I’m so fascinated by the holistic approach to veterinary medicine, I wanted to share an article about its’ use for treating arthritis in dogs.
Why specifically arthritis you ask?
I’m interested in holistic medicine as it applies to the overall care of animals, not just a specific condition. I’m highlighting arthritis in this post because I have seen a few dogs lately that have it. When I speak to their guardian I too often hear they’re either giving them loads of drugs, or they say not much can be done. Neither scenario is good.
I wanted to highlight natural gentler options, and even if medication is still needed (which I’m in favour of when necessary), adding some alternative therapies presents a nice balance.
Why the fascination with alternative medicine?
I’ve always been interested in a more natural approach to healthcare, never liking to take the medications I felt were too often and easily prescribed.
Even before I heard the terms “homeopathy” “alternative” or “holistic,” it seems I intuitively knew I didn’t like the way the doctors I and others were seeing approached treatment. Okay a pill will help the symptoms you’re feeling from XYZ, but it’s not addressing the underlying problem. Putting a mask on something isn’t dealing with the reason for the issue.
About 16 years ago I found an anthroposophic doctor, when I was living in Toronto. Dr. Eckler was amazing, a trained MD she prescribed remedies before drugs, and looked at the whole person not just the allergy you came in with. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to have that kind of treatment during the many years I’ve lived in England and I’m worse off because of it.
Great, but we’re not talking about you we’re talking about vets!!
Sorry just wanted to present some background.
Over the past two or three years, I’ve wanted to take my senior dog Red to a holistic vet. As she got older the issues started cropping up, and her list of medications grew accordingly. It’s at the point where she’s taking so much stuff it’s ridiculous.
My vet in the UK is amazing, I can’t deny that. He’s done an incredible job of keeping Red well and pretty healthy. He skilfully handled each hiccup and I’m forever grateful, I just wish it wasn’t with the use of so many drugs. There were no holistic vets in his practice or anywhere in the area, so there wasn’t much I could do.
Things have changed
We recently relocated to Spain where we’ll be spending a few months. Last Friday we took Red to see Dr. Ortega, a holistic vet in Malaga. What a nice guy and one who shares my philosophy. He spent so much time with us, talking about Red’s background, my concerns and my own philosophy towards how I’d like to see Red cared for. We never felt rushed and it was an eye opening experience.
Although I do a lot of research into alternative treatments, to actually be sitting in the same room listening to someone who can help Red was a thrill.
He felt my vet has done a great job, but of course having a different philosophy he wan’t happy about the amount of drugs in her system, or her prescription diet. As a matter of fact he commented on what a strong dog she must be, weighing only 4 kgs yet able to process all the drugs she gets on a daily basis.
I will be seeing him sometime next week to hear the results of her specialised blood tests, to get her new homemade diet plan he put together and his plan for reducing/replacing her medications. When I heard “homemade” I must admit I sighed a bit. I hate cooking, but for Red I will definitely do what’s needed. It seems I only have to do it once a week because it’s freezable. Let’s hope!!
Presenting alternatives to my readers
I’ve been adding more information about alternative vet care on this resource, as I always get a favourable response from readers when I do.
The article about arthritis that I’m including is called “Holistic Treatment of Arthritis” and was written by Dr. Jeff Feinman, a veterinary homeopath in Connecticut.
I am constantly amazed by the differences in attitude between “traditional” and “alternative” approaches, and am drawn to the latter. I do hope you find the information as enlightening as I have.
A holistic approach to treating arthritis in dogs – conclusion
Now that I’m beginning my own journey into the world of holistic veterinary medicine as a participant/recipient rather than just an outsider, I’m interested in hearing your experiences.
Have you been to a holistic vet?Is it something you’re interested in trying? Share your stories in the comments section below, and if you have a senior dog please share on my Facebook page.
If you’re growing concerned about the number of drugs your senior pup is taking, you’ll be comforted to know there are natural remedies for dogs with arthritis.
THIS ARTICLE WAS UPDATED October 25, 2018
Don’t get me wrong – I do believe there is a need for drugs in the treatment of our animals, and I know my sweet girl Red would not have lived the long life she did without them. Having said that I sometimes wondered if they were helping on the one hand, but doing some damage on the other.
