Managing Your Pet`s Pain Naturally

It breaks our hearts to see a loved one in pain. Too often we miss the signs in companion dogs and cats because they are very subtle. If pain is acute, like when a puppy plays too roughly at the park, he squeals, and we know that he is hurt. But adult dogs can be very stoic and not vocalize at all, even when in extreme pain. Chronic pain is even more challenging because the animal has learned to expect it and is dealing with it at all times. Cats especially do not show symptoms that are easily recognizable. Cats that display any weakness such as pain are at risk of becoming another predator’s meal; they instinctively mask pain. The signs of pain are so very subtle that it is easy to miss them unless you are extremely observant and spend a lot of time with the cat. Often they stop doing the things that are difficult for them like jumping up on the counter or playing with their toys. We often assume they are “just getting old” because their activity level declines, and the changes are gradual. We used to miss a lot of pain in veterinary medicine practice, but we are getting much better now at identifying and treating it.

For more on how pain affects behaviour and how to figure out if your pet is in pain, see


What I really want to talk about is how to treat pain safely and naturally with herbs, and let you know which can be safely combined with narcotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) or both.

First of all I need to get something off my chest. One of my pet peeves is the issue of over-the-counter supplement quality and safety. Many products have no third-party evaluation for purity and potency, and even have inaccurate or missing label information on the  exact source and processing of the herb. In my practice I only use professional-grade products from companies I trust, who share manufacturing details such as GMP and ISO certification, and use DNA or chemical “fingerprinting” to ensure that the plant material is the correct species and potency. Most are members in good standing of industry associations such as NASC .

These products are more expensive than some out there in the online stores and local pet shops. You usually get what you pay for.

Now, on to what you are really here for….

Turmeric, Curcuma longa (root), which contains curcumin, is one of my favourite herbs for pain releif, but it has very LOW bioavailability as a raw herb powder. It acts on nitric oxide pathways instead of the COX pathways that NSAIDS block, so it is safe to combine with those drugs. Use the raw powder mixed with fat in a home-cooked meal or “gravy” for your pet to increase absorption or choose a cucurmin product that is complexed with lecithin or choline so your pet can benefit.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the different parts of the root are used differently. The Rhizome, Jiang Huang is used more for pain, especially in the forelimbs, while the Tuber, Yu Jin is used more for liver disorders.

Alfalfa, Medicago sativa (above-ground parts: leaf, stem and flower) is a nourishing and restoring herb. It is usually used as a componant in herbal formulas for pain, not often on its own. Constituents include phytoestrogens, Calcium, vitamins A, C, E, and K, saponin, and phenols.

Corydalis, Corydalis ambigua (root) called Yan Hu Suo in chinese  is an excellent analgesic, especially for cancer pain. It inhibits dopamine release in the brain, so caution should be used if combining with medications that change dopamine levels. It lowers blood pressure and interacts with calcium channel blocker heart medications. As well, it can inhibit platelets which potentially leads to increased risk of bleeding, of special concern if surgery is planned.

Many more herbs are used for pain, and will be explored in future posts.

Before using any supplement for your pet, please consult with a qualified veterinary herbalist.

To find a qualified veterinary herbalist near you, check VBMA’s practitioner list.


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