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Anti-inflammatory solutions for dogs

Updated 01 February 2024
Read time: 17 mins
article author
Written by Corinne Homer
Copywriter

If your dog suffers from inflammation anywhere in their body, whether it's a sensitive tum, osteoarthritis or just general aches and pains, you’ll know that it can be a challenge keeping their physical and mental wellbeing in tip-top shape.

 

In this guide, we’ll go over the types of inflammation in dogs, what to look out for, and the various ways in which these conditions can be treated - from conventional medication to alternative remedies and supplements.

 

With our simple guide to anti-inflammatory treatments for dogs, you’ll have the full knowledge in deciding what’s best for you and your pooch.

 

Understanding inflammation in dogs

Inflammation in dogs can be both a symptom and a cause for certain conditions, and that can be confusing for dog owners. Let’s start with the basics, and then discuss the different ways inflammation can present in dogs…

 

What is inflammation in dogs?

Inflammation is a natural response in a dog’s body, and can be triggered by a number of factors - from an injury, to air pollution, to certain foods.

 

Wherever there has been significant stress in the body (e.g. in a specific muscle due to extreme exercise, or pressure on joints), the body will flood the area with fluid and antibodies to fight the stress.

 

This can result in reddened skin, swelling, heat and temporary pain. Inflammation can occur anywhere in the body and produce different symptoms; in the gut, for instance, it can cause bloating and gas or even sickness and diarrhoea.

 

Though inflammation is intended to act as a protective process, too much inflammation over an extended period of time (called chronic inflammation) can actually cause damage and discomfort to a dog. In these cases, extra help is needed to reduce it, either through preventative measures, or treatment such as medication and/or natural remedies.

 

Causes of inflammation in dogs

Inflammation in a dog’s body can be caused by a number of triggers…

Injuries Even minor injuries such as sore limbs after strenuous exercise can cause inflammation in the relevant area (such as muscles). It can also be brought on by a sprain or superficial bump, or after surgery.

Environmental factors External triggers such as air pollution, viruses or allergens can cause inflammation in your pooch’s body.

Food/Diet One of the most common causes of inflammation is diet. High-fat foods can lead to inflammation in the gut or pancreas, or if your pooch is allergic to a food group, their body may fight extra hard to digest these foods, leading to inflammation and allergic reactions.

Lifestyle stresses Even emotional stressors can cause inflammation in a dog. A house move, improper care or having a new pet in the house can upset their immune system. In these cases the body releases cortisol, a stress hormone, which can kick off an inflammatory response.

 

Types of inflammation in dogs

As mentioned, inflammation can occur all over a pooch’s body, affecting and presenting in a dog in different ways.

 

Some illnesses and health disorders that we know well by other names, are actually forms of inflammation in the body. Here are just some of the different types of inflammation:

 

Osteoarthritis This extremely common health disorder affects up to 8 in 10 dogs within their lifetime, and is caused by inflammation of the joints. The wearing down of cartilage and bone causes chronic inflammation in these areas as the body works to soothe and protect the joint.

Dermatitis When a pooch has a skin infection or is allergic to something, the body will try to attack the offending trigger by releasing antibodies. This inflammation can cause reddening, itchiness, rashes and heat in the skin, which long-term can lead to dermatitis.

Periodontal disease When your pooch has a tooth or gum infection, either through old age or because they haven’t received adequate dental care, inflammation of the gums and mouth leads to periodontal disease.

Gastrointestinal inflammation Inflammation of the gut is extremely common in dogs, and is often caused by food and diet. Sometimes an intolerance to certain food groups, such as grain or dairy products, can cause inflammation that leads to gastrointestinal issues.

Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) Infections in the bladder and urinary tract can cause inflammation, which without treatment can lead to chronic infections.

Pancreatitis High-fat diets fed to a pooch long-term can lead to pancreatitis, a condition of inflammation in the pancreas.

Ear and eye infections Allergies or harmful bacteria can lead to inflammation of ears and eyes, and infections such as conjunctivitis (an eye infection).

Pneumonia Inflammation of the lungs can be a cause and/or symptom of pneumonia in dogs, which is brought on by bacteria, viruses or fungal infections.

 

Signs of inflammation in dogs

The signs of inflammation are similarly widespread, of course, depending on where the inflammation is centred (e.g. inflammation of the joints may present as difficulty walking).

