Your pet is having trouble getting up or climbing stairs. He moves stiffly, especially when he first wakes up. Dogs and cats are designed for movement. Their joints are wrapped in strong muscles and held together with flexible ligaments and tendons. The ends of bones within the joints are coated with cartilage, a protective, plasticlike substance that enables the bones to slide smoothly back and forth. In addition, the natural movement of the joints causes the body to pump in lubricating fluid that keeps them operating smoothly.
Your pet is having trouble getting up or climbing stairs, arthritis, or osteoarthritis
As with other parts of the body, however, joints may deteriorate with age. When cartilage gets thinner or wears away entirely, bones grind instead of glide. This often causes painful friction and inflammation, a condition known as wear-and-tear arthritis, or osteoarthritis. “The body tries to fix the problem by growing extra bone around the joints,” says Randy Caviness, D.V.M., clinical instructor of small animal acupuncture at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Massachusetts, and a holistic veterinarian in Concord.
The extra bone doesn’t really help, though. If anything, it makes the joints more painful, making it harder for pets to move. When they move less, muscles shrink and lose their strength, which makes the joint problems even worse.
Many dogs and cats get only a touch of arthritis and never experience anything worse than a little morning stiffness. Other pets, big dogs especially, may be seriously affected. Drugs like aspirin, cortisone, and carprofen (Rimadyl) are the conventional answers for treating arthritis, and in certain cases, surgery may be needed to repair damaged joints. But even though arthritis always needs a veterinarian’s care, there are many natural remedies that can relieve pain without the side effects of medications.
More important, it is often possible to protect cartilage and strengthen the joints so that a touch of arthritis doesn’t get a lot worse. Here is what holistic veterinarians advise.
Strengthen the cushion. Veterinarians have found that two dietary supplements, glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate, which are available in health food stores, can help repair damaged cartilage and increase lubrication in the joint, reducing pain and stiffness.
A good supplement is Cosequin. Available from veterinarians, it contains both ingredients. You can give pets 10 milligrams of Cosequin per pound of body weight twice a day. Don’t give Cosequin to pets with liver problems or clotting disorders. Supplements containing green-lipped mussels, like Glyco-Flex, are also helpful because they contain glucosamine-like compounds.
“Green-lipped mussel supplements smell like dead fish, so pets think they are a wonderful treat”. You can buy these supplements from vets and some pet supply catalogs. Follow the dosage directions on the label.
Specialists in traditional Chinese medicine have found that an herbal combination called Mobility 2 can help pets with arthritis move more easily, says Dr. Scanlan. Available in tablet form from veterinarians, the usual dose is one-half tablet twice a day for cats and dogs weighing less than 15 pounds and one to two tablets twice a day for larger pets.
Dogs and cats have their priorities straight. Not only do they spend their days contentedly snoozing, but they also take the time to stretch when they wake up. “Pet yoga” is nature’s way of keeping their joints limber and helping prevent painful problems such as arthritis.
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After resting, pets launch into a fairly vigorous stretching routine, explains Albert J. Simpson, D.V.M. First, they arch their backs. Then they bow their backs, putting their heads down and their tails in the air. They finish up by taking a few steps forward while stretching each hind leg behind them.
While dogs do a little bit of stretching, cats do a lot more—and it pays off. “Cats don’t get a lot of joint problems,” says Dr. Simpson. “They can arch their backs and contort themselves in ways that would pinch a dog’s back.”
Flex the spine. You can use a touch technique called motion palpation to limber up the back and relieve general stiffness and discomfort, says Albert J. Simpson, D.V.M., a holistic veterinarian. Beginning at the shoulders and working backward to the hips, simultaneously press with your thumb and forefinger in the depressions on either side of the spine between each vertebra.
Press for two to three seconds, release, then move to the next spot, he advises. You can repeat the massage once a day until your pet is feeling better, he says.
Rub away the pain. Dogs and cats with arthritis often don’t move a lot because it hurts when they do. A daily massage will get blood flowing into the muscles and quickly relax painful tightness.
She recommends starting with a technique called effleurage, in which you use slow, firm strokes, beginning at the head and working back to the tail. After your pet is feeling warm and relaxed, hold your fingertips together and rub firm circles into the muscles. Concentrate on the muscles on either side of the spine, around the hips, and on the shoulders wherever your pet seems to be hurting, Whalen-Shaw says. You can continue the massage for 15 minutes to an hour, once a day.
Give daily vitamins. Veterinarians have found that giving dogs and cats vitamin C and E supplements every day can reduce inflammation in the joints and protect the cartilage. Dr. Simpson recommends giving cats and dogs weighing less than 15 pounds about 10 international units (IU) of vitamin E a day. Pets 15 to 50 pounds can take 20 IU, and larger dogs can take 30 IU.
For vitamin C, give about one-quarter teaspoon of 1,000-milligram vitamin C powder to dogs over 50 pounds, one-eighth teaspoon of 500-milligram powder to dogs 15 to 50 pounds, and just a sprinkling (about 250 milligrams) of 500-milligram powder to smaller pets. Vitamin C can cause diarrhea, so you may have to reduce the dose until you find an amount your pet will tolerate. Dr. Simpson recommends using ester vitamin C because it is less likely to cause diarrhea. “Just sprinkle it once a day on their food,” he says.
Press the “aspirin” point. “One of the best acupressure points for arthritis pain is BL60, which is located on the outside of the rear ankle,” says Dr. Simpson. When your pet seems to be hurting, press this point for about 60 seconds, once or twice a day, he suggests. For very small dogs and all cats, your fingertip may be too big to hit the spot exactly. It is fine to use the eraser end of a pencil as long as you press gently, he advises.
Help the hips.
Arthritis often affects the hips, especially in big dogs, says Dr. Caviness. To relieve pain and stiffness quickly, he recommends pressing all around the head of the femur, the end of the thighbone where it fits into the pelvis. This will hit three important acupressure points—BL54, GB29, and GB30—that can help relieve hip pain, he says. You can repeat this two or three times a day, or as often as needed to help your pet feel better