By Sherri Romig CPDT-KA
Plants and herbs offer numerous health benefits to people and animals alike. By taking advantage of the healing qualities of herbs, we can help keep our pets healthy and help them get well faster when they are sick.
When using herbs with our dogs, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
– Herbs, like many other things, should be used in moderation. While they do not possess the same dangers of overdose as pharmaceuticals, it is possible to over do it with herbs and have negative consequences result.
– When we use herbs for specific ailments, it is best to use them short –term until we see results, no longer than 30 days, or under the guidance of a holistic veterinarian.
– For gentle tonic herbs that we plan to use long term to promote health, they should be administered cyclically to give the body a periodic rest. This is most commonly done with a five days on, two days off pattern.
– Because of our dogs’ short digestive tracts, they cannot digest plant material the same way people can. For this reason, our dogs will not derive as many of the health benefits herbs have to offer in their whole form that they might using a tincture or powdered herb.
Following is a list of some of the uses and benefits of many of the herbs commonly used with dogs.
Alfalfa – Known as the “King of Herbs”, alfalfa is loaded with an abundance of vitamins and minerals. The leaves of this plant improve digestion and reduce inflammatory conditions, including arthritis. Alfalfa also helps to alkalinize the urine and alleviate bladder issues.
Aloe – The gel from the aloe vera leaf is applied topically as an excellent wound healer and burn soother. The gel is antibacterial and antiviral, and can be used on flea and insect bites, hot spots, and post-surgical incisions. Taken internally, aloe increases immune function, aids digestion, and has anti-tumor activity. A commercial product is best for internal use, because fresh aloe has a powerful laxative effect.
Astragalus Root – An excellent immune boosting herb, astragalus strengthens the kidney and liver, and can help restore energy to weak and debilitated animals. It is also a great remedy for respiratory ailments, including kennel cough.
Burdock Root – Burdock is a blood cleanser that helps detoxify the body by aiding in the expulsion of pollutants from the blood. It is excellent for skin conditions and arthritis or other inflammatory problems. Burdock is also great for ridding the body of toxins during the switch to a natural diet.
Calendula – The petals of this plant are great to use topically for inflammatory skin conditions, burns, and hotspots. Calendula is antibacterial and antifungal, and has speedy would healing properties. In fact, it heals skin so quickly that it should not be used on abscesses, punctures, or other wounds that need time to drain. Calendula can also be used internally for inflammatory problems and candidiasis (yeast overgrowth.)
Cayenne – Strengthening the heart and circulatory system, cayenne increases circulation and helps balance blood pressure. It also aids digestion and helps reduce flatulence. Topically, cayenne can be applied to arthritic joints or inflammation to help increase circulation and reduce pain. Cayenne powder applied to a wound will also help quickly stop blood flow. Be sure to keep away from mucous membranes to avoid a painful burning sensation.
Chamomile – One of the safest and gentlest of herbs, chamomile is well known for its calming and relaxing properties and its ability to reduce tension and irritability and promote restful sleep. Chamomile is also a top choice for digestive system health and helps to reduce vomiting, diarrhea, and gas. Topically, a chamomile hair rinse leaves the coat bright and shiny, soothes and moisturizes skin, reduces dander, and alleviates discomfort from skin allergies or infections. A well-strained chamomile tea also makes a gentle anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial eyewash.
Corn silk – Corn silk is specific to the urinary system and helps treat urinary tract and kidney infections, reduce kidney and bladder stones, and strengthen the bladder, helping to reduce incontinence.
Dandelion – The root of this plant is a tonic for the urinary system and liver, and its gentle diuretic action helps with congestive heart failure and edema without depleting the body of potassium. Dandelion greens are highly nutritious, full of vitamin and minerals, and help stimulate digestion. Dandelion blossoms have pain relieving qualities.
Echinacea – The root is the most potent part of this immune balancing herb, know for its remarkable ability to fight off illness and infection if taken at the first signs of discomfort. For this purpose, echinacea is best taken in small doses in frequent, two-hour intervals. It is also helpful for inflammatory conditions and helps to reduce pain and swelling.
Garlic – Garlic is a potent antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal that stimulates immune function and helps fight off infection and parasites. It strengthens the liver and is a cardiovascular tonic. Topically, garlic can be used as an antibiotic and infused in olive oil it makes an excellent remedy for ear infection and ear mites. Garlic should be used with caution and never given to young puppies, as at high doses it has been shown to cause anemia in some dogs. A good dose to try is about 1/8 tsp of fresh garlic in each pound of food fed.
Ginger Root – A warming herb good for increasing circulation, aiding digestion, and helping reduce flatulence, nausea, and motion sickness.
