Skip to Content

The Natural Approach to Canine Arthritis

The Natural Approach to Canine Arthritis by Dr. Patrick Mahaney
Arthritis pain in dogs is one of the most common reasons dog owners pursue evaluation and treatment with a veterinarian. Arthritis happens when one or more of the body’s joints are inflamed. When untreated, canine arthritis can progress to osteoarthritis (OA) where the cartilage surfaces lining joints is damaged and normal range of motion (ROM) is compromised. Signs of arthritis in dogs Clinical signs of arthritis in dogs may be mild or severe and only become evident when the disease has significantly advanced. Dog owners can see obvious lameness (limping), difficulty navigating stairs or getting onto or down from elevated surfaces, exercise intolerance, reluctance to play, decreased appetite and water consumption, or even behavior changes (aggression, avoidance other animal or human and household members, etc.). Pets suspected to be in pain should always have an examination with a veterinarian so a physical examination and any necessary diagnostic tests (x-rays, MRI, etc.) can be performed. Having a veterinarian’s confirmation of the suspicion of arthritis is vitally important to the overall treatment process, as there are other ailments that can manifest similarly to arthritis that require a vastly different therapeutic protocol; infection (tick- borne bacteria, etc.), immune-mediated disease, cancer (osteosarcoma, etc.), dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, organ system failure (kidneys, liver, etc.), and others are potential causes. Additionally, besides the joints, the body’s ligaments, tendons, muscles, intervertebral discs, nerves, bones, and other tissues can be painful in association with arthritis or other health problems. Most common method in treating arthritis in dogs One of the most common ways of treating canine arthritis is the use of veterinary- prescribed Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs). Although effective at reducing joint inflammation, NSAIDs should not be the sole means of providing pain relief as there are mild to severe side effects associated with use of NSAIDs and other prescription drugs. Damage to the digestive tract, kidneys, liver, red blood cells, platelets, and nerves can occur if any such systems are already compromised or if overdoses of drugs are consumed.
Multimodal approach recommended for pain relief for dogs Owners should take a multimodal approach to managing their dog’s arthritis pain and pain relief. The multimodal approach is exactly what it sounds to be; the use of more than one type of treatment to address health problems. Multimodal pain management strives to make a dog’s body healthier and better able to navigate his environment so that smaller or less frequent doses of NSAIDs or other drugs are needed to maintain a comfortable quality of life. Top ways to manage canine arthritis naturally Besides veterinary or human prescription medications, the multi-modal approach to dog arthritis pain management includes:
  1. Joint supporting nutraceuticals- Nutraceuticals are food-derived substances havinga medicinal effect. Nutraceuticals geared to promote joint health are termed chondroprotectants (i.e. cartilage protectors). Chondroprotectant nutraceuticals commonly include glucosamine, MSM, vitamins (C, E, etc.), minerals (Calcium, Manganese, etc.), antioxidants (Selenium, Alpha Lipoic Acid, etc.), plant-derived anti-inflammatory substances (turmeric, omega fatty acids, etc.), and more. ActivPhy contains a novel blend of the above ingredients and a blue-green algae extract which has been scientifically proven to reduce normal inflammation and provide antioxidants which are two elements that will help support arthritis in dogs.
  2. Cartilage rebuilding medications- Besides nutraceuticals, there are medications that are given by injection that benefit joint health and rebuild cartilage, including Polysulfated Glycosaminoglycan (PSGAG, like Adequan) and Sodium Pentosyn Sulfate (Cartrophen). Since these products are given as an injection, they bypass the digestive tract and quickly travel in the bloodstream from the injection site to all joints. Such products are ideal for a dog having digestive tract problems caused by underlying disease (food intolerance, inflammatory bowel disease, etc.) or medications (NSAIDs, chemotherapy, etc.), or one refusing to consume an oral chondroprotectant nutraceutical.
  3. Home environment and lifestyle modification- When dogs suffer from arthritis pain, it's crucial to modify their home environment and lifestyle to put less stress on affected joints and reduce the potential for injury. This mean lowering the height of a bed or using a step or stairs next to the couch to provide safe passage on and off elevated surfaces. Carpeting, runner rugs, and yoga mats should cover slippery floors. Foot and nail covers (Pawz, ToeGrips, etc.) can also provide additional traction on slick surfaces. Gates installed at access points to stairs can prevent a dog from slipping, falling, and injuring himself while attempting to ascend or descend. Ramps can provide safer access to the backseat of hatchback of cars. Dogs engaging in high-impact activities (running, ball playing, etc.) must transition to low-impact exercise, such as walking, hiking, swimming, or physical rehabilitation.
  1. Weight management- In the United States, over 54% of cats and dogs and (approximately 98 million pets) are overweight or obese according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP). Besides arthritis, heart and lung problems, glandular disorders (diabetes, etc.) digestive problems (constipation, etc.), cancer, and other ailments can be avoided or minimized if pets maintain a normal body condition score (BCS). Dogs in need of weight loss should have an examination by a veterinarian and any recommended diagnostic testing to determine if there’s an underlying endocrine problem (hypothyroidism, hyperadrenocorticism, etc.) contributing to an elevated BCS and higher number on the scale. Veterinarians can calculate a dog’s daily caloric needs and recommend the exact feeding volume of commercially-available or home-prepared diets to safely promote weight loss.
  2. Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)- A variety of treatments for arthritis pain have emerged that are considered complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Yet, CAM is now becoming more mainstream and well-accepted as means of treating many canine ailments. Options include:
  • Acupuncture- Insertion of needles into acupuncture points to promote the release of the body's own pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory hormones. Manual pressure (acupressure), heat (moxibustion), electricity (electrostimulation), injection of liquids (aquapuncture), or laser can also be used to stimulate acupuncture points.
  • Herbs- There are a variety of plant-derived products that help promote blood flow and reduce inflammation in body tissues. I always recommend veterinary-prescribed, U.S.-made products like those made by Dr. Xie’s Jing Tang Herbal, Standard Process, and others.
  • Laser- Low power (“cold”) lasers can be used to safely and painlessly promotetissue repair, blood flow, oxygen and nutrient delivery, and the removal of metabolic wastes. I commonly use a MultiRadiance MR4 Activet4 Laser on my patients painful spots and acupuncture points.
  • Pulsed Electromagnetic Frequency (PEMF)- PEMF is a non-invasive means of modulating canine OA pain. In my practice, I treat patients with the Assisi Loop, which is simple to lay over or around affected joints.
  • Physical Rehabilitation- Specially-trained veterinarians and human physical therapists can provide physical rehabilitation to animal patients. Besides the above- mentioned modalities, dogs can swim in a pool, walk on an above-ground or underwater treadmill, have their bodies thoroughly stretched and massaged, receive range of motion (ROM) therapy, and more. Some treatments need to be done in a veterinary physical rehabilitation facility or dog owners can be instructed on how to safely provide therapy at home.Now that you know more about the clinical signs and therapeutic options available to help dog suffering from arthritis pain, partner with your veterinarian to determine the most appropriate combination of treatments to help your canine companion have a better and more comfortable quality of life.
Thank you for reading this article.  Your questions and comments are completely welcome (I’ll respond).
Please feel free to communicate with me through Twitter (@PatrickMahaney) and follow my adventures in veterinary medicine by liking Patrick Mahaney: Veterinarian Acupuncture Pain Management for Your Pets on Facebook.
Copyright of this article (2015) is owned by Dr Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. Republishing any portion of this article must first be authorized by Dr Patrick Mahaney. Requests for republishing must be approved by Dr Patrick Mahaney and received in written format.
Back to top