What can you use to relieve your dog’s pain safely and effectively? Are there any herbs that provide natural pain relief for dogs?
Just about every dog will experience joint pain at some point during his life, whether from injuries or chronic conditions like arthritis as he ages.
If your dog’s ever been in pain or had surgery, or has arthritis or other joint problems, your veterinarian’s probably recommended non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to ease pain and inflammation …
… drugs like Rimadyl, Metacam, Previcox and Deramaxx.
But these drugs come with many health risks for your dog – even though vets often hand them out without warning you about the dangers.
Here are just a few of the problems NSAIDs can cause in your dog:
- Digestive upset, gastritis or peptic ulcers
- Liver damage
- Kidney toxicity
- Chronic dry eye – even blindness
- Joint damage (breakdown of articular cartilage – meaning NSAIDs can make your dog’s arthritis worse!)
The good news is, you don’t need to use these risky medicines.
There are many herbs with ant-inflammatory and pain relief properties that can be just as effective in keeping your dog comfortable – and they’re much safer than NSAIDs.
RELATED: Read more about why you should think twice about using NSAIDs.
Top 10 Herbs For Natural Pain Relief
When you need to manage joint pain in your dog, turn to one of these proven herbs for pain and inflammation relief. Many of these herbs are also contained in ready-made herbal pain or arthritis blends made for dogs.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Turmeric is a root from the ginger family … it’s the spice that gives curry its yellow color. This little orange root is highly effective in relieving pain and also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It’s long been used in Ayurvedic medicine for arthritis and other types of pain, and has now become extremely popular in the western world. Countless studies have demonstrated the benefits of turmeric and its main constituent, curcumin, in managing many wide-ranging health conditions.
You can buy the whole root in a grocery store and grate some into your dog’s food. Or use a turmeric supplement. When buying turmeric, buy a health food store product, not grocery store or cooking turmeric. You can also buy joint care supplements for dogs containing turmeric or curcumin.
Caution: turmeric will stain anything it touches bright yellow, so avoid using it near light colored carpeting or clothing!
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
Comfrey has a long history as a traditional healing herb for a wide range of ailments – from pain to digestive issues to cancer. Its main healing effects come from allantoin, a compound that speeds cell reproduction. Rosmarinic acid and other compounds in comfrey also deliver the anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties that make it so effective in managing joint pain.
For internal therapeutic use, give your dog ½ to 1 tsp of dried herb for each pound of food.
You can also use comfrey leaf topically as a poultice. Herbalists Gregory L Tilford and Mary L Wulff recommend wrapping a handful of leaves in a towel. Place the towel in a bowl of boiling water until the water starts to turn green. Remove the towel and squeeze excess liquid back into the bowl. Let the towel cool slightly and apply the compress to the affected area. Leave it on as long as possible, and add some more of the liquid from the bowl to the compress from time to time.
Caution: comfrey contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), which can cause liver problems in large quantities. But most experienced herbalists say there’s no need to worry. The PA content in comfrey leaf is only about 0.3% of its total chemistry and the herb has been safely used for thousands of years without adverse effects. The roots contain 10 times more PA than the leaves, so be sure to use only comfrey leaf (not the root) internally. Don’t use in pregnant or lactating dogs or for dogs with pre-existing liver disease.
Boswellia (Boswellia serrata)
Boswellia, or frankincense, is a resin extracted from tree bark. It contains phytochemicals that stop the production of leukotrienes, which cause inflammation. It’s effective against arthritis pain and inflammation and in Ayurvedic medicine is often combined with turmeric. A 2004 Swiss study by Reichling J et al showed Boswellia to significantly reduce clinical signs of arthritis in 71% of dogs in the study after 6 weeks of treatment.
Boswellia is an ingredient in many herbal combination pain and anti-inflammatory remedies. In those cases follow the package dosing directions. If you buy a product for humans, assume the dosage is for a 150 lb person and adjust for your dog’s weight.
If using boswellia alone, give it with food, using a daily dose of 5 to 10 mg of boswellia per lb of your dog’s weight. Note: In the above Swiss study, the researchers used a higher dose, giving 400 mg per 10 kilos (22 lbs) of body weight per day; the only side effects were brief episodes of diarrhea and flatulence in 5 dogs, and not necessarily due to the herb.
Cautions: Boswellia powders often contain silicon dioxide (sand). So it’s best to use a tincture, which is less likely to contain silicon dioxide (but still may). Silicon dioxide is added to Boswellia at the source, you won’t see it on the label. That means you have to trace it back to the supplier to be sure. Also, boswellia in India is becoming endangered. It’s a slow-growing tree and demand is outstripping supply. Different species of boswellia grow in other countries … but they don’t all have the same healing properties.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Licorice is a member of the pea family and it’s the root that has medicinal properties. One of its many uses is to treat arthritis. Many studies have confirmed that it’s a fast acting and effective anti-inflammatory agent. Some herbalists claim that it’s primary component, glycyrrhizin, increases the effectiveness of other herbs when it’s included in a compound formula. Glycyrrhizin’s chemical structure is similar to corticosteroids, but without the negative effects on the immune system.