To start things off let’s define some terms
There are a lot of words we use to describe the natural approach – alternative, natural, herbal medicine, holistic, supplement, homeopathic, nutraceutical. Many are used interchangeably (as I do), so I thought I would include some dictionary definitions to help clarify what’s what!
Alternative– “…Medical products and practices that are not part of standard care.” For example: treating heart disease with chelation therapy
Herbal Medicine – “The practice of using medicinal herbs to promote health, prevent and/or treat disease”
Holistic – “Identifying with principles of holism in a system of therapeutics, especially one considered outside the mainstream of scientific medicine, as naturopathy or chiropractic, and often involving nutritional measures”
Homeopathy – “…or homeopathic medicine, is a medical philosophy and practice based on the idea that the body has the ability to heal itself”
Natural – “Anything that occurs in nature or is produced naturally; it is not artificial, synthetic, or manufactured”
Nutraceutical – “… a broad umbrella term that is used to describe any product derived from food sources with extra health benefits in addition to the basic nutritional value found in foods.”
Supplement – “Something added to a food or a diet to increase its nutritional value” OR “Nutritional supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbs, meal supplements, sports nutrition products, natural food supplements, and other related products used to boost the nutritional content of the diet”
The holistic approach to treatment
The holistic approach (in both veterinary and human medicine) looks at treating the whole being, and discovering what caused the problem or issue in the first place. Western medicine typically believes in prescribing a drug to treat the symptom, without delving into the “why” of it.
On a personal note I don’t like to be viewed as a “sore knee” or “upset stomach.” While I am grateful for the treatments available, I do like to understand why the problem exists in the first place, and figure out a way to “fix” it. There is a concern that drugs often serve as a band aid, and when symptoms are masked by drugs for long periods of time, it not only makes it harder to treat the problem, other serious problems can develop that will go unseen. Yes that applies to animals as well as humans!
Will the natural treatments work for my dog?
It is an impossible question to answer because every dog is different, so it comes down to a case of trial and error. There are so many natural options to treat arthritis in a dog, the chances are good you will find something your pup responds to.
You will see good results when used in conjunction with your dog’s current medication
Your vet may be able to reduce the dose of the drug
The results will be so positive your dog will no longer need the medication
Your dog won’t respond well enough to the options to make them worthwhile taking. If, for whatever reason this is the case, I hope the medication(s) your dog is taking offers the relief he needs.
There are drugs Red was taking I wasn’t able to replace, and I was fine with that. She had quite a few issues and keeping her well was a delicate balancing act, I wouldn’t take a chance upsetting it just because I like a natural approach.
How long will it take for my dog to feel better?
I hate to say it’s another question that can’t be answered, certainly not with a specific time frame but… Drugs typically work a lot quicker then supplements and remedies, but some dogs may show improvement within a matter of days, others weeks or longer.
Medications usually prescribed
Drugs such as Metacam, Rimadyl, Gabapentin and Tramadol are usually prescribed to relieve the pain of arthritis.
Word of caution
Please do not suddenly stop your dog’s medication to try one or more of the options below. Some may be dangerous if stopped without a weaning off process, and your dog could end up in a lot of pain. Also “natural” doesn’t mean safe for use by all dogs under all conditions. Speak to your vet about what you’re interested in trying, and if he isn’t able to advise you for whatever reason, consider booking a consultation with a holistic vet. If you decide to enlist the help of two vets, be sure to keep the lines of communication open between everyone involved in your pup’s care.
Word of advice
I started my Facebook group, Senior Dog Care Club, in order to give senior dog parents a place to come for advice, tips, support and community. The amount of incredible information I see every day is so exciting. I recommend you check out Facebook groups for natural treatments as well as dogs with arthritis because many groups can be incredible sources of help you wouldn’t get from your vet because he isn’t aware of these natural options, or is not comfortable recommending things that have no basis in science.
I’m not suggesting every group is legit or the suggestions safe or wise, but they can be great for research which you can then discuss with your vet.
