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Treating bone problems in dogs

As published in Canadian Dogs Annual
Treating bone problems in dogs

Most of us take our bones for granted – until we break one or develop a painful condition like arthritis or osteoporosis. We also tend to take our dogs’ bone health for granted, but the fact is, bone problems, especially arthritis and bone cancer, are among the most common problems seen in canines.

Osteoarthritis (arthritis)

This is the most common bone problem in dogs. As a dog ages, infl ammation develops due to constant wear and tear on the shock-absorbing protective cartilage covering the ends of the bones. The worn cartilage allows the underlying bones to come into contact with one another, causing pain and stiffness. While this is usually thought of as a big breed problem, it occurs in all breeds as they age. Clinical signs include stiffness when moving around and getting up and
down, as well as lameness following exercise. Radiographs (x-rays, best done under sedation) reveal the inflammatory changes in the joints.

Conventional medicines such as NSAIDS can be helpful but have side effects when used long term. Natural remedies should be the main therapy for dogs with arthritis, and can include acupuncture, cold laser therapy, herbs, homeopathy, fatty acids, antioxidants, joint supplements and stem cell therapy. Weight loss is critical for overweight dogs.

Osteosarcoma (bone cancer)

This disease is also often seen in dogs, usually middle-aged to older large breeds such as retrievers and especially Rottweilers, which have a genetic predisposition. Clinical signs are similar to dogs with arthritis, and radiographs typically help differentiate the two conditions.

Conventional therapies include surgery (usually amputation of the affected limb), followed by chemotherapy. Radiation may also be helpful in dogs who do not receive limb amputation to control pain. Natural therapies to support the immune system include herbs such as astragalus and green tea, homeopathics, autosanguis therapy, stem cell therapy, vitamin D and fi sh oil, and can often extend the lives of dogs with osteosarcoma.

Risk Factors

• While all dog breeds can develop bone problems, the larger ones are particularly prone to these conditions. The exact cause is unknown, but both genetics and environment can play a role.

• Dogs with bone problems such as hip dysplasia can pass on the genes causing this common problem to their puppies.

• Dogs that are over-exercised, or puppies pushed to grow too quickly, can also develop problems with their bones and joints.

• Chronic inflammation, which can arise from feeding low quality diets or repeatedly vaccinating, can cause arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.

• Regardless of the size or weight of the dog, most will develop arthritis as they age.

Medications and alternative therapies

Conventional medications for bone disease usually consist of NSAIDS and other pain-relieving medications. While these can be effective when used for a short period, they can cause side effects including GI ulcers, kidney disease, liver disease and further worsening of the damaged cartilage.
Natural therapies are preferred for mild acute issues and long term control of pain and inflammation in dogs with arthritis and bone cancer. They can not only serve as a treatment for bone problems, but also often slow down the progression of bone and joint diseases.

• Joint supplements that contain glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, green-lipped mussel and hyaluronic acid are effective at relieving pain and inflammation and healing damaged cartilage.

• Homeopathics such as arnica and hypericum can support the bones, assist in healing from injury and reduce pain. Herbs such as white willow bark, from which aspirin was originally made, can also be effective as natural pain killers.

• Physical therapies including chiropractic, acupuncture, massage and cold laser therapy help cartilage and bone healing while reducing pain and infl ammation.

• Newer therapies such as stem cell treatment (derived from the dog’s own body fat or blood cells) are also helpful in reducing pain and infl ammation and encouraging healing.

Preventing Problems

1. Feed him a natural balanced diet.

2. Avoid long term use of drugs like antacids, which may leach calcium from the bones.

3. Keep his teeth cleaned (this usually means regular professional cleanings from your veterinarian) to reduce inflammation that may cause bone or joint problems.

4. Give him regular exercise – it keeps bones strong, as well as the tissues that surround the bones.

5. Avoid excessive vaccination – it may cause inflammation and even directly affect cartilage. This practice should be avoided in dogs with chronic bone diseases.

Bone problems of any kind can be very painful and have a profound impact on a dog’s quality of life. By giving your companion a healthy lifestyle, and educating yourself about his risk factors, you’ll significantly reduce his chances of being disabled by these conditions.



Veterinarian Dr. Shawn Messonnier wrote The Natural Health Bible for Dogs and Cats, The Natural Vet's Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs, and 8 Weeks to a Healthy Dog. He's the pet care expert for Martha Stewart Living's "Dr. Shawn — The Natural Vet" on Sirius Satellite Radio, and creator of Dr. Shawn's Pet Organics. His practice, Paws & Claws Animal Hospital (petcarenaturally.com), is in Plano, Texas.


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