ARTHRITIS - No Small Problem for Small Animals

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is defined as the inflammation of joints due to infectious, metabolic, or constitutional causes. Rheumatism, a term often used interchangeably with arthritis, involves inflammation and pain in connective tissue, muscles, and tendons, not just the joint. Arthritis, which is common in dogs but less common in cats, is seen in dislocations and joint degeneration, and in hip dysplasia (a malformation of the hip sockets allowing excess movement in the joints, causing calcium deposits, chronic inflammation, and deterioration). Arthritis produces a variety of symptoms, sometimes locally, and sometimes more generally. The signs of arthritis include lameness, swelling and heat, pain from touch and movement, deformities, and fluid build-up. Among the most commonly cited causes of arthritis are poor breeding practices (genetics), inadequate nutrition, and overall chronic disease conditions (including over-vaccination).


Prevention is possible, and strongly advised. Nutrition is an essential factor in maintaining health, and preventing and treating disease. Proper nutrition can boost the immunity; it strengthens the body's natural resistance to disease.

According to Dr. Richard Pitcairn, DVM, PhD, founder of the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy, and co-author of the well-known book The Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, "Diet is very important, as it is for any other problem. People just don't realize how bad the commercial foods are. Commercial rations, canned and dry, really contain a lot of garbage."

Dr. Pitcairn explains, "Commercial pet food is highly processed, and is prepared using heat and steam pressure, reaching higher temperatures than ordinary cooking would do, and this inactivates many of the nutrients. Also, pet food contains what can't be used in people food." What is not fit for human consumption, such as medicated, euthanized, or diseased animals, ends up in pet food, along with other ingredients that are not healthy.

Why not prepare meals for your animal as well as for yourself? Easy recipes are available for making fresh pet food. (See SIDE BAR.) "People buy much better food for themselves than they do for their pets. Fresh is best," says Dr. Pitcairn, "but avoid meats and foods that may contain antibiotics and hormones"

During an animal's pregnancy, nutrition is especially important. Feeding the mother a natural, complete diet is critical during her pregnancy. Early pregnancy is the most crucial time for the proper development of the bones and tissues. Include fresh, pure meat, eggs, raw vegetables such as shredded carrots, celery, and beets, and other nutrients in the diet.

Also, it is not recommended to vaccinate the mother during pregnancy. Why? Dr. Pitcairn explains, "It is a critical time for the developing young and anything can cause a permanent problem. Some vaccinations have been known to cause problems, so it is not a good idea to take that risk; it is a hard thing to track, and it is hard to connect the cause and effect. It's best to be cautious, and not vaccinate." When asked if arthritis is an immune system problem, Dr. Pitcairn replied, "I think it is. When there is a lot of inflammation which is not due to injury, it falls under the category of a chronic condition."

According to Dr. Pitcairn, all breeds of dogs are equally susceptible to arthritis. "Larger dogs, who bear more weight, make it more noticeable, such as when they get up off the floor. Chihuahuas and other small dogs may be somewhat stiff, which is not quite as noticeable, or they may just choose not to jump up on the couch if they hurt, and the arthritic condition goes unnoticed. German Shepherds," he adds, "have a lot of hip dysplasia, a type of arthritis, and that's possibly from breeding practices."

Treatment options

"First and foremost is the nutritional support. That will do the most," says Dr. Pitcairn. "Health can be dramatically improved through diet." It is essential to provide optimum nutrition by feeding a wholesome, natural, balanced diet. Nutritionally supplementing with ample vitamins such as C, A (or cod liver oil), E (or wheat germ oil), and D is very beneficial. Exercise is also beneficial, as much as can be tolerated, depending on the individual.

Is fasting or an herbal cleansing helpful for an arthritic animal? Dr. Pitcairn says, "I sometimes recommend fasting with acute problems, but I don't normally recommend fasting with chronic problems. One time, though, that it might be helpful in a chronic situation is when there are food allergies involved." Acute refers to a condition of more rapid onset and relatively shorter duration, such as a bone injury; chronic refers to a condition of long-standing disease which appears to have become permanent.