A low alcohol tincture is a good way to dose licorice, as your dog may not digest the roots easily. Start with 12 to 20 drops per 20 lbs of body weight twice daily. You can also make a licorice root tea using 1 tsp of root to 1 cup of water. If you give your dog tea, you can use three times the dosage amount for a tincture.
Caution: Use for periods of 2 weeks at a time only. If you need to use it for longer, consult a herbalist or holistic vet. Don’t use for diabetic, pregnant or nursing dogs.
Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens)
Devil’s claw is an African plant that’s an effective anti-inflammatory, analgesic and body tonic. Its main constituent is harpagoside, which can decrease pain quickly and reduce inflammation, This makes it a good choice for arthritis and muscle pain. A number of human clinical studies have shown it to be effective in the treatment of low back pain, arthritis and rheumatism.
Devil’s Claw is usually sold as a human product, so assume the dose on the container is for a 150 lb person and adjust for your dog’s weight.
Caution: Don’t use for diabetic, pregnant or lactating dogs. Devil’s Claw may interact with some pharmaceutical drugs (especially cardiac and hyper- or hypo-tensive drugs) so consult your vet if your dog’s taking any other medications.
Ginger (Zhinger officinalis)
Ginger is well known for its benefits to the digestive system, including relieving gas and nausea. But a less known effect is its ability to ease arthritis pain. Ginger does this by stopping the immune system from producing leukotrienes, which cause inflammation. Ginger can also increase circulation for older dogs who lack mobility.
Using the raw ginger root (available at most grocery stores), remove the skin with a paring knife or peeler and finely mince the root. Mix it into your dog’s food, giving ¼ tsp for miniature breeds, ½ tsp for dogs up to 35 lbs and ¾ tsp for larger dogs. The flavor is quite strong so you may want to start with a smaller dose until your dog gets used to it.
Caution: Ginger can thin the blood, so avoid it before any surgery or if your dog’s on anticoagulant drugs. It may also lower blood sugar and blood pressure, so talk to your vet if your dog has diabetes or has any kind of heart condition.
Yucca (Yucca schidigera)
The root of this desert plant has many nutritional and medicinal properties. Trials have even shown health benefits for animals like cattle and chickens. Its primary constituents are steroidal saponins, which have been shown to provide safe and effective relief from joint pain and inflammation in human arthritis patients. (Don’t be alarmed by the word “steroidal” – these natural phytosterols are nothing like synthetic corticosteroid drugs and are very safe when you use yucca in moderation.)
Many holistic vets and other natural health professionals claim yucca has a 50% to 80% success rate in easing osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Give your dog ½ tsp of dried and powdered root per lb of food daily. You can also use a low alcohol tincture, giving 1/8 tsp per 20 lbs of your dog’s body weight per day. For arthritis, yucca combines well with licorice, dandelion and alfalfa.
Cautions: Yucca can irritate the digestive system when given over long periods of time and can cause vomiting. You can avoid this by giving your dog a two day break from the herb each week.
Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)
Alfalfa offers a wide range of nutritional benefits and it’s also one of the best treatments for arthritis. It’s safe to give it daily as a food supplement over the long term to ease arthritis and help older dogs. It combines well with dandelion, yucca and licorice.
Alfalfa is a crop that’s often genetically modified, so buy certified organic products or grow it yourself. It grows easily but has weed-like tendencies and can spread fast.
Add a pinch of dried herb per 10 lbs of bodyweight to your dog’s food per day. If using store-bought capsules or tincture, assume the dose is for a 150 lb human and adjust for your dog’s weight.
Cautions: Use alfalfa before it flowers, and don’t use the seeds – they contain l-canavanine, which can cause blood disorders. Side effects are rare but alfalfa can cause allergic responses in animals sensitive to pollen. Saponin content can cause colic in horses.
Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)
Horsetail has many medicinal benefits but is best known for its ability to heal bone and connective tissue injuries. It contains bioactive silicon, which is the foundation in the body for the formation of bone, cartilage, skin and other connective tissues.
It can help heal joint and bone injuries as well as post-surgical trauma. For joint injuries it combines well with comfrey or nettle, as well as glucosamine and chondroitin supplements.
Using tincture, give dogs ¼ tsp daily per 20 lbs of body weight.
Cautions: Don’t use horsetail for animals with hypertension or cardiac disease. It may also cause breast milk to change flavor so avoid it for lactating dogs.
Cayenne (Capsicum spp)
Cayenne comes from a hot chili pepper. Its main compound, capsaicin, can block pain and increase circulation to connective tissues and joints. This makes it very effective as a pain reliever. You can also buy ointments or creams contaiming capsicum to use on painful areas. Topical use can reduce pain and also activates the body’s own anti-inflammatory response.
For internal use cayenne usually comes in a gel capsule that contains a tiny pinch of the herb powder. Or, you can just add a small pinch of the powdered herb to your dog’s food.
Try some of these natural options to manage your dog’s pain. Then, next time your vet offers you NSAIDs, you can just say no!