Natural Pain Relief for Dogs

Katherine Smith, DVM, CVA, CVSMT
Written by:
Published: July 25, 2022
Natural Pain Relief for Dogs

Natural pain relief for dogs is a hot topic for pet parents. You’ve likely come across this article because you’re looking for additional options to manage your dog’s pain beyond traditional pharmaceuticals. 

Your dog may be experiencing negative side effects from a medication, or perhaps you want additional pain control for your dog’s injury, or your dog is getting little relief from chronic pain with their current medications. 

Do your homework and schedule an appointment with a veterinarian trained in integrative methods or Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) before giving anything new to your dog, even if it is natural or over the counter.

Here’s some helpful information on different types of natural pain relief for dogs and how and when each can be used.

What Is Natural Pain Relief for Dogs?

Natural pain relief might not be an accurate description, because not every option for pain control outside of pharmaceuticals is “natural,” and they come with their own potential for side effects. 

A more thorough way to view natural pain control is through the lens of integrative medicine. This means combining traditional Western medicine with additional treatment options, taking the best of what each has to offer to provide the best care for your pet.

Alternative pain-relief options are often helpful for chronic pain. A lot of the time, dogs that are already taking common pain-control medications still need additional relief. 

Finding a Vet Who Can Help With Natural Pain Relief

If your dog has a chronic injury or disease and you have already spoken with your regular vet, try finding a veterinarian specifically trained in alternative treatment options. Here are some great places to start your search:

AHVMA: American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association

AAVA: American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture

Chi University Animal Hospital

IVAS: International Veterinary Acupuncture Society

AVCA: American Veterinary Chiropractic Association

CuraCore Vet

When meeting with a veterinarian about options for pain control, bring a list of all medications, supplements, vitamins, or herbs that you give your dog, so the vet can make sure there are no known negative interactions.

Types of Natural Pain Relief for Dogs

Many treatment options can be used alongside traditional medications and surgical procedures. Combining treatments often results in the best relief and pain control for dogs.

Before you give your dog any new treatment, medication, or therapy, talk to your veterinarian. This is especially true if your dog has a new issue or injury.

Natural pain-control options can include:

  • Home remedies

    • Cold therapy

    • Medical massage

    • Nutraceuticals/supplements

    • Herbal medications

    • Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF)

    • Rehabilitation therapy

    • Weight management

  • Alternative veterinary therapies

    • Acupuncture

    • Laser therapy

    • Rehabilitation therapy

    • Hydrotherapy

    • Veterinary spinal manipulative therapy (similar to a chiropractor)

Dogs can frequently benefit from a combination of treatments, and their treatment plan will likely change to incorporate different things over time. Some treatments will be given as homework to pet parents (such as at-home exercises or PEMF therapy), so it’s important to learn the appropriate technique and regularly check in with the prescribing veterinarian.

Home Remedies

Home remedies should only be administered after your veterinarian has shown you how to do them properly. Using any of these in the wrong way can lead to negative side effects for your dog.

One of the benefits of integrative medicine is that veterinarians trained in this type of medicine love to give pet parents treatments they can do at home to help their dogs.

With that being said, it is extremely important to regularly check in with your veterinarian.

Cold Therapy

Cold therapy is sometimes recommended for at-home treatment for dogs, while heat therapy is usually not. Heat therapy requires veterinary supervision and guidance, as dogs can easily suffer thermal burns from heating pads. This is why at-home heat therapy requires clearance from your veterinarian.

Cold therapy typically involves placing ice packs near the site of an injury or area of discomfort to help constrict the blood vessels. Application of cold therapy for a predetermined amount of time can increase your pet’s comfort level by reducing inflammation.

When using cold therapy, place a barrier such as a cloth between your dog’s skin and the cold pack, as they can’t tell you if the cold pack is too cold or causing discomfort.

Medical Massage

Medical massage works on a dog’s nervous system to relieve tension in muscles, encourage appropriate lymphatic circulation, and reduce fluid retention. 

To do this properly at home, you need instruction from a veterinarian trained in medical massage or veterinary tui na, which refers to a wide range of traditional Chinese medicine.

Nutraceuticals/Supplements

Nutraceuticals on the market for dogs are referred to by many names, including nutraceuticals, supplements, and vitamins/minerals. 

Each nutraceutical activates a different mechanism within the body to help control pain. You can give your dog supplements at home, but it is very important that they are recommended/prescribed by a veterinarian. You can purchase these through your veterinarian or ask where they can be purchased. 

Administering supplements without a veterinarian’s guidance can be a waste of money or, more importantly, harmful to your dog’s health. Veterinarians are trained to know the interactions between supplements and medications as well as the appropriate dosing for all sizes of dogs. 

They can recommend the best combination of supplements for your dog and also understand the quality control and ingredient selection for supplements that they recommend.

Common supplements used for pain control include herbal medications and joint protectants (injectable and oral).

Boswellia

Boswellia is traditionally referred to as Indian frankincense and has been used for many years in veterinary medicine. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory, and studies have shown that it can be helpful in cases of lameness and other painful conditions.