Which complementary therapy seems most helpful when treating arthritis? Dr. Pitcairn says, "In my practice, I use homeopathy, which is a complete system of treatment." Homeopathic remedies are chosen to fit the individual, by matching the remedy picture to the symptoms. "Homeopathy and proper nutrition usually cover it," he says. "Some other treatments may be helpful, too, such as herbs and chiropractic."


The diet can be supplemented with nutritional and medicinal herbal preparations such as alfalfa and kelp, which contain an abundance of minerals, and garlic, which aids in cleansing the system. Add blended or ground alfalfa in amounts according to the size of the animal. Garlic can be freshly grated and added to each meal. Dr. Pitcairn recommends from 1 teaspoon to 3 tablespoons of alfalfa, or 2 to 6 alfalfa tablets, per day according to size. Garlic can be added, ½ to 3 cloves per meal, again according to size. Verify these amounts with your veterinarian to suit each pet's needs.


Homeopathy is helpful in strengthening the system and eliminating the underlying imbalances (that allowed the condition to appear in the first place) and perhaps in reversing the condition to some extent. Homeopathic treatment is constitutional, and its success relies on working with a qualified homeopathic veterinarian and on choosing a remedy appropriate to the individual.

To choose the correct homeopathic remedy, watch for the symptoms. Is the animal worse or better for movement, heat, or cold? What is the temperament of the animal? Is the condition painful, or just annoying to the animal? Is the condition the result of an injury or illness? Is the condition acute or chronic? What is the appearance of the affected areas? Does the weather affect the condition? (See SIDE BAR.) Observing these things will help your homeopathic veterinarian select the most appropriate remedy.

Massage and aromatherapy

Massaging with essential oils can be soothing and beneficial to the arthritis sufferer. Check with your veterinarian for the proper use and mixing ratios, for best results. Though it will not treat the underlying problem, it will provide temporary relief. It can be very beneficial to treat the affected areas by massaging, as tolerated, twice daily for three or four days with oil of St. John's wort as the carrier mixed with the essential oils of juniper, marjoram, pine, and rosemary. Lavender and German chamomile can also be helpful.

Warming oils like ginger and black pepper are not suitable for inflammatory conditions, but are excellent for chronic problems, or where arthritis has set in at the site of old injuries, and in older animals. Just keep in mind that your pet may lick any leftover oils and the hotter ones (spice-wise) may be unpleasant for them to taste. The mucous membranes of the eyes, mouth and elsewhere would also be irritated badly by such an oil, so if you use anything similar on your pet, prevent them from licking it and be sure to avoid getting it near any such places. Wash your own hands immediately after applying them as well.

Acupuncture and acupressure

Many arthritic conditions can be helped with acupuncture and acupressure. Stimulating acu-points induces the release of natural corticosteroids and endorphins within the body to reduce pain and relieve inflammation. Consult a professional, however, in the case of pregnant animals.

Your acupuncturist may recommend points to which you can apply acupressure techniques at home. Specific meridians will be involved, and the correct place to apply acupressure depends on where, and under what conditions, the animal is affected by the arthritis.

The Conception Vessel and Governing Vessel are helpful, and working with them will have an effect on all the meridians. In general, it is also beneficial to treat arthritic conditions by working on meridians such as the Large Intestine (points LI10, LI11), Bladder (BL11), Triple Heater (TH5), Stomach (ST36) and Spleen (SP6), as well as points CV6 and GV14.

Massaging acu-points can relieve the soreness and reduce inflammation, or stimulate circulation, to allow healing to take place.

Arthritis is no small problem for small animals. Their comfort is in our hands. It's nice to know that the body, when supported appropriately with nutrition and holistic care, is capable of helping itself.

The treatments mentioned in this article are not intended to be a substitute for veterinary or other professional care. Always consult with your veterinarian.

Natural Horse Magazine thanks Dr. Richard Pitcairn for his help in preparing this article.

See Book Bits for more information regarding Dr. Pitcairn's popular book, The Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats. It is a text that should be in every animal's home!

