Canine and Feline Arthritis

Arthritis is a wellknown, common and often difficult condition in our own species, and most people who live with dogs and cats will encounter the challenges it can pose for them as well. While prevention is always ideal, many animal lovers may not be aware of the steps they can take in that regard, or even that dogs and cats do get arthritis – and then one day the beloved friend shows overt signs of the condition, and it’s off to the vet. As we will see, conventional veterinary management focuses on pain relief, especially in older animals, while holistic vets may utilize a variety of supplements as well as recommendations for acupuncture, physiotherapy and chiropracty, all of which can offer a great deal of relief. Herbs, too, can offer a wide range of benefits for the arthritic dog or cat – as with humans, they work best when started early, and individualized, working with the stage of the disease, the dog’s metabolic tendencies, other health conditions and constitution, to name a few important factors. Beyond the more popular herbs – turmeric, yucca, and Devil’s claw – there is much you can do to offer support.
First – let’s define the term Osteoarthritis, and how it affects the animal’s body, both structurally and functionally.




What is Osteoarthritis
Simply put, osteoarthritis , or DJD(degenerative joint disease) refers to a common, inflammatory disease characterized by pain, stiffness, swelling and, in severe cases, a crippling loss of mobility. The process begins with erosion of the cartilage (from wear and tear, related to age or to abnormal joint development especially in dogs) which serves to cushion the area between bone and minimize friction; without cartilage, bone scraping against bone during movement creates the inflammation, pain, and swelling with the disease. Holistic veterinarian Shawn Messonnier writes,
The lack of nerves in the articular cartilage is an important factor in the progression of arthritis. A great amount of damage can occur to the cartilage before the surrounding joint tissues (joint capsule, bones and ligaments) become inflamed and cause lameness. Because of this, considerable cartilage damage is often present by the time the animal actually feels pain and shows signs of lameness”. 1
Hence, early screening, and prevention with herbs and diet ,are prime defenses against the onset and development of what is often, an insidious condition.
Symptoms – when most people think of arthritis, the first symptom they expect to see is pain! In humans, pain is an indicator that we can hear directly from the client; with dogs and cats, pain can be present and until it is severe – to the point it impacts on mobility – we may not actually be aware at all. Lameness in dogs is often the first sign that something is wrong – or simply stiffness, reluctance to jump up onto a favorite couch, reluctance to go on walks or fatigue part of the way home (which can also indicate other conditions, and should always be investigated). Until recently, it was believed that feline arthritis was relatively rare, given the lack of overt signs we see with dogs; today we know that cats often do suffer from arthritis, but simply exhibit fewer signs (or at least, fewer of the signs we have come to associate with pain). With cats, some indications that your friend is uncomfortable can include:

“ Reluctance, hesitance or refusal to jump up or down
Difficulty going up or down stairs
Difficulty using the litter tray
Not hunting or exploring the outdoor environment as frequently
Reduced interaction and playing less with people or other animals
Altered grooming
Reduced frequency of time spent grooming
Matted and scruffy coat
Sometimes overgrooming of painful joints
More irritable or grumpy when handled or stroked”2

Any combination of these behaviours, can indicate a range of illnesses and in the older cat, that includes arthritis. Make sure your vet is up to date regarding the prevalence in cats!
Osteoarthritis (OA) is becoming a more common diagnosis in kitties. Estimates are that about 20 percent of all adult cats and up to 65 percent of cats over the age of 12 have some degree of OA. The disease is progressive and most often occurs in the joints of the elbow and hip.”3

I can’t over emphasize the importance of having a proper diagnosis made by a veterinarian before attempting to treat with herbs and supplements. The presenting symptoms in dogs – lameness, stiffness, exercise intolerance – can also indicate a number of issues (cancer, Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism, cruciate injury, Lyme disease, lupus, bone infection/cysts, cognitive decline in older dogs) which require very different management and need immediate attention. The cat who suddenly seems reclusive, irritable, fails to wash herself and so on may be hyperthyroid, have cancer, or kidney disease (all very common conditions in older felines). Your vet should take an Xray as well as do a full blood panel, to rule out other causes. Many vets will simply treat older dogs with NSAIDs or corticosteroids, with the idea that there is little one can do aside from keep an older animal comfortable. Shawn Messonnier writes,

