For our pets, enjoying full range of motion is as vital as breathing fresh air and drinking clean water. Dogs and cats are never happier than when they’re running and romping. But osteoarthritis, a common cause of joint pain, cruelly robs pets of their mobility and diminishes their quality of life. It’s estimated that 25 percent of dogs suffer from degenerative joint disease (DJD), and 90 percent of senior cats.
For both pets and people, conventional medicine offers nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. However, more of us want to avoid these pharmaceuticals’ adverse side effects on the kidneys and liver by opting for natural solutions.
Eat to Treat Aching Joints
Arthritis, by definition, is joint inflammation, so feeding an anti-inflammatory diet is the most important thing you can do for your arthritic pet. That means a grain-free, dairy-free diet that strictly avoids gluten and anything containing it (i.e. most bread, pasta, cake, cookies, and crackers). For between-meal treats, instead of dog biscuits or cat treats that contain gluten, share tasty morsels of eggs, sardines, mackerel, leafy greens, and raw or steamed veggies (such as carrots and broccoli). Avoid saturated animal fat, especially red meat, as it aggravates inflammation; steer clear of white potatoes, too, as the salonine they contain can cause muscle pain.
Supplement a healthy diet with anti-inflammatory spices such as turmeric and cinnamon; I give my four-footed seniors a teaspoon of Ceylon cinnamon mixed with two teaspoons of raw honey, plus a liberal sprinkling of turmeric, with each meal. (I always use Ceylon cinnamon, a.k.a. Cinnamomum zeylanicum or Cinnamomum verum; it’s harder to find than the more common cassia cinnamon, but unlike cassia cinnamon, it does not contain the chemical coumarin, a blood thinner which may be harmful to the liver and kidneys in large doses.)
Arthritis Supplements for Dogs and Cats
In terms of nutritional supplements, savvy pet parents have known for years about the joint-lubricating benefits of glucosamine and antioxidant-rich omega-3 fats from fish oil. And now, we have even more numerous and sophisticated supplements to add to the anti-arthritis arsenal. To give pets the maximum benefit of natural anti-inflammatories, supplement companies offer vet-formulated, holistic remedies for dogs and cats, easily administered orally with a dropper bottle. Anti-inflammatory herbs such as turmeric, guggul, astragalus, and alfalfa are sometimes included in arthritis formulas for pets, along with cayenne and ginger to ease pain.
Exercise for Dogs and Cats with Arthritis
Remember that it’s tough for arthritic dogs and cats to move around the way they used to: pets may have a hard time ascending and descending stairs, and accessing high places. Remember to give pets an assist whenever they want to share the sofa, bed, or other cozy spot. A ramp, box, or step-up is always welcome.
Furnish pets with warm, cushiony bedding to protect achy joints from cold, hard floors.
Humid days are especially rough on stiff joints. Furnish pets with warm, cushiony bedding to protect achy joints from cold, hard floors, and whenever possible, treat dogs and cats to a warm fire and/or the sunniest spot in your home.
Exercise happens more slowly now, but it should definitely still happen. Going for swims and walks with your dog is good for you both. Take precautions, however. When swimming, consider outfitting your dog with a flotation device, and when walking, keep your gait slow to prevent overexertion. Strategically place mats indoors on slippery floors to prevent slips by providing a secure grip for pet paws. And yoga is as good for your dog as it is for you. Place an extra yoga mat by your side for Spot or Fluffy: the asanas (poses) are something humans learned from animals, so our pets naturally enjoy practicing yoga with us—and creaky seniors of all species enjoy a good lymphatic stretch!
Acupuncture for Pet Arthritis
Acupuncture has been used for centuries to improve joint function in people and animals. In the East, this highly effective healing modality was prized for extending the careers of older farm animals. Today, acupuncture is equally prized for improving our companion animals’ quality of life. We humans might be squeamish about needles, but you’d be surprised at how willingly our pets comply. Acupuncture goes to work immediately to provide pain relief. Many vets are opting to include acupuncture in their training, and many practitioners gladly make house calls for the convenience of pets with reduced mobility. To locate a veterinary acupuncturist in your area, visit the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture, aava.org.
Sports Medicine for Dogs and Cats
My book Medicine Dog tells the true story of how I arranged for two of my arthritic dogs to undergo stem cell regeneration therapy, a high-tech healing modality favored by many star athletes. Sam and Sheba both received intrajoint injections of their own cells, harvested from their own belly fat under anesthesia in a mini-liposuction. Those injected cells quickly went to work rebuilding connective tissue, giving my dogs’ creaky joints the cushioning they’d lacked for years. It’s not an inexpensive procedure, and it can produce astonishing results. To learn more, visit vet-stem.com.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Joint Health in Dogs And Cats
Maintaining healthy joint and cartilage function in dogs when walking or running is important. Joint cartilage cells are surrounded by gel-like protein that provides shock absorption and requires nutritional support. Omega-3 fats from fish oil have been found to help maintain joint function and mobility. One study in dogs found that omega-3s actually decreased enzyme proteins responsible for the failure of joint cartilage. An omega-3 supplement especially formulated for pets, such as Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet that can be mixed with food is ideal.
Meet The Expert: John E. Bauer, DVM, PhD, DACVN, is American College of Veterinary Nutrition professor emeritus of Small Animal Clinical Sciences and Nutrition Texas A&M University, and affiliate professor of Clinical Sciences, Colorado State University.