Sometimes standard pills and medications just don’t help your dog the way they should. When they do work, they often come with a host of possible medications side effects that make your pup uncomfortable.
Enter natural pain relief for dogs. Don’t get us wrong, if your dog is experiencing pain or is suffering from a serious condition, your first stop should be the vet. However, if your pup’s medications aren’t working as well as you’d like, it’s worth trying or asking your vet about any of the five natural pain remedies for dogs listed in this article.
In this article, we’ll place special emphasis on treatments for common conditions such as arthritis and related joint pain for dogs like hip dysplasia. We’ll also place special emphasis on red light therapy, an unconventional therapy that’s approved by the FDA for general pain management in humans, and has shown promising results in preliminary studies treating dogs.
In this article:
- A brief review of the two common causes of joint pain in dogs
- An introduction to red light therapy
- An overview of how red light therapy works for dogs
- Four other natural pain relief options
Two Common Causes of Joint Pain in Dogs
Red light therapy’s ability to provide pain relief is where it can be most useful for dogs. Here we discuss two conditions that can cause severe pain for dogs: arthritis and hip dysplasia.
Does your dog have difficulty getting up after lying down, or seem stiff when walking around? Is your furry friend less likely to chase after a ball compared with years ago? Dogs that show these symptoms and are six years old or older might be suffering from the early stages of osteoarthritis. This is the most common type of canine arthritis, affecting one-fifth of adult dogs in the United States.
Osteoarthritis develops over time as the cartilage that normally protects and cushions the joint degenerates. Less cushioning between two bones causes friction, leading to decreased mobility and pain. The cartilage itself can also become inflamed and develop bony growths called spurs that form around the joints, causing chronic pain in dogs.
The process of cartilage degeneration happens slowly, without any outward symptoms until the cushioning is almost completely destroyed and the bones are pressing against each other. The most common areas affected by osteoarthritis are a dog’s hips, elbows, lower back, knees, and wrists. Veterinarians often prescribe pain medication to help alleviate symptoms.
Another type of arthritis is septic arthritis, more commonly known as inflammatory joint disease. This condition may result from a bacterial or fungal infection in the joint; or from Lyme disease, which is caused by a tick bite.
Male dogs, and large and giant breed dogs, are most susceptible to septic arthritis, which commonly occurs between the ages of three and 11. This condition requires medical attention; a vet will conduct blood and joint fluid tests to determine the cause, as well as perform joint flushes to cleanse the area. After treatment, it’s essential to keep your dog comfortable and mitigate inflammation and swelling with quality at-home care, often involving medications, pain relievers, and physical therapy.
Another painful condition that affects many dogs is hip dysplasia. This is the result of non-uniform growth of the hip during puppyhood—specifically, of the ball joint and socket. By the time a dog reaches adulthood, this non-uniform growth results in an imbalanced hip, which leads to lameness and even osteoarthritis.
Hip dysplasia is a genetic disease that mostly affects larger breeds, like German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers, and is exacerbated by factors such as diet, environment, hormones, exercise, and growth rate. Vets usually recommend that pet owners not overfeed their dogs, especially large breeds, to prevent adding to the weight their joints must carry.
Red Light Therapy for Pain Relief in Dogs
Consider this scenario: Your male golden retriever is suffering from osteoarthritis, and your vet prescribes medication and possibly surgery. But your golden’s condition isn’t likely to disappear completely. Making him comfortable by keeping inflammation at bay is going to be your mission for the rest of your dog’s life—and red light therapy is a natural, safe, non-invasive way to do this.
Also, check out how red light therapy has other veterinary applications on other animals.
As for whether it will work with dogs as well as humans… both species are active members of the animal kingdom, and both are prone to muscle tears, broken bones, sprains, disease, and inflammation. Humans and dogs find relief in warm and cold compresses, antibiotics, and pain relievers such as NSAIDs, among other treatments. If red light therapy helps alleviate pain in humans—and science shows that it does—it should work equally well in dogs.
First, let’s look at how red light therapy works and how it relieves inflammatory pain in the human body.
What Is Red Light Therapy?
Red light therapy is also called low-level light therapy (LLLT) and photobiomodulation (PBM). In terms of usage, it falls under a few different categories: it’s a beauty treatment beloved by celebrities for its collagen-boosting effects; an essential part of fitness routines for numerous professional athletes; and a valuable health and wellness therapy that addresses inflammation—making it especially worthwhile for your suffering dog.
