Golden Retriever Running JointsWhen I went through vet school, there was not much if anything mentioned about inflammation being a natural thing. Or a good thing. It might have been paid lip service, but in the same sentence it was implied that we are here to control it, as it so often acts like a bull in a china shop, causing untold mayhem, pain and suffering.

“Luckily, young man, we have Powerful Drugs to tame this beast and help the unlucky ones on the planet who are plagued by it.”

Ever notice how long the aisle of pain killers is in the grocery store? Yeah, we live in an inflamed society.

Those Powerful Drugs that tame inflammation typically fall into one of two categories:

  1. Corticosteroids
  2. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

I’ll focus on the latter today, one of the most overused drugs in the kingdom. And surprisingly quite dangerous.

Who Is This Lout Called Inflammation?

Before we plunge into these drugs, I think it only fair to put inflammation into its proper perspective, to pick her up, straighten her tousled hair and set her back on her righted chair with a bit of respect. After all, inflammation was created by a masterful, wonderful friend of mine, Mother Nature.

Does Nature make huge blunders? Well, there are those “Acts Of” that we read about, but they are the exceptions, and probably more man made than we’d like to admit. Nature, in the animal kingdom (of which we are a part), has made some exceedingly well tuned specimens who, given half a chance, will stay healthy and running for many long years. Those Vital Animals we love to touch and smell and have fun with are vital because we’ve largely supported Nature in her intelligent workings, after all.

Or we’ve at least gotten out of her way.

Inflammation is noted for its four striking signs:

  • Rubor (redness)
  • Calor (heat)
  • Tumor (swelling)
  • Dolor (pain)

We could probably look the other way on the first three, but the last one really makes us sit up and pay attention. Our animal friends are pretty good at demonstrating it too: limping, being slow to rise or lie down, no longer jumping into the car, not climbing the scratching post to the highest condo any more, or pinning ears when the saddle’s girth is snugged up.

Inflammation: Mostly, Not the Enemy.

Inflammation is one of two major strategies of healing that most bodies will show when necessary. It’s there for a reason, along with its partner, discharge. If you watch carefully, you’ll see both at some point in someone who’s trying to get well, or fight the good fight against an invader.

If you’ve ever had the flu, your body has fought it by using both of these healing strategies.

Inflammation is that achy pain that seems to affect your whole body, sometimes even your eyes. And there’s fever, the calor.

Discharge in the flu battle is usually a runny nose or maybe a diarrhea stool.

After fighting the good fight with both inflammation and discharge, the flu is conquered and you’re ready to resume normal activity once more.

Acute Inflammation: Brilliant.

Chronic Inflammation: Not So Much.

So, Nature has armed us with inflammation (and discharge, a subject for another post) to get us well in tight straits. Infectious disease, trauma, bites and stings, lacerations, all of these heal with inflammation.

These acute diseases are the ones that come on suddenly and resolve rather quickly, like the flu. Even a broken limb is expected to heal in a couple of months, not a couple of years, right? Inflammation comes, does brilliant work, your animal rests the affected part or licks the wound, and resolution comes in good time.

It’s when chronic, lingering disease sets in that inflammation can be a real pain, no pun intended. Arthritis, allergic itchy skin or inflamed ears, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, gum disease, cancer, the list is quite lengthy.

It’s here that Dr. WhiteCoat often reaches for those Powerful Drugs to turn it off. The NSAIDs and antibiotics frequently top the list.

The Dangers of Turning Off Inflammation

These non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs pose several problems for your animal, while purportedly “helping.”

  1. They mask pain, an important check on over exertion.
  2. They have toxic side effects.
  3. They wreak havoc on the stomach and digestive system.
  4. They can damage, sometimes irreparably, liver and kidneys.
  5. They actually damage joints (for which they are often given!).
  6. Rimadyl, one of the most popular, has purportedly caused deaths!

Common members of this class of drugs called NSAIDs include:

  • Rimadyl (carprofen)
  • Metacam (meloxicam)
  • Deramaxx (deracoxib)
  • Previcox (firocoxib)
  • EtoGesic (etodolac)
  • Aspirin (yep, you read that right, probably the original NSAID)
  • Ibuprofen (again, very common, primarily for human use)

Here’s a list of the common side effects seen in this class of anti-inflammatories:

  • Decrease or increase in appetite.
  • Vomiting.
  • Change in bowel movements (such as diarrhea, or black, tarry or bloody stools).
  • Change in behavior (such as decreased or increased activity level, incoordination, seizure, or aggression).
  • Yellowing of gums, skin, or whites of the eyes (jaundice).
  • Change in drinking habits (frequency or amount consumed).
  • Change in urination habits (frequency, color, or smell).
  • Change in skin (redness, scabs, or scratching).
  • Unexpected weight loss.

