Male staffy feeling unwell.

The Best Natural Pain Relief For Dogs Chosen By Our Vet

Written By Dr Kathryn Rosalie Dench | M.A VetMB MRCVS.
Edited & Fact Checked By Renae Soppe | Double B.A Journalism & Science. 
Last Updated: 8th January 2024

Dogs provide us with love, loyalty and companionship. However, despite our best efforts to keep them healthy and safe, injuries, illness, or ageing can cause our dogs to experience pain and discomfort.

If you are worried about conventional prescription pain relievers, the next best option is using natural pain relief for dogs. We will discuss the numerous effective and safe natural pain relief options (so you won't have to worry about your dog developing liver and kidney problems).

Remember – you should never give a dog human pain relief medicines, and always check with a vet before starting any supplements. Some supplements can interact with prescription medications or may not suit your dog's specific condition.


What Are Some Natural Pain Relief Methods for Dogs?

Natural dog pain relief refers to the various methods and treatments used to alleviate a dog's pain and discomfort without using pharmaceutical drugs. These methods may include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Herbal supplements
  • Physical therapy
  • Dietary changes
  • Massage

Let's examine some common signs to watch for, and then consider some natural pain relief for them.


How to Identify if Your Dog Is in Pain

Pain significantly affects a dog's quality of life, and since they can't talk, you will have to look out for the tell-tale signs that your pet is in pain. Pain can manifest differently depending on the dog’s personality and pain tolerance.

Changes in behaviour

When your dog is in chronic pain, they become more withdrawn, lethargic, or less active than usual. Your once-friendly dog may also become more irritable or aggressive, especially when you touch them in certain areas.

Vocalisation

Dogs may whimper, whine, yelp, or growl when they are in pain. This is especially true if you touch them in a sensitive area or when they move.

Changes in posture

If your dog is holding its body in a rigid, tense manner or assumes a hunched position, it may be in pain. You may also notice that your dog is reluctant to move, stand, or lie down.

Changes in eating or drinking habits

When your dog is in pain, it may lack appetite and so may eat or drink less than usual or may lose interest in food altogether.

Excessive licking or chewing of an area

Whenever you notice your dog compulsively chewing or licking an area of its body, it could be a sign of pain. This is often seen in orthopaedic problems, including arthritis pain.

Drainage or discharge from the affected area

If your dog has a wound, the first sign might be discharge from the injured area. Look out for clear or coloured fluids on your dog's fur or bedding.

Checking puppy Australian Shepherd.

Why Use Natural Pain Relief for Dogs?

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the most common pain relief medication for dogs, including carprofen, meloxicam, deracoxib, and other related medicines.

However, there are risks associated with NSAIDs, because of their side effects. These include:

  • Damage to the stomach lining, leading to nausea and pain
  • A heavy burden on the kidneys and liver as they process these medications
  • Reduced production of prostaglandins

Many dog owners turn to natural pain relief options to help reduce pain and inflammation without relying on high doses of NSAIDs.


Best Natural Pain Relief Options for Dogs

Natural pain relief methods can be a valuable tool to help improve a dog's comfort and overall well-being. Before you start using natural pain relief for dogs, it's essential to consult with a veterinarian to determine the best option for your dog's specific needs.

Hot and cold therapy

Cold therapy is a natural dog anti-inflammatory, which treats swelling and pain by reducing blood flow to the injured area. It is best used for acute pain from an exercise injury or surgery.

Heat therapy is best for chronic pain or stiffness in muscles and joints, such as if your dog has arthritis. It reduces muscle spasms, increases blood flow, reduces stiffness, and relieves pain.

Place a heat pack on the affected area for about 20 minutes and a cold pack for 10 minutes at a time. You can use a simple fabric bag filled with rice or dried beans and placed either in the freezer (in a plastic bag) or the microwave. Remember to consult a vet to help decide which of the two therapies will work best for your dog.

Medical massage therapy for dogs in pain

Dogs benefit from medical massage therapy, which helps relieve pain and muscle stiffness by manipulating soft tissues of the body. However, full medical massage should be done by a professional animal massage therapist, as it's important to apply the right amount of pressure in the right places. These dog massages should be done under the medical guidance of a veterinarian.

There are simpler dog massages you can try at home to relieve pain, which include:

  • Hind rub
  • Thigh rub
  • Backstroke
  • Head rubs

When massaging your dog, use a calming voice and reassure your pet. Make sure your dog is relaxed and lying comfortably before you begin. You should also monitor their body language to make sure they're enjoying the experience.

Acupuncture for dogs

Veterinary acupuncture is a growing field that is becoming more widely recognised and accepted as an effective treatment for various dog conditions. Although acupuncture was mainly used to relieve pain in humans in the past, vet acupuncture has gained popularity in recent decades and is a natural remedy for dog pain relief.