Options for treating arthritis in dogs naturally
A healthy weight
If your dog is a bit on the chunky side, not only is that extra weight putting unnecessary strain on his joints causing pain, it can also lead to other health problems such as diabetes for example. Of course treat the disease, but at the same time help your dog lose weight in a healthy way. Most, if not all vet practices have a free weight loss clinic, so make an appointment to get him started on a weight loss program today!!
When it comes to diet there are so many differences of opinions it can be difficult to know the best route to take. I’m afraid the same can be said about what to feed an arthritic dog, but there is some interesting advice you might want to look into.
According to a website called stemcellvet.co.uk – If the list of foods that dogs should not eat is too restrictive, consider making your dog’s food at home. A common formulation for dogs with arthritis includes celery, carrots, zucchini, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, quinoa, lentils, parsley, and apples. The exact amounts of each ingredient are not important, except that the overall product should contain 2 parts quinoa/lentils to 8 parts fruits/vegetables. Combine all ingredients together in a large pot and add enough water to cover all ingredients. Bring to a boil and let simmer on low for 1 hour or until quinoa and lentils are cooked. For additional protein, cooked chicken can be added, as well. This food can be used to replace traditional dry food, or used as a supplement.
Grains may increase inflammation and aggravate arthritis so look for brands with reduced carbs, fillers and grains. Having said that you may have heard a lot of talk recently about a connection some vets were finding between a grain free diet and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). This article, “People Are Feeding Their Dogs Grain-Free Diets, and It May Be Bad for Their Hearts” may shed some light.
Canned food over dry
Canned foods tend to have fewer carbs then dry, and the high temperatures used to manufacture dry dog food increases its inflammatory properties
Many vets and parents of arthritic dogs believe that a raw or home cooked diet are the best options for dogs in general, not just those with arthritis. Speak to a holistic or integrative vet to help you create a home cooked diet specifically for your dog’s needs, or to discuss how to transition to a raw food diet.
“When synovial fluid that separates the joints begins to thin, dogs will experience excruciating stiffness and pain associated with arthritis. In addition to a course of treatment, you can maximize your dog’s quality of life by eliminating certain foods from his diet that can cause additional inflammation, while replacing them with healthier options.
Nightshade Vegetables Vegetables of the nightshade family include eggplant, white potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers. These foods all contain glycoalkaloids, which are a type of chemical that can produce muscle spasms, aches, stiffness, and inflammation throughout the body if eaten regularly. For the normal person (or dog), symptoms are rarely noticed, however if already suffering from a joint condition then these foods can make matters much. Look for these ingredients listed in your pet’s food (especially white potatoes), and switch to a different formulation if present.
Grains Just as in humans, grains can cause inflammation in dogs, as well. Wheat, rye, and barley all contain gluten, which can aggravate arthritis symptoms. Gluten can be difficult to digest, leading the immune system to attack it as a “toxin.” When the immune system reacts, inflammation is produced, and this leads to increased aches and pains. Look for grain free diets for your dog, especially those that list sweet potato as the main carbohydrate source.
Avoid Fillers Many dry dog foods available on the market contain fillers such as corn bran, grain by-products, soybean, peanut, cottonseed, or rice hulls, and modified corn starch. Not only are these foods nutritionally deplete, but they also negatively impact joint health by increasing the body’s inflammatory response. Look for foods that contain whole ingredients, and always avoid words such as “bran” “hulls” “meal” or “by-product.”
Supplements and other alternatives
Supplements can help decrease inflammation and help the body repair itself, but they can’t fix or change calcium deposits, scar tissue, cartilage tears or other structural damage to a dog’s joints.
I liked this easy to understand explanation of what glucosamine is, so I am quoting directly from the 1800petmeds website.
“Glucosamine is a natural substance found in your pet’s body, with the highest concentration found in healthy cartilage. The glucosamine in your dog’s body produces glycosaminoglycan, which is used to help form and repair body tissues such as cartilage. As your dog ages, the natural production of glucosamine in the body slows. As a result, the natural repair process in the body slows, eventually leading to joint pain and stiffness. The ongoing Advanced joint support glucosamine and chondroitin for dogswear and tear on your dog’s joints, combined with the slowed repair time of the cartilage, leads to the development of painful arthritis. The good news is that research has found that providing supplements of glucosamine for dogs can help rebuild cartilage, which can help restore your dog’s joint function and activity levels.”
