This is always difficult, but every blog seems to need one. My top ten herbs for dogs, unlike my top ten for humans, is pretty static – these are the alltime necessities, the must-have, can’t-live-without tinctures, fresh and dried plants, powders and extracts I use all the time, most of the time.
I’m going to do full monographs on all of them, so this is just the short version, a few points on each.. What I keep on hand and recommend as a core group for natural support. Runners up at bottom, too – ten is really hard to narrow down to. 🙂
Besides, it’s actually palatable, and we can’t underestimate the value of THAT when dealing with a nauseated, inappetent toy dog, for example. I use it with gratitude and discretion, but always with result. I just use the powder; dissolved in warm pure water, sometimes with honey if needed/tolerated (not with diabetes and cancer) and often, in glycerite form. Poulticed with straight water or a little Oregon Grape externally (Echinacea, Goldenseal, as available and appropriate). Indispensable.
Milk Thistle (Silybum Marianum): see gigantic monograph – I love this plant and all it’s gifts. Used for all kinds of liver issues, to support recovery from illness, vaccination, to strengthen the liver when taking phenobarbitol or any number of allopathic veterinary drug; for cancer, hepatitis, kidney disease and just as a preventive/healing gift for your dog – milk thistle is a wonder plant for canines. I use powdered standardized extract or alcohol tincture, if the liver is not severely damaged.
Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum procumbrens): Many dog lovers are aware of the great value Devil’s Claw has as an anti-inflammatory agent , in osteoarthritis.But it’s uses go beyond this to include all types of muscle pain, digestive upset – although it should not be used with ulcer, it is a bitter tonic and can help dyspepsia and inappetence related to GI upset or chronic pain. Not THE most versatile herb; just about the best at what it does. It helps your dog feel better without NSAIDs. It works, and it’s safe. Some drug contraindications apply ( cardiac medication and antiarrythmics in particular, but also anticoagulants; check with your vet if your dog is on any of these.
Cleaver’s (Galium Aparine): A superb tonic for the lymphatic system, or what used to be called a blood-cleanser and more recently, an alterative. Anti-inflammatory, vulnerary and astringent, Cleaver’s is a go-to herb with any condition of infection, cysts, swellings, inflammation of the urinary or gastric tracts (often with mallow). Can be helpful for chronic skin conditions where dietary adjustment has not helped; often with milk thistle in these cases. I use tincture, and often in combination with other herbs – calendula if used for the skin, for example.
Nettle (Urtica dioica) This one is just begging for a full monograph; I’ve been using the seed a lot of late with the many cases of renal disease I work with, and to excellent effect. Nettle is a superb healer for the kidney; it is anti inflammatory, nutritive, diuertic, hemostatic and astringent. I use it for allergies, urinary tract inflammation and kideny disease(the seed) prostatic hypertrophy, osteoarthritis, topically for hot spots, and as a slow-healing helper for dogs who are exhausted from overwork, long kenneling or abuse (with rose and approrpiate Flower Essences). Greg Tilford uses nettle as an altrernative to eyebright for conjunctivitis: I have not done this myself but have used the infusion (often with calendula) for dogs with generalized itchiness from food allergy or fleabite. Another indispensable, for sure.
Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) I have to say, I’m in love with marshmallow for myself and my friends as well as for dogs; it’s an underused and allround wonderful addition to the herbalist’s repertoire – I should say, veterinary herbalist because really, every herbalist for people knows about and loves mallow. It simply hasn’t been used popularly in canine circles and that’s a shame – marshmallow is safe, cooling, beautifully demulcent and works on two systems that dogs so often suffer with; gastric and urinary. It’s great for gastritis and ulcer, for issues related to chemotherapy, for bladder and kidney infections, it isn’t horrible tasting and a little seems to go a long way with many dogs. Use a cold infusion, finely chopped root and/or leaf and let stand at least four hours. Can be used topically of course, can ease respiratory problems such as kennel cough, and also has some antimicrobial properties. Very safe, but might impair absorption fo drugs if taken at the same time, so use a n hour or so apart from any meds your dog takes. and try it yourself – I hate the taste, but I’ve been thankful for many a UTI nipped in the bud with the help of marshmallow.
Mullein (Verbascum Thapsus) Demulcent, expectorant, mild diuretic, cooling and bitter; all parts of the majestic mullein offer different medicines; Most dog lovers know the use of anti-microbial flowers infused in oil for ear infections and mites; lately I’ve been using glycerite in the ear and I’m thinking it’s even more effective, but the oil is awesome too. Leaves are used for respiratory conditions, to increase mucus production, reduce inflammation and ease spasmodic coughing (think: kennel cough). Mullein is really a multi-tasker, the poultices (leaf, mainly) are wodnerful for insect stings and bites, well mashed up with water please! and the tincture can raise urinary ph when it is running too low (alkalinize). I have several large plants in my garden (as I do nettles, and this year I’m growing marshmallow from seed along with about a dozen others) and have to say, mullein is a plant I use time and again, especially for little wounds and ear issues in dogs.
Plantain (Plantago Major) Plantain again has many uses, but for me I would say with dogs, it’s primarily topical. So far – lately I’ve been reading a great deal about it’s usefulness in helping to heal leaky gut, and plan to use it internally more as well. Plantain is widespread and safe, it’s a cold, sweet, heat-clearing plant making it helpful for all kinds of inflammations; I’ve mixed it with mullein for kennel cough to good effect; and made many a slave for humans as well. I like the ease and accessibility of plantain, I mean – it’s everywhere. You can chew up a leaf and make a spit poultice for a nasty deerfly bite right there in the field. Internally it can be considered an alternative to slippery elm. Best used fresh, this one. Infuse in oil over the summer and make slave to last through the colder months. I’m just fond of the humble and helpful little plant. 🙂
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) Another humble, common, everyday plant with a whole host of uses. I LOVE dandelions…their warm sunny fuzzy flower faces, their cheerful attitude – and their medicine. Like mullein, all parts of the plant have specific actions and uses; major affinity is for the liver and gallbladder, but there’s more to dandelion than this. Diuretic, bitter/tonic, cholagogue, anti inflammatory and somewhat laxative, it should not be sued with acute gallbladder issues and it should also not be used while a dog is receiving certain antibiotics. I’ll cover more on this in the monograph. I tend to use root and leaf together, and mostly with liver, kidney and heart disease, for canines.
Oregon Grape (Mahonia Aquifolium) It was a tough decision – barberry, oregon grape, goldenseal… in the end I selected Oregon Grape because it is not an endangered species, and because it is so very effective in treating bacterial diarrhea. It’s good for giardia, too- and topically, excellent for infections of all description. Safe at recommended dosages but it does contain berberine – which makes it effective (in part) and also means caution needs to be taken in usage. Cholagogue, alterative, bitter tonic – Shouldn’t be used in pregnant animals or with acute liver disease.
Runners up would have to include calendula, burdock, chamomile, skullcap, uva ursi, vervain, couchgrass, gravelroot, raspberry leaf, bilberry, blackberry root, echinacea, cornsilk, elder, astragalus , horsetail, gotu kola, and yarrow.
That’s too many, isn’t it. <g>
Herbs for Pets,, Mary L. Wolf-Tilford and Gregory Tilford
Veterinary Herbal Medicine, Susan Wynn and Barbara Fougere
Manual of Natural Veterinary Medicine: Science and Tradition, Susan Wynn and Steve Marsden