6 Natural Ways to Ease Your Dog’s Joint Pain

From canine massage to Omega-3 fatty acids, there are natural options for easing joint aches and pains.

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As my own pups have aged, veterinarians have often suggested pharmaceuticals to help soothe stiff, aching, painful joints. For the record, I happen to agree that sometimes this approach is absolutely warranted when it comes to safeguarding quality of life for our canines (and cats). But I’ve also noticed that Western medicine tends to focus on the solution that works most swiftly. The treatment suppresses bothersome symptoms; though it may not necessarily alleviate the underlying issue or imbalance. Sometimes, it also produces harsh side effects. In fact, popular NSAID drugs like Rimadyl/carprofen can have dangerous side effects.

So I believe it also makes sense to familiarize ourselves with lifestyle and dietary measures that may help improve mobility; sometimes even slow the progression of joint damage. Certainly, none of these options represents a “magic bullet.” But when used in an integrative manner with responsible veterinary supervision, results can be quite promising. Here are some tried-and-true tips you can discuss with your pet’s healthcare provider:

1. Gentle massage and acupressure

My vet strongly agrees that regular massage can actually help slow joint degeneration. It can also reduce muscular tension, which alleviates some of the aches associated with arthritis. As an added bonus, it helps remove systemic toxins, stimulate circulation, and increase your existing canine/human bond. The key is keeping things very calm, gentle and gradual — no longer than 10 to 12 minutes per session. Massage around (not directly on) the painful joint and surrounding muscle with tiny circles, long strokes, or a very light kneading motion. If your dog seems distressed by a particular anatomic area, move to a different spot. Also consider consulting a certified pet massage professional for deeper tissue massage, and/or gentle, energy-based treatments like acupressure.

2. Acupuncture

In conjunction with herbal medicine, food-based therapy, Tui-na and Qigong, acupuncture represents one of the five key components of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). This ancient philosophy maintains that an elemental life force known as “Qi” (pronounced “chee”) flows throughout the body along pathways called meridians. These pathways can become blocked, obstructing energy flow and eventually leading to disease or discomfort. Acupuncture uses extremely thin needles to help stimulate, balance and direct this energy flow. It’s been shown to help release endorphins, boost immunity, reduce inflammation, and neutralize painful trigger points. It’s also well-tolerated by many pets. To find a certified practitioner in your area, check with the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture (AAVA).

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3. Glucosamine

Many joint supplements available today (for both humans and pets) include both glucosamine and chondroitin. Glucosamine is recognized for its ability to help promote synthesis of the thick, viscous joint fluid that helps cushion and insulate movement. Because it’s comprised of fairly small molecules, it’s normally well-absorbed by the body. My vet recommends that a 50-pound dog receive 1,000 milligrams per day — but as with any compound, it’s always important to begin gradually and monitor tolerance. Chondroitin is a core cartilage component, though its larger molecules aren’t absorbed into the body quite as optimally as glucosamine.

4. Boswellia

Also known as Indian Frankincense, this traditional Ayurvedic herb has been used for centuries to treat inflammatory conditions. Modern research actually confirms that boswellic acids can help calm inflammation and slow muscle degeneration. In fact, some researchers claim that these compounds are more potent — and less toxic to the liver and kidneys — than certain standardized anti-inflammatory drugs. One animal-specific German study found that boswellia reduced symptoms of arthritis in 71 percent of participating dogs. These days, it’s not difficult to find commercial boswellia supplements made specifically for canines. I’ve personally used NaturVet S.O.D & Boswellia Chewable Tablets with success, feeding up to 150mg per 20 pounds of dog. If you’re using boswellia tablets formulated for humans, consult your vet because dosage always depends on weight and existing health status. Cut back or discontinue use if this supplement seems to prompt nausea in your pup.

5. MSM

MSM is short for Methylsulfonylmethane. This organic, sulfur-containing compound is often sold as a dietary supplement. In the early 1980’s, biochemist Robert Herschler patented certain dietary and pharmaceutical uses of this compound, claiming that MSM can help to calm various forms of inflammation. Stanley W. Jacob later co-authored a book promoting MSM for its anti-inflammatory health benefits. Currently, there’s no dietary reference intake guideline established for sulfur in the canine diet; however, this compound may be worth discussing with your vet.

6. Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA, DHA, and ALA can be found in fish oil, krill oil, and flax oil – and they’ve long been known to calm inflammation and even help alleviate arthritic discomfort. Salmon oil is especially effective for canines because its Omega-3 components are readily bio-available.

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One powerhouse inflammation-buster we haven’t covered here? Turmeric for dogs. In fact, this amazing herb offers multiple canine benefits — so check back for a special spotlight column. And if you’ve tried natural, pooch-friendly inflammation remedies yourself, share your insights here!

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Marybeth Bittel

Marybeth lives in the Midwest with her wonderful husband, and her rescue dogs Grant and Maizy — all of them Heinz 57 mixed-breed types. A freelance writer and marketing consultant, she’s been rehabilitating severely abused rescues for over two decades. She’s currently working toward specialized certifications in animal nutrition counseling. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her family Instagram feed.

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