It’s sad to see our animal companions no longer be able to do the things they once could do as they age and grow older. All older animals have some amount of arthritis, although some have many more problems with it.
Unfortunately, Western medicine has very few options for treating arthritis and uses mostly drugs, to treat the pain. This is starting to change with some veterinarians doing stem cell and plasma rich platelet injections. However these treatments can still be expensive. Ask your vet about if these treatments are right for your dog. Some animals are not able to tolerate these drugs and many times animals are on three different drugs and it still isn’t enough.
In some animals arthritis manifests as weakness caused by the inflammation pushes on the nerves. Many dogs walk around like their feet are asleep, tripping over things, stumbling and no longer having the strength to jump into the car or onto the bed. Unfortunately because they can no longer walk as far or do as much as they used to, their muscles start to atrophy or waste away, causing a vicious cycle. As the weakness increased, they do less, which causes more atrophy from disuse, leading to more weakness and more atrophy and less activity. In the end many of these animals can no longer get up on their own or even take a short walk.
In other animals arthritis will manifest as pain, which can also prevent movement and cause the weakness/atrophy cycle. Many of these animals will become moody and withdrawn and may even snap and bite at their people out of fear of pain. It is so hard to see our friends have so much pain that they no longer want our affection.
In most animals there is a combination of pain and weakness.
Usually dogs suffer more than cats because they carry more weight and are used to daily activity. Also people often don’t notice that their cats are painful because they spend so much time sitting and sleeping
So what do we do for our friends to help them live out their old years happy and pain free? Often the best approach involves both drugs for pain and holistic treatments to support the body.
- Acupuncture Being an acupuncturist, I always recommend acupuncture first. Of course, this is also because I have seen how well it works in the animals I treat. I often find that if I can work with animals when they first have problems, they do so well, I only need to treat them every one to three months. Unfortunately most of the animals I see have had problems for a while and their people only learned about acupuncture when they had tried everything that western medicine had to offer. In these animals, acupuncture can still work and work well but usually treatments need to be closer together.
It is so nice to see these animals happy and able to enjoy life again!
- Hydrotherapy is a great option especially in dogs who have muscle atrophy. Unfortunately it cannot be done with cats, although Sheila Wells at Wellspings has told me they have worked with rabbits before. Hydrotherapy is done in a small swimming pool and involves massage and physical therapy in the water. I have seen excellent results with hydrotherapy especially combined with acupuncture. Hydrotherapy helps to rebuild muscles, increase range of motion and work out sore and sensitive areas of the body without the impact on the body of exercise on land. My favorite pool is Wellsprings in Seattle Washington. They have a great website with lots of information and photos that I love to refer people to. Click on the link to check it out!
I have worked with Chinese herbs with many of these arthritic dogs and some cats. The combination of acupuncture and herbs usually helps with pain and movement and helps animals maintain between treatments. I rarely use Chinese herbs in cats because they are very sensitive to them and it is hard to medicate cats. I sell an senior dog herbal formula called Senior Dog Support, through my etsy shop, that helps with arthritis pain and improves blood circulation into the joints. Your holistic veterinarian may have something else they recommend.
- Fish oil/ Omega oils
The Omega 3 Fatty Acids in fish and cod liver oil actually helps decrease arthritic inflammation in dogs (not true for cats although it helps with other things). Adding a little fish oil to the diet can help many animals.My favorite brand is Nordic Naturals – Pet Cod Liver Oil . Nordic Naturals is one of the best brands for quality and they test for heavy metals and contaminants.
These supplements help to decrease inflammation and rebuild damaged cartilage. They are often sold in combination. The nice thing about these supplements is that they have few side effects and are very safe. Some animals have a wonderful response to them and some have almost no response. It usually takes a month to six weeks to see if your animal will have a positive response. Adequan, similar to glucosamine is also available in an injectable form and works better in some animals. It is also a lot easier to give to cats who are hard to medicate daily. After the initial series of injections it usually only needs to be given once a month. Adequan can only be purchased through your veterinarian. My favorite glucosamine product is Sea Mobility Beef Joint Rescue jerk treats, they work well and are very tasty. There are other good ones out there.
- Infra-red light therapy – Infrared light helps ease the pain of arthritis in joints and increase blood circulation to the area. It is very cheap to do and can be done at home. See my article Infrared Light Therapy for kidney failure, incontinence and arthritis.
Many animals have subluxations of their spine especially as they age. A good chiropractor can often help with mobility and pain. I have found that chiropractic adjustments work best in animals with a very tight back and more pain then weakness. For my own cat, chiropractic adjustments have worked better than anything else we have tried and have made his life much better. Make sure you find a chiropractor who is used to working with animals and knows animal anatomy.
Massage can help to loosen tight muscles and increase blood circulation. It also can help with pain.We know it works for us, why not for our animal friends. Once again make sure you find a massage practitioner who is certified to work with animals. I have two amazing massage therapists I work with in Seattle, Kim Rogers and Jen Streit. Kim also does humans!
Acupressure works with the acupuncture points and helps decrease pain and relax muscles.
There are many great books on acupressure and massage for animals. Here are a few
The Well-Connected Dog: A Guide to Canine Acupressure
Acu-Cat: A Guide to Feline Acupressure
The Healing Touch for Dogs: The Proven Massage Program for Dogs, Revised Edition
The Healing Touch for Cats: The Proven Massage Program for Cats, Revised Edition
Four Paws Five Directions: A Guide to Chinese Medicine for Cats and Dogs
- Reiki/Bowen/Polarity/Craniosacral and other energy therapies These therapies help stimulate the body to heal and can decrease pain and improve quality of life. Since there is little regulation of these therapies it is important to get a referral before seeing someone. This is especially true of Reiki since there are so many people who practice it. A good practitioner can make a huge difference in an animal’s quality of life.
It is better to do one thing and stick with it than to jump around between therapies. Often times animals will began with me doing acupuncture and herbs and then we will add in other therapies as needed. If I can’t help an animal with acupuncture I will refer them to another practitioner to try something else. Don’t make too many changes all at once in an old animal’s life. Go slowly instead.