This article is part two in a series on arthritis in pets. To catch up, please read part one.
Arthritis (degenerative joint disease) is a chronic degenerative disease that can affect any joint but commonly affects the hip, knee (stifle), ankle (hock), elbow, wrist (carpus) and even the spine (intervertebral joints) of pets. Arthritis occurs when the joint cartilage is affected, either through a traumatic event, chronic wear and tear, and obesity or when the joint is congenitally abnormal.
Cartilage decreases joint stress by reducing impact on the ends of bones in the joint, like a shock absorber. When the cartilage is damaged, a cascade of inflammatory changes occurs leading to destruction of the cartilage and eventually the bone causing pain.
Slow-acting drugs for arthritis improve joint function and can help with pain control, but require weeks to months for their full effects.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate
In a normal joint, cartilage breakdown is balanced by cartilage production, whereas in arthritis, there is more breakdown of cartilage. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are part of cartilage and the theory is by taking these cartilage components, the pet’s body can use them to repair and rebuild cartilage where damaged. It is has also be hypothesized that these substances may have anti-inflammatory effects and may stimulate production of joint lubricants and collagen within the affected joints.
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are extracted from sea mollusks (such as the New Zealand green lipped mussel). One to two months are needed for them to reach adequate levels.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Cold-water fish oils have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties. Primarily used in the treatment of allergic and itchy skin conditions, but many arthritic pets have benefited from omega three fatty acid supplementation. Flax seed oil is readily converted to omega three fatty acids in the human body, but this conversion is not as effective in animals. Flax seed oil supplementation is not needed in pet foods or supplements.
Methyl sulfonyl methane (MSM) is another anti-inflammatory agent and is derived from DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide) for commercial sale. Natural MSM is found in plant and animal tissues, but not used for pet supplements. MSM is primarily used to provide additional building blocks for cartilage repair, but also its anti-inflammatory properties and may acts as an anti-oxidant.
Anti-oxidant and Free Radical Scavengers
Free radicals are harmful biochemicals that affect our pets from external sources like sunlight and pollution, or their body can make them as by-products of oxygen use. The free radicals are extremely reactive and attack structural proteins and cause production of inflammatory proteins. Pets normally use natural anti-oxidants to inactivate free radicals and in theory, supplementing with additional anti-oxidants can delay age-rated changes.
Prescription veterinary nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and polysulfated glycosaminoglycan (cartilage protective agents) are also very important in the control of immediate and long-term pain and inflammation. Discuss this therapy with your veterinarian to see if it is appropriate for your pet.
Prevention of arthritis is about preserving the normal structures of a joint. Often this entails providing the biochemical components of these structures as neutaceutical supplements.
If a pet owner suspects that their dog or cat is suffering from arthritis, they should bring it to their veterinarian’s attention. If diagnosed, arthritis can be well managed with diet, supplementation, physical therapy/exercise and pain control medications.
NOTE: Consult your doctor first to make sure my recommendations fit your special health needs.
Dr. Edelson currently resides in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and is an avid pet lover. He enjoys working with dogs, cats and birds. He has a special interest in dentistry, ophthalmology and internal medicine with a specific focus on canine and feline diabetes mellitus.