Many veterinarians, instead of performing diagnostic testing to determine both cause and severity of the problem, and instead of searching for the least harmful options, just try to make these pets more comfortable….while there is nothing wrong with making pets comfortable, assuming that geriatric pets with osteoarthritis are on their last legs is unreasonable.”4

In my own practise I have repeatedly seen cats and dogs who have been dismissed as “arthritic” when deeper evaluation revealed other, often serious illness. It’s impossible for any herbalist to compensate for medical mistakes, and in the veterinary world, dismissing older animals as arthritic, and immediately treating them with medications for pain (often, like the infamous Rimadyl, with potentially severe side effects) can be disastrous:
The potential side effects of veterinary NSAIDs are numerous; they can be severe, and even fatal; their development can be completely unpredictable; and most importantly, they can be irreversible.
For dogs whose systems tolerate an NSAID well, they can be wonderful. However, more than a few dogs, including healthy non-geriatrics, have succumbed to irreversible organ-system failure from sometimes no more than a few days’ worth of NSAID therapy. I have also heard of fatalities from perforating gastric ulcers, seizures and other “adverse events.” The FDA has documented thousands of such deaths, which by their own estimation represent a fraction of total cases.” 5
Clearly, the role for herbal medicine along with diet and supplementation is strong.

Causes A number of factors can contribute to the development of osteoarthritis in dogs and cats. The problems with cereal-based, pro-inflammatory diet and obesity notwithstanding, we can consider the following risk factors in both species.
First, simply the wear-and-tear associated with old age is a major cause of arthritic inflammation. Factors that can affect the dog’s likelihood of developing arthritis at an earlier age include; cruciate injury, obesity, congenital orthopedic abnormalities such as hip dysplasia, overnutrition-related joint deformities, bone injury.
Special considerations for cats need to start with their unique dietary requirements; as obligate carnivores, their nutritional requirements are different from that of the dog, who as a preferential carnivore, can survive and thrive on a wider variety of foods, including plant foods. While dry foods (kibble) are not ideal for dogs, they are even more problematic for cats and I consider the effects of a dry-food diet to be detrimental on many levels. Congenital abnormalities (yes, cats get hip dysplasia!) and injury are risk factors for them as well as dogs.

