Our pets are living longer than ever and many begin to suffer from the “wear and tear of time.” Age-related sources of pain, such as osteoarthritis, are one of the most common problems our pets face.
Other causes of pain can include cancer, chronic skin or ear infections, post-surgical pain and dental disease. You may be wondering, “How can I help my dog in the most natural way possible?” or “I don’t want to just give my dog XYZ pill, is there another option?”
The answers can be found here!
How to Manage Your Dog’s Pain Naturally
1. Try Holistic Veterinary Medicine
If you think that your pet is in pain, it is a good idea to start with a solid diagnosis. The “how” and “why” behind your dog’s discomfort can make a big difference in how he is treated.
Seek out a holistic veterinarian that will be able to see “eye to eye” with you from the beginning. Your holistic vet will listen to your concerns and will customize a natural treatment plan specifically for your dog.
Many holistic veterinarians practice Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM), which approaches illness in a different way from Western practices. Read on to see how holistic veterinarians can help to manage pain in dogs.
Where do I find a holistic veterinarian? Check out this search tool from the American Holistic Veterinary Medicine Association.
2. “Joint Supplements” - Chondroitin Sulfate and Glucosamine
These two compounds have become household names for the last decade. “Joint supplements” containing GAGs (glucosaminoglycans) such as chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine can make a big difference in managing arthritis pain.
These compounds are “fuel” and “lubrication” that is used directly in the joint to keep the cartilage healthy. They also have mild anti-inflammatory properties that work throughout the entire body.
Many different joint support products are on the market, but you should invest in a quality product that contains more than just these two GAGs. Good, tried and true, veterinary-approved products include Dasuquin (Nutramax Laboratories) and Glycoflex III (Vetri-Science).
Acupuncture is becoming a “mainstream” method for stimulating healing and controlling pain in dogs and cats. Veterinarians that practice TCVM are often certified in acupuncture.
Acupuncture is an ancient medical art which changes the flow of energy (called qi, pronounced “chi”) through channels in the body (known as meridians). Very small needles are placed in specific points along the meridians in order to change the energy flow.
Acupuncture helps to release endorphins and is virtually painless. Dogs that suffer from a variety of painful conditions can find relief with regular acupuncture.
4. Herbal Therapy
Different types of herbs, even ones that may live in your own spice cabinet, have been shown to help decrease pain in humans and dogs. Many of these contain compounds that act as natural anti-inflammatories and analgesics.
Common herbs used for pain include turmeric, boswellia, devil’s claw and meadowsweet. But before you start sprinkling herbs from the health food store onto your dog’s kibble – it is important to consult with a veterinary herbalist or holistic practitioner first.
Herbs may be “natural” but some can be dangerous at certain dosages (just like Western medicines). Others may need to be balanced with another herb for maximum benefit.
5. Exercise and Physical Therapy
Depending on your dog’s specific medical problems, exercise and physical therapy (physiotherapy) may improve mobility and reduce pain. Dogs with mild arthritic pain may benefit from regular low-impact exercise such as swimming or walking.
Veterinary physical therapists can help your dog to improve muscle strength and reduce pain after orthopedic surgery, trauma or even severe arthritis.
6. Massage Therapy
Massage therapy is often coupled with physical therapy, chiropractic and acupuncture. Muscle tension secondary to problems like intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) can cause long-term pain and loss of flexibility.
Targeted massage can help muscles to soften, recover and work properly. The gentle touch also relieves pain and stimulates the release of those “feel-good” hormones – endorphins.
Chiropractic is often employed in dogs as a part of a holistic treatment package. The misalignment of the spine and joints can hurt how the brain communicates with the rest of the body via the nerves.
Proper alignment through small incremental changes (adjustments) is at the heart of chiropractic therapy. Proper alignment relieves pain by allowing the muscles, nerves and organs to function in an optimal physiologic way.
‘Human’ chiropractors are sometimes able to become licensed to treat dogs, but this varies depending on laws in your particular province or state. Many TCVM veterinarians practice chiropractic.
Use of homeopathics, such as Arnica montana can help alleviate pain. Use of Bach Rescue Remedy for Pets can also help reduce the stress associated with pain. It is best to consult with an experienced veterinary homeopath, as specific homeopathy involves careful selection of remedies and their dilution.
9. Cold Laser Therapy
Cold laser therapy is soaring in popularity, not only for pain management but for stimulation of healing. The lasers used are very low-level and rely on photobiomodulation to cause change to living tissues.
This means that the energy from the laser stimulates changes at the cellular level for beneficial modifications within the cell. Cold laser can be used on acupuncture points and has anti-inflammatory properties by stimulating blood flow.
10. Manage Concurrent Problems and Diseases
The number one chronic condition of dogs in North America is obesity. Obesity directly contributes to your dog’s pain level by increasing wear and tear on the joints. Many obese dogs begin to develop arthritis as young as 1-2 years of age.
If your dog is overweight or obese, take control and talk to your veterinarian about weight reduction and exercise.
Dogs with chronic skin or ear problems often experience pain. The majority of dogs with ‘bad skin’ actually have an underlying allergy such as atopy or less commonly, food allergy.
Controlling allergy symptoms can go a long way in preventing painful sores, “hot spots” or “lick granulomas” from forming. If your dog suffers from ear or skin issues, talk to your veterinarian about a referral to a veterinary dermatologist.
For more information, check out our resources here:
The author recommends patronizing members of the Natural Animal Supplement Council. Look for their seal on products in your local pet store or check out their list of approved suppliers here.