Benefits of glucosamine for dogs:
Glucosamine has an anti-inflammatory effect, helping to reduce your dog’s pain
Side effects are very rare
Helps restore joint health naturally, increasing mobility
Improves lubrication in your dog’s joints
May reduce or eliminate the need for NSAIDS, which have possible side effects and don’t repair the joints, only reduce pain”
Because it is extracted from the shells of crabs, lobsters or shrimps there is a constant and inexpensive source as the shells are usually discarded. It is possible some dogs may be allergic to shellfish, in that case a product like Glycan Plus Glucosamine is worth a try. It is shellfish free and comes very highly recommended by someone I know who has been using it to treat severe arthritis in her dogs.
It can take several weeks before seeing any noticeable improvements, several months for real results.
Results range from –
Dogs who couldn’t walk now able to go for short walks, long walks or even runs, to dogs who have shown no improvement.
Overall, people are very pleased with the results they’ve seen in their dogs.
While Glucosamine is the most common ingredient found in supplements for joint health, another natural substance called Chondroitin can increase the effectiveness of that supplement. Like Glucosamine, natural Chondroitin production decreases with age which is why supplements can be particularly helpful for dogs suffering from arthritis pain. Naturally found in cartilage, the supplement is derived primarily from bovine cartilage, but also comes from sharks and whales. The source does not seem to influence its’ efficacy.
help the body repair damaged cartilage
restore joint integrity
prevent stress injuries to joints
help repair damaged connective tissue
protect existing cartilage from premature breakdown
keep cartilage tissue hydrated
An MSM supplement is an anti-inflammatory so promotes healing of painful joints, and an antioxidant which gets rid of allergens and toxins from the body. Although it is naturally occurring in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meat, kelp and cow’s milk, it is easier to buy a supplement so you know you’re getting the right dosage.
Turmeric golden paste
Curcumin, the ingredient in turmeric, is a very powerful anti inflammatory and can inhibit the enzymes known to cause swelling and pain. There are countless stories of how much it has improved the quality of life of so many dogs, it is certainly worth looking into. A great place to start is with the Turmeric User Group on FB.
I have included the recipe from the group as well as recommended doses. As I always suggest, please speak to your vet before introducing anything new into the treatment plan just to be safe.
1/2 cup turmeric powder (125 mls) (60 grams)
1 cup water (250 mls), and 1 cup in reserve if needed
1/3 cup (70 mls) cold pressed coconut, olive or linseed/flaxseed oil
2-3 teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper
Place turmeric and water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Then reduce to a simmer (a slow boil) and stir until you have a thick paste. This should take about 7 – 10 minutes and you will probably need to add additional water along the way. Let the mixture cool until it’s just warm to the touch, and then add the pepper and oil. Mix thoroughly (some people like to use a whisk). Vigorous beating isn’t necessary if you let the mixture cool a bit before adding the oil. Store in a clean glass jar and refrigerate. It isn’t absolutely necessary to sterilize the jar, but doing so will help prolong the life of the Golden Paste.
If you simply can’t tolerate any form of pepper, you can leave it out. The pepper helps to keep the turmeric active in your bloodstream for much longer than without the pepper, but if you can’t have pepper, you can make the Golden Paste without it. The benefits simply won’t last as long for you before you need to have more.
Golden Paste will keep for about two weeks, refrigerated. You can freeze a portion if you think you have too much to use within two weeks.
For medium to large dogs, start the Golden Paste at about ¼ tsp twice a day, in their food. A very small dog, a young puppy or a toy breed dog may need to start with less. Try 1/8 tsp to begin with.”
I feel like everywhere I turn CBD oil is being recommended for whatever ails our dogs, from dementia and pain relief to seizures and cancer. It’s definitely worth taking the time to read up about what it is and its benefits, so I’ve included some articles to get you started.