Traditional and Holistic Veterinary Management
Within conventional veterinarians, one theme has been consistent , and that is symptom-management. In older animals in particular, many conventional vets take the approach that “if it quacks like a duck”…and treat the stiff, limping, perhaps overweight older dog with NSAIDS or corticosteroids. Most holistic vets object, sometimes strenuously to this approach and stress the importance of correct diagnosis irrespective of age; once a clear diagnosis has been made, the holistic vet usually recommends a regimen that includes raw diet, marine lipids, a joint support supplement(chondroitin, glucosamine, MSM) and perhaps Chinese herbs in formula and/or acupuncture. Many animals are helped greatly by this type of therapy; while I have been critical of formulaic recommendations from holistic vets, this is one place where the natural approach, even if generic, is vastly superior, in my experience and opinion. One very sad side effect of the steroid/NSAID approach is the older dog who suddenly appears “like a puppy again” and thus begins to overuse his inflamed joints, causing an acceleration of the disease process. As my own veterinary mentor once said to me, working with my own dog who had both spondylosis ad early-onset arthritic inflammation in both knees – a little discomfort is not always a bad thing. While we aim of course to ease pain, eradication of all symptoms is a very ill-advised, short term”solution”. I work with many holistic vets who recommend some basic changes and I elaborate the herbal protocol and/or tweak the diet. Keeping the dog comfortable but not completely numb means we can better observe how the diet and herbs are working – and help the dog to slow down and not overdo exercise. There is a place for heavy-duty pain management but all too often, it’s the conventional veterinarian’s first and only response.
Role of Diet
The first and most obvious element of nutritional management is weight control. Obesity can be directly related to the development of arthritis, or it can exacerbate existing disease, but either way it is critical to keep your animal’s weight to a desirable amount. Dogs are prone to hypothyroidism, often undiagnosed by vets who are looking for dramatic symptoms before sending the bloodwork away for thorough, full-panel evaluation. Any overweight canine should have a full thyroid evaluation. Weight control can be challenging with many dogs (and some cats) but it is an essential aspect here.
Aside from avoiding obesity, there are several elements of nutrition that should be considered foundational to any natural strategy.
1) A Species-appropriate diet, by which I mean moderate carbs only for dogs and minimal intake for cats. Commercial food for dogs and cats run the gamut from excellent to really abominable, and it can be hard for the average owner to know what to trust. Home made diets are optimal only of they are prepared with the unique nutritional needs of a carnivore in mind. This is especially important with cats, who as obligate carnivores have very narrow and specific dietary requirements. High carb diets, gluten, overprocessed foods, high levels of Omega6 fatty acids and low Omega3, are all pro-inflammatory and contribute to a plethora of health issues. I firmly believe that good health begins with diet, and diet for carnivores, is not carb-heavy (unless an illness indicates lowfat, and higher carbs are used to raise calories).

2) If a home made diet is used, take steps to ensure it is both complete and balanced – this is not just a marketing phrase! If Number One refers to choosing the right level of macronutrients and foods that provide them, Number Two emphasizes the role of micronutrients – vitamins and minerals – in lifelong good health. I have analyzed thousands of home made diets over the years and consistently found low to seriously-deficient levels of multiple essential nutrients.
3) Growth diets play a key role, with the trend to home feeding we see an increase in joint abnormalities when growing dogs, especially large and giant breeds, are fed unbalanced diets during growth. Likewise, senior dogs may not absorb nutrients as efficiently as adults, and their diets can benefit from an overhaul, as well as the addition of digestive enzymes, which both support absorption of nutrient and help reduce inflammation.

4) Solanaceous veggies –while there is much disagreement about the capacity for plants from the Solanaceae family to aggravate inflammation, I personally take no chances. Dogs don’t require tomatoes, white potatoes, eggplant or peppers in the diet so I simply avid them. My feeling is, use sparingly with all dogs and not at all with arthritis. There is no need, ever, to feed these foods to a cat.

5) Lack of all plant foods in a home made (usually raw) diet: increasingly I see this worrisome trend of feeding only meat/poultry/eggs and bone to dogs, with some organ meat – not only are these diets most often deficient in multiple essential nutrients; without any vegetables or fruit, the dog or cat will not benefit from the multiple antioxidant and other health-supportive compounds these foods provide. I don’t rely on veggies and fruit for most nutrient requirements, but I strongly believe in adding them to a home made diet, moreso for dogs but also for the cat. Jean Dodds, DVM has written extensively about the important role of vegetables in a canine diet and I concur with her completely. Antioxidants in the diet help offset inflammation and slow the progress of osteoarthritis.



Herbs by Action – beyond Anti-inflammatories

Looking at herbal recommendations, we can start with our therapeutic goals for the whole animal, as opposed to the analgesic/anti-inflammatory focus of both conventional and many holistic vets. These goals should include:

– Pain relief
– Inflammation reduction
– Support production of synovial fluid/cartilage health
– Relax muscular tension
– Address systemic imbalances energetically and through use of alteratives
By far and away the most popular herb used commercially for arthritis in animals is Turmeric, Curcuma longa. Many vets advise a Curcumin extract, while people researching on their own seem to prefer “Golden Paste” – a heated mixture of whole powdered turmeric with coconut oil and black pepper. Popular joint formulas will often include turmeric, boswellia and Devil’s claw, and some will include yucca(less popular than it used to be) but the emphasis seems to be on reducing inflammation. While this is of course important, my feeling is we need to address the whole dog or cat via a variety of herbs with a range of actions. For me, the first step towards reducing inflammation is dietary (as detailed above) and then, a selection of herbal options along with alteratives, anti-spasmodics, relaxing nervines and cardiovascular support. Selection and dosing will as always depend on the individual case. Here are some herbs I rely on regularly with my arthritic clients.