In general, keep an eye out for any of the following symptoms in your dog:

  • Redness, swelling, itching of the skin
  • Stomach issues such as sickness or diarrhoea
  • Eye and ear irritation/redness
  • Difficulty breathing; wheezing
  • Changes in behaviour, drop in energy levels
  • Pain (in joints, stomach etc.) Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty walking, unusual gait


Keep a note of how often symptoms present, and take your dog to the vet for an examination.

 A golden retriever licking its lips against a blue background

Conventional anti-inflammatory treatments

If your pooch suffers from inflammation of some kind, it’s likely their vet will prescribe one or more of the following conventional treatments:

 

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

NSAIDs, which stands for Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, tend to be the ‘go-to’ treatment for a dog who has inflammation.

 

They come in various forms; the most common types in the UK are Carprofen (Rimadyl) or Meloxican (Metacam), but there are many other types you may be prescribed first depending on your dog’s specific issues.

 

Benefits and side effects of NSAIDs

NSAIDs main purpose is in reducing inflammation and the negative side effects of inflammation.

 

Without getting too scientific, they work by inhibiting the enzymes which produce a substance called prostaglandins, which are responsible for pain, fever and inflammation in the body.

 

By inhibiting these enzymes, negative symptoms of inflammation such as itching, redness, swelling and pain are reduced, and they feel some physical relief.

 

Over-the-counter availability and usage

It’s really important that NSAIDs are prescribed by a vet, not bought over the counter.

 

Your vet can recommend how often your pooch should take the medication and whether it should be short-term or long-term, as it depends on their health condition and whether they’re receiving any other regular treatment.

 

Combining NSAIDs with other medications

It’s quite common to combine NSAIDs with other treatments, but only on the advice of your vet.

 

Speak to them about all the medication your pooch is taking, and inform them before using any over-the-counter treatment, as NSAIDs may be less effective if combined with certain meds.

 

Steroids

Your vet may also prescribe steroids to treat your dog’s inflammation. They’re often used for skin conditions, allergies, autoimmune diseases or osteoarthritis, as well as other infections of the body.

 

Uses, benefits, and side effects of steroids

Steroids release anti-inflammatory agents, and work powerfully to reduce inflammation and its symptoms.

 

This is especially useful if a dog’s body is overproducing an immune response, as it can suppress that response and stabilise it to a more comfortable, manageable level. Their use must be carefully monitored, though - as overuse or misuse of steroids can have side effects.

 

Steroids can cause an increased susceptibility to infections, metabolic changes which can lead to weight gain, and gastrointestinal issues.

 

Combining steroids with other medications

Always check with your vet whether prescribing steroids to your dog will interact with other medications they may be on. Your vet will have full knowledge of your dog’s health condition and which medications can be used together.

 

Antihistamines

Antihistamines are mostly used to combat inflammation caused by allergic reactions, as histamines are the substances released by the body during allergic responses.

 

Uses, benefits, and side effects of antihistamines

Antihistamines for dogs are used to combat the nasty symptoms of allergic reactions, and as part of that, they have mild anti-inflammatory properties.

 

As allergies can manifest as itching, swelling, redness and rashes, antihistamines work to lessen these symptoms, and also reduce some inflammation in a dog’s body.

 

Antihistamines aren’t really powerful enough to combat severe inflammation. For more chronic health conditions, stronger medication such as NSAIDs or steroids are usually prescribed.

 

Combining antihistamines with other medications

Combining antihistamines with stronger meds, such as steroids, is quite common practice - but should always be done on a vet’s advice. Be sure to chat thoroughly about your dog’s treatment plan and what medication should and shouldn’t be combined.

 

Risks of conventional anti-inflammatory medications

There are always risks associated with conventional medication - your pooch might have an adverse reaction to treatment, a combination of meds might interact negatively and cause side effects, or you might worry that your dog becomes dependent on medication.

 

In some cases, dogs on anti-inflammatory medication develop suppressed immunity, an increase in blood pressure or in severe cases, liver or kidney complications. Some dog owners decide to try natural remedies, in the hopes that changing diet and environment may have some impact.

 

A small golden coloured dog against a purple background

Natural anti-inflammatory alternatives

There are a host of natural remedies for inflammation in dogs that could be used either in combination with conventional treatments, or as an alternative treatment. Let’s go into the most common natural remedies for inflammation in dogs…

 

Natural anti-inflammatory foods for dogs

Some foods in the natural world are known for their anti-inflammatory properties - turmeric being one of them. The yellow spice is quite a powerful ingredient, so must be administered to dogs in the correct way so as not to cause any digestive issues.

