Tremors are a rhythmic, involuntary movement that can affect the whole body or just certain areas like the limbs or head. Hind limb tremors are a common complaint as dogs and cats age. While many of these pets may suffer from arthritis (which must be ruled in or out), the use of steroids and NSAIDs have little effect on the tremors. Most pet owners and veterinarians accept these tremors as a normal aging process that has no treatment, however there are therapies that can help.
Potential Causes of Tremors
- Electrolyte abnormalities
- Mineral deficiencies, particularly calcium
- Low blood sugar
- Kidney failure
- Cold environment
- Toxin ingestion
- Degenerative Myelopathy
- Hip dysplasia
- Neurologic abnormality
Diagnostic testing should be performed to rule out any of these serious concerns.
TCVM Diagnosis: Wei Syndrome or Atrophy Syndrome
Wei Syndrome, also known as Atrophy Syndrome, often develops in geriatric animals and humans. The muscles become flaccid, soft, and weak, due to Spleen Qi Deficiency (poor digestion of nutrients resulting in poor muscle strength). The Spleen Qi Deficiency will lead to Kidney Qi Deficiency. The Kidney element is responsible for hind end function, so animals with Kidney Qi Deficiency will be most affected in the hind limbs.
The weak Spleen and Kidney Qi can lead to Liver Blood and Yin Deficiency, which is associated with Internal Wind (wind causes shaking, like wind in the leaves of the trees). Since the Liver nourishes the tendons and ligaments, these weaken and further result in weakness and tremors.
Spleen Qi and Kidney Qi Deficiencies - Associated with aging, long-term poor nutrition, environmental and social stress, and chronic illness or inflammation. Pelvic limb tremors may be seen when lying down, rising, or standing. There is muscle atrophy and weakness in the hind end. The tongue will be pale and wet. These animals are generally cold, sleeping curled in a ball, under blankets, or seeking sun.
Acupuncture can be beneficial along with B-12 injections at acupoints for Kidney and Spleen Qi. The herbal formula Bu Yang Huan Wu can support weak Kidney Qi in a cold animal.
Foods to tonify or support Spleen and Kidney Qi include grass-fed beef, chicken, sardines, eggs, sweet potato, oats, carrots, squash, dates, and figs. Cold foods to avoid include duck, duck eggs, clams, yogurt, barley, celery, cucumbers, pears, and watermelon. Excessively hot foods to avoid include lamb, shrimp, and corn-fed beef.
Liver Blood and Yin Deficiencies with Spleen and Kidney Qi Deficiencies - Associated with older animals that have hind limb tremors while lying down, rising, or standing. There will be muscle atrophy and weakness. The coat may be dry with large dandruff flakes; pads and nose may be pale, dry, and cracked. The animal will be hot, panting, seeking cool places to sleep. The tongue will be pale (if Blood deficiency dominates) or red (if Yin deficiency dominates) and it will be dry.
Acupuncture can be beneficial along with B-12 injections at acupoints for Liver Blood, Liver Yin, Spleen Qi, and Kidney Qi. The herbal Tendon/Ligament Formula by Jing Tang herbs or Blood Deficiency Stirring Wind Formula by Paw Healer can support Liver Blood and Yin Deficiency to strengthen tendons and ligaments.
Foods to supplement to improve Liver Blood include grass-fed beef, bone marrow, eggs, liver, heart, sardines, barley, beet roots, carrots, dark leafy greens, dates, and figs. Foods to supplement that will cool and tonify Yin include turkey, pork, duck, clams, crab, string beans, spinach, pears, watermelon, and seaweed. Hot foods to avoid include chicken, lamb, and corn-fed beef.
Pets with either condition will benefit from:
- Good nutrition to support the Spleen and Qi. These pets should not be placed on low protein diets, as that will lead to more muscle atrophy.
- Short walks throughout the day will keep Qi moving.
- Provide a low stress environment to support the Liver.
- Acupuncture and aquapuncture with B12.
- Physical therapy strengthening exercises.
- Colostrum - Colostrum contains nine essential amino acids and nine non-essential amino acids which spare and synthesize muscle tissue. Colostrum contains an abundance of the amino acid leucine which promotes muscle generation by activating a signaling pathway which stimulates the body’s muscle-building drive. As aging muscle becomes resistant to leucine stimulation, colostrum supplementation can help overcome the deficit, prevent further muscle degradation, and promote new muscle tissue.
- Vitamin B-12 - B-12 plays a part in forming red blood cells and converting food into energy. It also ensures that the brain and muscles communicate efficiently, which affects muscle growth and co-ordination.
- Vitamin D3 - This helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus. Calcium is essential for muscle contractions, while phosphorus is involved in the synthesis of ATP, the useable form of energy in the body. Vitamin D testing should be performed to determine the amount of supplement needed. Over-supplementation can lead to kidney failure.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids (high quality fish oil) - DHA and EPA (omega 3's) have been shown to increase thigh muscle volume and strength in humans who have disuse atrophy. The anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fatty acids also helps decrease inflammation associated with arthritis.
- CoQ10 - CoQ10 is essential to the muscle cells since it is involved with growth control and energy production at the cellular level.
Senior Pets Deserve the Best
While degenerative aging changes may present challenges for our senior pets, good diet, exercise, and supplementation can help them meet and overcome the obstacles they face.