Being a natural anti inflammatory, coconut oil helps lubricate joints so helps with the pain of arthritis. Start with a very low dose to begin with and the chart below, taken from the earthclinic website, will help you get started. One quick note – I tried Red on coconut oil for her dementia and gave her much less than the recommended dose, and she had a bout of pancreatitis because of it, so I stopped immediately.
An excellent source of glucosamine and chondroitin
Has anti-inflammatory properties which helps eliminate pain and provides essential nutrients required by cartilage
If you’re interested in reading the results of some studies on New Zealand Green lipped mussels, you can read one here and another here.
The Missing Link Ultimate Canine Senior Health Supplement
One of the members in my Facebook group highly recommends this product, as she has seen some huge benefits for her dog so I thought I would mention it. It contains New Zealand Green Lipped Mussels as I just talked about, as well as omega 3s and 6s.
There are so many benefits to using organic apple cider vinegar for our dogs, one being its ability to help with arthritis pain. Warm some ACV in the microwave then soak a compress in it and apply to your dog’s joints.
The vinegar can also be added to your dog’s food or water twice a week. Recommended doses have a huge range – I’ve read from 1 tsp-1 tbsp for every 50lb weight of dog to 5ml-1 tsp for a small-medium dog and 10ml-small spoon for medium-large dogs. Because I like to be cautious when trying anything new, I would always start with a really low dose and see how it goes.
A quick note – if you decide to add the ACV to the drinking water rather than the food, please provide a bowl of plain fresh drinking water as well. The reason being it’s likely your dog won’t drink as much with the vinegar in it, and you don’t want to risk dehydration.
Be sure to look for ACV that is organic, unpasteurised, raw and contains the “mother.”
This explanation was found on the myitchydog website. “The ‘Mother of Vinegar’ is a natural substance composed of mostly living enzymes created during fermentation of the vinegar. It also contains friendly bacteria as well as other healthy nutrients. The Mother contains most of the important minerals, vitamins and amino acids that are released or created during the fermentation process.
Commercially produced vinegar, even that supplied by various ‘Health Shops,’ most often has the Mother removed to make a clear, shiny and consistent product that looks pleasing to the eye on the supermarket shelf. Filtering also makes ACV easier and cheaper to produce.”
Omega 3s from fish oil
You will notice many pet foods contain added omega 3s, but personally I wouldn’t rely on them as my source. It’s impossible to know what type, the quality or even how much was added, and has the efficacy been lost in the manufacturing process.
I prefer to give my dogs a supplement so I know exactly what they’re getting. Some vets say it’s perfectly fine to give your dog the same fish oil you take, others prefer products specifically created for pets as it’s easier to get the dosage right. The best source, according to Dr Karen Becker is krill oil. It is fish oil that reduces inflammation, but stay away from liver oil as it is low in omega 3s and could be dangerous in the high doses needed to be effective.
While many of you know SAMe as a liver support, did you know it reduces inflammation and pain and helps regenerate joint tissue? If you would like to learn more about it, this article “What is SAMe?” should be of interest.
Found in pineapples, Bromelain is said to have strong anti inflammatory properties and may help control the progression of joint disease. I’ve read it should not be taken with meals, either one hour before or two hours after. You can find them in capsules but I would do some research or consult a holistic vet to determine the dose for your dog.
Cayenne increases circulation to sore joints when applied topically, but can also be added to food. To learn more about cayenne and how it can help your senior dog read this article “Cayenne for Canines: They’re Not Too Hot!“
If you’re into natural medicine for yourself, you may have used Arnica for pain relief at some point. Did you know, its anti inflammatory properties can relieve pain and inflammation associated with arthritis in dogs as well? For more information check out this very helpful article written by Gregory Tilford who is, apparently, a well known expert on herbal medicine for animals.
While no longer recommended for internal use, comfrey tea is considered safe for topical application on sore joints. One way to get the benefits is to pour hot water over the leaves and while still warm apply them directly to where your dog is sore.
While I have read several sources that say comfrey is safe, I have also read some conflicting information which I am including below. Before trying it please consult a holistic vet or other veterinary professional you trust to help you decide whether it is worth trying for your pup.
