Dr. Anuska Viljoen BVSc(Hons) VetMFHom MRCVS
who has lived with an older, stiff and disabled dog has experienced the
heartbreak of arthritis. This slowly progressive disease starts with almost
undetectable discomfort, and may progress to the point that the animal refuses
to stand, walk outside for constitutionals, or even eat. Arthritis actually
comes in different forms, with different causes, and can attack dogs and cats
regardless of breed or age.
Although causes may range from autoimmune rheumatoid arthritis, infectious disease, and metabolic disease to primary cartilage degeneration in young dogs, by far the most common type is degenerative osteoarthritis in older dogs. As our animals age, the bony joints begin to move less smoothly, and bony spurs may develop in the body's attempt to stabilize these "creaky" joints. Joint instability and bony proliferation cause pain and decreased range of mobility when the animal moves.
Your pet may not be able to tell you if he or she is in pain due to arthritis. You may only see slight trouble in getting up and down, climbing stairs or jumping up on furniture or into cars, soreness hours after exercise, or even a new grumpiness. This is one reason that yearly or biannual examinations are so important for older dogs and cats.
For degenerative osteoarthritis, there is no cure. The animal is usually sentenced to a lifetime of anti-inflammatory agent, and eventually, cortisone-like drugs. Natural therapeutic treatments, however, can be extremely effective in diminishing the pain, slowing down the progression of disease, and delaying or reducing the need for these drugs that have potentially severe side effects.
The first step is to switch all food to a very high quality natural diet. A majority of painful dogs are greatly improved by diet change alone. The next step is to start on supplements such as cartilage precursor supplements, which provide the building blocks to repair diseased cartilage. Antioxidants, and flax oil are very useful in fighting inflammation and thus help with pain.
Then comes the mainstay treatments such as Homoeopathy and Acupuncture which can often replace the need for any conventional medicine.
Herbal treatments for the joints per se, are often very effective when used in conjunction with herbs that help the liver to detoxify the joints and whole body.
Many animals with arthritis (or other musculoskeletal diseases) compensate for chronic pain by "contorting" their spines, in an effort to relieve the pain. These animals definitely benefit from occasional acupuncture top-up treatments.
Arthritis is manageable by a variety of natural and conventional treatments. It is especially important to slow progression of the disease by starting a good diet and supplementation early.