Is Spot Stiff?
How Chinese Herbs Can Help with Your Pet's Arthritis Pain
by Jean Scherwenka
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Lily was trained for agility work. "She was my performance pooch, and she also herded my sheep," says certified pet dog trainer Jan Blue, "so she did a lot of fast stopping and starting." When she was less than seven years old, the Australian shepherd started limping occasionally. Jan gave her oral MSM and glucosamine, along with liquid glucosamine injections, but the limp continued. The vet diagnosed arthritis in Lily's front limbs, curtailed her activities, and prescribed a Chinese herbal formula. Soon after starting the herbs, Lily stopped limping. Today, Lily takes her herbs and glucosamine every day. Though more than ten years old, she's still catching Frisbees and balls and working the sheep.
If you love an animal that suffers from arthritis, you've got lots of company. "I would say 60-70% of the dogs in my practice have arthritis of some form," says holistic veterinarian and Herbsmith Inc. founder Chris Bessent, DVM, who also uses Chinese herbs for these patients.
The principles of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) focus on resolving the root of an animal's problem, which then naturally relieves the symptoms. In addition to seeing the same symptoms recognized by Western medicine, TCVM sees arthritis or joint pain as a local obstruction in the flow of Qi (chi), the life energy that circulates throughout the body. When there's an obstruction of Qi flow through a joint, pain occurs.
The life energy or Qi moves along meridians or pathways in the body, similar to power lines. These meridians form a network for Qi to travel along and direct blood and other bodily fluids that maintain the animal's life. A cat or dog has 12 meridians on each side of his body, with a liver meridian on the left and one on the right, both traveling up the insides of his hind legs and connecting deeply with the liver itself.
The animal may experience an obstruction of Qi due to injury, overuse, or a genetic pre-disposition. This Qi stasis or blockage will always cause a health problem, and when the blockage is at a joint, the problem is arthritis. "A joint is the hinge-like meeting place between two bones that provides a smooth and lubricated surface for rotating or moving sideways, up or down," writes holistic vet Dr. Cheryl Schwartz in her book Four Paws Five Directions. "Joints include bone, cartilage, ligaments and sometimes tendons."
The two bone endings come together in a joint capsule filled with joint fluid. Ideally, the joint fluid is thick and viscous, on the order of karo syrup, and provides a nice cushion between the bones to prevent them from touching. The cartilage of the bone endings is filled with nerve fibers, so if those bones do touch, there is pain. When you see Spot run, he's pushing off on his hind leg, and that pushing tends to bring those two bone endings in his joint capsule closer together.
A joint inflamed with arthritis (where an obstruction of Qi has occurred), releases enzymes that decrease the thickness and viscosity of the joint fluid. Spot's thin and watery joint fluid can no longer provide that great protective cushion, so his bone endings may touch and rub and cause pain along with joint deterioration.
How it develops can determine when it shows up. If it's a genetic issue, arthritis could show up as early as two or three years of age. If arthritis develops from an unresolved trauma, it would depend on when the animal suffered the injury. Dogs who lead really active lifestyles (such as herding, obedience, agility, sled or hunting dogs) will probably show signs by the time they're seven, eight or nine.
Chinese herbal formulas can relieve the symptoms of arthritis recognized by Western medicine, while also getting to the root of the problem from the Chinese perspective.
Western herbs are usually used singly, but Chinese herbs are always used in combination, where several herbs work in synergy with one another. Each individual herb is not as strong as the sum of the parts, but together they can resolve problems without any negative side effects.
If you're considering Chinese herbs for your companion, consult a veterinarian trained in Chinese medicine. Choose formulas containing only pure botanicals. When buying herbal products for your pet, select those made specifically for animals. Human formulas will work, but animal formulas work even better.
Dr. Chris Bessent is a practicing holistic veterinarian in Wisconsin. She is also the founder of Herbsmith Inc., a company that produces Chinese herbal blends for pets, including the formula given to the dog mentioned in this article: Herbsmith Soothe Joints. For more information call 800-624-6429 or visit www.herbsmithinc.com
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