by Linda Vognar
Herbal medicine is an ancient healing practice: Ayurvedic and Chinese herbal formulas were recorded thousands of years ago. Even today 70 percent of the world’s population uses botanical medicine to cure and alleviate disease. So it is not surprising that plant medicines have also been used by animal caregivers for millennium.
If you have a pet with arthritis, hip dysplasia, or one of the many bone or joint problems that cause chronic pain, your animal friend may be faced with limited mobility and poor quality of life. Plant-based medicines, as well as massage therapy, physical therapy, spinal manipulation and acupuncture may be a gentler, more holistic solution than commercial veterinary pharmaceuticals.
The list of plants that can relieve pain is long: most common remedies include devil’s claw, boswellia, ginger, turmeric, corydalis, yucca and meadowsweet. Some of these herbs can probably be found on your spice shelf!
Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) is a plant used in traditional African medicine to treat arthritis. The tuber of the plant is used in extracts, decoctions and tinctures. Human studies have shown it to be effective for treatment of low-back pain, where it works to suppress the release of inflammatory substances. Devil’s claw is wild-crafted (harvested from the wild) and is a threatened species in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.
Boswellia (Boswellia serrata), or Indian frankincense, has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. Found in India, Boswellia is gaining popularity among Western herbalists. The active form is often prepared as an extract of resin collected from the sap of the Indian olibanum tree. Studies show boswellic acids reduce inflammatory markers and improve motion in 71 percent of dogs with arthritis. When used with ashwagandha, another Ayurvedic herb, it has been demonstrated to be as effective in pain control as commonly used Western arthritis drugs (NSAIDS).
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) and its sister herb turmeric (Curcuma longa) are kitchen herbs that are often found in Ayurvedic and Chinese medical formulas for arthritis and abdominal pain. Their effects are heightened when combined with boswellia. Tumeric alone has also been shown to be comparable to commercially marketed anti-inflammatory drugs and with no known side effects.
In folk medicine, where it is thought to reduce muscle spasm, corydalis (Corydalis ambigua) is often used to treat back pain, menstrual pain, arthritis pain and traumatic pain. Corydalis root grows throughout the world and can be used as a dried herb, ingested as an infusion (tea), or applied as a tincture. Chinese formulas commonly use this herb in powdered form for pain control.
Yucca (Yucca filamentosa) found in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, is a native remedy for pain. Derived from a desert plant, the stalk, leaves, and root are prepared as poultices or baths for external application. Flowers can be used in salads or boiled and eaten as vegetables. Pods can be roasted or ground into flour for bread making. Yucca is also often dried or made into a tincture to mix into drinks. It has also been added to commercial pet food to produce “odorless” feces!
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) is the first plant used for commercial production of salicin, precursor to the common and potent anti-inflammatory aspirin. Meadowsweet is found wild in northern and southern Europe, North America and northern Asia. The flowers, flowering tops and roots can be made into an infusion but should not be given to cats due to their sensitivity to aspirin.
Finally, for best results, all herbal remedies for pets should be used in consultation with trained veterinary herbalists. Herbs are potent medicines, and when you and your veterinarian proactively seek options for pain management, you can improve your animal friend’s quality of life and happiness immeasurably while minimizing or eliminating the side effects of commercial pharmaceuticals.
Linda Vognar, a Chippewa Valley resident, is a veterinarian who specializes in small animal intergrative medicine, acupuncture and herbal medicine. A graduate of University of California, Davis and Chi Institute of Chinese Veterinary Medicine, Reddick Florida, she currently sees patients at Oakwood Hills Animal Hospital. Website: www.Acupuncture4Animals.com