Canine well-being: joint health

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Canine well-being is a series of articles sharing the experience I have gathered while living with and caring for dogs. They will address common canine health concerns. I am not a veterinarian. The contents of these articles are intended to inspire looking beyond conventional ideas and practices. Be responsible and do your own research and seek appropriate veterinarian advice (from a holistic vet such as Dr Pearson from Paws to Heal).

Investigation by Dr Barbara Starfield, MD, MPH of the John Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health indicates that if iatrogenic causes (= reasons caused by physicians’ activities) were considered in statistics on the leading causes of death, they would take place number 3, right behind heart disease and cancer, before stroke.  These findings were published in July 2000 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr Starfield found out that almost 50 % of iatrogenic deaths were due to negative side effects of medication.

Three years later, another study revealed further the lethal aspects of conventional medicine. Gathering data purely based on peer-reviewed, scientific studies, lead to evidence that put death through iatrogenic causes to the very top of the list of leading causes for death. The statistical results can be found by searching on the internet for “death by medicine”.

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There have been no similar veterinary studies yet, perhaps because it would be difficult as pets’ deaths are not recorded like humans. It’s easy to imagine though that the findings would be similar, that a significant percentage of pets’ deaths are a result of negative side effects of medication. Just ask any holistic vet.

In this article I am inviting you to taking a closer look at NSAIDs, (or Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs), commonly used for the treatment of pain and inflammation for conditions such as arthritis. By and large NSAIDs are considered safe by conventional medicine standards and their use is wide-spread, not just for treatment of conditions but also as a preventative measure. One of the most popular drugs that falls into this category is Carprofen aka pentosan polysulfate sodium or PPS. Some of its brand names are: Rimadyl®, Zinecarp®, Canidryl®, Aventicarp®, Rycarfa®, Rimifin®, Carpox®, Tergive®, Carprodyl®, Carprieve®, Norocarp®, Novox®, quellin®, Rovera®, Vetprofen®, Levafen®.

Conventional vets sing the highest praises for it and one such vet I spoke with called it a neutraceutical (as opposed to a pharmaceutical) as he considered the drug to be free of side effects. He told me excitedly that he even was part of a study using the drug on himself for his dodgy hip.

All pharmaceuticals have extensive monographs. A monograph is a publication that specifies details of the drug such as ingredients, formulations, directions for use, warnings, and other information. It’s the super fine print, the comprehensive version of a patient information sheet. Here is the one for pentosan polysulfate sodium (Carprofen). In its evaluation section under point 6.2 it states, “There is sufficient evidence in experimental animals for the carcinogenicity of pentosan poly-sulfate sodium.” In other words, this drug has been found to promote the formation of cancer.

Yet, almost every dog that has degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis) receives Carprofen injections regularly, it’s also common for it being given as a preventative! Any vet that has ever suggested it to me as treatment didn’t mention it having been found carcinogenic. It’s not mentioned on the product website either.

NSAIDs are also negatively effecting kidney and liver function. Read this informative article on the topic from the Dog Naturally Magazine website. It finishes with this consideration, “It has also been observed that NSAIDs prevent bone fractures from healing. The University Of North Carolina School of Medicine also found that the COX-2 inhibitors not only have an adverse effect on bone healing, they may also impair the healing of ligaments. Please do more research if your vet plans on giving NSAIDs to your dog if he has a cruciate or other ligamentous injury.”

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The good news is that there are safe alternative treatments for managing arthritis. And for its prevention. An animal’s diet plays a huge role. Changing my dogs’ diet from kibble to BARF-based homemade food almost 20 years ago I witnessed significant health improvements. Heidi, the middle-aged German Shepherd who developed arthritis early in life after having her hip crushed when hit by a car, moved like a young dog again. Sheena, then 2-years old German Shepherd X Rottweiler, used to have chronic ear infections that went away completely never to return again.

More than 10 years ago I started feeding my dogs a plant-based diet, homemade, from fresh ingredients. When people find out, I often hear a surprised, “But they look so healthy!” Dogs are omnivores and are able to thrive on a more planet-friendly diet. For many this is a controversial topic and as it is not the point of this article, I won’t go further into it. I raise the subject of diet in this context to draw attention to the problems that stem from feeding kibble. Brilliantly marketed, promoted by many animal health specialists (vets) and very convenient for the dog parent to use, kibble is thought of a good dietary choice. If you’d like to inform yourself more on the topic, search for “kibble” on the Dogs Naturally Magazine website and you’ll find articles by vets and nutritionists explaining the health hazards and what other options are available to feed your dog in a more beneficial way.

