Solutions for soothing your dog's creaking, achy joints

My 7-year-old black lab, Ace, is showing signs of arthritis. What remedies do you suggest?

One of the main causes of arthritis in dogs is excess weight, which puts wear and tear on the joints and increases inflammation. So keeping your pet at a healthy weight is the best way to prevent or delay arthritis. If this applies to Ace, the first step is to put him on a medically controlled diet to help him slim down.

Nonsteroidal drugs such as Rimadyl and Metacam -- the conventional treatment for arthritis in dogs -- can be expensive ($1 to $3 a day), and can have side effects like gastrointestinal ulcers, liver and kidney disease, and cartilage destruction. I recommend giving some of these natural remedies a try:

Cold laser therapy involves the application of a painless laser to your pet's arthritic joints twice a week for four weeks (at around $35 per session), and then as needed. Similar to acupuncture but without the needles, these treatments have helped many of my furry patients avoid surgery.

Homeopathy uses various plant-based remedies such as arnica and rhus tox, which comes in ointment or pill form, to help relieve pain and inflammation. Recent studies show that a product called Zeel, available in pill form, works as well as Rimadyl.

Hyaluronic acid lubricates joints and nourishes cartilage, and is given orally as a gel. This is quickly becoming a favorite alternative to joint supplements glucosamine and chondroitin, which are not effective in all pets.

Physical therapy uses gentle joint manipulation, low-impact exercises, chiropractic adjustments, and massage therapy to help alleviate arthritic pain (between $35 to $50 per treatment). Ask your vet for a referral.

Fish oil can reduce inflammation in swollen, painful joints, and is often used as an adjunct treatment to one or more of the above therapies. Proper dosage depends on your pet's weight and the severity of the problem, but 500 milligrams of EPA and DHA fi sh oil per 50 pounds can be used twice daily.

If you don't see an improvement after trying these treatments, you can add in a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. But use it sparingly -- ideally 25 to 50 percent of the dose typically recommended -- to minimize side effects. For more information, consult my new book, The Natural Vet's Guide to Preventing and Treating Arthritis in Dogs & Cats(New World Library, 2011).

Shawn Messonnier is a holistic vet and the founder of Paws & Claws Animal Hospital in Plano, Texas.


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