Arthritis as a general term means “inflammation of a joint.” For the purpose of this article, the term arthritis will be referring to degenerative and age related changes that occur within a joints that lead to decreased mobility and chronic pain, technically known as osteoarthritis.
This type of arthritis is the second most common chronic disease of dogs and cats. Wear and tear of joints over time triggers inflammation that gradually leads to the wearing down of cartilaginous surfaces of the joints which in the body’s ill fated attempt to protect itself begins to calcify the joints. This leads to reduced range of motion, more inflammation and pain, and a vicious cycle of even more calcification.
One of the biggest challenges of veterinary medicine is that the wild ancestors of modern day domestic dogs and cats evolved a survival tactic to be stoic and not show outward signs of pain or discomfort. Although they are no longer wild animals, dogs and cats have retained that stoic trait. In the case of arthritis, in the past this misled pet owners and veterinarian into to recognizing signs of arthritis only once the disease was advanced. Armed with a great deal more research and being more in tune with the subtle early warning signs of arthritis, the veterinarians of today are far better equipped to intervene when arthritic changes are mild and reversible.
Thus, the first piece of advice I offer pet owners with regard to arthritis and other diseases, is to be sure that a veterinarian examines the pet once a year. A yearly visit is so much more than just vaccinations and parasite screening. It also includes a thorough physical examination which includes a good orthopedic assessment of the canine or feline patient. Early intervention is a key in keeping the joints of dogs and cats comfortable as they age.
However, if your dog or cat has more advanced stages of arthritis, all is not lost. While at first these patients may require traditional treatment for arthritis, namely non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s), engaging in alternative therapy can still be invaluable in minimizing or even eliminating a patient’s dependence on NSAID’s.
Below are effective and proven holistic treatment options for dogs and cats living with arthritis:
1.) Omega-3-Fatty Acids
When it comes to joint health supplements, everyone has glucosamine and chondroitin on the brain, but in reality the premier arthritis nutritional supplement is omega-3-fatty acids. Omega-3-fatty acids are nature’s anti-inflammatory. They help to maintain and repair cell membranes, while blocking inflammatory biochemical pathways in the body.
The most effective and bioavailable omega-3 is that derived from fish oils. Be careful with the product you choose, as rancid oils not only lack omega-3, but have potentially PRO-inflammatory omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids. Your veterinarian is the best source for product recommendation.
2.) Polysulfated Glycosaminoglycan
Glycosaminoglycan is the base molecule for all of the connective tissues of the body (cartilage, ligaments, tendons). By giving regular injections of concentrated glycosaminoglycan, it helps the body to resurface and strengthen connective tissues leading to proven clinical improvement. The polysulfated form of glycosaminoglycan is the most effective because sulfur activates the molecule.
Polysulfated glycosaminoglycan is commercially available as a brand called Adequan. It is generally recommended to give two injections per week for 4 weeks as a loading phase, then maintain on monthly injections.
Astaxanthin is an antioxidant derived from shell fish. As an antioxidant, it is know to be 6000 times more potent than vitamin C. Antioxidants reduce free radical formation in the joints that contribute to inflammation and degeneration of the connective tissues.
Turmeric is a root that is commonly used as a food additive in Indian and southeast Asian cuisine. It has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and can be helpful to reduce inflammation in tissues. Most dogs enjoy the taste of it when added to their food.
5.) Glucosamine & Chondroitin
The studies are conflicting with regard to the efficacy of these supplements, but anecdotally, I have seen fairly consistent improvement in dogs and cats when high quality glucosamine and chondroitin products are used.
Both are base connective tissue molecules that help to resurface and repair joints.
6.) Class IV Therapy laser
Therapy laser penetrates tissues with low levels photons of light that causes an effect called photobiomodulation. Photobiomodulation has a number of beneficial outcomes that help treat arthritis in dogs and cats.
At the level of the cells, therapy laser increases ATP production. ATP is the energy powerhouse of the cell. By increasing the amount of ATP within the cells, it increases cellular ability to repair, regenerate, and replicate.
Therapy laser causes dilation of blood vessels and lymphatic vessels. From the arterial side, dilation results in infusing healing cells called fibroblasts into an injured area to speed and enhance healing. From the venous and lymphatic side, dilation of blood vessels help to drain away inflammatory cells and debris from an inflamed or injured area.
Lastly, therapy laser stimulates local endorphin production at an injured site, leading to a direct pain relief effect and reduction of inflammation.
8.) Water Treadmill
Water treadmill is a great rehabilitative tool that consists of a treadmill for a pet to walk on within a tank that is partially filled with water. Making the pet lighter via buoyancy, it enables the pet to walk more effectively without pain to increase range of motion and gain muscle mass. Heating the water improves circulation and the water causes resistance in multiple plains of motion to strengthen muscle stabilizers and flexibility.
9.) Stem Cell Therapy
Stem cells are pregenitor cells that can differentiate into any tissue line and are an integral component to the body’s intrinsic ability to repair and regenerate itself. Puppies, kittens, and children have an abundance of rich and active stem cells. Stem cells decrease in number and become less active with age which accounts for the body being more prone to injury and illness with age, and slower healing times with age.
Through cutting edge technology, stem cells can be harvested via a simple blood draw where they are isolated, amplified, and then injected intravenously back into the patient. Once injected, the stem cells will go on a “seek and repair” mission to help regenerate and repair compromised tissues. Results commonly last for one year plus.
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.