When a dog is diagnosed with arthritis, some vets simply choose to prescribe painkillers for the rest of its life. However, Paul Boland prefers a more natural approach to this very common complaint. Here he explains how a three-pronged approach can make the world of difference to a pet living with this painful complaint.
Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disorder affecting pets and is a condition I see frequently.
Loss of joint cartilage is a normal and essential process in healthy joints: cartilage is constantly being replaced to retain equilibrium. But in a diseased joint the loss of cartilage and its components is greater than their production, leading to degradation of the joint.
When bony surfaces become less well protected by cartilage, the bone may become exposed and damaged, which results in substantial pain. Some dogs will be in so much pain that they will hold up a limb.
To illustrate how I usually treat a dog in this situation, let me tell you the story of Miles, a 10-year- old Chocolate Labrador Retriever.
When I first saw him in November last year, he weighed 44 kg (97 lb). Although these dogs can maintain relatively high weights, 44 kg is overweight for the breed, and Miles was experiencing many of the signs of osteoarthritis, including stiffness in both hind legs. The first signs the owner noticed was Miles becoming more irritable than usual, which was highly out of character. He was also biting at his joints, was stiff after resting and seemed to lose interest in going for walks.
The usual veterinary approach to treating osteoarthritis, as you say, is to administer a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) for life; however, they only disguise the pain and do nothing to resolve the root cause of the problem.
Any natural way to help with osteoarthritis should include weight control, exercise management and nutraceuticals.
Carrying extra weight appears to increase the risk of osteoarthritis by placing abnormal pressure on joints, which will eventually wear away the cartilage that protects them.
The problems associated with increased weight are proportional to the amount of excess weight; this means that even small amounts of weight loss can reduce the signs of osteoarthritis. I advised that Miles should be fed smaller portions and have his treats removed until a target weight of 39 kg (86 lb) was reached.
Osteoarthritis can be a vicious circle—the less Miles moved, the more muscle mass was lost and the more the joint became unstable. Osteoarthritis can bring on such sudden pain and stiffness when joints are moved that it’s not surprising that physical activity or even general mobility decreases. As a result, an animal like Miles will tend to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle, which of course causes more weight gain and just exacerbates the problem.
While it’s not advisable to exercise the joint vigorously, I did recommend regular gentle exercise as this helps to maintain mobility and reduces the occurrences of joints stiffening up.
I also chose to use a joint supplement with Miles. A good one should contain materials that:
Help to support and maintain cartilage production
Have anti-inflammatory properties
Include antioxidant properties
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate are essential constituents in a joint supplement. I would begin by using a formulation with a minimum of 500mg of glucosamine HCL and 400 mg of chondroitin sulphate per tablet three times a day for the first six weeks, and then gradually reduce this to one and a half tablets per day over the next three weeks, for a dog between 20 to 40kg (44 to 88lb )in weight.
Glycosaminoglycans are the major constituents used in the formation and repair of joint cartilage. Glucosamine is required for synthesis of the glycoproteins, glycolipids and glycosaminoglycans found in tendons, ligaments, cartilage and synovial (joint) fluid.
Chondroitin sulphate is the most abundant glycosaminoglycan in cartilage and is responsible for its resiliency. It serves as a substrate for the formation of the joint matrix structure and is thought to protect cartilage against degradation.
I’d also give some other natural herbs and spices. Boswellia serrata, for instance, contains boswellic acid and alpha- and beta-boswellic acid, which have anti- inflammatory properties. It’s also thought to have antiarthritic properties by decreasing glycosaminogly can degradation and cartilage damage.
From my experience I would recommend a formulation containing a minimum of 80 mg per tablet to be given three times a day for the first six weeks, and then gradually reduce this to one and a half tablets per day over the next three weeks, for a dog weighing 20–40kg (44–88lb).
Another helpful supplement is the spice turmeric because its major active constituents are curcuminoids, including curcumin, which seems to have anti-inflammatory activity. I recommend a formulation containing a minimum of 50 mg per tablet to be given three times a day for the first six weeks, and then gradually reduce this to one and a half tablets per day over the next three weeks, for a dog weighing 20–40 kg (44–88 lb).
Cumulative damage to tissues, mediated by reactive oxygen species, has been implicated as a pathway leading to many of the degenerative changes associated with osteoarthritis. Antioxidants break the chain reaction associated with oxidative damage.
Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is a powerful antioxidant and a critical ingredient in the body’s production of collagen, and type 2 collagen is a major constituent of the very joint cartilage that deteriorates in osteoarthritis. Also, a deficiency in zinc can impair the ability to make collagen, and it also acts as an antioxidant through the prevention of free-radical formation. Manganese is a component of the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD), which also helps fight free radicals.
Besides those other supplements for Miles, I also recommended a vitamin/mineral supplement formulation containing a minimum of 50 mg of vitamin C, 30 mg of zinc and 2.5 mg of manganese per tablet to be given three times a day for the first six weeks, then I’ll gradually reduce this to one and a half tablets per day over the next three weeks, for a dog between 20 to 40 kg (44 to 88 lb) in weight.
The improvement in Miles was gradual rather than dramatic, which is normal when treating this condition naturally. He stopped biting his joints and is now back to a healthy weight of 39 kg (86 lb), is much more flexible and has started to enjoy walking again. His joints will never be the same as when he was a pup as there’s no cure for osteoarthritis, but with the right management, the most severe signs can be delayed for a long time, if not indefinitely.
In the case of your dog I would try a similar three-pronged approach, working with a vet who is open to the use of natural supplements.
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