Omega-3

The DHA and EPA fatty acids found in fish oil have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects in some medical conditions. They have been widely used for pets with arthritis or skin conditions. 

It is important to use a veterinary product and to make sure that it is coming from a reputable source, as some fish can contain high levels of toxic metals.

Green-lipped mussels are a somewhat newer addition to the supplement offerings, and seem to offer a unique source of omega-3 fatty acids that have been helpful in managing some cases of osteoarthritis.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin

There is more than one form of glucosamine, so it is important to speak with your vet about which is appropriate for your dog. Some studies have shown that glucosamine can be helpful in the growth of cartilage cells, and thus can work for dogs that are in pain due to joint conditions. 

Chondroitin works by preventing cells that can destroy cartilage. It often works synchronously with glucosamine, and the combination works best to prevent joint injury. They have also been shown to be helpful in conditions where an injury has already occurred.

Herbal Medications

Connecting with a veterinarian who is trained in TCVM and able to prescribe herbal medications can be very beneficial for painful conditions. TCVM herbal medications can be tailored to specific conditions and provide a more customized treatment for your dog.

Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy (PEMF)

PEMF therapy is another treatment prescribed by a veterinarian, often recommended to clients to use at home for continued pain management. This technology uses electromagnetic waves to stimulate the release of nitric oxide, a natural anti-inflammatory molecule within the body.

Rehabilitation Exercises

Rehabilitation exercises can help ease chronic pain in dogs by encouraging the use of joints and muscle groups. Depending on your pet’s condition, your vet may recommend exercises to encourage range of motion, decrease inflammation, and help with pain control.

Weight Management

Weight management is very important to many painful conditions in dogs, especially those suffering from arthritis or orthopedic injuries. When dogs are at an appropriate weight, their bones and joints don’t have to work harder for the same outcome. 

Your vet can help come up with a plan to make sure your dog is safely losing weight by consuming an appropriate number of calories and engaging in productive exercise.

Alternative Therapies

Your veterinarian can help you find alternative therapies that will work for your dog's specific type of pain.

Acupuncture

You may be familiar with acupuncture for people, but it can also help dogs that are in pain.

Acupuncture involves using tiny needles to stimulate the nervous system. This can decrease inflammation, promote the release of endorphins, increase circulation to areas of concern, and encourage relaxation and decreased stress. 

To get the best results, be sure to bring your dog to a licensed veterinarian trained in veterinary acupuncture. These vets have undergone significant additional training and are well-versed in the conditions that acupuncture is helpful for, the best treatment combination, how to avoid or decrease negative effects, and how to approach dogs that may be sensitive to needles. 

Treatments are usually very relaxing for dogs. Initially they are usually given frequently, but as your dog becomes more comfortable, the positive effects of the treatment may last longer.

Here are a few resources to find a veterinarian trained in acupuncture:

AAVA: American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture

IVAS: International Veterinary Acupuncture Society

Chi University Animal Hospital

CuraCore Vet

Laser Therapy

Therapeutic lasers work to release endorphins, increase blood flow, decrease inflammation, and relax muscles by releasing specific therapeutic wavelengths. Veterinarians use various types of therapeutic lasers to treat joint discomfort, tendon and ligament injuries, and wounds, among other conditions.

Rehabilitation Therapy

When seeking rehabilitation therapy for your dog, find a veterinarian or veterinary nurse/technician who has been trained in this area. Rehabilitation uses a combination of equipment and exercise to improve and maintain your dog’s range of motion, decrease pain and inflammation, encourage muscle strength, and improve stability.

Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy can be part of your dog’s rehab program and may even involve the use of a pool or underwater treadmill. This can be effective for dogs that are having difficulty exercising regularly due to painful conditions, as the water is a non-weight-bearing exercise. 

It can help improve range of motion, strengthen muscles, and increase endurance. At times, hydrotherapy is also used to help dogs with weight management. Some dogs need to lose weight in order to decrease their pain level but are in too much discomfort to exercise appropriately. Hydrotherapy can help these dogs lose weight and improve their pain level simultaneously.

Veterinary Spinal Manipulative Therapy (VSMT)

VSMT is similar in theory to a human visiting a chiropractor, and it can be used for a wide variety of conditions. VSMT works on the nervous system to improve joint mobility and encourage appropriate muscle tension. 

The treatment is directed toward motion units, which involve the vertebrae and other joints throughout the body. Pain can result from motion units or joints/vertebrae that do not have appropriate mobility. This reduced mobility can place pressure on nerves, increase muscle tension, or cause instability. 

VSMT helps restore appropriate motion in a very gentle way, and it can eventually lead to decreased pain and more appropriate mobility. Here are a few places to find a practitioner trained in this form of medical manipulation:

Healing Oasis Wellness Center

Options for Animals

American Veterinary Chiropractic Association

Many natural treatment options are available that work alongside traditional medical recommendations. Always discuss integrative therapies with your veterinarian and/or a veterinarian trained in these areas before starting treatment for your dog.

Featured image: iStock.com/Matic Grmek


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