Burdock (Arctium lappa) Chief amongst the alteratives I like to use with dogs and cats, is Burdock root. Burdock root is energetically cool, bitter with actions that include mildly laxative, anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, and anti-oxidant – it helps eliminate toxins that can adversely effect joint health. I like a decoction of about 25 mgs dried root simmered in 8-10 ounces water; the resulting decoction could be administered at anywhere from ¼ to ½ a cup per 20 lbs BW, in a divided dose 2-3 times a day. If loose stool occurs, roll the dose back to minimal. Burdock is of great value with arthritis – dogs and cats.

Why alteratives with arthritis? David Hoffman explains “Alteratives are herbs that gradually restore proper function to the body and increase overall health and vitality….In broad terms, alteratives seem to alter the body’s metabolic processes to improve tissues’ ability to deal with a wide range of body functions, from nutrition to elimination…alteratives can be safely used as supportive therapy in many diverse conditions, and should be considered first for cases of chronic inflammatory and degenerative diseases”. ” 6
My own alterative of choice for both cats and dogs with osteoarthritis is most often burdock.

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) I rely on stinging nettle with a variety of canine and feline issues, but with arthritis, I’ll say it falls into the “can’t hurt/might help” category. I use the dried herb in infusion added to the food, extremely well accepted by dogs and better-than-average acceptance by cats. You could think about 50 – 600 kgs dried leaf per kg, added directly to food, or try 25 grams steeped in 8 ounces hot water, and ten ¼ cup per 20 lbs BW. No contras other than urticaria, which is so rare in dogs I have never see a case in 2 decades – but should be understood as a theoretical possibility.

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) One of the first herbs I look to with older dogs in general, astragalus is popularly thought of as an immunonodulator, which of course it is – but is also a wonderful support for the entire animal, including heart, liver and kidney. Not what we think of as an alterative, astragalus nonetheless supports overall wellbeing, is well accepted in decoction (always a bonus) and helps strengthen overall function in older animals. I use 25-30 grams dried root in about 10 ounces water, decocted 20 – 30 minutes and then administered at ¼ to ½ cup per 20 lbs body weight. Cats and dogs both benefit from astragalus, especially older animals.

Devil’ s Claw (Harpogophytum procumbens) The very popular Devil’s Claw is included in multiple formulas for arthritic dogs; my own experience indicates it is best used at higher levels for dogs who are experiencing visible discomfort, but then we run into the risk of gastric distress. I always use it with food; and never with a history of upper GI issues (ulcers, gastritis) Devil’s Claw also should not be given to animals on medication for cardiovascular disease; although Susan Wynn states that “No reports of clinical drug interactions have been published at the time of this writing”7 the potential for interaction is of concern with older dogs who are often on medications for heart disease. I find Devil’s Claw very effective in concert with a full protocol and can often wean dogs off it or reduce the dose over time. My preference is decocted root, at about 20 – 25 grams per 8 ounces water; start with ¼ cup per 20 pounds BW, divided at least BID, and increase to as much as ½ cup (preferably TID and given with food).

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) The salicylates in Meadowsweet mean that this is not a herb for felines, but it’s a lovely, soothing alternative to Devil’s Claw for the dog who has stomach sensitivity and/or is not exhibiting as severe a level of pain. I try some in formula and if the pain relief needs to be increased, move up to Corydalis, which seems to provide a lot more kick for dogs (and is safe for cats as well).