Arthritis is a chronic condition that requires the guidance of a veterinary homeopath when treating homeopathically. The following list is for informational purposes only, to assist the owner in the skills of observation. The general homeopathic remedies listed below may be indicated for arthritis if it is accompanied by the physical symptoms shown:

  • Rhus toxicodendron - symptoms are better with exercise, better from warmth; worse after resting; worse after much exercise; worse in cold, damp weather
  • Bryonia - worse for movement and warmth; animal often lies on the affected side; joints swollen and painful
  • Causticum - worse from dry cold, better from damp warmth, severe pain, extreme weakness of muscles, unsteady legs
  • Colchicum - worse for movement and in warm weather, worse at night, edema (watery swelling) of legs, swelling of joints and joint deformities
  • Dulcamara - symptoms worse in the fall from changeable weather (spring, too), worse at night, better from movement
  • Calcarea phosphorica - for young animals with joint pain, pregnant animals with joint problems
  • Calcarea fluorica - bony growths and tumors, enlargement of joints, connective tissue inflammation and lesions
  • Caulophyllum - affections of the small joints and the neck
  • Hekla lava - if bony growths are involved
  • Ruta grav - worse after rest; damage to fibrous and connective tissue, periosteum, tendons and ligaments; sprains, dislocations, arthritis of the vertebrae (spondylitis)
  • Silicea - chronic and hereditary joint problems, joint deformities and deterioration, abscesses, joint pain and stiffness
  • Apis - swollen, puffy joints, worse for heat, touch, and pressure; better for cold; edema with shiny skin


Adapted from DR. PITCAIRN'S COMPLETE GUIDE TO NATURAL HEALTH FOR DOGS & CATS ©1995 by Richard H. Pitcairn and Susan H. Pitcairn. Available in your local bookstore, or you can call (800)848-4735.

Quick Canine Oats and Eggs

1 cup raw rolled oats (or 2 cups cooked oatmeal)

3 eggs

1 teaspoon bonemeal (or 600-700 milligrams calcium, or 1/3 teaspoon eggshell powder)

Healthy Powder or nutritional yeast

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add the oats, cover and turn off the heat, letting the oats cook in the hot water for about 10 minutes, or until soft (use extra oatmeal from your own breakfast or else make some up). Then stir in the eggs and bonemeal. Let the eggs set slightly from the heat, then cool for a few minutes before serving. You may mix in a little Healthy Powder or nutritional yeast if you wish.

Yield: About 2 ¾ cups, with 205 kilocalories per cup.

Daily ration: Makes one meal or a half-day's ration for a medium sized dog. Double the recipe to make breakfast for a giant-sized dog.

Grain substitutes: Instead of oats, you may use ½ cup bulgur (+1 cup water = 1 ¼ cups cooked).

Quick Feline Eggfest

Dr. Pitcairn describes this as the simplest he knows and a very natural food for small predator types of cats, being high in protein, vitamin A and iron as well as B vitamins.

2 eggs

1/3 teaspoon bonemeal (or 250 milligrams calcium or 1/8 teaspoon eggshell powder

¾ teaspoon nutritional yeast

Use a fork to mix the egg yolks and whites, stirring in the bonemeal at the same time. Sprinkle the yeast on top and serve raw. Or, if you prefer, you may scramble this egg mix lightly.

Yield: One meal, or about half a day's rations for a 10-pound cat (or dog), with about 170 kilocalories. A smaller cat might eat just one egg at a meal.

Healthy Powder

This supplement is a rich mixture of nutrients which Dr. Pitcairn has developed and which he suggests for use in nearly all of his recipes. The ingredients are available at most natural food stores.

2 cups nutritional (torula) yeast

1 cup lecithin granules

¼ cup kelp powder

¼ cup bonemeal (or 9,000 milligrams calcium or 5 teaspoons eggshell powder)

Optional: 1000 milligrams vitamin C (ground) or ¼ teaspoon sodium ascorbate

Mix all ingredients together in a 1-quart container and refrigerate.

May also be added to commercial food as follows: 1 to 2 teaspoons per day for cats or small dogs; 2 to 3 teaspoons per day for medium-sized dogs; 1 to 2 tablespoons per day for large dogs.