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Herbs Offer Safe, Effective Pain Management

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Many pet owners want ways to relieve their animals’ pain without side effects. But commonly prescribed drug combinations do not always fully address the causes of a pet’s pain, often have unpleasant side effects, and cannot be used long-term.

In contrast, an herbal approach to pain can address causes, has few to no side effects, and can be used over a long period. Pain often arises from intense stimuli that cause tissue damage, leading to the accumulation of inflammatory metabolic compounds in the area: histamines, prostaglandin-E, bradykinins, the metabolites from arachidonic acid metabolism (cyclooxygenases and lipoxgenases), and leukotrienes. Leukotrienes will result in chemotaxis, chemokinesis, the synthesis of super oxide radicals (ROS) and the release of lysosomal enzymes by phagocytes. This sets up a process of cyclic pain, starting at the sensory nerves through the spinal cord pathways to the brain, and is difficult to assuage unless all contributing factors are mollified. No one drug or herb can completely and effectively block this process.

The veterinarian must understand the biochemical pathology and how it detrimentally affects physiology. When multiple tissues are involved, mollifying pain can be a challenge. NSAIDS are designed to control the release of prostaglandins, but therapeutic inhibition of the 5-lipoxygenase pathway is minimal. As a result, veterinarians are now adding opiates and other drugs to the pain control treatment plan. Because most dogs having issues with pain and chronic inflammation are older or geriatric, using NSAIDS, steroids or opiates long-term will often result in gastric and intestinal ulcers, vomiting, diarrhea, behavioral changes (from synthetic opiates) and liver damage. With long-term use, many NSAIDs will inhibit joint cartilage repair and regeneration and worsen the condition.

Herbal formulas, alone and in combination, should be considered for pain management. Boswellia, for example, reduces inflammation through the inhibition of pro-inflammatory 5-lipoxygenase chemicals, thereby decreasing leukotriene synthesis. Boswellic acid and its derivatives have anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic and anti-ulcerogenic effects. Ginger has anti-inflammatory actions due to its inhibition of arachidonic acid and subsequent decreased syntheses of cyclooxygenase and lipoxygenase enzyme and leukotriene pathways. Active gingerols were shown in clinical studies to be more potent prostaglandin inhibitors than indomethacin and a number of NSAIDS.

Relieving pain due to aging or any long-term inflammatory process requires a combination of antioxidants and a complementary blend of herbs to prevent DNA damage, facilitate repair, improve blood flow and circulation, decrease the sources of pain, and support liver function and detoxification. A multi-therapeutic plan is most beneficial and may consist of vitamins C and E, minerals such as selenium and manganese, and herbal formulas containing complementary blends of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory herbs like ginger, licorice, turmeric, yucca, noni, boswellia, alfalfa, cat’s claw, devil’s club and meadow sweet.

The addition of joint repair supplements such as anti-inflammatory chondroitins from sea cucumber or perna mussel, and Omega-3 from fish or krill oil, may also be useful in conjunction with hydrotherapy, massage and acupuncture. Drugs alone will not satisfy the pain-quelling needs of patients, or support their health and longevity.


Dr. Ihor Basko graduated from Michigan State University, and studied Chinese medicine, acupuncture, herbology and homeopathy. He joined the IVAS, and is a member of the AHVMA, AVMA and VBMA. Dr. Basko practices TCM/acupuncture and nutritional therapy in Hawaii.

Dr. Ihor Basko graduated from Michigan State University in 1971 with a DVM degree with special interest in cardiology, orthopedic surgery and internal medicine. He began his studies in Chinese medicine, acupuncture, herbology and homeopathy in 1974. He joined the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society in 1977 and began teaching acupuncture, herbalog, and nutrition to IVAS in 1979. He was certified in 1985 and is a member of the AHVMA, AVMA, VBMA, and HVMA licensed in California and Hawaii. Dr. Basko practices TCM/Acupuncture and Nutritional Therapy on Kauai and Oahu, Hawaii.