Top ten ways to fight arthritis in pets – an expert’s guide

Take a look at some of the most effective ways to deal with arthritis in dogs and cats — naturally!

Arthritis is one of the most familiar conditions found in dogs and cats. Although it most often strikes older animals, it can also appear in younger ones as well. The question is, what’s the best way to deal with it?

While conventional medications have their place when the animal is in serious pain, many alternative therapies exist and can be used in conjunction with one another to ease the discomfort and inflammation associated with this debilitating disease. For this article, we spoke to a number of veterinarians and other animal care experts for their input on fighting arthritis the holistic way.

1. Nutrition

“Diet is one of the keys to your pet’s good health and mobility,” says nutritionist Susan Davis. “It’s not only a critical factor in terms of the nutrients that are provided but also in managing weight. Many pets with arthritis are overweight. Excess weight increases stress on the joints and exacerbates arthritis pain.

“Pets with arthritis need a diet that is rich in antioxidants, essential fatty acids—especially Omega 3s – enzymes and quality whole foods. When choosing a diet, try to give them as many fresh whole food ingredients as possible. Be sure to look closely at labels on all treats and foods. Many pet food manufacturers add preservatives such as BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin, food colorings and artificial flavorings to keep the product ‘fresh’ for long-term consumption. These additives cause additional wear and tear on your pet’s health and arthritic condition.

“Ideally, a homemade diet made with fresh whole foods is best. Give your animal plenty of fresh vegetables rich with vitamins, minerals, enzymes and antioxidants and consider integrating some raw foods into the diet. Antioxidants help reduce oxidative stress and free radical damage associated with arthritis. Essential fatty acids such as fish oil and flax oil are vital to healthy joints and help reduce inflammation. Use lean, natural sources of protein such as wild salmon and meats free of hormones and antibiotics.”

Susan Davis is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist who teaches people how to prepare balanced, homemade diets for their animals. For more information, visit Ask Ariel Your Pet Nutritionist at

2. Supplements

A variety of supplements can help alleviate the aches and inflammation of arthritis. “There is no magic cure,” says Audi Donamor, “but supplements chosen to meet the individual needs of your companion can be very beneficial.” One of the most important of these is glucosamine sulfate. “It contains glucosamine and sulfur, and is found naturally in and around tendons, ligaments, and connective tissues,” says Audi. “It has anti-inflammatory and joint regenerating properties. Glucosamine acts as the foundation for cartilage compounds, and also activates chondrocyte cells in the cartilage, which helps to produce these compounds. This allows the cartilage to hold water, enabling the joints to act as shock absorbers. Glucosamine sulfate can help reduce pain and inflammation and improve joint mobility.” Chondroitin and MSM are often used in conjunction with glucosamine.

Other helpful supplements include wild salmon oil, which inhibits inflammation and provides relief from joint pain. “Vitamins C and E are also recognized for helping to reduce or prevent oxidative stress,” adds Audi. “Vitamin C is important to the formation of collagen.” A study from the Boston University indicated that patients with osteoarthritis who took a high daily dose of vitamin C were less likely to suffer cartilage loss and a progression of the disease. “Vitamin E, meanwhile, promotes healthy joints, and supports companion animals who are experiencing arthritic pain and stiffness. The d-Alpha form is preferred over the synthetic dl-Alpha form.”

Audi Donamor has been successfully creating special needs diets for dogs and cats for over eleven years.

3. Herbs

A gentle, non-toxic way to help ease arthritis and its symptoms, herbs can form an important part of the treatment regime. “Curcuma, cayenne, boswellia and tumeric are all used as anti-flammatories,” says veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker. “Cayenne also improves circulation to the connective tissues, muscles, tendons and the lining of the joint capsule.” Other anti-inflammatory herbs include yucca and willow bark.

Along with individual herbs, you can choose from a variety of products specially formulated to treat arthritis and joint pain. “Dog-Gone Pain (DGP) from American BioSciences features a blend of Australian and European herbs and supplements that work together to reduce pain and improve mobility. It includes anti-inflammatory herbs such as feverfew, celery seed, and boswellia, as well as corydalis, which tones up the circulatory system, and shark cartilage, an excellent source of chondroitin sulfate.”

