How to ease your dog's arthritis pain

Diet, supplements, and other therapies work together to reduce the pain and inflammation of arthritis.

Like people, dogs and cats often develop arthritis as they age. Many parts of the body can be affected, from the vertebral column to joints such as the hip, shoulder, elbow, knee, wrist and hock. Signs of arthritis in companion animals include reduced activity, lethargy, lameness, trouble getting up, and a reluctance to jump on the couch or into vehicles.

The main treatments offered by veterinarians include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), prescription diets, glucosamine and chondroitin, and polysulfated glycosaminoglycan injections. However, there are many additional holistic and alternative options that can help decrease the inflammation secondary to arthritis and degenerative disc disease; rid the body of toxins that promote the inflammatory response; and repair/improve joint and vertebral health.

Diet is the best starting point

Many veterinarians and animal owners focus on supplements, medications, and other treatment options, when the main focus should start with diet. Diet alone is one of the most important factors in improving quality of life when it comes to these chronic inflammatory and degenerative conditions.

Most conventional veterinarians will prescribe prescription diets that contain grains, glutens and added joint supplements, along with anti-inflammatory medications. However, most NSAID medications can cause damage or injury to the liver, kidneys, and bone marrow with long-term use. As well, many processed grains and Omega-6 fatty acids contain pro-inflammatory precursors. Another common ingredient found in pet food is white potato, which has been shown to promote inflammation. The sweet potato, conversely, a different plant species, actually has anti-inflammatory properties, a fact largely unknown to many people.

Optimizing diet for reduced inflammation

Nutrigenomics can be used to optimize a dog or cat’s diet and help decrease the inflammatory response in the body. Nutrigenomics is an emerging science that studies the molecular relations between nutrition and gene expression. Diet can alter gene expression and protein/metabolite production. Specific nutrients found in the diet change the body’s response in a form defined as a “signature” or “molecular dietary signature”.

Diet can be a serious risk factor for a number of diseases. Ingredients found in certain foods act on the animal’s DNA makeup, and alter gene expression. Various foods act upon certain regulated genes in the body that affect the onset, incidence, progression, and/or severity of chronic disease such as arthritis. Nutrigenomic principles have shown that the right diet can possess significant health-promoting properties, including pain management. Based on an individual animal’s nutritional requirement and DNA, diet can be used to prevent, treat, or cure chronic disease, including arthritis.

Enhancing immunity

The nutrients, amino acids, vitamins and supplements found in food can also be used to help balance and strengthen the immune system, and thereby help with arthritis and its pain and inflammation. Immune function requires many key nutrients, including zinc, selenium, vitamins E, B12, B6, C and D, linoleic acid, and carotene (lutein and betacarotene). Many natural sterols and sterolins found in fruits, vegetables, and medicinal plants combine to improve the immune system’s homeostatic balance. Natural antioxidants include vitamins E and C, citric acid, rosemary, turmeric (curcumin), oregano, and blueberries, cranberries and pomegranate.

Supplements to soothe pain

Many supplements can help relieve the pain of arthritis. The dosage for your dog or cat will depend on his individual requirements and should be discussed with a holistic or integrative veterinarian.

• Glucosamines from shellfish, bones, and some fungi are precursors of the glycosaminoglycans found in joint cartilage.

• Grape seed extract is a powerful antioxidant. It also has anticarcinogenic and strong anti-inflammatory properties. It has been added to many popular joint supplements on the market today.

• Bee pollen has many different properties and is an anti-inflammatory. Other health benefits, such as its anti-cancer, antibiotic and immune boosting properties, have not been fully explored.

• Ginger is used mostly for digestion, but also for arthritis thanks to its anti-inflammatory properites.

• MSM (MethylSulfonylMethane) acts as a natural anti-inflammatory for joints.

• Polyunsaturated fatty acids (ALA, EPA, DHA) come from many fish and plant oils, including wild salmon, sardines, herring, cod, trout, green-lipped mussel, anchovies, krill, algae extract, flax seed, hemp, olive, canola and soybean. They are used for their anti-inflammatory properties. Propolis (resin) is extracted by bees from the buds, bark and leaves of deciduous trees and some vegetables, and can be used for its analgesic pain-controlling properties.

• Deer or elk velvet helps alleviate arthritic symptoms by rebuilding cartilage, improving joint fluid, increasing tissue and cellular healing times, and improving circulation. It contains many beneficial ingredients – proteins, amino acids, collagen, lipids, minerals/trace elements, growth factors, glycosaminoglycans, glucosamine, chondroitin, phospholipids, prostaglandins, and hyaluronic acid. Growth Factor IGF 1 (insulin growth factor) and IGF 2 are both found naturally in deer and elk velvet. IGF 1 influences cellular growth in muscle, cartilage, bone, and many organs in the body. IGF 2 works with IGF 1 to promote cellular growth and organ development.

• Green-lipped mussel (Perna canaliculus) decreases inflammation by inhibiting the enzyme responsible for transforming essential fatty acids into inflammatory leukotrienes (mediators of inflammation from white blood cells). It contains important nutrients, proteins, amino acids, glycosaminoglycans, chondroitin, hyaluronic acid, and proteoglycan.

• Green (or black) tea leaf extract has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

• DLPA (D, L Phenylalanine) is an essential amino acid and endorphin stimulant to help control chronic bone and muscle pain.

• Turmeric (curcumin) is a relative of ginger and is a potent antioxidant. It also has anti-carcinogenic and strong anti-inflammatory properties.

• Traumeel (by Heel) is a popular homeopathic remedy for acute aches and pains. Another similar Heel product called Zeel can also be used for chronic arthritis pain.

• Other useful phytochemical supplements include boswellia, andrographis paniculata (king of bitters), hawthorn, licorice, nettle leaf, yucca root, and raw apple cider vinegar.

Prevent obesity

Many cats, even more than dogs, suffer from obesity. Maintaining a healthy weight and feeding schedule will help greatly. Most cats who free feed will not self-regulate their intake, will overeat, and can quickly become obese. Obesity will not only have an adverse effect on the cat’s joints, but will also increase the risk of other diseases, especially diabetes. Speak with your veterinarian or animal nutritionist about appropriate diet options before changing your cat’s diet, as felines remain obligate carnivores, whereas dogs have adapted over the years from their wolf ancestry to become obligate omnivores (they more easily digest and assimilate starches). Supplement dosages for cats will also vary depending on their weight.

Additional therapies

Many holistic veterinarians also offer alternative therapies such as acupuncture (dry needle, electro- and aqua-puncture), laser therapy, and herbal therapy.

• Acupuncture and laser therapy are non-invasive treatment options that help relieve pain and muscle spasms. This is achieved in part by increasing blood flow to the area of concern and releasing natural pain-relieving substances such as natural endorphins, endogenous opioids, and serotonin.

• Herbal therapy is a very effective tool, but choices vary greatly depending on the various deficiencies identified by an Eastern medicine approach.

Alleviating arthritis in your dog or cat should start with an appropriate high quality, whole foods diet that contains little to no grains, glutens or white potato. Since every dog and cat is an individual with specific requirements, it’s best to work with a holistic or integrative veterinarian to determine the diet, supplements and other therapies that are best for your companion. Arthritis can be debilitating, especially in older animals, but the right combination of therapies could help make him young again!