Cayenne (Capsicum) Cayenne is a herb many people shy away from, viewing it as way too hot to be useful either externally or internally. In fact, used correctly, it’s amazingly helpful both ways. Cayenne is a rubefacient, stimulant, antimicrobial, hemostatic herb that helps stimulate blood flow, especially useful where peripheral circulation may be insufficient, and/or where pain is a problem – and externally, for the pain of arthritis. We need to remember the internal temperature of the dog and cat is already significantly higher than our own – 101 – 102.5 for the dog, a slightly wider range for the cat (99-102.5) Both species can overheat quite easily, so I use very warming herbs with caution., as an addition to a formula, not in high dose. Because of the likelihood that most will be licked off, I don’t often use cayenne topically as we might think of with a human, but I have added it to St.John’s wort oil and applied to an area that I knew was painful, along with an Elizabethan collar to ensure the oil and herbs do their job and don’t wind up in the stomach..
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) Without a doubt, the most popular herb right now for pets, turmeric does offer a wide range of actions that can be helpful for common canine and feline conditions. While the preferred method of preparation for humans use is 3% black pepper, and taken with a fat of some kind (the ever popular coconut oil, usually), dogs and cats, whose stomach ph is somewhat more acidic than that of a human, may find this preparation nauseating. Curcumin extract is often recommended by vets. Because I prefer the whole powdered herb to the extract, I like to try some whole turmeric with black pepper first – often balanced with the cooling effect of burdock, a little oil or butter, and given with food – to see how the animal responds. It can be impossible to coax cats into accepting food with turmeric, in these cases I consider a curcumin extract the next best thing. I usually use anywhere from 50 mgs for a small dog up to 250 for a large breed, and 50 – 100 for cats. Contraindications include hyperacidity (stomach) and clotting disorders.

Ginger (Zingiber officinalis) As with cayenne, I use ginger with restraint, despite its potential to help relieve inflammation. I like to add ginger in a mixture of dried and fresh, most often as a diffusive added to formula, so a smallish amount is ample. With any formula designed to reduce inflammation, relieve muscle tension and pain, ad support cartilage health, you could think about ¼ part dried ginger added as a diffusive Large amounts can be unsettling to the canine and feline stomach. I so use ginger in liniment and oil-based rubs for sore muscles and joint pain, but be prudent. Excessive use can lead to panting in the dog, and you may have a very hard time getting your cat to accept it. An adjunct, not a main herb to rely on for both species.
Prickly Ash (Zanthophyllum americanum) I use Prickly ash much as I do ginger, as a warming circulatory stimulant where this action is indicated (cold constitutions, older dogs, advanced cases where exercise needs to be limited, accompanying heart disease). Prickly ash is anti-inflammatory as well as effective at bringing blood flow to the extremities, I use just a smallish amount in formula, around a total of ½ ml per 20 pounds or less. Alcohol tincture or glycerite (often, a mixture of both).

Ginkgo biloba – perhaps best known as a cognitive enhancer, Ginkgo is a great anti-inflammatory as well as promoting peripheral blood flow (and this helping with cognition in humans and canines alike). Especially useful for the geriatric animal who is exhibiting signs of cognitive decline. I use a standardized extract with a range from 25 mgs BID for cats and small dogs, up to 250 for larger breeds. A potent anti-coagulant, don’t use Ginkgo with Von Willebrands’ disease or any clotting disorder.

Boswellia (Boswellia serrata) Boswellia was very popular about ten years ago, before the craze for turmeric set in and more or less replaced it in the public eye. I find boswellia to be a superb anti –inflammatory for many conditions, including arthritis, although it can be hard on the stomach, the dogs I have seen react to it were already very sensitive(gastritis, for example, and I would not even use boswellia with a case like that today). For the dog with a healthy digestive system boswellia may be an important addition to the protocol. I use tableted form to minimize all the tinctures and infusions going into the animal, and offset potential for stomach distress. I also start at a lower dose and work up to my goal – usually 10 mgs per pound. I find that dividing the dose into 2 or 3 sections per day helps offset tummy issues.