Like human acupuncture, veterinary acupuncture involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the dog's body to stimulate energy flow and promote healing. Acupuncture stimulates acupressure points, causing the release of endogenous opioids, which are natural pain-relieving chemicals.

Hydrotherapy for dogs

Hydrotherapy can provide several health benefits, for dogs, especially for those with injuries or medical conditions that affect their mobility, such as arthritis. Swimming in warm water can reduce pain and inflammation in dogs with joint and muscle problems.

Hydrotherapy is particularly useful for dogs that are having difficulty exercising regularly due to painful conditions. The buoyancy of the water reduces the weight-bearing load on the dog's joints, allowing them to move more efficiently and with less pain. This can help to improve their range of motion and overall mobility.

Labrador feeling unwell.

Supplements for Your Dog's Pain

Some supplements support joint health and reduce inflammation and pain associated with chronic conditions, like arthritis in dogs.

Glucosamine chondroitin

Glucosamine chondroitin is the go-to joint supplement for dogs with arthritis and joint pain. One of the causes of joint pain in older dogs is the wear and tear of the cartilage in the joints. Glucosamine chondroitin provides the building blocks for the body to make new cartilage, so the bones in the joints are cushioned and protected. Glucosamine also has natural anti-inflammatory properties, so it has a proven role in relieving pain (1).

Fish oil

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil supplements that help joint pain in dogs with arthritis (2). Fish oil also helps strengthen your dog's immune system, relieves allergies, reduces flaky or itchy skin, and is good for your dog's heart.

Green-lipped mussels

Green-lipped mussels contain over 90 types of essential fatty acids. They are also a good source of natural chondroitin that supports cartilage health, enabling your pet to maintain joint health and mobility.

CBD oil

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a compound found in hemp and cannabis, but it's different from delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which causes the "high" of cannabis. When given to your dog, CBD oil may help relieve pain and inflammation due to arthritis (3).

When purchasing CBD products for your dog, look for the National Animal Supplement Counsel (NASC) Seal of Quality Assurance. It would help if you also looked for CBD oil products with a third-party certificate showing the product has been analysed for potency and clearly specifying the lack of heavy metals, pesticides, or mycotoxins.

Don't give CBD oil products formulated for human consumption as pain medication to your dog, because they may contain ingredients such as xylitol that can be toxic to pets. You should also avoid buying CBD oil containing THC.


Home Remedies for Chronic Pain

You can easily organize some safe, natural home pain relief remedies for your dog. However, before trying any new treatments for your dog, it's always a good idea to consult your veterinarian to ensure they are safe and appropriate.

Chamomile tea

Chamomile is a safe herb to give your dog. It has anti-inflammatory properties to help with minor irritations and can help calm an anxious dog.

To use chamomile for pain relief, you can give your dog cooled chamomile tea to drink. There are also chamomile treats available that you can give your furry friend to munch on.

Epsom salts

Epsom salt soaks can be used to soothe sore muscles and joints in dogs and clean wounds to promote healing.

"I adore the humble Epsom salt for its use in all kinds of superficial inflammatory issues. It is the ultimate do-no-harm remedy for many simple wounds and swellings." - Patty Khuly, DVM at PetMD.

To give your dog an Epsom salt bath to treat pain, fill its bathtub or a large basin with hot but not scalding water and add one or two cups of Epsom salts. Once the salts have dissolved, and the temperature is wrist-warm, you can then help your dog into the bathtub and use a jug to wet your dog for about 10 minutes. Afterwards, run a tub of clean warm water to rinse off any Epsom salt residue. Be careful not to touch the painful area.

Turmeric paste

Turmeric contains curcumin, which can treat arthritis pain thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. Researchers have also found it can slow the progression of arthritis (4). Although you can purchase turmeric supplements, making your turmeric paste at home is easy.

To make turmeric paste for your dog, put half a cupful of turmeric powder and a cupful of water into a cooking pot and stir over a gentle heat for 7–10 minutes until it forms a paste. Add two teaspoons of ground black pepper and four tablespoons of coconut oil and stir gently until they are mixed. Black pepper will help with the absorption of the turmeric's curcuminoids.

Start by offering a quarter teaspoon of turmeric paste and monitor how your dog reacts. Once it is used to the taste, add half a teaspoon per 10 kg of healthy body weight daily.


Lifestyle Changes for Joint Pain

As a pet owner, you should also consider lifestyle changes for joint pain management. This includes aspects of your dog's health, such as maintaining a healthy weight and a proper diet.

Weight management helps relieve dogs' pain

A healthy weight reduces the stress on the joints and is the number one lifestyle change that will help reduce your dog's pain.

The ideal dog's weight depends on several factors, including its breed, age, sex, and activity level. So, instead of focusing on the numbers on the scales, vets assess whether your dog has a healthy body condition score (BCS).

