I have an eight year old Lab/Great Dane cross who was diagnosed with arthritis a year ago. I have tried four different pain medications, all cause excessive licking, ripping chunks of fur out, rashes and hives. I am now adding Glucosamine liquid and cinnamon to his food daily. But I’m looking for a natural pain reliever/anti-inflammatory for him.

Thank You,
~ Janice

I have a ten year old Yorkie who gets a sore shoulder. The vet gave me 10mg Metacam.

He said to give it to her every day. After three weeks (I did skip days), she threw up blood and her stool is black. I told the vet I took her off it, being that Metacam is in the aspirin family and could cause stomach bleeds. He said that it wasn’t part of the aspirin family and if anything it would do the opposite. He made me doubt myself, but when I came home I looked it up again and I was right. This is the second time I have come across vets who don’t know hat they’re prescribing. My fourteen year old Yorkie died from a careless prescription. I have lost confidence in conventional medicine being that it’s so driven by money. If I didn’t know that Metacam caused ulcers my little doggie could have died. What’s worse is no one would be liable. She is doing better, eating and drinking with normal stools. How is it possible to find a good vet that doesn’t want to over charge?

~ Dawn

My two year old 63 pound dog has just been diagnosed with hip dysplasia. I saw the Xrays and know it is so. Is there anything that will actually make them better? I find a lot of things for pain relief but I want to heal his hips as much as possible. I have heard of glucosamine, chondroitin, and ester c. I know dog owners who have large dogs and swear by ester c. He is not to the point of needing surgery and I would hope to prevent that in the future. I will greatly appreciate any information you can give me.

Thank you,

Dr Jeff FeinmanHi Janice, Dawn and Bea-

Since your questions all pertain to the development of arthritis and treating the body’s response to arthritic changes I will try to answer them all this week. Bone and joint problems can seriously impact quality of life and need to be addressed properly. Fortunately there’s lots that you can do without resorting to drugs.

The diagnostic label of arthritis is applied to many dogs with mobility issues. Arthritic dogs tend to be older (though nowadays more and more young pets are also effected) and heavier. It is typically a presumptive diagnosis based on physical exam, history and clinical experience. Characteristic changes can be seen on radiographs, MRI, arthroscopy, etc. However most stiff and limping dogs do not need a definitive diagnosis to say that they act arthritic. The great news is that stiffness and lameness can be reversed. Naturally.

As dogs age, “wear and tear” and a thinning of the fluid that usually lubricates the joints occurs. These changes along with reduction of joint fluid lubricant and decrease in the cartilaginous components of joints increases bone on bone contact, friction and irritation. Bone rubbing on bone can be very painful and creates the secondary changes seen on x-rays.

Genetic factors such as poor hip conformation in pets with hip dysplasia (malformation), patellar (knee cap) luxation (dislocation), etc. also play a role. Especially in young, small and lean dogs. They also more commonly develop immune-mediated and other inflammatory arthritides rather than the more common wear and tear variety of arthritis. Many veterinary homeopaths and holistic vets agree that vaccination can cause or trigger arthritis. Certain infectious agents have a predilection for joints and like the Borrelia of Lyme can cause stiffness and lameness. Regardless of cause, the end result is what we call arthritis.

A very important but often overlooked fact is that arthritic changes and even severe hip dysplasia do not necessarily cause lameness. Lucy, one of my patients has severely dysplastic changes in one of her hip joints. When she came to me, she was on multiple anti-inflammatories and joint supplements but still had great difficulty getting up and walking. Yet after a few doses of a homeopathically-chosen medicine which stimulated her natural ability to heal, she was able to walk just fine. In fact, now years later when I see Lucy, her guardians often forget that bad hips are one of her problems.

I mention Lucy’s case as one of many examples where natural therapies allow the body to adapt to pathological changes that otherwise can be crippling. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the x-ray changes totally resolve, but quality of life improves. How can this be? After all there is no way to explain this observed fact using current medical knowledge. Perhaps there’s more that docs don’t know. Nah, don’t be silly. Doctors and veterinarians fully understand the way the body can heal, right? Wrong!

This is where harnessing the natural healing wisdom of the body and nature come into play. Holistic vets have known for many years that what we learn in vet school is just not enough. Efforts are finally under way to reduce this education deficit. New courses, curricula, and research in vet schools in homeopathy and holistic medicine are now being funded by the American Holistic Veterinary Foundation (AHVMF). In fact, March 23-30, 2014 is the perfect time to support this effort. Your donation will be tripled during these dates.  Supporting holistic vet research helps us better care for our beloved companions. Donate here

When treating arthritic dogs holistically, the first factors to examine are their lifestyle. Especially their weight and exercise. Obese and even mildly overweight pets have more mobility problems. Often weight loss and a reduction of the stress on the joints is sufficient to help these pets regain normal function. A species appropriate, meat based fresh food diet often works best. A varied raw meat base is even better in my experience.

Weight is determined both by metabolism and calories in and out. Maximizing caloric expenditure through exercise is critical for weight loss. Start slowly and work up gradually as your dogs may already have joint disabilities. Passive range of motion exercises and short, gentle walks work great for starters. Depending on your dog’s dis-ability, walks might have to initially be on soft surfaces like a grass, sand or your local high school’s track.

As Hippocrates said, “Let Food Be Your Medicine”. Many dogs that seem arthritic and act old can be helped by eating the proper diet. In addition to reducing the carbohydrates, fillers and grains that are found in most commercial pet foods, there are certain foods to avoid. Some foods can worsen inflammatory dis-eases and even primarily harm joint function. Unfortunately, dietary analysis is often overlooked during conventional vet care.