Chinese herbs also can be very beneficial for arthritic conditions, and are usually available in blended formulas. One example is Liquid Amber. “It’s used for osteoarthritis and contains about 15 medicinals blended together,” says Dr. Becker.

“In TCM, as opposed to Western medicine, there are seven different definitions of arthritis, encompassing warm joints, cold joints, or inflamed joints,” she adds. “They can all fall into the category of arthritis but may present very differently and therefore require different treatments. For example, ginger is a warming herb, but if you have a hot swollen condition, it’s not indicated because it’s like adding heat to fire. It’s important to work with the doctor to find the right remedy for your animal.”

Dr. Karen Becker is a holistic veterinarian and wildlife rehabilitator. She has certification in acupuncture and homeopathy and in 1999 opened the Natural Pet Animal Hospital in Tinley Park, Illinois. Dr. Becker is also a licensed Naturopathic Medical Doctor.

4. Chiropractic

“Chiropractic is the science and art that uses the inherent recuperative powers of the body by dealing with the relationship between the nervous system and the spinal column and its relationship in the restoration and maintenance of health,” says veterinarian Dr. Sharon Doolittle. This modality can be used to treat a wide range of disorders, including arthritis. “Chiropractic subluxations deal with two adjoining vertebrae that have lost their proper range of motion,” explains Dr. Doolittle. “This involves not only the two vertebrae but also the nerves, muscles, blood vessels and the connecting tissues and ligaments surrounding the vertebrae.” What an animal loses that range of motion, a downward spiral takes place, which can lead to a variety of structural, biochemical and neurological changes culminating in arthritis and other problems. “Subluxations can also lead to decreased cerebral spinal fluid flow. This means you get less nutrition to the disc which can lead to degeneration of that disc.”

Chiropractic treatment helps reverse these problems by restoring the proper range of motion in the vertebrae. “I prefer to do manual adjustments, which involve short lever/high velocity thrusts in a specific vector plane,” says Dr. Doolittle. “As they sit next to each other, vertebrae have very specific angles to the joints in between them.” The practitioner must know what angle the joints are at because they vary depending on which vertebrae are affected, whether they’re in the neck, lumbar region, or pelvic area.

“Arthritic animals benefit tremendously from regular chiropractic work,” says Dr. Doolittle. She adds that it’s very important to find a properly qualified practitioner. “Ideally, you should get someone who is certified through the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association.”

Dr. Sharon Doolittle is a holistic veterinarian who practices chiropractic, applied kinesiology, autonomic response testing, acupuncture and other therapies. She has lectured at the animal chiropractic school in Moline, Illinois, and is certified by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association.

5. Homeopathy

“This is a wonderful and gentle way to stimulate the body to heal itself naturally,” says animal homeopath Dyanna McCain. “The main principle behind homeopathy means ‘like cures like’.” It works by regarding symptoms as the body’s natural means to fight off disease. Unlike conventional medicine, which seeks to suppress symptoms, homeopathic remedies encourage the body to do its own healing. “It addresses the whole being, mentally, emotionally and physically,” says Dyanna. “Homeopathy works great with animals.”

There are many homeopathic remedies that can alleviate arthritis. An important one is Rhus Toxicodendron. “It’s used if the animal has a hard time getting up but is much better after walking for awhile. He can be chilly and there is a lot of stiffness.” Another remedy that can help with arthritic conditions, as well as for sprains and other injuries, is Ruta Graveolens, while Arnica Montana is useful when the animal is in severe pain and afraid of being touched. “Byronia can help when the pain is worse if the animal is moved or jarred, and the joints are hot and swollen. And silica is a good remedy for dogs with a history of arthritis in their families. Usually the symptoms will have a tendency to get worse with age.”

It’s best to work with an experienced homeopath when treating your animal. “Treating the individual is our main objective, especially in arthritis,” says Dyanna. “A homeopathic case is taken of the animal, which takes in all his physical, mental and emotional symptoms.”