The BCS is a holistic assessment of a dog's body shape that takes into account its weight, body fat, and muscle mass. It is usually scored on a scale from 1 to 9, with 1 being emaciated and 9 being obese. Ideally, a dog should have a BCS between 4 and 5, which means it should have a visible waistline, and its ribs should be easily felt but not visible.

"Weight loss in overweight animals is associated with greater longevity, increased vitality, and reduced pain." - Justin Shmalberg, DVM, Diplomate ACVN (Today's Veterinary Practice).

If you're not sure of your dog's BCS, consult with your veterinarian. They will also be able to help you develop a weight loss plan, if needed, to benefit your dog's joints as well as their internal organs.

Healthy diet for joint pain management in dogs

Choosing a high-quality diet appropriate for your dog's age, size, and activity level is essential. Your dog's food should be balanced with fat, proteins, vitamins, minerals, water, and carbohydrates to help manage weight.

It is also essential to avoid foods that can exacerbate inflammation, such as those high in sugar or processed carbohydrates. The diet should be minimally processed and with no additives such as preservatives, colourings, or fermenting yeasts.

Exercise for dogs in pain

When it comes to exercising an arthritic dog, we vets live by the mantra of "every day the same". That means if you're committed to 30 minutes walking each day, you do that 30 minutes even if it's not convenient, and you don't then add a three-hour walk on the weekend when the sun's out. Suddenly stopping their exercise routine or adding to it can cause arthritic inflammation to flare up inside the joints, and put your dog in more pain.

Remember that the joints of an arthritic dog are more sensitive than those of a healthy pup, so the occasional jolt from walking on uneven terrain, or running after a rabbit, could set off a shooting pain. Stick to flat ground, soft beaches, and grassy fields when possible, and be prepared to keep them on the lead if they’re prone to the occasional sprint.


Precautions and Considerations When Using Natural Pain Relief for Dogs

If you are considering using natural pain relief for dogs, you should take precautions to ensure your dog's safety.

Consult with a veterinarian

It is important to consult with a veterinarian before using any natural pain relief treatments for dogs. A veterinarian can help to determine the underlying cause of the pain and recommend appropriate treatment options, as well as provide guidance on the safety and efficacy of natural pain relief treatments.

Interactions with medications

Some natural pain relief treatments can interact with medications that your dog may be taking. 

Always inform your veterinarian of any natural remedies or supplements your dog takes to avoid any potential interactions with their prescription medications.

Dosage and administration

Always follow the recommended dosage and administration instructions for any natural pain relief treatment for dogs. Giving too much or too little treatment can be ineffective or even harmful to your dog.

Monitoring your dog's progress with natural pain relief

Carefully monitor your dog's response to natural pain relief treatments and watch for adverse reactions. If your dog's condition worsens, or they show signs of distress, contact a vet immediately.


Conclusion

Natural pain relief for dogs is a great alternative or addition to their prescription pain control medications. You should also remember that human pain relief medications can be toxic to dogs, and should never be used.

Working with a qualified and experienced veterinarian is key to developing a comprehensive treatment plan for your dog's pain management needs. By following these precautions and considerations, you can help ensure the safety and efficacy of natural pain relief treatments for your dog.

References
  1. April 3, 2019. "Glucosamine inhibits IL-1β expression by preserving mitochondrial integrity and disrupting assembly of the NLRP3 inflammasome”. Nature. Retrieved March 10, 2023. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-42130-z
  2. June, 2016. “A prospective, randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled evaluation of the effects of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid on the clinical signs and erythrocyte membrane polyunsaturated fatty acid concentrations in dogs with osteoarthritis”. Science Direct. Retrieved March 10, 2023. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0952327815300533
  3. August 26, 2020. "Oral Transmucosal Cannabidiol Oil Formulation as Part of a Multimodal Analgesic Regimen: Effects on Pain Relief and Quality of Life Improvement in Dogs Affected by Spontaneous Osteoarthritis". MDPI. Retrieved March 10, 2023. https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/10/9/1505
  4. June 3, 2016. "Curcumin slows osteoarthritis progression and relieves osteoarthritis-associated pain symptoms in a post-traumatic osteoarthritis mouse model". Bio Medcentral. March 10, 2023. https://arthritis-research.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13075-016-1025-y

Dr Kathryn Dench


Dr. Kathryn Rosalie Dench is Gentle Dog Trainers Veterinarian Advisor & Author.

Dr. Kathryn Rosalie Dench - Veterinary Medicine, Epidemiology, Animal Welfare, Clinical Data Management, and Biodiversity.

Kathryn is Gentle Dog Trainers Veterinarian. She graduated from the prestigious Cambridge University Veterinary School with a Master of Arts and Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and is a Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (MA VetMB MRCVS). She ensures all Gentle Dog Trainers' content is accurate, trustworthy and provides sources for the evidence and expertise provided.

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