Yucca Schidigera – Yucca has fallen from favour a little as an anti-arthritic therapy; while it’s steroidal saponin content make it theoretically useful for arthritis, I (and many colleagues) have seen significant nausea and other uppr GI distress, at therapeutic doses. Greg Tilford writes,

“ If used in large dosages or over an extended period of time, yucca may become irritating to the stomach lining, which may cause vomiting. This problem can be especially dangerous in horses…who are unable to vomit(instead, they bloat)” 8

Yucca reduces stool odour when added to food so it is still a feature in many “holistic” dog foods; it is unlikely to offer therapeutic value at those levels so dried herb should be considered it is worth mentioning here as a possibility, but start small and work up to a full dose, which is about ¼ tsp daily of the powdered herb in food for cats, and 25 – 250 mgs per kg PW, for dogs. Personally, I don’t use yucca in any large, bloat-prone dog, at all.

Corydalis Corydalis is my own favorite “go-to”herb for both cats and dogs with pain, especially when Devil’s Claw is ruled out by either GI distress or cardiac medications. I’ve found that you can use a higher dose than the general parameters indicate if needed, but as noted in by herbalist/DVM Susan Wynn, at higher doses “sedation may occur”. How much to use is, as with the other herbs on this list, suggested by the severity of the pain, what else is in use, and the animal’s acceptance, but you might think about starting with
Either 1 ml alcohol-based tincture per 20 lbs, or an infusion of 10 grams chopped root per 8 ounces water,, divided over the day 2- 3 times, about, anywhere from ¼ to ½ cup per 20 pounds BW.

Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum) Solomon’s Seal is hand’s down, the most underutilized herb for canine and feline arthritis – I wish it were better known. If I had to pick one herb to promote, this would definitely be it. Michigan herbalist Jim McDonald writes “ I don’t think there’s a single other plant I use that so reliably produces such story-worthy results, and as there is far too little information clearly elaborating on Solomon’s Seal’s remarkable virtues…”9

He’s referring there to uses for humans (and goes on to cite a number of great examples of Solomon’s Seal’s many virtues) – I completely concur, this is so similar to what I find in practise with animals. Jim’s article is worth quoting further:

“Without doubt, Solomon‘s Seal is the most useful remedy I know of for treating injuries to the musculoskeletal system. I’ve used it to treat broken bones, sprains, injured tendons and ligaments, tendonitis, arthritis, dryness in joints and “slipped”/herniated discs (including mine – that sure did hurt…). Solomon’s Seal has the remarkable ability to restore the proper tension to ligaments, regardless of whether they need to be tightened or loosened. This makes it a valuable remedy for sports & activity related injuries, used either before resorting to or along with conventional surgical procedures.”10
Safe for both dogs and cats, Solomon’s Seal is energetically sweet, cool and moist. I use small doses to start and increase as indicated; the infusion is very well accepted by cats, so we might think about an infusion of say 2 tsps in a cup of warm water (not boiling) steeped for 30 – 60 minutes, and then 1/8 cup over the day for a cat or toy dog, ¼ cup for small dog, ½ cup medium to large and the full cup for a giant breed dog. I also use in tincture, but prefer the infusion where possible.

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp) Hawthorn is included here especially as an adjunct therapy for the older dog who may need to lose weight, or has been re-introduced to an exercise programme after his arthritis caused a sedentary period. With both heart disease and arthritis, the right amount of exercise is key – not too much and definitely not too little. In any case, cardiovascular support may be indicated – all the more so if the dog is a purebred or partial mix of the most heart-disease prone breeds: Dobermans, English Cockers, Labrador Retrievers, for example. Most of the senior dogs I work with end up on hawthorn; the only contraindication is, like Devil’s Claw, cardiovascular medications, in which case the use of any herb should be discussed with your veterinarian.