Dyanna McCain, DVet Hom, was a vet tech for over ten years before seeking a more natural approach to animal healing. She received her credentials from the British Institute of Homeopathy and is a member of The National Centre of Homeopathy.

6. Massage

Relaxing and soothing, massage can be very beneficial to animals with arthritis. “It can help relieve some of the pain by releasing the tension in tight muscles,” says massage therapist and vet tech Theresa Gagnon. “Massage also releases endorphins which are chemicals produced by the brain that block pain. Massage strokes should not be applied directly to a joint, but only to the soft tissue that surrounds the joint. Avoid applying any pressure to bone or bony projections. Before attempting massage on your animal, you may want to practice the strokes on yourself. This will give you a sense of the amount of pressure to apply when using massage on your pet. Remember that the area you are massaging will be sensitive and applying too much pressure may evoke a bite.

“Let your animal choose whatever position he feels comfortable in. Always keep your hands and arms soft and relaxed when applying massage strokes. Allow your hand to contour to the body part you are working on. Two strokes that can be used to massage animals are compression and effleurage. Compression is a technique that involves using the palm of the hands pressing directly but softly into the muscle and soft tissues of the animal’s body. Effleurage is a gliding stroke following the flow or direction of the fur. The stroke is long with even pressure, covering the whole area of muscle.”

Start slowly with massage and keep the sessions short at first, at ten to 15 minutes. “After the massage, you should encourage your pet to walk around. Walking will act like a cool down period for the muscles.”

Theresa Gagnon is Director of Animal Programs at the Bancroft School of Massage Therapy in Worcester, Massachusetts. She is also a Certified Veterinary Technician and has been massaging animals for 15 years. The Bancroft School of Massage Therapy in conjunction with Janet Marlow Music has produced a DVD entitled The Pet Owner’s Massage Guide for Dogs and Cats.

7. Acupuncture and acupressure

These ancient healing therapies have enjoyed a renaissance and are especially helpful in dealing with joint problems causing pain and inflammation. “Acupuncture and acupressure are both modalities used to activate the body’s chi,” says acupressure instructor Nancy Zidonis. “In Chinese medicine, arthritis is seen as being a condition of the bone. There are specific points on the body with energetics that benefit the bone. Bladder 11 is a very key point to work, and others include Governing Vessel 14, and Large Intestine 4, 10 and 11.”

On a basic level, acupuncture and acupressure work to strengthen the immune system. Because arthritis is often linked to problems with immunity, it’s easy to see how these modalities can help with the condition. “If the immune system is strong and solid, things work well in the body,” says Nancy.

The difference between acupuncture and acupressure is how the chi of the body is activated. “Acupuncture uses needles to invade the body and activate the chi, while acupressure uses the pressure of the practitioner’s body, particularly the thumbs,” explains Nancy. “Acupuncture should always be done by a professional as it’s hard to know exactly where the points are. But if people want to stroke an animal in the area of a point, they’ll be activating the energy of that point, and that can help too.”

These modalities can be used not only to treat arthritis but to help prevent it. “If you start working with an animal right away, you can really impact the arthritis before it sets in and becomes chronic.”

Nancy Zidonis is the co-author of Acu-Cat: A Guide to Feline Acupressure and The Well-Connected Dog: A Guide to Canine Acupressure. Along with Amy Snow, she owns Tallgrass Publishing, which offers Meridian Charts for animals, and Tallgrass Animal Acupressure, which provides training courses and a Practitioner Certification program.

8. TTouch

It looks deceptively simple, but it can have profound impact on an animal’s health. TTouch uses light circular touches to activate cell function in the body. “Animals can find comfort from the use of TTouch while dealing with debilitating diseases like arthritis,” says TTouch practitioner Cynde Van Vleet. “There is nothing magical about it. Animals are the greatest biofeedback device ever, since they are objective and don’t have an agenda. If our intentions are clear and we pay attention to their subtle signals, they respond beautifully.

“The basic TTouch technique is simple. It involves a very light touch to make a 1¼” circle. Imagine a clock – place your hand at the six, with just enough pressure to push the skin clockwise around the clock, past the six again then up to nine. Do one circle and randomly move to another spot. Don’t be afraid to use your intuition.”

