Pet column: Chronic inflammation can harm pets’ health
Integrative Pet Vet
Inflammation is a process that is critical for good health, but too much inflammation can cause damage.
Our understanding of inflammation has grown significantly since the ancient physicians described it as redness, swelling, heat, pain and loss of function. We now know that these ancient observations are the result of a complex sequence of cell and chemical reactions that leads to increased blood flow to the affected area (redness and heat), increased leakage of fluid and cells from blood vessels (swelling), tissue damage from the initial insult or from the inflammatory response (pain) and reduced mobility from swelling or loss of cells to injury (loss of function).
The ancient physicians saw inflammation as a beneficial part of the healing process. In contrast, during the last century, many viewed inflammation as an undesirable process that had damaging effects. Modern understanding of inflammation now recognizes that inflammation has both good and bad aspects.
The good aspect of inflammation is that it is an essential part of the body’s normal defense and repair processes. Inflammation is triggered whenever tissues are damaged. Damage can be caused by insults like trauma or infections.
Since the majority of the defense cells and defense chemicals are found in the bloodstream, an important sequence of events is initiated when injury occurs. These events allow the blood vessels to dilate and become leaky so that defensive cells and substances begin to arrive at the site of injury quickly. The focus of this process is to limit the spread of damaging organisms, dispose of dead and damaged cells, eliminate any bacteria that are present, and facilitate tissue repair and restoration of function.
Without the inflammation, the immune system would not be able to respond properly and the body would not be able to effectively heal after injury. From this perspective, inflammation is clearly essential for health.
The beneficial events of inflammation occur rapidly following an injury, and once the problem is resolved, the process of inflammation should stop. When it becomes an ongoing or chronic process, the bad aspects of inflammation can occur.
In some conditions, the process of inflammation does not resolve and can become a long-term or even a lifelong problem. Examples of problems where chronic inflammation can play a role include inflammatory bowel disease, osteoarthritis, heart disease, kidney disease, cranial crucial ligament injury and cancer.
In some situations the injury or infection is ongoing, preventing resolution of the inflammation. For example, a disrupted intestinal microbiome (see last month’s probiotic article), can lead to a chronic inflammatory condition in the intestinal wall leading to inflammatory bowel disease. In other situations, the processes that turn off the inflammation fail to effectively stop the inflammatory process. For example, poor adrenal gland function can contribute to low cortisol production and ineffective dampening of the inflammation. Deficiency of certain nutrients including vitamin D can also result in inadequate control of inflammation.
Clearly, addressing the source of the inflammation is critical for effective control. This could involve the use of antibiotics for a bacterial infection if an infection was the source of inflammation. Unfortunately it is not always possible to identify the source of inflammation, making it essential to support the normal processes that help to control the inflammatory process. Important areas of the body to support include the intestinal tract, intestinal microbiome, adrenal glands and liver. Each of these areas of the body has a direct or indirect influence on the inflammatory process. Nutrients of importance include vitamins A, C, and D, glutamine, and n3 fatty acids like fish oil.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like carprofen (Rimadyl) are commonly used for osteoarthritis in the dog. They are anti-inflammatory and help reduce pain. Steroid drugs like prednisone are also commonly used to control inflammatory conditions. Numerous herbs and spices have anti-inflammatory properties. Some like boswellia and turmeric have gained widespread use for inflammatory joint conditions like osteoarthritis. In addition, certain herbs are showing benefits for inflammatory bowel disease and other generalized inflammatory conditions. Each herb or drug has advantages and disadvantages. Unfortunately, the doses and tissue distribution of most herbs has not been adequately determined.
If you have questions or concerns about inflammatory conditions in your pet, contact your veterinarian.
Ron Carsten, DVM, PhD, CVA, CCRT was one of the first veterinarians in Colorado to use the integrative approach, has lectured widely to veterinarians, and has been a pioneer in the therapeutic use of food concentrates to manage clinical problems. In addition to his doctor of veterinary medicine, he holds a Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology and is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs.
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