All About Arthritis

As our pets age they may suffer from arthritis. It can be a painful condition and is usually noticeable as a stiff gait first thing in the morning (often worse in cold weather), which improves with a bit of exercise or movement.

Arthritis describes inflammation in a joint and may be attributable to many factors. It is generally a progressive condition, but we can do a great deal to slow the course of the disease and make your pet a lot more comfortable for the rest of his/her days.

It is very important to keep your pet’s weight under control. Carrying around extra baggage is a huge burden on the joints and lightening their load will help them to function better and cut down on their pain.

Ensuring that your pet eats good quality food with optimal amounts of omega 3 fatty acids, which are natural anti-inflammatories, helps them to maintain a good weight and joint health. Supplementing their diet with omega 3’s (found in flax oil and cold water fish) is a fabulous aid to supporting joint function and just making this change can make a noticeable difference.
Next on the list and clinically proven to help are chondroprotective (joint protecting) agents called polysulphated glucosaminoglycans (P-Gags) or glucosamine. These are naturally occurring substances found in green lipped mussel extract, shark cartilage and other sources. There are many supplements available but as with all supplements it is important to remember that they aren’t all created equal, some work better than others and may be more appropriate for your animal than others. It is very important to ensure that the supplement is of good quality and has nutrients that are bio-available. This means that they are easy for the body to digest, absorb and utilize.

There is also an injectable form of P-gags that can be used alone or in conjunction with the above, it too can work wonders. Usually we do a course of four injections under the skin (not necessarily into their joint, once a week for four weeks and most animals show an improvement in their condition by the third or fourth injection.

Another invaluable nutrient, from grapeseed or pinebark extract, are proanthocyanidins. They act as powerful anti-oxidants which assist joint function and well-being. Ginger and Turmeric (curcumin) can be helpful to improve circulation and the latter is also useful for its natural anti-inflammatory properties. Dogs can be given 50 – 250 mg of the dried turmeric herb 1 – 3 times a day and cats 50 – 100 mg daily but occasionally it can cause a runny tummy so take care to monitor for this. Devils claw and other plant extracts such as Epitalis can also be very useful.

Massage of the tight muscles trying to compensate for the pain is very helpful as these are frequently tired and sore. Gentle massage is loved by most animals and helps to stimulate circulation.

Gentle, low impact Exercise, such as hydrotherapy, swimming or walks on the beach, is of vital importance to help keep supporting muscles strong and contribute to general well-being.

In addition to all of these are alternative and complementary therapy options such as homeopathy and herbal medicine, acupuncture, the Neurological Integration System (NIS) and hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy as well as musculo-skeletal therapies such as chiropractics and Bowen therapy, which have proven to be very valuable aids. For optimal results these are best used by an experienced practitioner working in conjunction with your vet to tailor make a program to suit your animal’s needs. Stem cell therapy is also an option to consider as some animals seem to show improvement in their condition.

When none of these changes are making enough of a difference we make use of painkillers such as Non Steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which may occasionally have side effects such as causing gastric ulcers and sometimes kidney problems, to ease pain. They usually have a dramatic effect and in many animals with painful arthritis that is unresponsive to other therapies their benefits usually outweigh the relatively small risk of side effects.

Other supportive care is important to help preserve quality of life. Warm and comfortable bedding will go a long way to keeping them comfortable and some dogs and cats benefit from special magnetic beds that theoretically help to improve their vitality.

Older animals with arthritis are less inclined to move around stopping regular wear of their nails which can grow long enough to put strain on their nail base or even grow inward into their pads which is extremely painful. Their decreased flexibility also makes it difficult for them to groom themselves, especially if they are obese, leading to knotted coats which are uncomfortable and also harbor parasites such as fleas. Regular nail trimming and grooming is often imperative.

With a comprehensive treatment plan, a great deal of quality can be added to your pet’s life and often quantity too.