Many of us regularly turn to herbal medicine to help treat a wide variety of health issues from minor to more chronic and serious conditions. But what about our canine friends? Are herbs a safe and effective option for treating their health issues?
The simple answer is…. ABSOLUTELY! All animals will instinctively gravitate to plants when in the wild to medicate or cleanse themselves and dogs are no exceptions. In fact, they are indeed excellent herbalists! I am sure you have watched your dog sniff out just the exact blade of grass or weed that they need, bypassing many seemingly similar ones on the way. I love the way dogs do this…their instincts draw them to what they need to help them in that particular moment. Dogs need greens to assist digestion and enhance nutrition and when needing a medicinal plant, they intentionally go looking for it. Wild dogs do not suffer from the ills of their domestic friends mainly because they live on a natural diet with free access to herbs as required.
Using plants as medicine is probably the oldest of the healing arts and as animals became domesticated, healers within the tribe would treat them along with humans. Today, herbs can play an important role in keeping your dog healthy and happy well into their old age. Herbs are an inexpensive, safe and effective way to treat a wide variety of health conditions that are commonly plaguing our dogs today. From skin allergies, acute and recurring infections, joint problems, infertility, digestive and immune dysfunction, arthritis, hormonal imbalance, heart and circulatory problems….the list goes on.
While there are certainly herbs that should not be given to dogs, the great majority can be safely used as long as prescribed correctly. Herbs are useful for both external and internal application and because they have multiple actions, they provide many benefits, without the side effects that come from conventional pharmaceuticals. They can be used alongside conventional medications as a support therapy or as a stand alone treatment.
When used correctly, they can turn around the poor health of a sick or aging dog by:
Generally, herbs come as fresh, dried (in powder or leaves) or tincture (liquid) form. Fresh herbs can be chopped straight into your dog’s food while dried herbs can be mixed in with food or made into a tea, cooled and then added to food. Tinctures are generally added directly as drops into food.
Here are a few I regularly like to prescribe:
Slippery elm– one of my favourites because it is so gentle and versatile. It is useful for diarrhea, IBD, any GI tract inflammation. It is also useful for urinary tract infections, canine cough and throat irritations. The powder can be mixed in a little honey or yoghurt and fed to your dog.
St Mary’s thistle – for any kind of liver toxicity and as a liver tonic; it is protective of the liver, particularly when medications are being administered. St Mary’s thistle contains Silymarin, a compound which assists in liver protection and regeneration. I recommend using this twice a year for a couple of weeks at a time to help detoxify the liver. Of course, it combines well with other liver herbs such as Dandelion and Schisandra and it features regularly in my mixes.
Turmeric – this member of the Ginger family contains Curcumin which can assist in reducing the inflammation associated with arthritis and other joint problems in dogs. It is a powerful liver antioxidant and gut mucosal healer (where there are leaky gut and other issues) and I use it regularly for such issues in my doggie clients. It has many other properties including anti-tumour activity and boost the immune system.
Chamomile – for calming both the nervous system and the digestive in dogs, Chamomile is gentle but effective. It can be helpful for separation anxiety or general anxiety issues, and digestive upsets (especially where emotional stress may be a trigger- eg- moving house, going away or any similar change in your dog’s routine), and skin issues (also where stress is the trigger) . Externally it is very calming for skin irritations and combines well with Calendula and Hypericum for this. Cooled Chamomile tea can be given to your dog prior to travelling to assist with travel stress.
Garlic –many people are concerned that Garlic cannot be given to dogs due to its toxicity. Although a member of the Onion family, it is certainly safe to feed your dog Garlic as long as you do not over do it. Other members of the Onion family including onions, leeks etc are toxic to dogs and can cause haemolytic anaemia (essentially this means that blood cells become ruptured) and this can be fatal. However, when adding a small amount of fresh garlic in your dog’s diet, you are boosting immunity and helping fight infections, strengthening the heart, cleansing the blood, giving an antioxidant boost and helping control parasites. I use this regularly in my herbal mixes for a wide variety of conditions from gut infections, heart problems, skin allergies and blood toxicity, worming mixes and so on.
NB- While many herbs are safe to use without professional prescribing, it is always advisable to consult with an animal Herbalist or Naturopath for your dog’s individual health condition. A specific treatment plan can be put together that is particular to your dog’s needs.
This article was contributed by Lyndall Pinchen of Canine Vitality a naturopathic health clinic for our furry mates in Cedar Grove QLD. If you’re out of the local area no worries! Canine Vitality offers online and phone consultations to help sort out your canine health issues. T: 0417 710 882 M: 0417 710 882 E: lyndall firstname.lastname@example.org Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/caninevitality Website www.caninevitality.com.au