Hawthorne Berry – An antioxidant and cardiac tonic, hawthorne is the first choice for any heart condition. It normalizes heart activity, regulates rhythm, and improves circulation.
Lavender – Lavender is known for its calming properties, but has numerous other benefits as well. It makes a great rinse to reduce excess skin oil and alleviate itchiness. Vaporizing lavender helps relieve coughs and ease respiratory infections. Lavender oil can be massaged into joint to reduce stiffness and inflammation. It also works as a mild insect repellant to help keep away flies, mosquitoes, and ticks.
Licorice Root – Licorice is a fast acting anti-inflammatory and immunostimulant that works to reduce pain, itching, and inflammation while soothing the gastrointestinal tract. It stimulates the adrenals, making it an excellent alternative to steroids and a benefit to conditions such as skin conditions, arthritis, and Addison’s disease. It is also a nice expectorant, helping to reduce coughs and phlegm and soothe irritated mucous membranes in conditions like bronchitis and kennel cough. Topically, licorice root serves as an anti-inflammatory for skin disorders. It should not be used internally in diabetic animals.
Milk Thistle Seed – Milk thistle protects and regenerates the liver, even reversing previous liver damage. Use to aid in recovery from serious diseases such as parvovirus and leptospirosis, and to help the body recuperate after anesthesia.
Mullein Leaf – The antimicrobial and antiviral action combined with its ability to ease coughs make mullein the perfect herb for treating kennel cough and bronchial infections. The flowers of this herb can be infused in oil to make a potent remedy for ear infections and ear mites.
Nettle Leaf – Nettle is highly nutritious, loaded with vitamins and minerals. This tonic herb benefits the whole body, especially the respiratory and urinary systems and skin and coat, but it is best known for its ability to decrease the severity of seasonal allergies. Topically, a nettle rinse helps decrease dander, relieves dry and itchy skin, and stimulates hair regrowth.
Oregon Grape Root – This strong antibacterial stimulates increased liver function and digestion and is especially helpful in cases of chronic skin disease and constipation. An oil infusion of Oregon Grape Root can be used topically for cuts, stings, and punctures, and for ear infections or ear mites.
Parsley – Parsley is a highly nutritive herb that helps regulate the body’s pH and aids digestion. It is an excellent choice for kidney and urinary issues, including stones and infections.
Red Clover Blossoms – A blood purifier used both internally and externally for dry, flaky, itchy skin, and to relieve coughs. Combined with burdock root, red clover has been shown to have anti-cancer activity.
Sarsaparilla Root – Sarsaparilla is a detoxifying herb excellent for skin conditions, especially those that are irritated, scaly, or eruptive. It is also an anti inflammatory good for arthritis and helps to lower fevers and aid kidney function.
Slippery Elm Bark – Slippery elm bark is a digestive tonic, nutritious and soothing, and helps lubricate the digestive tract, easing both constipation and diarrhea. It also helps to ease coughs and irritated throats. Combined with a bit of honey, slippery elm makes a gentle and nutritious porridge for sick or convalescing animals. It can also be used externally as a salve for wounds and abscesses.
Thyme – An antiseptic expectorant and cough suppressant that aids the digestive system, eases flatulence, and diarrhea, and helps the body expel parasites. Thyme can also be used topically as an antiseptic and antifungal for skin infections.
Turmeric – An antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and liver protecting herb that helps to lower blood sugar, increase digestion and circulation, and regulate and balance hormones. Turmeric also inhibits cancer and tumor growth.
Valerian Root – A potent herb used to calm nerves, decrease anxiety and aggression, and to relieve tension, restlessness, and pain. Valerian has also been used to alleviate separation anxiety and help reduce the frequency and severity of seizures in epileptic animals.
Yarrow Flowers – Externally, yarrow can be used to stop bleeding and as a skin rinse to alleviate pain and itching and help repel flies, fleas, and mosquitoes. Internally, yarrow is a versatile herb with anti-inflammatory properties that relieve arthritis and dermatitis, decrease fever, ease cold, flu, pneumonia and respiratory infections, soothe upset stomachs, increase digestion and appetite, help expel worms, and repair kidney and urinary tract infections.
Yellow Dock Root – One of the first choices for skin problems, yellow dock is a blood cleanser that can be used internally or externally to ease dry, itchy skin and helps clear chronic skin conditions, including ringworm. Yellow dock’s high iron content and anti-inflammatory properties make it helpful in cases of anemia, arthritis, and constipation.
Dr. Kidds Guide to Herbal Dog Care by Randy Kidd, DVM, 2000 Storey Publishing
The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care by CJ Puotinen, 2000 McGraw Hill
Herbs for Pets by Gregory Tilford and Mary Wulff, 2009 Bow Tie Press