Animal Osteoarthritis & a Holistic Approach
What is osteoarthritis and how can it affect my animal?
Also referred to as "degenerative joint disease", it can affect many species of animals.
Osteoarthritis can occur as a result of wear and tear of the joints through part of the ageing process. However, it also frequently affects animals who've suffered a trauma - e.g. an accident or blow, or if part of the animal's conformation is poor, and then as a result of repetitive exercise it causes increased force on one (or a part of a) joint. For example, horses working on hard ground may in the long term develop osteoarthritis, particularly if the horse has a conformational issue. Dogs who have hip dysplasia are also more prone to developing osteoarthritis too. Therefore arthritis whilst often associated with old age, can actually affect animals of any age.
In an arthritic joint the normally super-smooth cartilage lining the bones of the joint becomes damaged, which in turn leads to inflammation. In addition the movement of the joint becomes limited due to thickening of the fibrous capsule surrounding the joint and due to the formation of rough new bone (osteophytes) around the edge of this capsule. Nerves in the capsule and bone become inflamed and sensitive leading to pain for the animal.
As animals cannot obviously tell us that their joints maybe aching, you may notice various signs that your animal is in discomfort, such as:
- Horses refusing at jumps that they previously were capable of jumping;
- Dogs not finding it as easy as they used to get in/out of cars;
- Behaviourial change in your animal - e.g. more "snappy" or unhappy;
- Horse, dog or other animal may appear to have reduced mobility - e.g. taking time to get up and down, or generally poor gait.
There are many other symptoms that your animal could possibly show, and like people all animals are different, so whilst one may show more obvious symptoms another might not. Also by the nature of arthritis, it develops over time and symptoms generally do not show as a sudden event.
If you suspect your animal may have osteoarthritis, it's important that you seek professional veterinary advice, so that your Veterinary Surgeon can make a proper diagnosis and advise on the most appropriate treatment.
What treatments are available with animals suffering from osteoarthritis?
Once osteoarthritis has started development, it cannot be cured however, it can be limited in its progression and its symptoms (eg pain) can be managed. As well as your Vet having a range of conventional medicines to help, plus other treatments being available from other professionals (e.g. for horses, Farriers maybe able to help through corrective shoeing), there are also a several complementary therapies available which may also be of benefit. These include the following (click on each therapy name for more information on that therapy):
Acupuncture has been found to be useful in helping to treat a variety of animals suffering from arthritis. There are several Veterinary Surgeons who have completed specialist training to help animals through the use of acupuncture, and are members of the Association of British Veterinary Acupuncture.
Bowen can be useful to help manage the pain that your animal maybe experiencing from the arthritis and promote his/her mobility too.
Chiropractic and other forms of animal manipulation (e.g. McTimoney Corley) have been found to be useful with some animals suffering from arthritis.
- Feed Supplements
There's a wide range of feed supplements available specifically for horses, dogs and other animals, which are specifically formulated to help with mobility and also reducing the symptoms of arthritis. Some of the common ingredients found within these supplements are:
- Chondroitin Sulphate
- Hyaloronic Acid
- Glycosaminoglycan (Adequan)
- Fish Oils
- Seaweed (Kelp)
As there are so many available, we aren't listing them here. However, to help you choose between them we suggest you ask your Veterinary Surgeon for advice first. S/he maybe to advise on which would be the most suitable for your animal, taking into account the severity of your animal's arthritis. Whilst recommendation of a product's abilities is a useful way to choose a supplement, it's important to note that whilst one feed supplement may work for one animal, it may not work for the next - each animal is different. It can also take varying amounts of time for your animal (& you!) to notice a difference - some animals may respond to a feed supplement within 1 week - other animals may take up to 2 months to show any improvement.
There are several herbal remedies that are reputed to help with animals suffering from arthritis, including:
- Aloe Vera
- Devils Claw
Bryonia is a homeopathic remedy which can be useful particularly where the animal appears worse for movement. Rhus Tox conversely can help where the arthritis appears improved with movement. Choosing the correct homeopathic preparation is important and so seeking the advice of a veterinary surgeon who's qualified in homeopathy is always advised. (More info at the British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons.)
There are several types of magnotherapy products available for many animals (most commonly for horses, dogs and cats), and are thought to help provide relief to some arthritic animals.
- Massage (Equine or Canine Sports Massage)
Different massage techniques can help promote circulation to the affected joint(s), which can help to ease any discomfort and inflammation.
This can help promote the mobility of your animal, and reduce inflammatory processes.
A qualified Animal or Veterinary Physiotherapist will be able to use a variety of techniques, from manual therapy to electrotherapy to help reduce discomfort for your animal.
The therapies listed are above are some of the most common ones used to help animals suffering from osteoarthritis. However, other therapies can sometimes also help in a non-direct way, e.g. Bach Flower Remedies may help with dealing with any emotional issues that the arthritis has caused.
Also remember that any complementary therapy (including feed supplements) can also vary in how quick they are to take effect.
As with all complementary therapies do seek the advice of your Vet first before using. A therapist will always need your Vet's permission before treating your animal, and regular liaison between the two professionals can often bring greater results to your animal's health anyway.
Get more information on how to help care for your animal holistically by having a look through our holistic care for animals advice pages:
- Equine Laminitis and Ways to Help Holistically
- Helping Pets Cope with Loud Noises
- Helping Horses, Ponies and Donkeys with Mud Fever
- Older Animals - Ways to Help Holistically
- Sarcoids and Horses
- Summer Healthcare for Animals
- Sweet Itch and Horses, Ponies and Donkeys
- Tendon Injuries and Horses