Relaxing nervines – Chamomile, Crampbark, California Poppy and Kava Kava in particular – should be considered for the dog who needs help sleeping, or whose tendency to be tense or hyperactive in general is exacerbating arthritic pain. I tend not to recommend St.John’s wort internally as so many medications commonly used for older dogs (with cancer, cognitive dysfunction) may contraindicate it’s use, so it’s more of a topical treatment in my work.
A few possible formulas
Because I like to give turmeric separately, these formulas are turmeric free. In the absence of any contraindications, such as von Willebrands or other clotting disorder, I generally use fish oils, VitaminE, Glucosamine/chondroitin, and turmeric as a generic, foundational protocol that will benefit most dogs and cats. Then I develop herbal formulas depending on the particulars, so these are just a couple of typical formulations. An anxious dog might need more relaxing nervine, or an adaptogen; an active dog, a little less analgesic (they need to know their limitations so erasing pain entirely may be counterproductive) a sedentary dog, more circulatory stimulation, and so on. As always I will use alcohol tincture short term with dogs, or low alcohol for longer term usage – I also like simple decoction/infusion or powdered herb rolled into electuaries, but these can be more challenging for the owner who is used to herbs in pills or bottles and uncertain about the DIY aspect. With cats, I generally recommend glycerite. I make a wide variety of glycerites for cats – which may not be as potent in terms of extracted constituents but is vastly better accepted by felines, so I feel the weaker preparation is way better than none at all. Pilling cats is an ordeal for all concerned, as opposed to dogs – so it is always a method of last resort in my work.
Formula One
(Where there is overt pain, limping, symptoms of advanced lesions)

Solomon’s Seal – 5 parts
Corydalis – 2 parts
Boswellia– 2 parts
California poppy – one half part
And ¼ part Prickly ash.

For this one I use alcohol tincture for the Solomon’s Seal and then glycerites or low alcohol preparation for the rest. 1 ml per 20 lbs BW, BID (to start).

Formula Two –Geriatric with mild symptoms, worse at night, possible CCD (Canine cognitive dysfunction):
One part each Chamomile and Meadowsweet, ½ each Ginkgo, Nettle and Linden. 1 ml per 20 lbs BW, TID, make sure one is 30 minutes before bed. I give this one on a biscuit, which can also help with sleep. If you need more relaxation, add a little California Poppy, but be wary of inducing a too-deep sleep. I once used a little more C.Poppy than necessary with my own dog who slept very well but woke up incredibly stuff and sore. I’m cautious with anything too sedating for older dogs who have significant arthritis. Pain relief, not sedation, is the main goal here.
Formula Three – Feline
With cats I have often used this formula to good effect, especially suited to the older cat with marked discomfort.
Use the Solomon’s Seal in alcohol tincture and the others, glycerite.

3 parts Solomon’s Seal
2 parts Devil’s Claw
1 part Kava
¼ part prickly ash


Formula Four- Preventive

For me prevention starts with diet, weight control, reasonable exercise, and then some joint support and fish oils. At around 8 for a large breed dog, 10 for a smaller one or a cat, I might think about adding fresh herbs and/or glycerite or infusion into the food. A ¼ tsp of turmeric past for a cat, ½ tsp for a small dog, a full tsp for a larger individual and up to 2 tsps for a giant breed might be a nice preventive dose. Astragalus infusion or glycerite works well with this, and I often will add something like the following to my own dogs’ meals.

5 parts burdock root
3 parts Dandelion leaf rotated with stinging nettle
2 parts Hawthorn leaf and flower
1 part rotated ginger, cayenne and prickly ash

Simmer 2 tsps of this blend in hot water for 15 minutes or infuse for a few hours. Strain and use liberally… 1/8 cup divided BID for a small dog, 14 cup for a medium, ½ cup for a large or giant breed.
Topical Applications
Something I am asked about all the time is what can be used topically to ease pain and stiffness? Is heat better than cold, what about a salve/muscle rub or liniment? The short answer is, salves and ointments can be great, but we are also dealing with (often very thick or long) fur, as well as the tendency of the animal to lick the afflicted area, so I lean towards compresses that I apply, then sit down with the dog or cat and watch a movie or read a book, while it does its work. I have also used various conifer resins infused into oil, alone or mixed with St.John’s wort oil and a little cayenne, with outstanding results – on dogs. Cats are much harder to keep still and I lean to compresses for them, if tolerated – which in my personal experience, they usually aren’t. The cardinal rule is, keep them from licking, and be prepared for some mess.  I don’t support the use of essential oils on animals at all, but a nice infused oil can be very helpful – don’t forget the towels.