Certain fats, sugars, milk products and anything in the nightshade family can worsen arthritic symptoms. Nightshades include potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Conversely, specific foods can help reduce the inflammatory products that produce pain. Deeply colored vegetables and fruits are jam-packed with phytonutrients and vitamins that can help. One of my favorite concoctions is a blend of blueberries + kale. Adding ¼-½ cup of this mix to the diet can help your pup feel better and function more normally.

Once all lifestyle factors have been addressed, I prefer to then prescribe a homeopathically chosen medicine to help the body heal as I did with Lucy. Homeopathic treatment is gentle and is proposed to directly address the vital force that created the arthritic symptoms – not just cover them up. However many of us prefer to first reach for one of the many widely available joint supplements. Joint supplements can be very effective in a short period of time. This is OK, but it’s important to realize that these natural drugs are not addressing the underlying problem and can actually slow overall improvement by manipulating symptoms. True expression of symptoms are the main guide during successful homeopathic treatment. Symptom manipulation makes case taking and case management more difficult. Most worrisome is that long-term symptom masking can allow development of more serious problems.

The easiest and least expensive supplements can be purchased in your local grocery store. Knox gelatin added to your dogs’ food can make a world of difference. Another often overlooked and inexpensive helpful dietary modification is the addition of so-called bone broth to the diet. Dogs Naturally recently featured an excellent article about how to make Bone Broth. I would add that if you slow cook the broth long enough, typically up to 2 days, the chicken bones should soften sufficiently so that straining is not required. Just pour some into each meal. I usually start with ¼ cup per meal and work up as needed.

In my experience, nutritional supplements work best for dogs who eat inadequate diets such as dry food. Modify the diet of these pets and the need for supplementation often vanishes. Just adding the non-specific antioxidant food-based supplement Nu-Pet wafers is often sufficient. Even if your dogs are already eating great fresh food diets. The other supplements that I find most effective include Nutriflex and Megaflex from Rx Vitamins, hyaluronic supplements such as Trixsyn, trace mineral such as Trace Animinerals, etc. I also use Antiox which is a grape seed extract for many of these patients. Single ingredient supplements that help arthritic dogs include glucosamine *sulfate*, boswellia, curcumin and turmeric, MSM, etc. Some of these have been well researched and are quite effective. I personally avoid using MSM as this sulphur-containing supplement can be almost too effective and even interfere with homeopathic healing as can certain drugs.

The next most common natural modifications are acupuncture and chiropractic care. Like homeopathy, these can work well and do so through stimulation of the body’s innate healing ability. Be cautious to select a truly holistic practitioner if you elect to use one of these modalities. It is relatively easy, but potentially very harmful, to misuse any treatment that works at the level of the life force. Acupuncture especially has been widely adopted by conventional veterinarians.

Even some big referral centers and universities now have acupuncturists on staff. This might be due to the ease of creating “protocols” for treating dogs with arthritis. For example, if a dog has hip dysplasia or knee problems then certain areas get treated based on the diagnosis. Treatment of this or that using a protocol may help locally and temporarily. However, future “unrelated” and even more serious problems often then arise. A great example is the dog who came to me for seizures that developed suddenly after acupuncture treatment for a knee injury.

Physical therapy (PT) and working with a canine PT can markedly improve function. Proper therapy and rehabilitation after orthopedic surgery is critical for helping regain full function and reduce arthritic changes. The PT will use stretching and strengthening exercises, the underwater treadmill, etc. Even just switching to orthopedic and supportive dog beds can help. I recommend the dog bed that has built in magnets. Gentle massage is inexpensive, easy to learn and very effective at relieving arthritic discomfort. Especially when combined with heat. This dynamic duo can give immediate and gentle relief. Especially after exercise and before getting going in the morning. Other physical methods that can help include chiropractic care, cold laser and electromagnetic stimulation, etc. Assisi Animal Health makes a portable unit that you can use at home.

Even if you are feeding a great fresh food diet, doing chiropractic and acupuncture, your pup may still suffer from arthritic pain. Unfortunately, some of these dogs are receiving potentially harmful drugs. Instead of resorting to drugs, consider gentle homeopathic treatment. By addressing the underlying energetic imbalance that causes arthritic symptoms it can be extremely effective in these cases. It’s easy to find and work with a trained vet homeopath at The Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy Member Directory

Most of the drugs used for arthritic dogs are non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs). They are inhibitors of the inflammatory pathways that can cause pain. They are thus able to improve function. As you have learned the hard way, Dawn, all of these drugs such as Rimadyl and Metacam and even generic aspirin predispose to bleeding ulcers.

When possible, potentially harmful drugs like this are best avoided. In cases where nothing else is helping, use the lowest drug dose possible. There’s good research that holistic and natural treatments will help with this reduction. There’s a great study in people where the plant-derived dietary supplement Arthroben is very effective for exactly this purpose. If you are using NSAIDs, add an herbal intestinal protectant like liquid aloe vera, slippery elm, deglycyrhizinated licorice (DGL), etc. These all can help reduce intestinal upset and ulceration.

Janice, I don’t know which drugs were used for your little boy but it almost sounds like they were causing an allergic-type reaction. Any drug can trigger an allergy. Personally, when this happens with four different drugs, I would become suspicious that perhaps something else immune-related is happening physiologically.

The key to optimal treatment for dogs with arthritic symptoms is to maintain a holistic perspective. Ideally you are already working with vets who share these same goals. If not, I urge you to do so. A holistic and integrative approach is most helpful in my experience.

Be well.

Dr. Jeff