According to the website natural-dog-health-remedies.com “Comfrey contains small quantities of alkaloids that can cause liver damage or cancer if taken in large quantities or prolonged period of time. Since the alkaloid concentration is ten times higher in the root than the leaves, DO NOT use comfrey root internally. Comfrey dried leaves, on the other hand, contains very little alkaloids so use the dried leaves if needed. If you plan to give comfrey leaves to your pet internally, use it for short periods and in moderation. Also, do not use comfrey in pregnant or lactating pets or those with pre-existing liver disease.”
Made from the resin of the Boswellia tree, its anti inflammatory properties shrink inflamed tissue, alleviate pain and improve range of motion. If you’d like to learn more about the efficacy of Boswellia in dogs with joint pain, this article will interest you.
“I regard licorice root as perhaps the most broadly applicable anti-inflammatory in my herbal medicine chest. It contains several phytosterol compounds that are thought to affect the body’s production and utilization of cortisol, a steroid hormone that helps regulate the body’s inflammatory responses to damaged joints. I find licorice especially useful when combined into a liquid compound with alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and yucca root (Y. schidigera), two other phytosterol-rich herbs that lend digestive and liver support to help with the elimination of toxins that might contribute to the progression of arthritis.”
Yucca has been found to reduce pain and inflammation in people suffering from arthritis, and has been shown to do the same in dogs. This article “Yucca Root for Canine Arthritis Pain” will describe the benefits it may bring to your dog.
It’s interesting to note that the herb Meadowsweet contains some of the same chemicals found in aspirin, and it is those chemicals that provide relief from pain, swelling and inflammation. The fact that it’s a milder version means many of the side effects of aspirin, such as upset stomach, can be avoided.
In an article entitled “Top 5 Herbs for Animal Arthritis” I referenced above, Greg Tilford had this to say about the benefits of devil’s claw for the relief of arthritis pain.
“Multiple studies suggest that devil’s claw tuber may help alleviate the pain of osteoarthritis, primarily through the iridoid glycoside constituents it contains. Devil’s claw has become very popular in recent years, and appears in numerous arthritis relief formulas for dogs and other animals. However, despite its popularity, I have heard many mixed reviews from veterinary practitioners and dog owners telling me that sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The reasons behind this controversy may be related to how the herb is harvested. The tubers of this bizarre-looking little African plant must be selectively harvested from mature plants that are at least four years old, and the harvest must be done during a very specific stage of the plant’s growth cycle. The most sustainable practice is to harvest only one to a few of the tubers that extend from the plant’s base, leaving enough to assure the plant’s survival and the re-growth of new tubers. Unfortunately, increased demand for this herb has led to the premature harvest of too many tubers, and in many areas we are seeing declining populations of the plant.
Because tubers from immature plants lack sufficient concentrations of active iridoid glycoside constituents, much of the devil’s claw sold on the North American market is functionally useless. With that said, there are sustainable sources for those who seek it out; aside from its bitter flavor, properly-harvested devil’s claw is an excellent joint pain remedy.”
In addition to being rich in omega 3s and 6s, flax seeds contain alpha linoleic acid which not only helps boost the immune system, but is an anti inflammatory which may help your dog with arthritis symptoms.
There are either more and more articles cropping up about the use of essential oils, or because I’ve developed an interest in them I’m noticing it more. Either way I was intrigued to learn how beneficial they could be for treating arthritis in dogs, among other conditions.
Great care has to be taken when dealing with essential oils, and unless you know what you’re doing it’s best to deal with a professional. I know from my own experience of reading up about them there are lots of conflicting information about how to use them safely on dogs.
Oils for treating arthritic dogs
A few I’ve come across include:
Copibia – anti inflammatory
Peppermint – anti inflammatory
Lemongrass – anti inflammatory
Rosemary – for circulation and pain relief
Safe and effective ways to administer essential oils
Put a drop in your hand and let your dog sniff it
Add a few drops to a small spray bottle of water and spray around the room, be sure to avoid your dog’s face and furniture
Add 1 drop to your dog’s shampoo when giving him a bath
Note – I have found many sources that recommend putting a drop or two in your hands, then rubbing it all over your dog. At the same time I have read essential oils should never be applied directly to the skin. I was in a health food shop recently and had a conversation with a member of staff who appeared to be quite knowledgeable about oils and their benefits for dogs. She said to never apply them directly without using a carrier oil, and recommended I use wheat germ oil rather than almond oil as some dogs could be sensitive to the almond. For more on what that all means, check out the resources below.