So, how does red light therapy work? The most important thing to remember is that it works at the cellular level. Unlike treatments and medications designed to treat (or mask) symptoms, red light stimulates beneficial processes within cells, which causes the body to naturally heal itself.
The red light comes from devices like panels that are outfitted with light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs in a variety of sizes, strengths, configurations, and wavelengths. During a red light therapy session, your body absorbs photons of light. This has a stimulating effect on cells; specifically, on tiny organelles inside cells (known as mitochondria) that are responsible for creating energy.
Once stimulated, mitochondria produce more adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which are molecules known as the “building blocks of energy.” More ATP leads to a host of physiological benefits related to healing, including cell rejuvenation and reduced inflammation.
You may be wondering: Can’t I just plug in a red light bulb and reap the benefits that way? It’s not that simple, however. When we talk about red light, we’re referring to a specific band of wavelengths that range from 630 nanometers (nm) to 700nm (red light) and from 810nm to 850nm (near-infrared, or NIR light).
These wavelengths can penetrate the skin’s surface and reach various layers: The bigger the wavelength (and the higher the number), the deeper it can penetrate. A few wavelengths in these bands are especially powerful: 630nm, 660nm, 810nm, 830nm, and 850nm. You can learn more about the unique properties of each of these on the PlatinumLED Therapy Lights website.
The reason you need a genuine red light therapy device and not just a red light bulb is because red light therapy devices are built with superior technology that produces the most effective wavelengths. These devices also have a high irradiance, which is the amount of light energy that your body receives in the form of photons. A red light bulb cannot provide the concentration, coverage, and quality of red and NIR light that’s necessary to spark those therapeutic effects.
At the root of red light therapy’s efficacy is its ability to mitigate inflammation, which is the common cause of most types of pain: acute pain, chronic pain, and neuropathic pain, meaning pain caused by damage to nerves. This is because red light stimulates cellular repair and regeneration, which in turn reduces inflammation. A lowered inflammatory response can accelerate the healing process and lead to reduced pain symptoms.
Research has consistently shown this to be true, such as one study conducted in 2007 by researchers from Taiwan. Patients involved in the study were suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that causes pain, swelling, and deformity around the joints. Those who underwent red light therapy sessions reported that the treatment reduced their joint pain by 70 percent and led to a significant increase in palm flexibility and a reduction in morning stiffness.
In 2015, researchers from Brazil conducted a randomized controlled double-blind clinical trial of patients with knee osteoarthritis. Twenty-five of the patients underwent treatment with LLLT three times a week for three weeks. All who were treated with LLLT experienced significant improvement in pain and function.
Promising Outlook for Dogs
So, red light therapy has been scientifically proven to help alleviate pain in people, but can it also be a natural, effective pain treatment for dogs?
The science is promising, such as in a 2017 study by researchers at Oregon State University’s College of Veterinary Sciences. The study found that preoperative red light therapy on 27 dogs undergoing bone surgery resulted in positive effects. Specifically, a greater percentage of the dogs treated with red light had healed in the eight weeks following surgery, compared with the control group that received a sham treatment.
Similarly, a 2000 study found that the use of LLLT at 830nm significantly improved bone healing at early stages in a group of 10 dogs.
Of course, none of the dogs in these studies can tell researchers that yes, their pain was alleviated. But the fact that their bodies healed is itself promising evidence that their pain and inflammation had lessened—due to red light therapy.
Administering Red Light Therapy to Dogs
It’s no wonder, then, that increasing numbers of vets are prescribing in-office treatments of red light therapy for dogs. In an October 2020 article on the vet-written and vet-reviewed website PetMD, Dr. Robin Downing, hospital director of the Windsor Veterinary Clinic in Colorado, shares her thoughts: “Therapeutic laser is used to treat a myriad of conditions, including osteoarthritis, intervertebral disc disease, lick granuloma, cellulitis, and others, in dogs.” She adds: “In fact, any place we find inflammation and/or pain, we can apply the principle of photobiomodulation.”
Many vets like Dr. Downing use a handheld red light device positioned over the affected area of the dog’s body, for a minute or less per site. Most dogs receive two to three sessions per week for two to three weeks—more for graver conditions. The caliber of device used by vets is quite high, similar to what you would see at a spa or dermatologist’s office, with costs ranging from $40 to $150 per session.