There are several TTouches that can help relieve arthritis discomfort. One is called Noah’s March. “Begin at the head and make firm, long strokes covering every inch of the body. Use this stroke to begin and close your TTouch session.” Others include the Raccoon Touch, the Abalone, the Lying Leopard and the Python Lift. “For the latter, place both hands on either side of the shoulders, hips or legs. Lift the skin and muscle a couple of inches with just enough pressure so your hands won’t slip. Hold for a few seconds and ever so slowly release.”

Cynde Van Vleet is a TTouch practitioner as well as an educator and artist. She was inspired to learn TTouch after her Australian shepherd, Kobie, was diagnosed with lymphoma.

9. Communication

Because your animal can’t talk the way we can, it can be difficult to assess how he’s feeling. Learning to communicate with your companion can enhance your understanding of his condition, and put you in a better position to help him cope with it. “You can just say things verbally to the animal and the correct ‘pictures’ will be sent to him,” says communicator Lydia Hiby. “If you’re taking him to the vet or chiropractor, for example, tell him he’ll feel better for going.”

Communication can also be used to help with treatment. “I use communication to determine where the animal hurts, what activities might make it worse and what time of day it’s worse,” says communicator Lynn McKenzie. “I also use it to find out what treatment the animal might prefer and if the treatment is helping. A lot of people I work with have animals that are competing, so it helps to determine what activities the dogs are comfortable doing and wish to continue doing.”

Lynn adds that it’s crucial to consider the emotional aspects of dealing with arthritis. “One of the most important things that communication can do is help the animal deal with his physical limitations and pain on an emotional level,” she explains. “It can also be used to explain things like ramps, steps and other mobility aids. Emotional support is important; a lot of animals seem to need it.”

Lydia Hiby is based in Acton, Calfornia, and has been an animal communicator for nearly 20 years. She is co-author of the book Conversations with Animals, in which she talks about her communication experiences.

Lynn McKenzie is an internationally renowned Animal Intuitive. She was trained in animal communication by Penelope Smith and is also a Certified Spiritual Psychotherapist and Subtle Energy Healer.

10. Magnetic therapy

Magnetic therapy has gained a following among at least some doctors and people with animals, according to veterinarian Dr. Shawn Messonnier. In his book, The Arthritis Solution for Dogs, Dr. Messonnier explains. “Magnets increase blood flow to the area, bring is essential nutrients, and help relieve pain and inflammation. Magnets appear to heal the body by removing inflammation and restoring circulation. By increasing blood flow to a diseased site, increased nutrients are available for healing.”

In Eastern philosophy, says Dr. Messonnier, when the energy flow or Chi is blocked, magnets can help restore the flow, which allows for healing and proper metabolism.

Dr. Shawn Messonnier is a holistic veterinarian and author. His books include The Natural Health Bible for Dogs and Cats, The Natural Vet’s Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs and 8 Weeks to a Healthy Dog.

11. Exercise

Regular activity is key to keeping joints and muscles working properly. If your animal already has arthritis, however, it’s important to use some caution and not overdo things. Start with short, gentle walks and work up from there. But don’t force things. Cut back on activity levels if your companion shows any sign of pain or lameness. Too much exercise can actually aggravate joint problems. The same rule applies to the type of exercise. It’s a good idea, for example, to avoid strenuous activities that involve jumping, such as chasing a ball or a Frisbee – an arthritic animal can injure himself by falling or coming down the wrong way on a stiff leg. An excellent form of exercise for arthritic dogs is swimming. Although it’s an aerobic activity that improves circulation and gives the animal a good cardiovascular workout, it’s also low impact, which means it helps strengthen muscles and joints without putting too much stress and strain on them. Again, take things slowly; if in doubt, talk to a vet about taking your dog to a special hydrotherapy pool with an underwater treadmill.


Animal Wellness is North America's top natural health and lifestyle magazine for dogs and cats, with a readership of over one million every year. AW features articles by some of the most renowned experts in the pet industry, with topics ranging from diet and health related issues, to articles on training, fitness and emotional well being.