 

Turmeric and Golden Paste

Turmeric has been used in ancient medicines for thousands of years as it contains curcumin, an antioxidant known to reduce inflammation in the body.

 

It’s important to use the right amount of turmeric, to avoid your pooch having any digestive problems. The amount depends on your dog’s size, but the recommended dosage is typically 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon per 10 pounds of a dog’s body weight.

 

To make an edible turmeric mix, called ‘Golden Paste’, simply simmer some turmeric with water and olive oil in a pan. Some pooch parents also add a dash of black pepper, so that the turmeric is absorbed into the body easily. You can then add it to a dog’s regular food.

 

Other beneficial foods and herbs

The plant world is full of natural anti-inflammatories. Other foods and herbs known for their anti-inflammatory effects in dogs include the following:

 

Oily fish such as salmon or mackerel, due to their omega-3 fatty acids.

Pineapple, for its anti-inflammatory enzyme, bromelain.

Ginger, for gingerol, its anti-inflammatory component. It’s often recommended to reduce turbulence in the gut.

Blueberries, which contain numerous antioxidants that fight inflammation.

Broccoli for its antioxidants such as sulforaphane, alongside vitamins which have anti-inflammatory properties.

Boswellia serrata, derived from a tree, has been used in African medicine for many years to reduce inflammation.

 

Anti-Inflammatory diet for dogs

Foods that reduce inflammation are beneficial to all dogs, no matter their health condition, as a healthy, well-balanced diet can act to prevent the onset of inflammation diseases.

 

Foods that have anti-inflammatory properties also tend to contain a host of other nutrients and health benefits.

 

Implementing a natural anti-inflammatory diet

If you want to focus on implementing anti-inflammatory foods into your dog’s diet, do so gradually - don’t just add all new foods into their dog bowls one day, as they’re sure to get a tummy upset!

 

Perhaps chat to your vet about which foods may be of particular benefit, introduce the food gradually alongside your pooch’s regular dog food, and be sure to phase out foods which contribute to inflammation.

 

Foods to avoid

There’s a vital step in creating an anti-inflammatory diet for your dog, and that’s to phase out foods that will trigger inflammation.

 

These foods include:

  • Foods high in saturated fat, salt or sugar. This usually includes ‘naughty’ dog treats, cheap dog food or too many human table scraps.
  • Processed foods that don’t contain whole ingredients and are full of artificial flavourings and preservatives.
  • Foods with a high grain or gluten content can cause inflammation in some dogs due to an intolerance or allergy to grain or gluten.
  • Dairy products such as cheese or milk can cause inflammation due to their high fat content or a lactose intolerance.
  • Any food that triggers allergic reactions. Of course, your dog could be allergic to any food, even a popular protein for dogs such as chicken. If your pooch has a food allergy, definitely avoid these foods.

Supplements and therapies

Supplements for dogs are an extra superpower in your inflammation-fighting arsenal. Nutrient-packed supplements can be given in the form of food, or they can be bought as oils, powders or tablets to add to regular meals, almost like a condensed shot of anti-inflammatory power.

 

Common supplements for inflammation

Let’s take a look at the most well-known supplements to reduce inflammation in dogs:

 

Glucosamine and Chondroitin

Glucosamine and Chondroitin are often championed when it comes to reducing inflammation, particularly in joints - as they are a veritable power duo derived from the natural world.

 

Found in shellfish such as green-lipped mussels, glucosamine helps form the building blocks of cartilage, and in doing so, reduces the need for a pooch’s body to try to ‘heal’ the joint with inflammation.

 

Glucosamine supplements for dogs are often used to combat the symptoms of arthritis and joint pain.

 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids, such as Omega-3, are hugely beneficial to a dog’s body as they contribute to building healthy cells.

 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids can boost a dog’s immunity, improve skin and coat condition, contribute to heart health, brain function and a dog’s nervous system, and reduce inflammation.

 

Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in oily fish; fish oil for dogs in supplement form can be drizzled over food each day.

 

Pooch & Mutt's Salmon Oil being poured from the bottle onto a spoon, with a bowl of dog food below, against a blue background

Other beneficial supplements

Other beneficial supplements for inflammation in dogs include:

  • Collagen, derived from animal skin and bones, is seen as a protective booster to joints.
  • Devil’s Claw, used in African medicine for many years, has anti-inflammatory effects.
  • Yucca, derived from the yucca plant, has long-known medicinal properties.
  • Vitamins E and C offer anti-inflammation as a secondary effect.
  • CBD oil. Though not confirmed by veterinary boards as a legitimate dog supplement, some dog owners add a few drops of CBD oil to their dog’s food for its soothing, pain relieving effects.