As Heidi grew older her arthritis became more debilitating, she struggled getting up and her gait was stiff. A herbalist friend offered to put together a herbal tincture for Heidi containing devil’s claw and other medicinal plants. The effects became visible within a week, the improvement was dramatic. Using herbal remedies, quality of life can be increased without negative side-effects which are a given when using pharmaceutical drugs, especially long-term.

One of my current dogs, Enzo (6-year old Cane Corso), had a complete rupture of his left cruciate ligament two years ago. Recently, I decided to add herbal remedies to his joint health management plan and was impressed with the detailed and thorough free online consultation I received from McDowells. After ten days, positive changes started to be noticeable. Most striking, Enzo got up in the morning to say hello again whereas he used to stay on his bed, not moving, until it was breakfast time!

Enzo feeling great again!

There are not only Western herbs that are powerful wellness agents but also Chinese herbs. I don’t have personal experience with them but know a good number of people who were impressed by the positive changes in their animals brought on by using them.

Vitamin C is a highly effective anti-inflammatory, I’ve found rose-hip powder more potent than synthetic supplements. The bio-availability of food-derived vitamins is higher, the body easily recognizes and absorbs them more efficiently. I have been using Rose-hip Vital for several years. It is not cheap but in my experience worth the expense. Even though they offer human, canine and equine products, the content is exactly the same. Buying the bigger quantity (horse sizes) is more economic and the company also advertise buy-2-for-1 deals every few months.

Another powerful arthritis medicine is CBD oil. I have not added it to my remedies repertoire yet so can’t speak from personal experience. However, what I hear from friends and clients who have helped their pets with it is encouraging. The high quality products (and these are the only ones one should use!) are expensive to purchase but last for a bit.

Green-lipped mussels and fish oil supplements can also have a positive impact on joint health. Likewise, supplements containing glucosamine, condroiten sulfate, hyoloronic acid, MSM, CMO (Cetyl Myristoleate) are known to be beneficial. If oral administration doesn’t seem to be working, some of these are available as injectables too. It might take trial and error to find just the right combination that brings about change in your animal.

There are so many options, if you are feeling overwhelmed, located a holistic vet and let them help you. Sometimes people feel hesitant to change vets, they feel loyal to the clinic they have taken their animals to for years. Yet, you can still appreciate all they have done for you and get a holistic opinion too! You can also work with more than one vet. Your dog and other pets will thank you and might be around for longer.

Helping heal his cruciate ligament rupture, after 8 weeks of complete rest after injury and homeopathic treatment, he started swimming twice a week for 6 months, then once a week.

Swimming is a joint-friendly, muscle building form of exercise. Moving through water takes about four times the effort than walking. Swimming has prevention and rehabilitation value. The Woof Swim Team is a welcoming, professional and friendly place I like to take my dogs to.

Because of Covid restrictions, Enzo’s condition took a bit of a dive and I decided to consult an animal physio therapist to target more specifically his areas of weakness. We’ve been receiving excellent care and advice from ARC‘s owner, Jodie Watson, and her team, and the results started showing quickly. Once a week, Enzo has an underwater treadmill session and gets laser therapy. We also have homework – daily exercises to support his knee’s rehabilitation.

Enzo in the physio gym.
Underwater treadmill session.

What else can be done for prevention of joint problems? Educating yourself about appropriate puppy exercise guidelines, until at least the age of one, dogs should not engage in high-impact activities such as jumping. When throwing a ball for your dog, do so in a way that avoids bouncing. Include regular Bowen or Emmett therapy sessions to support your puppy’s healthy growth and your adult dog’s balanced body. Research shows that early de-sexing is the cause for many health problems later in life, including cruciate ligament problems. In this article, Dr Karen Becker discusses the topic and explains the many risks of sterilization in dogs and how to make better choices about it.

There are many approaches to keeping and, if necessary, rehabilitate and manage your dog’s joint health. Pills and injections are easy, they don’t require much time or effort. And yes, additional therapies can be expensive. Yet, you might be surprised to learn that homeopathic remedies for example are much more cost-effective than pharmaceutical drugs. In the big picture, you are investing in your animals health, happiness and longevity. I hope my article encourages you to look further into your options.

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