Used in conjunction with other treatments, these physical therapies can make a huge difference in your dog’s quality of life.
Massage helps relax stiff muscles, increase circulation, remove toxins, reduce muscle tension and increase range of motion. What’s great about massage is how easily you can do it anytime anywhere, but you should have a professional show you how to do it, and where on your dog’s body will lead to the greatest benefits.
Ask your vet to show you how to massage or find a canine massage therapist. It’s up to you whether you always have it done professionally, you learn how to do it yourself at home or a combination of both those options.
The buoyancy of the water takes pressure off the joints, and the resistance helps build muscle, while the warm water loosens stiff muscles and reduces joint inflammation. Hydrotherapy can involve the use of an underwater treadmill, swimming or both. If your vet doesn’t offer hydrotherapy or have anyone to refer you to, a simple search of “canine hydrotherapy” will show places near you.
When weather permits or if you have access to an indoor pool, swimming is great for dogs with arthritis. Because the water supports weight there is no pressure on joints or excessive movements that can cause pain. Swimming helps strengthen muscles, circulate blood to stiff joints and keeps your dog at a healthy weight, and we know how much strain an overweight dog puts on his already painful joints!!
Give your dog a bath…with Epsom salts!
That’s right, try 5 minutes a day in a bath of Epsom salts to reduce pain and join inflammation.
Applying heat opens up blood vessels increasing blood flow, reducing stiffness and relieving pain. There are a lot of ways to apply heat therapy including heating blankets or pads and hot water bottles, but ask your vet what he recommends.
Laser therapy is a noninvasive procedure (on the surface of the skin) using light to stimulate cell regeneration and increase blood circulation. The equipment can be costly so not every veterinary practice will have it available, but if it is something that interests you it may well be worth finding someone in your area who does offer it.
This is a quote about the therapeutic effects of laser therapy from the K laser brochure I found at my vet’s office the other day – “The painless application of laser energy promotes increased circulation by drawing oxygen an nutrients to the affected area. This creates an optimal healing environment reducing inflammation, swelling, muscle spasm, stiffness an pain. As the injure are returns to normal, pain is relieved and function is restored.”
Around for thousands of years, acupuncture involves inserting needles into various points on the body to encourage the body to heal itself. It increases blood circulation, stimulates the nervous system and releases anti-inflammatory and pain relieving hormones.
I took Red for twice weekly acupuncture sessions for 3 months, although it wasn’t for arthritis I did notice a difference in her overall well being as a result.
Chiropractic comes from the Greek words ‘cheir’ (which means ‘hand’) and ‘praxis’ (which means ‘done by hand’).
It seems that arthritis is the number one reason dogs and humans visit the chiropractor. The following is a quote from an article “Canine Chiropractic Care” written by Dr. Andi Harper. “Cartilage has very poor blood supply, it relies on staying healthy with regular motion through the entire range of motion of the joint. Chiropractic adjustments return that complete motion of the joint to prevent arthritis. For those senior dogs where arthritis is already present, chiropractic adjustment allows for more motion to be put into the joint and therefore reducing pain and inflammation. The boney changes will not be reversed with adjustments but the pain and stiffness and discomfort can be greatly reduced.”
Find a qualified professional on the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association website or the College of Animal Chiropractic website.
Shockwave Therapy (ESWT)
Don’t worry, no electrical shocks in this therapy! Shockwave therapy uses high intensity sound waves directed at a specific area on your pets’ body, triggering the body’s own repair mechanisms. Degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis and hip and elbow dysplasia are just some of the conditions successfully treated using shockwaves.
