Diet, supplements, and other therapies work together to reduce the pain and inflammation of aching joints.
Like people, dogs often develop arthritis as they age. Many parts of the body can be affected, from the vertebral column to joints such as the hip, shoulder, elbow, knee, wrist and hock. Signs of sore joints in companion animals include reduced activity, lethargy, lameness, trouble getting up, and a reluctance to jump on the couch or into vehicles.
The main treatments offered by veterinarians include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), prescription diets, glucosamine and chondroitin, and polysulfated glycosaminoglycan injections. However, there are many additional options that can help decrease the inflammation secondary to arthritis and degenerative disc disease; rid the body of toxins that promote the inflammatory response; and repair/improve joint and vertebral health.
Diet is the best starting point
Many veterinarians and animal owners focus on supplements, medications, and other treatment options, when the main focus should start with diet. Diet alone is one of the most important factors in improving quality of life when it comes to these chronic inflammatory and degenerative conditions.
Many veterinarians will prescribe prescription diets that contain grains, glutens and added joint supplements, along with anti-inflammatory medications. However, most NSAID medications can cause damage or injury to the liver, kidneys, and bone marrow with long-term use. As well, many processed grains and Omega 6 fatty acids contain pro-inflammatory precursors. Another common ingredient found in pet food is white potato, which has been shown to promote inflammation. The sweet potato, conversely, a different plant species, actually has anti-inflammatory properties, a fact largely unknown to many people.
Many veterinarians now also offer alternative therapies such as acupuncture and laser therapy.
Optimizing diet for reduced inflammation
Nutrigenomics can be used to optimize a dog’s diet and help decrease the inflammatory response in the body. Nutrigenomics is an emerging science that studies the molecular relations between nutrition and gene expression. Diet can alter gene expression and protein/metabolite production. Specific nutrients found in the diet change the body’s response in a form defined as a “signature” or “molecular dietary signature”.
Diet can be a serious risk factor for a number of diseases. Ingredients found in certain foods act on the animal’s DNA makeup, and alter gene expression. Various foods act upon certain regulated genes in the body that affect the onset, incidence, progression, and/or severity of chronic disease such as arthritis. Nutrigenomic principles have shown that the right diet can possess significant health-promoting properties, including pain management. Based on an individual animal’s nutritional requirement and DNA, diet can be used to prevent, treat, or cure chronic disease, including arthritis. [To learn more about nutrigenomics and how it is applied, read Dr. Dodds’ article in Canadian Dogs Annual 2014. Visit CDNdogs.ca]
Diet alone is one of the most important factors in improving quality of life when it comes to these chronic inflammatory and degenerative conditions.
Supplements to soothe pain
Many supplements can help relieve the pain of arthritis. The dosage for your dog will depend on his individual requirements and should be discussed with a veterinarian familiar with these supplements:
- Glucosamines from shellfi sh, bones, and some fungi are precursors of the glycosaminoglycans found in joint cartilage.
- Grape seed extract is a powerful antioxidant. It also has anti-carcinogenic and strong anti-infl ammatory properties. It has been added to many popular joint supplements on the market today.
- Bee pollen has many different properties and is an anti-inflammatory. Other health benefits, such as its anti-cancer, antibiotic and immune boosting properties, have not been fully explored.
- Ginger is used mostly for digestion, but also for arthritis thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties
- MSM (MethylSulfonylMethane) acts as a natural anti-inflammatory for joints.
- Polyunsaturated fatty acids (ALA, EPA, DHA) come from many fish and plant oils, including wild salmon, sardines, herring, cod, trout, green-lipped mussel, anchovies, krill, algae extract, fl ax seed, hemp, olive, canola and soybean. They are used for their anti-inflammatory properties.
- Propolis (resin) is extracted by bees from the buds, bark and leaves of deciduous trees and some vegetables, and can be used for its analgesic pain-controlling properties.
- Deer or elk velvet helps alleviate arthritic symptoms by rebuilding cartilage, improving joint fluid, increasing tissue and cellular healing times, and improving circulation. It contains many beneficial ingredients — proteins, amino acids, collagen, lipids, minerals/trace elements, growth factors, glycosaminoglycans, glucosamine, chondroitin, phospholipids, prostaglandins, and hyaluronic acid. Growth Factor IGF 1 (insulin growth factor) and IGF 2 are both found naturally in deer and elk velvet. IGF 1 infl uences cellular growth in muscle, cartilage, bone, and many organs in the body. IGF 2 works with IGF 1 to promote cellular growth and organ development.
- Green-lipped mussel (Perna canaliculus) decreases inflammation by inhibiting the enzyme responsible for transforming essential fatty acids into inflammatory leukotrienes (mediators of inflammation from white blood cells). It contains important nutrients, proteins, amino acids, glycosaminoglycans, chondroitin, hyaluronic acid, and proteoglycan.
- Green (or black) tea leaf extract has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
- DLPA (D, L Phenylalanine) is an essential amino acid and endorphin stimulant to help control chronic bone and muscle pain.
- Turmeric (curcumin) is a relative of ginger and is a potent antioxidant. It also has anti-carcinogenic and strong anti-inflammatory properties.
- Other useful photochemical supplements include boswellia, andrographis paniculata (king of bitters), hawthorn, licorice, nettle leaf, yucca root, and raw apple cider vinegar.
Many veterinarians now also offer alternative therapies such as acupuncture (dry needle, electro- and aqua-puncture) and laser therapy. Acupuncture and laser therapy are non-invasive treatment options that help relieve pain and muscle spasms. This is achieved in part by increasing blood fl ow to the area of concern and releasing natural pain-relieving substances such as natural endorphins, endogenous opioids, and serotonin.
Alleviating arthritis in your dog should start with an appropriate high quality, whole foods diet that contains little to no grains, glutens or white potato. Since every dog is an individual with specific requirements, it’s best to work with a veterinarian to determine the diet, supplements and other therapies that are best for your companion. Arthritis can be debilitating, especially in older animals, but the right combination of therapies could help make him young again!
Dr. Jean Dodds, DVM, received her veterinary degree in 1964 from the Ontario Veterinary College. In 1986, she moved to southern California to establish Hemopet, the first non-profit national blood bank program for animals. Dr. Dodds has been a member of many national and international committees on hematology, animal models of human disease, veterinary medicine and laboratory animal research. She received the Holistic Veterinarian of the Year Award from the AHVMA in 1984.