Excerpt from Herbs for Pets
The term arthritis is general, referring to the inflammation of a joint. Polyarthritis is the inflammation of several joints. Degenerative arthritis is a term that refers to the condition caused by the wearing of joints as the animal ages. It is also known as degenerative joint disease and is sometimes caused by trauma to the joints, bones, ligaments, or cartilage. Osteoarthritis is usually the result of some type of secondary damage to the joint structures. The damage could result from rupture of ligaments, poor anatomical alignment, or joint dislocation.
Inflammatory arthritis can be caused by an infection or an immune-mediated disease that leads to destructive arthritic lesions. In other words, its onset is caused when the immune system actually turns against the body it’s supposed to protect.
Arthritis may also take the form of hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is the abnormal development of the “ball and socket” joint of the hips of dogs. This condition may vary from a slightly abnormal hip joint to the actual dislocation of the joint. There is controversy among holistic and homeopathic veterinarians regarding the underlying cause of hip dysplasia. Some holistic veterinarians believe that this condition might be caused by vaccinations, specifically the rabies vaccine. Others say it is caused by heredity—but if this is so, and conscientious breeders are taking care not to breed animals who show signs of it, then why is it not being eliminated? Why is it appearing in an increasing number of breeds more frequently? Despite the evidence, many veterinarians maintain that hip dysplasia is a genetic predisposition in many breeds of dogs. To an extent this may be true, but we believe that there are too many coincidences between hip dysplasia and overvaccination. If your dog is young and may be prone to hip dysplasia, you might want to consider not vaccinating every year.
The belief that hip dysplasia is strictly a hereditary disease discourages many people from growing attached to dogs who are believed to be predisposed. This is truly a shame. Not only can a predisposed breed of dog lead a normal, healthy life but there is a good possibility that hip dysplasia can be prevented by taking some simple, lifelong measures.
In the book Alternative and Complementary Veterinary Medicine: Principles and Practice, Wendell O. Belfield, D.V.M., states that hip dysplasia may be caused more by biochemical factors than by genetic inheritance. He believes that hip dysplasia may be an easily controlled biochemical condition in most breeds of dogs caused by insufficient collagen synthesis. He says that if insufficient amounts of Vitamin C exist in affected dogs, they may have difficulty synthesizing enough collagen to assist in maintaining joint stability. Dr. Belfield substantiates his statement with a study he conducted involving eight litters of German Shepherd puppies who came from bloodlines that were believed to be afflicted with hereditary hip dysplasia. During pregnancy, bitches were administered megadoses of vitamin C, and the puppies were maintained on a similar regimen until adulthood. As a result, no signs of canine hip dysplasia were noted in any of the offspring.
Unless onset is acute, such as after a joint injury, the first sign of arthritis is usually lameness that may be worsened by cold, inclement weather or exercise. You might first notice that your animal isn’t getting around as easily as he once did. You might observe your companion having difficulty getting on or off the couch, climbing the stairs, or perhaps jumping in and out of the car. If you are keenly perceptive of subtle changes in your companion, early onset of arthritis might be signified by abnormal behavior that points to physical discomfort—perhaps your friend just isn’t his “old self” or appears irritable for no apparent reason. Try your best to let nothing go unnoticed in the daily appearance and behavior of your companion. Keep a health care diary for your animal, bearing in mind that nothing you observe is insignificant. If you do keep a diary, you will be much more effective in preventing simple morning stiffness from becoming a crippling disease.
As an animal ages, his joints don’t move quite as easily as they once did (Don’t we all know that feeling when getting in and out of our favorite easy chair?), but if joint stiffness appears to be progressing ahead of your companion’s age, it’s time to take remedial measures. But before you start administering herbal remedies, you should know the exact nature of your companion’s arthritis. This may require the opinion of a holistic veterinarian who can diagnose the many different kinds of arthritis.
If your animal has arthritis, his immune system needs either to be boosted or brought back into balance with the rest of his body. But if the arthritis is related to immune system dysfunction, you may find that immunostimulant herbs such as echinacea aggravate your companion’s condition. Remember that the inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis is likely caused by an autoimmune attack upon the joints. If we stimulate the immune system into working harder, we might actually make the arthritis worse.
Instead, holistic efforts should be directed at what is causing the dysfunction. This starts with a critical assessment of the animal’s diet, an evaluation of possible food allergies, and a thorough investigation of present and historical influences that may be affecting your companion’s immune system. Such influences may include vaccinations, antibiotic or steroid drug therapies, or toxic elements in your animal’s environment. Any associated disorders should be identified and corrected as well. For example, does your arthritic companion suffer from chronic constipation, weight problems, hair loss, diarrhea, bladder or kidney problems, chronic infections, or a skin condition? If so, such conditions are likely related to the arthritis. When you have identified as many of these factors as possible, it’s time to take remedial action by piecing this holistic puzzle together. It’s important to remember that because arthritis is such a complex and variable disease, there is no singular herbal approach to treating it. Instead, holistic treatment is multifaceted, including nutritional supplementation and herbs that are tailored to an animal’s individual needs.