“Electrotherapy can be used for wound healing, pain control or relief, reduction of inflammation, muscle re-education, reversal of atrophy and strengthening. This modality works at many levels, affecting both the sensory and motor nerves. At the cellular level, electrotherapy causes nerve cell excitation and changes in cell membrane permeability, therefore stimulating protein synthesis, osteosynthesis and fibroblast formation. At the tissue level, electrotherapy causes skeletal muscle and smooth muscle contraction. At the segmental level, it facilitates muscle-pumping action, resulting in improved joint mobility as well as circulatory and lymphatic drainage.
An application of electrical current through the skin, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is used primarily to manage pain. A small, battery-operated TENS unit delivers an electrical current to the patient through electrodes placed directly on the skin. The pulse rate, width and intensity can be adjusted according to treatment objectives. TENS works by stimulating faster sensory nerves with an electrical impulse, causing an overload of interneurons, which limits the ability of sensory nerves to transmit pain signals to the brain, creating analgesia for the patient. The effect of this modality is short-lived, however, as it generally does not last for more than an hour. In veterinary rehabilitation, TENS is used immediately post-operatively and during therapy to help a patient work through a painful treatment.
Stimulating the nerve that causes the muscles to contract, neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) is used to rehabilitate muscles. This method is delivered to the patient via leads and flexible, low-resistance electrodes that conform to the skin. NMES can be used to help prevent muscle atrophy, increase local blood circulation, and maintain or increase joint mobility. It is particularly useful in patients with edema, delayed wound healing, or in those unable to perform voluntary movement.
The NMES unit features many adjustable variables, including intensity, pulse duration, current, frequency, on-off times, ramp duration and treatment duration. Ramp duration — the amount of time from the onset of the current until the full strength is delivered — is particularly important in veterinary rehabilitation. In human physical therapy, the therapist can explain to the patient how the current and contraction will feel. We don’t have this luxury with our patients; therefore, we must provide a slow, gradual onset of contraction strength to alleviate as much discomfort as possible. An NMES treatment generally lasts 15 to 20 minutes and achieves best results when used two to three times a week.
Contraindications for electrotherapy include treatment over areas of electrical current, such as pacemakers, the carotid sinus, the cervical ganglia and the heart. This modality should be avoided (or at least used with caution) in pregnant patients or in those with a malignancy.”
I’ve added this section about dog beds because it is another piece in the whole “keeping an arthritic dog comfortable” protocol. With the number of choices available, it won’t be a problem finding something your dog will love. It’s possible yours won’t even want an actual bed but will be happy on a big human comforter like mine was in the picture above.
As I so often mention, what works for one dog won’t work for every dog so finding the best bed may also be a case of trial and error. A couple of things to keep in mind when making your decision –
A bed with 3 raised sides and a lower front means your dog can still rest against the edges like a pillow, but he won’t have to step up as high to get in
Orthopedic beds with memory foam offer great support, some also come with magnets which have been helpful for human sufferers of arthritis
Adding a heating pad or hot water bottle underneath the bed will help relax muscles and increase circulation
Adding a blanket gives your dog extra padding and a way to wrap up if he gets cold
Final words on how to treat arthritis pain in dogs naturally
I know how tough it is watching a dog in pain, and feeling frustrated when you can’t find anything to help. I realise to many this is a whole new side of veterinary medicine they weren’t aware of, and I imagine it can seem overwhelming to try and digest everything I’ve talked about. If you’re also feeling hopeful and encouraged than I’m happy.
Remember, don’t just ditch your dog’s current medication and try five new things at once. Take your time, do a bit more research and speak to your vet about your interest in… If he can’t or won’t help, find a holistic vet and book a consultation to learn more about his/her approach.
For many pups these alternative treatments have been a lifesaver, so I hope this information on how to treat arthritis pain in dogs naturally will help yours too!
Have you ever tried alternative treatments for your dog? Were you happy with the results? If you have any experiences to share, I’d love to hear them. You can help other members of this community with your stories by leaving them in the comments below.
I would like to invite you to join Senior Dog Care Club, my Facebook group for senior dog parents. There you will find lots of helpful tips and advice, a place to ask questions and share experiences. I look forward to welcoming you.
*There are affiliate links in this post, which means if you purchase anything I make a few pennies…literally. That money helps me help homeless animals through donations and fostering.*