Senior Citizens and Arthritic Pets
By Ann N. Martin

    As our pets age they often experience the aches and pains associated with the degenerative joint disease, arthritis.  Arthritis, an inflammatory disease, affects various joints, shoulder, knees, hips and wrists and is generally divided into two types, degenerative (osteoarthritis) and inflammatory (rheumatoid).
    Degenerative joint disease results from the destruction of the cartilage that protects the bones that make up the joints.  This can be the result of normal stress on joints caused by jumping over obstacles, strenuous exercise or injuries from a fall.
    Inflammatory arthritis is caused by infection or by underlying immune diseases. The body attacks healthy joint tissue, causing inflammation and subsequent damage. Symptoms include fever, anorexia and over-all stiffness.
    Cats, because of their lightness, sense of balance, ability to land on their feet and built-in shock absorbers (their forelegs are not connected by bone to the rest of the skeleton), do not suffer from as many orthopedic problems as they might otherwise do.  Arthritic conditions in cats occur most commonly as a result of accidents.  Two types of this disease are described in cats.  Traumatic arthritis may occur as a result of a cat fight, impact with a moving vehicle or a fall.  Osteoarthritis in cats can range from dislocations of joints or fractures involving joints that occurred in the past and made the joints more susceptible to excessive wear and tear to joint failure usually in the shoulder and elbow.   
    Pet owners find that with the onset of arthritis running and walking slows.  Climbing stairs and jumping becomes painful.  Your pet will have difficulty rising from a resting position.  Your veterinarian should be consulted as these symptoms could be caused by a variety of problems, sprains, strains and fractures.  
    X-rays are usually required to confirm the presence of arthritis and to identify the underlying causes for the condition. Another diagnostic method used, according to the Pet Arthritis Resource Center,  “Analysis of the joint fluid to determine the type(s) and number of cells can also be helpful in classifying the type of arthritis.”
    There are steps that can be taken to relieve many arthritic symptoms but the best advice is to use preventative measures when the pet is young.  “Avoiding commercial foods and feeding a natural, wholesome diet is the best and only real preventative, “ (1) writes Richard Pitcairn, DVM, in his book Natural Health for Dogs and Cats.  He also advises that vitamin C will minimize or prevent the debilitating effects of arthritis.  The amount of vitamin C depends on the size and age of the animal.  “For instance a small puppy would received 250 milligrams, a large puppy would receive 500 milligrams.” As a pet matures the dose can be increased.  Prevention is very important in arthritic conditions because once the joints are distorted the damage has been done.
    Should you be the owner of a pet that has developed the early onset of this disease here are a few suggestions that can relieve the symptoms:
(1)If your pet is overweight consult your holistic veterinarian regarding a weight loss diet. A dog or cat that is over weight is far more prone to arthritic problems then a fit canine or feline.
(2)Drs. J. Bodewes and H. Frisby from the Pet Education Center suggest that strenuous exercise be discontinued instead take your dog swimming which will increase muscle strength yet is not hard on the joints. “Try to maintain a daily routine of exercise rather then just exercising on weekends.” (2) Walking is an excellent form of exercise for you as well as your pet.  Encourage your cat to play with toys or other feline companions.
(3)The doctors also suggest keep the joints warm in cold, damp weather.  Put a sweater on your dog or cat when letting them out for a little fresh air. Keep the house a little warmer.  Personally, when one of my old dogs has arthritis I put a heating pad, turned on low, under the blanket in his bed at night.  It worked wonders and he did not have trouble walking in the morning. The same was done for my old cat when at the age of 28 his back legs were very stiff when he awoke. The heat seemed to alleviate these symptoms
(4)Glucosamine, derived from shell crustaceans, and chondroitin, derived from tracheal rings of slaughtered cattle, (the only known source) have, according to Wendell Belfield, DVM, “eliminated, to some extent, the administration of steroids which have multiple side effects.” (3)
(5)Dr. John Heinerman, PhD., and author of Natural Pet Cures: Dog & Cat Care the Natural Way, suggests giving “mineral rich anti-inflammatories like alfalfa and yucca.  Add them in powdered form to food once a day (1/4 teaspoon ) each for cats, ½ to 1 teaspoon for dogs.)” (4) This is used to reduce the swelling of arthritis.