Other types of treatment
Supplements for arthritis in pets abound, and chief among these is the “joint formula” based on GAGs, usually glucosamine, chondroitin, sometimes with MSM and HA (hyaluronic acid). I like to start with one of these formulas, making sure the owner uses a loading dose of about twice what we might use longterm for an 8 week period. Best results seem to occur when the owner also adds marine lipids (a good quality fish oil and some supplemental VitaminE) and adjusts the diet as indicated. I often include a source of GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) either evening primrose or borage oil, at a dose of about 1000 mgs per 20 lbs BW.(Note that evening primrose and borage oil should be avoided with seizure disorders in dogs and cats). Turmeric and enzymes might come next, and then the personalized herbal protocol. Sometimes we see great relief from arthritis with just these measures. In severe cases, many holistic vets will recommend the use of acupuncture, chiropracty, physiotherapy (which the owner can learn to do at home and can me extremely helpful) the newer technique of cold laser, which many swear by, and Adequan injections. Class IV therapeutic laser is a newer form of treatment that stimulates blood flow to tissues and can greatly improve arthritic pain. It’s been my experience with both clients and my own animals that the whole package – diet, herbs and supplements, and potentially other treatments, always needs to be tailored to the whole animal, and sometimes quite simple measures are more than adequate.

A word about Comfort
It might seem obvious, but an arthritic dog or cat will often experience difficulty climbing onto a chair or sofa or bed they are used to sleeping on; a special bed on the floor or for a cat, a basket in a corner where they feel safe and secluded is so important. Special orthopedic beds can be costly, and while they are indeed nice to have, if cost is prohibitive, any well padded doggie bed will do just fine. Exercise should be limited to sorter and more frequent walks – never over exercise an arthritic dog. Conversely, your cat may not want to play or move around, and a little bit can be so important – even a short play session daily can help with circulatory issues and of course, mood. Animals with pain who are not able to engage in their most loved activities can easily become depressed. I feel it’s essential to replace some of those activities with play time or other interactive sessions, one of which might be the daily physiotherapy you can learn from a session or two with a professional.

A Last word – Prevention

As with many conditions, there really is nothing better than prevention – and there is much we can do to ensure slow, minimal development of arthritis – or none at all! Weight management, optimized nutrition, regular, but not excessive exercise (for your cat, too!) along with herbs and supplements provide solid support for companion animals. Awareness of various risk factors and regular veterinary assessment with a vet who appreciates the importance of prevention and accurate diagnosis, will go a long way to easing your friend’s transition into old age with less stress, limitation and discomfort.



The Arthritis Solution for Dogs, Shawn Messonnier, DVM
Veterinary Herbal Medicine, Susan Wynn DVM and Barbara Fougeres DVM
All You Ever Wanted to Know About Herbs for Pets, Greg Tilford and Mary Wulff-Tilford
Medical Herbalism, David Hoffman
Nutrigenomics, Jean Dodds DVM

1) Shawn Messonnier
2) Web article from International Cat care

3) Karen Becker, DVM, article for
4) Shawn Messonnier,
5) Kathy Davieds, DVM, article on arthritis for The Bark magazine
6) David Hoffman, Medical Herbalism
7) Susan Wynn and Barbara Fougeres, Veterinary Herbal Medicine
8) Greg Tilford, Herbs for Pets
9) Jim McDonald’s article on hsi site
10) Ibid.