Common uses for white willow bark are for arthritis, pain and inflammation in dogs, which may affect your pet more in the cold winter months.
In 1828, European chemists extracted the substance salicin from white willow, which was soon purified to salicylic acid. Chemists later modified salicylic acid (this time from the herb meadowsweet) to create acetylsalicylic acid, or aspirin. Willow bark contains salicin and can be considered a natural form of aspirin. It is used for pain relief and anti-inflammatory action. In people, the tea seems more effective than the powdered herb. Salicin is converted by the body to salicylic acid, which means that the side effects of chemically produced aspirin (specifically gastrointestinal ulcers) could occur with willow bark. However, a very large amount of the herb is required to get the same dose of active ingredient. Also, white willow is reportedly not particularly hard on the stomach. This may be due to the fact that most of the salicylic acid in white willow is present in chemical forms that are only converted to salicylic acid after absorption into the body. Salicin is slowly absorbed in the intestines. This means that it takes longer for relief to occur after taking willow bark, but that the effects are longer lasting than salicylic acid.
In dogs, white willow bark can be used for the control of pain and inflammation.
One study reported in the proceedings of the JAHVMA (1997) compared a combination of Western herbs (devil’s claw, yucca, and white willow in a base of alfalfa, watercress, parsley, kelp, and fenugreek), traditional Chinese herbs (white peony root, licorice, epimedium, oyster shell, lucid ganoderma, isatidis, corydalis), aspirin, and a placebo in the treatment of dogs with osteoarthritis. Results of the study showed most improvement in dogs treated with aspirin.
Therapy with the Chinese herbs, while not consistent were better than placebo (the authors suggested that a higher rate of improvement might have occurred if Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnostics, rather than Western diagnostics, were used). The Western herbs were no more effective than placebo. In this study at least, the NSAID was most effective, the Chinese herbs were next most effective, and the Western herbs were ineffective, as was the placebo.
Because cats are sensitive to aspirin, white willow bark should only be used in cats with proper veterinary supervision. Do not use concurrently with aspirin, corticosteroids, or other nonsteroidal, and anti-inflammatory medications.
Although white willow doesn’t appear to upset the stomach as easily as aspirin, based on its chemical constituents it is almost certain that white willow can cause stomach irritation and even bleeding ulcers if used over the long-term. It should also not be used by pets with aspirin allergies, bleeding disorders, ulcers, kidney disease, liver disease, or diabetes.
Safety in pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established; similar precautions are probably warranted in pets.
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