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Guide to Herbal Remedies and Your Pet

Dec 14, 2021

This guide does not constitute medical advice. As with any changes in your pet’s diet, it’s best to consult your veterinarian first, especially if your pet is on medications. 

Herbs have been used by people for thousands of years. Herbal remedies can be helpful to our animal friends as well. While they are not a substitute for veterinary treatment, herbs and veterinary medicine can work together to support your pet’s best health. Herbs can be used to increase, support, and maintain good health. In this article, we’ll explore herbs that are may be used for both  to cats and dogs, and how to use them. 

How to use Herbal Remedies

Herbal remedies come in a variety of forms and can be used in different ways. Here are a few different ways to use them.

1. Safely

It’s incredibly important that you do your research about what herbal remedies are safe for your pet and that you’re using the appropriate amount for your pet. A book on herbal remedies for cats and dogs is a good idea, as is talking with a holistic vet. While many herbs are safe for pets, not all of them are, and, as with any medication and pets, some could be irritating or harmful to your pet. If you’re concerned about herbs mixing with medicine your pet is on, talk to your veterinarian. 

2. Topically

Applying herbs in the form of a salve or cream to the skin can help with irritated skin. Salves and creams allow for a diverse amount of other beneficial ingredients, such as nourishing oils like coconut or jojoba. Using a salve on joints that are stiff after a day of playing will bring your pet ease. And, skin irritated by allergies will benefit from nourishing skin cream. 

3. Orally

Many herbs are taken by mouth in the form of tinctures, which are liquid extractions of herbs.  Tinctures generally come in alcohol bases and glycerin bases. It’s important to use alcohol tinctures that are made specifically for pets. Some pets might be sensitive to alcohol, and pet tinctures will use less alcohol than regular human tinctures. If you don’t want your pet to have any alcohol, leave your pet’s tincture dose out in a small glass for 15-30 minutes. This will allow the alcohol to evaporate off. 

You can also use glycerin-based tinctures for your pet. These may be easier to give your pet since glycerin tastes sweet. Tinctures can be given by mouth or mixed in with food.

Another easy way to give your pet herbs is with capsules and tablets. Capsules of herbal powder can be sprinkled onto food. Tablets can be crushed and sprinkled. Tablets or capsules can also be mixed with your pet’s food. This might be easier with a dog, than with a cat. Cats tend to prefer herbal powders sprinkled on their food. You can also, of course, do the classic “hide a pill in food” trick, but that also does tend to work better with dogs, rather than with cats.

Herbs for Your Pet

Now that you know how to give your pet herbs and what forms of herbal remedies usually come in, let’s look at some of the different herbs that are good for pets. 

1. Slippery Elm 

Slippery elm is non-toxic for both cats and dogs. Slippery Elm is a food herb, and can often be tolerated by a body that won’t hold down other foods. This herb contains protein, carbohydrates, fat, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), beta-carotene, calcium, and some trace minerals.  This is a nutritious herb with several different health benefits. Slippery Elm has a particularly good effect on the digestive tract. This herb can coat the inside of your pet’s digestive tract, which is very soothing and makes slippery elm a good treatment for ulcers. It’s also good for both diarrhea and constipation.

2. Aloe Vera 

Skin superhero, aloe vera, is can be used for both cats and dogs when used on the skin, or topically. (However, dogs and cats should not eat aloe vera leaves, or take the gel internally!) You’re likely familiar with how soothing aloe vera can be on a sunburn or a burn from cooking. You can use aloe vera similarly with your pet if they have irritated skin or a hot spot. While you can’t give your pet aloe vera internally (eg, don’t give it to them to eat), aloe vera’s many healing constituents can still help when used topically on the skin. Aloe vera contains antioxidants vitamins C and E, as well as beta carotene. Aloe vera is also one of the few plants with a high level of B12, and it also contains 20 out of the 22 essential amino acids that make up a complete protein. 

3. Calendula Flowers

Calendula flowers are commonly used as a topical anti-inflammatory aid. If your pet has irritated skin, then a salve of calendula flowers is just the ticket for soothed skin. You could also make tea out of the flowers and use it for bathing your pet. Part of the soothing effect of calendula flowers is likely due to their high antioxidant content. Add some calendula cream to your pet’s first aid kit, for the next time something irritates your pet’s skin.

4. Ginger

You’re likely familiar with ginger root as both a seasoning for cooking and as a remedy for nausea, or an upset stomach. Ginger root may be used for  both cats and dogs and can help soothe their tummies as well. Use small amounts of ginger for your pet, either by sprinkling powdered ginger on their food, or grating some of the fresh roots, and mixing that with their food. Try using ginger before a car ride if your pet tends towards getting car sick. It’s important to start with a small amount because too much ginger could upset your pet’s stomach even more, the same way it would upset yours if you ate too much ginger.

5. Goldenseal

Goldenseal is a classic immune herb and has antibiotic properties. It works very well on the respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, lower urinary tract, eyes, and mouth. PetMD recommends using cooled goldenseal tea on pet’s eyes that are infected or weeping. Goldenseal can also be used on the skin to fight off infections, including fungal infections. There are many different types of pet goldenseal supplements on the market.

6. Milk Thistle

Milk Thistle helps protect the liver and supports healthy liver function. You can give it to your pet to support their liver and overall health. It can also be used after your pet has been on medications that affect the liver. According to VCA Hospitals, milk thistle is well-tolerated herb for cats and dogs. One of the main active ingredients in milk thistle is a flavonoid called silymarin. Studies done on milk thistle show that it has a lot of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Other research seems to show that milk thistle can promote good kidney function. 

7. Nettle

Nettle is an all-around powerhouse nutritional herb, containing many vitamins and minerals that are beneficial to overall health. These vitamins include A, C, D, and B’s. Nettles also have calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.  Nettles are also used to help with allergies and your pet can reap these benefits just like you can! Sprinkling nettle powder from a capsule over your pet’s food is a good way to give them nettles. Try using nettles either as a multivitamin or for when your pet is having allergy symptoms like a stuffy nose or itchy skin. 

8. Valerian

Is your kitty bored with catnip? Valerian root promotes an excited, playful response in cats who smell the herb. (Be forewarned, valerian has a pungent aroma) Valerian is okay for both cats and dogs. Valerian root can be calming to dogs when given internally, especially when used in combination with other relaxing herbs. Try giving your dog some valerian root in their food the next time there’s a thunderstorm to help your dog feel calmer and more relaxed. Or, if your dog suffers from chronic anxiety, valerian root may help ease your pup’s anxieties. 

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