Treatments for the Arthritic Animal

Arthritis is a condition of the joints of the animal. This condition may affect one or more joints of the body. There is usually inflammation, heat, swelling (fluid) or edema, bony, ligament and tendon changes and restricted or altered movement of the joint. The causes of arthritis can be infection, trauma, genetic malformation, "wear n' tear" through altered movement or severe nutritional deficiencies and immune response conditions. The presence of arthritis is generally thought to occur only in the elderly animal but it can occur at younger ages when the animal has experienced one of the above-mentioned conditions.

1. The fluids within the joints act similar to the oils in your car. The fluids become thick when they are cold and thin when there is warmth. This is why most arthritic animals are "stiff" in the morning and as they begin to move about the joint fluids become warmer and thinner and there is a greater ease of movement. This is also why the arthritic animal may prefer a warm heating pad or seek out the warmest place in his home for his rest spot to allow the joints to not "freeze up". The arthritic animal will also have a greater ease of movement when the climate is warmer versus colder. And humidity (rain) will also cause the joints to become more difficult to move. The warmer climate or environment will certainly help the arthritic animal but remember that the barometric pressure changes (when it rains) will cause the joints to become stiff even though the animal may reside in a warm house.

2. Changes in gait (walking) patterns will be observed. Usually the arthritic animal will walk at a slower pace, be hesitant with slippery surfaces and may have difficulties with stairs. A harness will assist the animal's owner in providing support when the back strap is securely grasped. Any lifting or supportive motion will not harm the neck and will allow the animal to keep its legs under him on slippery surfaces or while climbing stairs. The use of baby gates at the top and bottom of the stairs is also a recommendation to prevent the arthritic animal from falling and sustaining further injuries.

The inability to keep the legs of the animal underneath himself or the attempts to control a "slipping out" of an extremity from underneath the animal has caused many misalignments of the low back and pelvis in this doctor's practice. The movement of the "slip" can actually cause a disc to bulge, tear a ligament or tendon or cause a muscle spasm to occur. These conditions only further compromise the arthritic animal and can generally be avoided with surfaces that provide traction.

Carpeted or grass surfaces provide excellent traction for the animal's feet. Cement surfaces can be etched with acids, rubber strips can be applied or mats can be utilized to provide the "grip" for the animal's stability. It is important to note that any animal can slip and fall so precautions to minimize the risks is only in the best interest of the animal and its owner! However, Dr. De Grasse does not recommend the use of "booties" placed on the feet of the animal. The sensory information that the animal obtains regarding placement of the extremities is valuable and is altered when the feet are covered. Obviously there will be situations that will require or benefit from covered feet and individual judgement is needed.

The length of the nails can alter the stance of the animal and can change the positioning of the extremity. This change of positioning can further compromise the arthritic animal's gait and can alter spinal alignment over a long period of time. It is important to note that when an arthritic animal is groomed, caution must be exercised to maintain good body alignment while grooming or positioning. Dr. De Grasse has seen occasions that improper or forceful restraint had caused a spinal misalignment due to the arthritic animal's fragility or inability to maintain correct body posture. For example: bend your head towards the right shoulder while pushing the top of your head towards your feet. You will notice that it will take very little pressure to make the neck feel uncomfortable. These slight forces of restraint while grooming or during veterinarian procedures can cause muscle spasm or spinal misalignment if applied while the animal's body is not in a stable position.

3. Mild exercise for the arthritic animal will help to maintain good muscle tone and prevent muscle atrophy (muscle wasting) but it is essential to consider a few points to ensure the safety of the animal. The arthritic animal will find walking on gravel or sand more difficult than on surfaces that do not move such as asphalt or dirt. It is important to remember that as the animal fatigues from the exercise, the owner should be at the residence and not requiring the animal to walk another half of the trip while he is exhausted. Stumbles and weak leg lifts are common in the arthritic animal that is tired and could result in falls.

4. The arthritic animal may seek out firmer surfaces to sleep on but caution should be taken if the floors are cold such as in marble surfaces. Egg crate mattresses, foam or crate mats provide warmth and support when placed upon a firm surface. Dr. De Grasse has found that the animal with an arthritic neck may like a neck roll to place the head upon. This can easily be made by rolling up a bath towel or for the larger dog, a bath blanket. Common bed pillows can also be used.

5. Nutritional supplements and medications can be used to promote easier movement and provide pain relief. Please refer to the nutritional menu box for suggestions that are holistic. Consultation with the animal's veterinarian can provide information on medications designed for long term use in the arthritic animal. Please be sure to inquire regarding the side effects and toxicity towards the liver and kidneys. Not all medications function in the same manner, have the same side effects nor are metabolized and excreted equally by all organs.