Inflammation often seems like a bad thing. But it’s actually an important part of healing.
There are times, however, that inflammation becomes a problem for people and pets.
“Inflammation is an essential part of the body’s healing process. When the immune system is activated, inflammatory cells are sent out to attack bacteria, viruses or heal damaged tissue,” said New York-based veterinarian Dr. Deirdre Chiaramonte, who is certified in canine and equine rehabilitation and acupuncture. “But sometimes the body sends out inflammatory cells when there isn’t any bacteria, virus or injury, and actually triggers inflammation (i.e. diseases like arthritis). In this situation, the immune system actually acts as if healthy tissue is infected or injured and itself causes damage.”
Inflammation can present itself in different ways and conditions. Chiaramonte said that when it’s rapid and short-lived, it’s called acute inflammation and goes away in hours to days. Long-lasting inflammation, or chronic inflammation, can last for months to years — even after the first trigger is long gone, she said.
“Acute and chronic inflammation can cause a multitude of issues in companion animals,” said Chiaramonte.
On the musculoskeletal level, there can be cruciate injuries and osteoarthritis. Dermatological conditions associated with inflammation include allergic skin disease and ear infection. Respiratory issues include asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Gastrointestinal problems include pancreatitis and inflammatory bowel disease. There are ophthalmological conditions like conjunctivitis and neurological illnesses like meningitis and cognitive dysfunction. Those are just to name a few.
“And sadly, obesity is a state of chronic inflammation and negatively affects all of the above,” said Chiaramonte.
She said that when inflammation occurs, white blood cells are stimulated to protect tissues from damage.
“This increases circulation to the area of injury or infection,” she said. “It causes warmth and redness and some chemicals cause fluid to leak into tissues, resulting in swelling. This is a protective process but often causes irritation and pain in any body system. For example, if this occurs in a joint, it leads to swelling of the joint lining and causes a loss of cartilage over time.”
Swelling is a common sign of inflammation.
“But it really depends on the organ system that is inflamed,” she said. “For example, if a dog’s pancreas is inflamed, the dog may experience anorexia and vomiting. If the dog’s stifle is inflamed, then it will most likely be limping on that leg.”
But there are some things pet owners can do to help ease inflammation in their dogs.
“If a pet is overweight, the first step is a trip to the veterinarian to discuss a safe weight-loss strategy,” she said. “Fat is very inflammatory, so weight loss is an often overlooked but very important goal. Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and then incorporating integrative medicine devices such as laser therapy, PEMF and others can be used to combat inflammation.”
Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy, or PEMF, has been around for decades and is used to help combat inflammation by enhancing nitric oxide, the body's own anti-inflammatory molecule, she said.
“In studies, PEMF has been shown to decrease inflammation, edema and improve wound healing and pain control,” she said. “PEMF can be used on almost every organ system with an inflammatory condition —anything that ends with an -itis. It can also be used in conjunction with other anti-inflammatory medical devices and pain medications.”
Chiaramonte recommends a multi-modality approach to help combat inflammation in pets.
“Combining rehabilitation modalities such as laser, shockwave therapy, therapeutic ultrasound with integrative manual therapies, such as gentle range-of-motion exercises and massage, are common ways to combat inflammation using a multi-modality approach,” she said. “Usually a multi-modal approach using anti-inflammatory devices, manual therapies and maintaining your pet at a perfect body condition score is best to combat inflammation and improve overall health.”