Choosing an At-Home Red Light Therapy Device
If you think your pet would benefit from long-term red light therapy treatments but are concerned about the cumulative cost of in-office sessions, consider some of the at-home options.
A company called Equine Light Therapy makes heating pads that can be used for both horses and dogs. These are pads outfitted with red light LED bulbs that deliver a combination of red and NIR wavelengths, and they range in size from about 4” x 9” to 12” x 17”. You simply strap the equine light therapy pad on your pet over the affected area and leave it on for sessions of approximately 15 minutes.
One important factor to consider is the irradiance of these and other at-home devices. The Equine Light Therapy pads are not clinical grade, as they have an irradiance of just 1mw to 5mw/cm2. That is significantly less than that of PlatinumLED Therapy Lights, where the smallest panel, the Bio 300, delivers an irradiance of 94mw/cm2, over a 31” x 21” footprint, at just 6 inches from the device (see the PlatinumLED website for comparisons of irradiance levels and treatment areas).
When choosing a red light therapy device, irradiance is key: The higher the number, the greater the amount of light energy that’s delivered to your dog, which means better results in a shorter amount of time.
Since red light therapy generates such a wide range of benefits for both humans and dogs, it’s smart to think about ways a device might be shared by you and your pooch. That means going for a panel that’s big enough to cover the areas on both of you that require treatment.
PlatinumLED Therapy Lights offers panels that range in size from the aforementioned BIO 300 (and its cousin, the BIOMAX 300) to the BIO600 or BIOMAX 600, both of which are 36” x 9”. The BIOMAX series has some added perks for flexibility: It allows you to customize your configuration of panels, and it features all five of the specialized wavelengths mentioned earlier.
Pain Relief for Dogs: Other Options
Red light therapy is among several methods of natural remedies for joint pain in dogs. Some herbal remedies are also popular and can provide natural relief for dogs—but first, consult your veterinarian. These include:
Turmeric: A widely recognized anti-inflammatory for human and potentially the best natural anti inflammatory for dogs as well, due to the active ingredient, curcumin. Too much turmeric is not good, however, so to calculate the best dose to give your dog, try curcumin supplements (Theracurmin), and follow the directions on the label.
Boswellia serrata: Tree resin that’s a favorite ingredient for natural pain relief in many traditional medicines. Limited clinical research shows that Boswellia serrata inhibits the production of a type of leukotriene, an inflammatory chemical.
CBD Oil: CBD is a rising star among natural pain relief remedies for humans and dogs. CBD is a compound known as cannabidiol, which is found in cannabis and hemp. While there isn’t any definitive scientific data about the effects of CBD on dogs, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that CBD oil can reduce inflammation, treat pain, control seizures, and promote calmness, making it a good natural pain relief choice for a canine in need.
Hawthorn: A popular choice for dogs with arthritis since it seems to stabilize collagen, the protein in joints that is often attacked and destroyed in the course of inflammatory diseases. Hawthorn may also increase circulation and help rid the body of toxins, and it’s thought to be beneficial for cardiovascular health.
Treating Dogs Naturally
No matter what treatment or supplement you give your pup, it’s important to take action sooner rather than later. A dog’s pain is different from our own, in terms of their threshold and awareness of it, and they don’t have the words to tell us how they’re feeling in the moment, or over periods of time.
Since arthritis and other joint issues kick in at about six years of age, it might be wise (with your vet’s approval) to start giving your dog herbal anti-inflammatory supplements a few years prior. Your pup may also appreciate CBD oil for pain relief and a calming effect during anxiety-inducing experiences (car rides, vet visits, grooming, etc.).
This could also be a good time to start exposing your dog to red light therapy, as it will mitigate any inflammation and help your furry friend become acquainted with a new routine; i.e., stretching out for 15 minutes at a time in front of a red light therapy panel.
Whether planning ahead or figuring out an immediate remedy for your beloved pet, consider the options at PlatinumLED Therapy Lights. A wide range of devices are offered, and all are effective at relieving pain, in humans and dogs. Also, they’re customizable for both your health and wellness needs, now and in the future.
The BIOMAX Series are the most advanced consumer red light therapy panels on the market.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION
Q. How can I comfort my dog in pain?
Ans: Provide a cozy bed or sofa with fuzzy blankets for your dog to sleep on to make it as comfortable as possible. Give your dog a relaxing massage, as well as his favorite toys and treats. However, to keep your dog as safe as possible during its illness, remember to feed it a well-balanced diet.