Activity-Related Canine Injuries

Arnica is fantastic for treating activity-related strains and bruises.


by Gregory Tilford He’s fearless. Reckless. Senseless? Or perhaps my Australian Cattle Dog, Cedar, is just accident-prone. Yesterday he slammed head first into a door jam during rough play with my Shepherd-mix, Willow. Today he did a nose dive off a five-foot embankment in pursuit of his favorite all-natural dog toy: a pine cone. As always, he retrieved the cone, chewed it into a slobbery clump of fibrous goo, and dropped it at my feet. On his trot back I noticed he was limping, holding his front leg off the ground. I palpate his shoulder and leg, ignoring the anticipated snarls and growls that he invariably produces with any unsolicited physical manipulation. Mobility seems fine, no tenderness upon touch, I cannot find any evidence of a fracture. It appears that he has suffered a minor sprain. As always I immediately reach for my trusty little vial of homeopathic arnica 30C. The diminutive, white sugar pill is easy to feed – just a quick drop from the vial cap into his mouth and first aid is done. In about 30 minutes Cedar’s limp is barely noticeable. Could the arnica really work that quickly? Or is it just that his injury is less serious than I thought? I honestly don’t know – nor do I care – because my little boy is feeling better. Plus, there is no harm in exercising precaution with a harmless, yet potentially effective homeopathic remedy. In an hour or so I’ll give another pill, and check his leg for swelling, but for now it seems that my reckless little dog got off easy again. Indeed, arnica is an amazing first aid remedy. I use it for myself as well as my dogs, and I would never venture anywhere without it. Awesome herb Preparations made from the bright yellow, daisy-like flowers of arnica have been used for centuries as an effective herbal medicine. Often used by professional athletes in the form of gels, liniments, or oil infusions, arnica is massaged into the site of sprains, bruises, or other closed-tissue injuries. Its contributions to the healing process can be dramatic and almost immediate; the herb acts to quickly dilate peripheral capillaries and lymph ducts. This results in increased circulation and drainage of tissues that are engorged with fluids as a result of injury. The healing process is accelerated by the improved flow of lymph, blood, and platelets in and out of the affected area. Topical preparations of arnica are especially valuable for treatment of horses and other large animals that are subjected to rigorous exercise. Arnica gels or oils can be used on dogs, but measures must be taken to prohibit dogs from licking it off, as preparations of this plant can be toxic if taken internally. This is especially true if any internal bleeding or inflammation is present. And, because arnica stimulates blood flow in tissues where it is directly applied, it should never be used to treat open wounds. Nor should herbal preparations of arnica be applied prior to a surgical procedure. Homeopathic arnica The rules of safe and effective use of homeopathic arnica are quite different. Comparing an herbal preparation of arnica with its homeopathic counterpart is almost like comparing apples with the smell of apple blossoms. Homeopathic arnica is made with such dilute concentrations that scientific analysis of the finished product cannot detect any physical presence of the herb itself; only the “energies” of the plant remain. Instead of working directly upon physical structures of the body through direct chemical interactions (as concentrated herbal preparations do), homeopathic arnica works by stimulating the healing process at sub-physical, bioenergetic levels. The theory is that only a few molecules of the plant are needed to trigger a positive response by the recipient body. Sound far-fetched? Just wait till you use it and see the results! I use “Arnica Montana 30C” – a preparation that is 3,000 times more dilute than the herbal tincture from which it is made. Homeopathic arnica is readily available through health food retailers and comes in a variety of potencies. Homeopathic arnica is very safe and can be used as a first line of treatment for virtually any type of closed injury. I keep a bottle of the tiny sugar pills with me wherever I go – for my dogs and myself. When a twist, sprain, or overextension of a leg results in a limp, I just slip one tiny little pill (smaller than a peppercorn) into my dog’s mouth and wait 30 minutes for a result. If no results occur, I repeat the dose one more time. In many cases, that’s all that’s needed. Like any medicine, homeopathic arnica may not work for everybody. And if you suspect a bone fracture or other serious injury, get your pup to a vet. -Greg Tilford is a well-known expert on herbal medicine for animals. An international lecturer and teacher of veterinarians and pet owners alike, Greg has authored or co-authored four books on herbs, including All You Ever Wanted to Know About Herbs for Pets (Bowie Press, 1999).


  1. I have a dog who gets really swollen joints in her paws – I have done my research – It seems Arnica would be the best option but it is for traumatic injuries – can I still use it – I know the inflammation is not caused by allergies – we have done the testing – she is not allergic – the swelling shows up when the weather is really humid and in winter when it is humid and cold. At that time she will barely accept the ouch of my fingers let alone my hands.