(6)Acupuncture has been shown to have very good results in the treatment of arthritis.  In his book The Natural of Animal Healing, Martin Goldstein, DVM,  finds that a particular form of acupuncture and supplements works extremely well for the animals he treats with this condition.  Dr. Goldstein uses what he describes as “aquapuncture.” “I inject a cocktail of B12 and adrenal cortex, and also homeopathic Zeel and Traumeel, at the acupuncture points relevant to the patient's condition.  In minutes, a pet's pain can ease and the effects can last several weeks.” (5) Both Zeel and Traumeel are classified as homeopathic combination remedies.
(7)Tellington Touch has also been used to alleviate the pain of arthritis and increase the quality of life for your pet.  This non-invasive procedure is a method of massage using circular touches and long connecting strokes from head to tail.  Tellington Touch is very easy to learn and provides a means of bonding for pet and owner.
Greig Howie, DVM, recommends a diet that he learned about in a veterinary acupuncture course. Howie writes, “Many animals improve on this diet alone.” (6)
2 cups brown rice
2 cups barley ( pearls)
1 cup lentils
2 cups carrots
1 cup celery
½ cup parsley
2 cups spinach
2 cups lamb or beef heart
2 garlic cloves
8-12 cups water.
Combine ingredients in a large covered pot.  Bring to boil and simmer 1 ¼ hours.  Stir often and add water if needed.  Feed daily for a month or until significant improvement.  Later you can vary ingredients, such as changing meats and rotating vegetables.  The diet also helps for weight loss and energy.
    Allopathic (conventional) veterinarians often prescribe drugs to alleviate symptoms.  In dogs buffered aspirin often alleviates the early symptoms (NEVER GIVE ASPIRIN TO CATS AS IT CAN BE DEADLY).  Buffered aspirin is used to prevent gastrointestinal irritation.  Adequan (polysulfated glyconsaminoglycan) is a drug which is injected twice each week for four weeks.  Luitpold Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturers of this drug state that this drug not only relieves the pain of arthritis but “it binds to damaged cartilage to facilitate repair, blocks the action of destructive enzymes that cause inflammation, and stimulates the production of healthy joint fluid.” (7)
    For relief of pain veterinarians often prescribe Rimadyl.  Touted as a miracle drug Rimadyl has also produced some very serious side effects. An excellent web site, The Senior Dog Project, outlines the many stories of dogs that have experienced severe reactions and even death while on this drug. If your dog is put on Rimadyl make sure you have all the pertinent information on the adverse effects and should your pet display any side effects report them to your veterinarian immediately.  Adverse reactions to Rimadyl or any drugs prescribed for your pet, should also be reported to the Food and Drug Administration, Center For Veterinary Medicine. Http://   
    Steroids are sometimes used to treat inflammation in certain types of arthritis. These should be administered under the supervision of a veterinarian.
    Conventional medicine should be used with caution for treating felines.  Cats cannot tolerate many of the drugs that are used to treat dogs including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, aspirin and acetaminophen.  Do not attempt to treat your cat with any drugs until a veterinarian has been consulted.  Holistic veterinarians can recommend a number of herbal remedies for arthritic conditions in cats that are safe and usually effective.
    As a last resort surgical procedures may be a consideration.  Freezing the joint is sometimes used in chronic, severe arthritis and joint instability.  In medium to large size dogs with arthritis of the hip, hip replacement can provide excellent results.  “Removal of the femoral head and neck is performed in smaller dogs and cats or select patients that cannot not afford total hip replacement,” (8) according to the Pet Arthritis Resource Center.
    Unlike humans, pets cannot tell us how much pain they are in and as those of you who suffer from arthritis know,
it is painful.  Be observant and if your pet displays any unusual symptoms, limping, stiffness, pain in a joint, seek professional help.  It is important to treat this disease at the on-set as delay will lead to more damage and pain for your pet. 

Ann Martin is the author of Protect Your Pet: (NewSage Press, 2001) and the new and revised edition of Food Pets Die For: (NewSage Press, 2003).

Richard Pitcairn, DVM, Natural Health for Dogs and Cats.
Joe Bodewes, DVM, Holly Frisby, DVM, Pet Education, website:
Wendell Belfield, DVM, Personal correspondence, August 12, 2000.
John Heinerman, PhD., Dog & Cat Care the Natural Way.
Martin Goldstein, DVM, The Nature of Animal Healing.
Greig Howie, DVM, quoted in Natural Remedies for Dogs.
Information provided by Luitpold Pharmaceuticals Inc., manufacturers of Palaprin.
Pet Arthritis Resource Center


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