Alternative therapies

Inflammation often causes physical effects in dogs, such as pain in the joints and effects on mobility. To ensure their dog is getting all the benefits of different treatments, lots of pooch parents opt for alternative therapies, such as physiotherapy or even acupuncture.

 

Physiotherapy

A physio can help stretch your dog’s body to reduce pain in their limbs or joints, promote good digestion, massage aching areas and boost their overall mood. They can also educate you in beneficial exercises for your dog.

 

Hot and cold therapies

Hot and cold therapies could include ice packs or heat packs, or immersing your pooch in a warm or cold bath to stimulate the areas of inflammation and reduce pain. You should always get a vet’s advice over how to do this properly, so that it acts to soothe your dog rather than panic or distress them.

 

Hydrotherapy

Low impact exercise, like taking a dog to swimming classes, or having them use an underwater treadmill, can ensure they’re getting all the benefits of exercise without putting too much stress on the areas in which they might feel pain. Done well, it can be fun for a dog, especially if they often seem frustrated at their limited movement.

 

Acupuncture

It may seem daunting to some pooch parents, but acupuncture is one alternative option to beat inflammation in your dog. Very thin needles are inserted into specific zones of a dog’s body, known as ‘trigger points’, which has been seen to relieve a dog’s pressure and pain.

 

Best practices in administering anti-inflammatories to dogs

Always remember that anti-inflammatories, whether conventional medications or natural remedies, should be given to your pooch with a sense of caution.

 

Be especially careful if your dog is taking other medications already, and be mindful of your dog’s wellbeing and behaviour after they’ve tried a new food or supplement for inflammation.

 

When to consult a vet

Always chat to your vet before you try out a new treatment for your pooch, whether that be a prescribed medication, a natural remedy or alternative therapy - and stay in touch with them throughout the process of treating inflammation.

 

Be aware of how your dog responds to treatment, and if they display any adverse symptoms, such as increased skin irritation, pain, sickness, diarrhoea or other behavioural changes - and make sure to report back to your vet immediately.

 

Frequently asked questions

Phew! Hopefully at this point, you’re feeling well equipped to decide the best course of action to treat inflammation in your dog. Here are a couple of final questions to round off your comprehensive knowledge.

 

Can diet help with arthritis in dogs?

Osteoarthritis in dogs is sadly incurable, as it is a degenerative disease that wears down your dog’s joints over time.

 

What you can do, as a dog owner, is use a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods and supplements to ease the symptoms of arthritis in your pooch and make getting around more comfortable for them.

 

If your pooch has yet to be diagnosed with arthritis, or if they’re not even showing any signs of sore or aching joints, you can absolutely put them on an anti-inflammatory diet as a preventative measure, to delay the onset of arthritis.

 

Is Ibuprofen safe for dogs?

No. Ibuprofen is a common remedy for pain relief for humans, but it absolutely shouldn’t be given to dogs.

 

Though ibuprofen is an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug), and used to reduce inflammation in humans, even a small amount of ibuprofen can be toxic to dogs. It could lead to kidney, liver or heart damage, or even attack the central nervous system.

 

Talk to a vet to be prescribed an anti-inflammatory medication that is safe for dogs to use.

 

Is Benadryl a good anti-inflammatory for dogs?

Only if administered by a vet.

 

Benadryl is a common remedy for allergic reactions in humans, and it can be given to dogs in certain circumstances, but never by a dog owner without advice from a vet.

 

If your pooch is suffering from an allergic reaction, use medication prescribed to your specific dog or take them to a vet for a recommendation.

 

At Pooch & Mutt we implement beneficial ingredients that reduce inflammation in all of our healthy, grain-free dog food. What’s more, our Salmon Oil for Dogs or our Joint Care Supplement for Dogs offer a safe, accessible way to give your beloved pooch a shot of anti-inflammatory nutrients.

References

  1. 'The essential fatty acids omega-6 and omega-3: from their discovery to their use in therapy' (National Library of Medicine, NIH) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18449139
  2. ‘Randomised double-blind, positive-controlled trial to assess the efficacy of glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate for the treatment of dogs with osteoarthritis’ (National Library of Medicine) - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16647870/ 
  3. Canine Osteoarthritis and Treatments: A Review’, 2015 - Veterinary Science Development.

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