- Chronic inflammation is a serious health condition — Chronically inflamed body parts tend to deteriorate over time, leaving them more susceptible to serious illness.
- Traditional anti-inflammatory meds have side effects — Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) can be a safe way to treat inflammation, but they may cause health complications in sensitive dogs.
- Many natural anti-inflammatories can help your pet — In many cases, inflammation can be managed holistically with the help of nutrient-rich foods, herbs, and supplements.
Your pet’s inflammation might not seem like the most pressing health issue, but it can get serious if left untreated. Under normal conditions, inflammation indicates an immune response to illness and injury — the body is working to fight infection and clean up damaged tissues or toxins. But when inflammation persists for a long time, it may indicate something more pressing. This condition, known as chronic inflammation, can lead to several health complications that impact your dog’s quality of life.
Vets may prescribe NSAIDs to limit symptoms if they become severe enough. However, many of these medications link to adverse side effects. If you’re looking to avoid the potential downsides of NSAIDs, we have several holistic options for reducing inflammation and relieving your dog’s pain.
What conditions are linked to inflammation in dogs?
Inflammation typically triggers redness, swelling, and pain when it’s affecting certain parts of the body, but it’s also been linked to longer-lasting conditions. These include:
- Allergies. When allergens react with the mast cells in a dog’s bloodstream, they release potent chemicals called histamines that cause local inflammation in the form of redness, swelling, and itching. About 15% of dogs with allergies develop inflammation inside their noses that may eventually lead to asthma.
- Chronic pain. Chronic pain has several causes but commonly falls into one of three groups: neurological, inflammatory, or myofascial (muscular).
- Diabetes. Chronic or repeated inflammation of the pancreas (also known as pancreatitis) causes extensive damage to the organ and can eventually result in diabetes.
- Periodontal disease. This infection causes inflammation in the tissues surrounding the teeth. It’s known as gingivitis in its early stages, but if left untreated, it can spread deeper into the tooth socket and destroy the bone.
- Arthritis. When a dog has arthritis, the cartilage in its joints begins to thin over time, leading to fluid buildup and bony outgrowth formations around the joints. The deteriorating cartilage triggers inflammation and pain, ultimately affecting how well the joints are able to function.
- Hip dysplasia. This chronic condition occurs when a dog’s femur bone doesn’t fit neatly into the hip socket. This misalignment causes pain and inflammation and often leads to the development of osteoarthritis. It’s most common in larger breeds and older dogs.
- Enteritis. Infection, parasites, or allergies cause inflammation of the small intestine. An obstruction in the digestive tract can also trigger enteritis, which most commonly leads to diarrhea and stomach problems.
- Cancer. Chronic inflammation has been cited as a risk factor for several types of cancer in dogs.
- Kidney failure. Glomerulonephritis, also known as glomerular nephritis (GN), is a disease that occurs when the blood filters in a dog’s kidneys become inflamed. Certain bacterial infections like E. coli are also linked to inflammation and failure of the kidneys.
👉Diseases that end in -itis are all diseases linked to inflammation.
Risks associated with anti-inflammatory medications
NSAIDs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have generally proven to be safe and effective ways to manage a dog’s pain when used according to their labels. Still, there are risks to consider. Many side effects reported to the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine come from NSAIDs, which may be detrimental to older dogs and dogs with pre-existing medical conditions. Common side effects include vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite, and lethargy.
Veterinary NSAIDs are sometimes associated with gastrointestinal ulcers and an increased chance of liver and kidney toxicity. NSAID toxicity can be dangerous, even fatal if left unchecked, so consult a veterinarian before giving your dog any anti-inflammatory medication.
16 natural anti-inflammatories for dogs
If your dog’s symptoms are mild — or you’re uncomfortable with the possible side effects of NSAIDs — treating their inflammation could be as easy as making a few lifestyle changes. You could adjust your dog’s diet, giving them foods, herbs, and natural supplements rich in anti-inflammatory ingredients.
These 16 natural anti-inflammatory treatments are safe and effective ways to manage your dog’s pain and discomfort. However, they aren’t regulated by the FDA, so consult your vet before trying them.
This microscopic alga contains tons of beneficial nutrients for both humans and dogs. Aside from its powerful anti-inflammatory properties, it’s also great for overall immune system health, gastrointestinal tract health, alleviating allergies, and helping detoxify the kidneys and the liver. You can find spirulina at most grocery stores — look for a reputable product screened to ensure the algae is grown under the right conditions.
This herb is rich in the cell-growth stimulator allantoin, which fights external inflammation by promoting the growth of new cells and keeping skin healthy. Comfrey is highly effective when used as a topical ointment, but make sure your dog doesn’t lick it off — oral ingestion can cause liver damage.
There’s not a lot of conclusive research available on this one, but many pet parents swear by turmeric’s joint support, improved digestive and metabolic function, allergy relief, antioxidant properties, antibacterial properties, and overall immune support. It’s commonly available as an oral supplement.
4. Ceylon cinnamon
Different from most supermarket cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon is available online and is safe for dogs to eat. The more common cassia cinnamon is only OK to give to your dog in small quantities because it contains coumarin. Mix ½ a teaspoon of Ceylon cinnamon into a tablespoon of honey and feed it to your dog daily to help manage joint pain and reduce swelling.
5. Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that dogs (and humans) get from foods like fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and a few fortified commercial pet foods. ZipZyme™ Omega is one such food made from ocean algae, a natural, safe, plant-based source of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a particular type of omega-3.
Cannabidiol (CBD), is a compound found in cannabis and hemp. CBD doesn’t possess the same psychoactive compounds found in marijuana, and in recent years it’s become a popular way for both humans and dogs to manage pain, anxiety, and even cancer treatment symptoms. CBD products for dogs come in several different forms nowadays, including capsules, oils, treats, and salves.
7. Arnica (Arnica montana)
Arnica plant extract is another way to treat external inflammation and associated pain. It works best as a topical cream, but it should never be used on open wounds, as it dilates the blood vessels and can lead to further bleeding. In small traces, the arnica plant can be part of an oral homeopathic remedy — be careful with the dosage, as the herb can be toxic to dogs when ingested whole.
You may already know about ginger’s ability to relieve nausea and gas in dogs, but it’s also an effective way to treat arthritis pain. Ginger inhibits the body’s production of inflammation-causing compounds called leukotrienes. Ginger can even help promote circulation in older dogs, but it should always be used cautiously, as it also causes the blood to thin. Never give your dog ginger before a surgical procedure or if they have diabetes and/or heart problems.
9. Devil’s claw root
Like ginger, this African plant treats dogs experiencing pain and inflammation related to arthritis. Devil’s claw root gets its anti-inflammatory properties from its main ingredient, a compound known as harpagoside. Since devil’s claw root may give your dog a negative reaction if mixed with conventional anti-inflammatory medications, it should only ever be administered orally under vet supervision.
Yucca is a root containing steroidal saponins, which stimulate the production of corticosteroids in the body to reduce pain and inflammation. Yucca is a natural appetite stimulant in dogs and a way to cut down unpleasant odors in their urine and feces. If your dog suffers from arthritis, try giving them a combination of yucca and a couple of the other roots on this list. Avoid giving yucca root to your dog by itself, as it can upset their gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
Better known as candy, licorice is a little-recognized member of the pea family. Its roots contain a compound called glycyrrhizin, which is structurally similar to the body’s naturally occurring corticosteroids and works similarly to reduce inflammation and pain. Licorice is available for dogs in both oral and topical forms, but it shouldn’t be taken long —prolonged exposure to glycyrrhizin can lead to high blood pressure and potassium deficiency.
Some vets recommend daily alfalfa supplements to treat long-term joint pain in dogs with arthritis, especially older dogs. Try sprinkling the herb over your dog’s food or give it to them as an herbal tea.
Meadowsweet is another herb containing anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic, and analgesic properties, making it a great natural treatment for dogs suffering from arthritis. It’s taken orally and works well when combined with other herbs like boswellia.
This herb may promote bone healing and alleviate connective tissue injuries in dogs. Because of these benefits, horsetail is especially good for dogs experiencing post-surgical trauma. It can also provide arthritis relief when combined with comfrey or other joint health supplements.
Another kitchen classic, cayenne’s high capsaicin content provides pain relief in dogs and humans alike. It’s usually taken orally but also works as a topical treatment for external inflammation. Just remember to use small amounts of cayenne when feeding it to your dog (a pinch works just fine) to avoid upsetting their stomach.
14. Green-lipped mussel
These shellfish pack a powerful pain-reducing punch for dogs with arthritis. Green-lipped mussels (GLM) contain enzymes, vitamins, and antioxidants that reduce inflammation and pain in arthritic joints. It can also limit further cartilage damage, support cartilage regeneration, and reduce the gastrointestinal irritation associated with long-term NSAID use. Give it to your dog orally in chews, powder, or capsules — as long as they don’t have a shellfish allergy.
The importance of anti-inflammatory diets
We can’t stress this enough: an anti-inflammatory diet can work wonders for your dog’s chronic inflammation. Foods packed with anti-inflammatory agents not only reduce the severity of symptoms, they also work to prevent inflammation-based illnesses like heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes.
On the flip side, there are also a lot of foods out there that promote inflammation. Avoid processed meats like bacon, hot dogs, ham, and sausage, as well as cheese, egg yolk, refined grains, potatoes, vegetable oils, and margarine. While all of these foods aren’t necessarily harmful to healthy dogs, they should be kept to a minimum when preparing homemade dog food.
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Frequently asked questions
What is a good anti-inflammatory for a dog?
While NSAIDs and other traditional medications can be safe and effective for treating inflammation in healthy dogs, they can also cause adverse effects in older dogs and dogs with pre-existing medical conditions. In cases like these, inflammation is better managed with a combination of anti-inflammatory foods, herbs, and supplements.
What causes inflammation in dogs?
On its own, inflammation is a normal part of a healthy dog’s immune system. However, some injuries and illnesses can trigger chronic inflammation, which can cause serious health problems for your dog over time.
Are NSAIDs safe for dogs?
NSAIDs are generally safe to give to dogs under vet supervision, but they’re also linked to adverse side effects. Never start your dog on NSAIDs without consulting your vet.
What can you give a dog for joint pain?
Veterinarians commonly prescribe NSAIDs to dogs experiencing joint pain, but there are also great joint supplements that can help reduce the pain brought on by inflammatory conditions. The ingredients in these doggy supplements promote ligament health and provide building blocks for cartilage regeneration to ease your dog’s pain and help get them back on their feet.