If the arthritis is due to wear-and-tear joint deterioration (a frequent problem with working or hard-playing animals), then the supplements glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate might assist the body in repairing itself. Glucosamine and its related products, glucosamine sulfate and n-acetylglucosamine, have found a use as nutritional anti-osteoarthritic agents by helping protect and regenerate connective tissue and cartilage in affected joints. n-acetylglucosamine has shown promise in the treatment of inflammatory disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, and colitis.
Bovine or shark cartilage, vitamin C, and EFA supplements help repair joint tissue damage. Horsetail herb might be of help too, as it contains a bioavailable form of silicon, an element that serves as the active matrix in connective tissue development. Comfrey is also considered a classic bone and joint repair herb. In addition to their internal uses, these herbs can be effective when applied in the form of an external compress, especially when combined with cayenne and willow bark, which should not be used in cats.
Mineral- and vitamin-rich herbs such as nettle and dandelion provide nutrients that are needed for joint repair along with diuretic activities to help remove excess metabolic wastes from the body, via the urinary tract, that may otherwise contribute to solid buildups in the joints. These herbs also help strengthen kidney function during the ordeal. Another herb to consider is shepherd’s purse—this diuretic is believed to have a special affinity toward removal of waste compounds from arthritic joints. Celery seed and parsley root are also excellent choices for this purpose.
Alterative herbs such as alfalfa, red clover, and burdock are strongly indicated to build up blood structure and to assist with the transport of systemic waste from body tissues. Liver supporting herbs (hepatics) such as dandelion root, yellow dock, and Oregon grape help by strengthening liver and gallbladder function, thus helping with digestion, nutrient absorption, and solid waste elimination. Lymphatic herbs such as cleavers and calendula may be of assistance by aiding the circulation of tissue-cleansing lymph in and around inflamed areas.
Cayenne and ginger also may be useful. Both are vasodilators and may benefit the arthritic animal by increasing blood circulation to affected areas. In some animals, though, these same actions may aggravate an inflammatory condition. For this reason, internal use of these herbs should proceed with caution, and it is best to administer them in small doses that are proportioned as lesser ingredients to a formula composed of other anti-inflammatory and alterative herbs.
Herbs that are useful internally for inflammation and pain of arthritis and hip dysplasia include licorice, yucca, and willow bark (the latter is not for cats). Alfalfa also has a long-standing reputation for relieving the discomforts of arthritis. It should be among one of the first herbs to be considered for internal use because it can be safely fed as a daily food supplement (1 teaspoon per pound of food fed each day).
Tonics as well as herbs can be helpful in treating arthritis. Circulatory tonics such as yarrow, hawthorn, rosemary, and ginkgo are worth considering for internal use. They provide a gentle increase of blood flow in tissues surrounding arthritic joints, so muscles remain oxygenated and more flexible.
Here is a basic tonic formula for arthritic animals. Ingredients can be changed, added to, and proportioned to serve the specific needs of your animal. The arthritis relief compress that follows might also help to relieve the pain of arthritis.
Animals have a reputation for not letting their chronic problems slow them down much. As a result, arthritic joints sometimes become aggravated and inflamed because of physical exertion or injury. Provided that there is no open wound, a simple external application of arnica oil or tincture on the affected joints often brings fast symptomatic relief. Some good “strain and sprain” herbal ointments, salves, and liniments are also available on the market, many of which contain time-proven topical analgesics such as eucalyptus, cayenne, or camphor. Olbas oil or tiger balm are among our favorites, but do not use these products if your animal is under homeopathic care as they may antidote the homeopathic remedy. Also, be careful applying any undiluted oil or herbal ointment onto an animal, especially cats, who can be sensitive to these types of products. Also, animals may lick these products off of their fur and skin, and some of these products may prove toxic if ingested.
The discomforts of arthritis can be approached with internal herbal therapies as well, and often the fastest results are reached when topical and internal applications are used simultaneously.
Of course, nutrition is the crux of any of the holistic healing modalities and is the most important factor in the prevention of arthritis. Many times changing to a raw food diet helps the animal and obviates more drastic measures.
Some animals benefit from occasional chiropractic adjustments from a qualified holistic vet who is trained in the proper manipulation of an animal’s spine. Acupuncture may also help many arthritic animals who are in pain.