If you see any of these, you are urged to stop using the drug immediately and report it to your vet or physician.

Pre-Vet Student as Lab Rat

While I was waiting to get into veterinary school as a poor lab assistant, I volunteered to be a guinea pig at one of the big hospitals in Columbia, Missouri. They were looking for young folks willing to swallow an endoscope to study various things. The pay was quite attractive, so I signed up.

One particular study will remain etched in my memory. The research was on aspirin, and I was given about 4-8 aspirins prior to being scoped. After some rest time, they numbed my throat and I swallowed the endoscope. The researchers let me see what they saw, live: about a dozen blood spots on the inside lining of my stomach! Whoa.

I’d grown up being given aspirin by my mom when ever I ran a fever (still thankful I grew up before antibiotic use was so prevalent). I hated it, couldn’t take it without crushing and mixing with sugar, but I had no idea it had the potential to cause GI bleeds.

Joints and NSAIDs: A Marriage Made in Hell

Most of these drugs are given for joint problems, so let’s take a deeper look at their effects on joints. This was a revelation to me early on in my career as a newly minted holistic vet in the late 80’s.

First and foremost, they are given for pain. Acute or chronic pain, these are often the drugs of choice to “manage” pain, especially in the dog.

Why might that be a bad idea?

Pain, especially after an accident or trauma, is a strong signal to rest that damaged limb. A classic example where these drugs are used is cranial cruciate ligament rupture, the “football knee” of the dog world.

NSAIDs and painkillers (like Tramadol, currently in vogue) are telling your injured animal, in essence, “Hey, no worries. You’re good to go!” That valuable signal of hurting on motion is lost to his consciousness, much like a black piece of electrical tape could hide the oil warning light on your dashboard. What’s the end result?

He’ll want to get frisky and active! And now, instead of rest and repair, as Mother Nature had in mind, Jeb is out running and jumping and further injuring his already injured joint!

Healing Slowed by NSAIDs

It’s been known for years that NSAIDs interfere with the healing of a joint. They block the regeneration of connective tissue, which is everything in the joint aside from the bone: ligaments, tendons, muscle, and cartilage. A joint needs connective tissue to function normally, and it’s a big part of repair.

Here’s a page citing research that shows the strength of tendons was actually decreased after ibuprofen use.

Not exactly an outcome you’d want, let alone one you’d want to pay for!

Better Options for Healing Joints Homeopathy

  • Homeopathy

Remember my posting about cranial cruciate ligament damage a few weeks back? Well, I promised a homeopathic protocol for repair that works incredibly well, and that report is available now, via Dogs Naturally Magazine (click to get your report for free). The cost of the treatment is minuscule and the outcome far better than the surgical outcome (which is quite poor, as pointed out in the earlier post).

Of course, the deeper work in homeopathy is what most of us full timers do: constitutional prescribing. That’s where we find the remedy that fits the totality of your animal’s state, and initiate whole patient healing. Sore joints yield nicely to a cure like this. In my mind, homeopathy is the go-to modality for chronic conditions of all sorts, including chronic pain. When you heal the Whole Animal, the need to keep recreating pain goes away.

  • Acupuncture

TCM practitioners can help you get healing sped up as well. There’s a list of them on my Resources page. (Note: choose one or the other, acupuncture and homeopathy should not be done together.)

  • Herbs

A qualified veterinary herbalist can select and combine herbs that help heal joints. You can find veterinarians trained in herbal use here. Here’s a Certified Herbalist’s list of favorites for joints in dogs.

  • Supplements

There are loads of supplements out there for helping joints, the commonest using variations of GAGs (glycosaminoglycans). My old standby for years was GlycoFlex, but I’ve lately graduated to a single ingredient version I like even better called Raw Support.

There’s also Adequan, a safe though expensive injectable of hyaluronic acid available from your vet.

I had a client once who had great results getting her chronically arthritic dog sound by feeding lots of tendon rich foods, like raw chicken necks and feet.

But, the bottom line is, like anything else in raising Vital Animals, it pays to respect Mother Nature rather than turn her off (what woman likes a turn off, after all?). Working to support her efforts and recognizing that inflammation is an important part of her kit will get us the greatest results long term.

Let us know in the comments if you have a favorite something for helping with joint pain, or if you’ve had a bad experience with the pain drugs. Please name names with both.