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Michael Dym, V.M.D.
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From Our Holistic Vet: Holistic Options for Pain Management

It is quite heartbreaking for pet guardians to see their cat or dog in pain.

Pain may be caused by many variables, including injuries, common viral or bacterial infections, metabolic illness in the body, as well as degenerative joint or spinal cord disease.

Symptoms of pain may include increased panting, excessive licking, biting or chewing on an area of the body, unusual vocalizing or yelping, mobility issues, frequent restlessness, swelling, loss of appetite, changes in drinking habits, aggressive or antisocial behavior, as well as shaking or trembling.

If your animal experiences these symptoms acutely or chronically, a full veterinary medical workup is recommended to evaluate for the many possible underlying causes. This may include blood work, urine analysis, or radiographic studies or ultrasound. The results of the veterinary workup will determine an appropriate diagnosis, and which will best guide medical therapy.

Over the decades veterinary pain management has evolved to include many different categories of medications, including newer non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, nerve pain reducing agents, as well as different opioid medications.

While these strong medications offer dramatic pain relief, they often come with the potential for significant side effects, including digestive symptoms ranging from vomiting and diarrhea to constipation, as well as excessive stress on the liver and/or kidneys leading to organ failure in some cases. Many of these medications may cause excessive sedation and lethargy as well.

Depending on the cause and origin of the pain, there will often be many natural treatment options available.

Probably the most common application of more natural, holistic options for pain management involve those remedies or supplements for chronic joint or back pain, especially common as pets age. Natural joint supplements can help the animal experience less discomfort and greater mobility.

Even animals who are not suffering from joint pain may benefit from including a joint supplement into the health care regimen. Glucosamine supplements are the most common type of joint supplement for animals. They work by helping to repair the cartilage in the joints, resulting in less discomfort. Many products contain not only glucosamine, but other helpful lubricating joint nutrients, including chondroitin and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM).

I often start animals on these products starting from mid age, which may help prevent or slow down the aging changes of the joints or spine. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation may also help with naturally reducing inflammation in the body and is now widely accepted as helping with not only joint health, but also kidney, heart and brain health, so it is best to incorporate good quality omega-3 fatty acid supplementation even with young animals.

There are many natural herbal options for relieving systemic pain in the body. One of my favorite anti-inflammatory pain relieving herbs is turmeric. Extensive studies have confirmed the many benefits of curcumin, one of the active ingredients in turmeric. Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant, where it decreases the production of free radicals in the body that are involved with most aging and degenerative changes.

Another common herb that is beneficial for relieving pain is Boswellia serrata. I will often use Boswellia containing supplements along with Turmeric and glucosamine/MSM supplements in arthritic or painful animals. This may eliminate or lower the doses of conventional medications needed to manage chronically painful conditions.

Two other herbal favorites of mine are hawthorn and cinnamon. Hawthorn helps stabilizes collagen in the body, which is the major matrix in the body in not only the joints but other tissues as well. By increasing circulation, hawthorn helps detoxify the body through its cleansing effect.

Cinnamon may not only be helpful in reducing joint pain and inflammation, but also with abdominal cramping and irritable bowel syndrome.

There are indeed many other herbal botanicals including ginger, comfrey, devil’s claw and alfalfa, which may all be helpful with reducing pain and inflammation.

Before using any of these herbal supplements it is important to check with preferably a holistic veterinarian on which herbs may be appropriate for any given case, as well as for dosing, as there can be occasional interaction with conventional medications that might be used at the same time.

In recent years, cannabis derived chews, supplements and oils have become more and more popular. CBD is derived from the flowers, leaves and stalks of the hemp plant and contain high levels of cannabinoids. hemp seed oil, which is extracted from the seeds of the hemp plant contains only low levels of CBD. Both CBD and hemp seed oil contain virtually no THC.

I have seen many positive results for reducing pain and inflammation when incorporating hemp products into a preventative or treatment program. Hemp products may also help with relieving inflammation and pain associated with cancer and chronic seizure disorder conditions.

In addition to supplementation, there are also many alternative, holistic therapies that may also help with pain management or prevention.

Acupuncture is probably the most widely used complimentary therapy, and involves the strategic placement of acupuncture needles, which helps enhance circulation and support a normal inflammatory response. Acupuncture may help with not only chronic joint or spinal inflammation, but also with the pain associated with other systemic diseases in the body.

Animal chiropractic is also very helpful for managing subluxations or instability of the spine and is well tolerated and accepted by both dogs and cats. Massage therapy is another modality that is becoming increasingly available and may result in relaxed muscles, improved blood flow and lower stress levels.

There are also an increasing number of veterinary facilities now offering physical therapy and rehabilitation, which may include swimming and various forms of hydrotherapy that are immensely helpful in pain management.

Finally, homeopathy offers a wonderful system of gentle medicine that may help in pain management of various conditions.

For acute pain, homeopathic remedies such as Arnica, rhus tox and ruta graveolens may result in dramatic relief. For more chronic painful conditions, constitutional homeopathy, based on the symptom totality picture of the patient, offers the animal guardian another holistic option for optimal pain management.

No matter which system of medicine is chosen, it is very important for animal companions to be under the care and guidance of a trained holistic veterinarian for optimal results.

Dr. Michael Dym, VMD