By Diana Bocco
While there's a lot of talk about glucosamine, fish oil, and other supplements to treat joint pain in pets, not many pet owners are aware that they can supplement treatment with certain herbs. The truth, however, is that the use of botanicals alongside pharmaceuticals can be highly beneficial for some animals with osteoarthritis, according to Mike Petty, DVM, a certified veterinary pain practitioner and the past-president of the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management. “Pain is caused through many different biological pathways and at many different physical sites,” Petty says. “Using multimodal therapy increases the chance of treating pain at many different levels.”
It's always wise, of course, to check with your veterinarian prior to starting botanical therapy or combining it with pharmaceuticals. “Botanicals are really drugs waiting to be refined into pharmaceuticals,” says Petty. “In other words, they can have side effects and adverse events just like anything you purchase from the pharmacy.”
Perhaps the best-known and most widely used medicinal herb to treat joint pain and inflammation is turmeric. Studies in both humans and animals seem to confirm the many benefits of curcumin, one of the active ingredients in turmeric. Dr. Judy Morgan, DVM, and author of “From Needles to Natural: Learning Holistic Pet Healing,” says that curcumin is a powerful antioxidant. “Antioxidants neutralize free radicals which cause the painful inflammation and damage to joints affected by arthritis,” she says.
High doses of turmeric can act as a blood thinner and cause stomach upset, says Morgan, so it’s important to work with a veterinarian before administering turmeric to your dog. “The suggested dosage is approximately 15 to 20 mg per pound of body weight in dogs,” Morgan explains. “This is approximately 1/8 to a 1/4 teaspoon per day, for every 10lbs of body weight.” Curcumin supplements (e.g., Theracumin) are also available that provide a more consistent dose than does grocery store turmeric.
The resin of the Boswellia serrata tree has long been used in traditional medicines. Recent laboratory research has shown that Boswellia serrata has beneficial effects in pain conditions by inhibiting the production of a specific type of leukotriene, which modulates the immune response to inflammation, explains Dr. Jeremy Frederick, DVM, DACVIM, and CVA, of Advanced Equine of the Hudson Valley. “Although limited clinical research exists in people and animals, the in vitro studies show promising results and suggest a possible positive effect may exist on the body as a whole,” says Frederick.
The good news: There are no known side effects from this compound, and dogs can be treated with human formulations, as long as they do not contain other compounds, according to Petty.
“Dosing is variable and depends on the size and age of the patient,” Frederick says. “Typically, treatment for a 50-pound dog should start at 300 mg. of Boswellia given by mouth twice daily for two weeks after which the dose is halved for ongoing maintenance. “
Although there isn't enough peer reviewed clinical research to prove it, anecdotally cinnamon is reported to help conditions such as irritable bowel disease, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and yes, pain and inflammation related to joints, according to Frederick. That said, small human studies have shown that cinnamon has anti-inflammatory properties that might prevent or at least slow down the wear and tear of joint tissue.
As for how much cinnamon to give your dog, Frederick says that dosing is variable as it is dependent on the size and age of the patient and what condition is being treated. “For a 50-pound dog, a 1/4 teaspoon of powdered cinnamon added to the food twice daily for two weeks is safe and should show beneficial results in relieving arthritis pain,” he explains.
One thing to keep in mind: While consuming cinnamon bark or powder is likely safe for most patients, Frederick warns that it should be discontinued two weeks before any surgical procedure because it thins the blood and could increase the risk of bleeding.
Hawthorn can also be a good choice for dogs suffering from arthritis. “Joint pain caused by arthritis may be alleviated by use of hawthorn because the herb helps the body stabilize collagen, the protein found in joints that is destroyed by inflammatory diseases,” explains Morgan. “Hawthorn also increases circulation, which helps rid the body of toxins which can build up in the joints.”
Hawthorn is a well-loved choice among herbalists because of its cleansing properties. According to Morgan, who studies how Chinese Medicine methods can help animals, pain arises when blood stagnates in the body. “Hawthorn helps decrease pain by moving the blood, which decreases pain,” she says.
One word of caution: Hawthorn can interact with many prescription drugs used to treat heart disease in pets, according to Morgan. “Giving hawthorn along with medication for high blood pressure might cause blood pressure to drop,” Morgan explains. “And safety has not been established in those with severe liver, heart or kidney disease.” If you're considering hawthorn for your dog, speak to your veterinarian first.
Is your pet suddenly showing uncharacteristic aggression? It could be a sign of arthritis. Find out more signs and symptoms of arthritis in pets.