannabinoids have anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects, working to decrease inflammation and reduce pain. CBD products vary widely in composition and strength, so it is best to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on the label, or work with a holistic veterinarian for guidance.
More treatment options for osteoarthritis
Many additional treatment options can be used to prevent or alleviate symptoms of arthritis in animals:
Acupuncture stimulates specific points on the body to mitigate numerous effects, including the release of endorphins, serotonin and natural opiods for pain relief. Acupuncture is often a very successful tool for osteoarthritis management in cats and dogs and can greatly improve comfort and quality of life. Initial treatment sessions are generally best at weekly or bi-weekly intervals, but can then be adjusted for the duration that works well for each individual animal.
Chiropractic care focuses on the role of the spine and nervous system in maintaining joint health, and overall health as well. The goal of chiropractic adjustments is to correct misalignments that disrupt neurological communications between the brain and the organ systems and tissues in the body. Many dogs and cats experience excellent results, and sometimes dramatically improved mobility and comfort,t with chiropractic treatments. Much like acupuncture, these treatments generally start with weekly sessions, and progress to less frequency as the patient improves, depending on individual needs.
Massage therapy increases blood circulation, bringing strength to weakened muscles. It also disperses muscle tension and helps restore proper mobility and flexibility. Dogs and cats can greatly benefit from massage, and many really enjoy it. Many holistic veterinary practices and physical rehabilitation facilities offer canine massage. You can also do simple massage techniques yourself.
Physical therapy and rehabilitation for animals are becoming increasingly popular, for good reason. The benefits of PT include improved strength, prevention of muscle atrophy, improved range of motion, pain reduction, good mental stimulation, improved overall health, and extended quality of life.
Laser therapy is now commonly offered in both conventional veterinary hospitals as well as holistic practices. Cold laser therapy (i.e. low level lasers) work with light wavelength energy to support healing and decrease pain. This is achieved by increasing blood flow and oxygen delivery to the tissues, as well as stimulating the body’s ability to resolve inflammation. Laser therapy sessions are generally done once or twice weekly for best results, but this can depend on each animal’s needs.
Assisi loops provide a newer therapy option via low/safe levels of targeted and pulsed electromagnetic field energy. You can purchase the loop and use it frequently (up to multiple times a day) in the comfort of your own home. The Assisi loop was designed for animals, and its effects are similar to those of laser therapy; however, it works via a different mechanism and specifically acts on the nitrous oxide pathway to assist healing and decrease pain.
Prolotherapy is a new treatment modality in which natural substances are injected into painful joints, stimulating the body’s repair mechanisms to strengthen and heal injured tissues. The most commonly-used injected substance is plasma obtained from the animal’s own blood; this technique is termed PRP (platelet rich plasma).
Stem cell therapy is becoming a common treatment for canine osteoarthritis and other joint disorders. Stem cells are a type of master cell in the body; they have the capacity to develop into many different tissue types, such as muscle, nerve, bone, tendon/ligament, etc. As such, stem cells contribute to the body’s ability to repair and renew tissues. Stem cells can be harvested from tissue samples taken from the animal’s own fat tissues or bone marrow, and later injected into arthritic or degenerative joint areas to stimulate tissue regeneration and healing.