Healing Animals…heals us, and the earth

This is a reprint of an article I did for Plant Healer Magazine some time back. I am offering it here today as I go about setting up the course and enrolling students – it speaks to the very heart of my work and why I feel that – far from a trivial indulgence of pampered pets in a privileged part of the world – a return to natural animal care is a profound step in the direction of healing for the planet and all species.
It’s a long article, but one I hope will be meaningful for my readers. <3

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It’s six o’clock in the morning, and I am sleepily making the rounds while
drinking my first cup of coffee for the day. A home blended tincture of
elderflower, mullein, wild cherry, lobelia and goldenrod sits beside the kettle
to remind me, I need to give zhouzhou, our asthmatic cat, a dose in her
breakfast with a little hot water. Motherwort and dandelion for the oldest dog,
Jasmine, who at fourteen is a little slow and can use the cardiotonic and liver
support; second oldest is Tina, a rescue girl of twelve who has a low thyroid, so
she gets’ hawthorn instead. Hyperactive, sensitive and generally “hot” dog
Danny has to have a cooked meal, with a teaspoon of his own special blend;
powdered marshmallow root, burdock and a drizzle of milky oats for his
nerves. Upstairs, more cats and three rescued birds await similar
nourishment – healthy meals with herbs chosen for their species, age,
constitutional type and overall health condition. Down the road, my horse with
autoimmune disease that robbed him of his eyesight was spared a
carcinogenic ointment I needed gloves to apply when he gashed his neck on an
errant nail – flushed with yarrow and calendula, he healed gently and
thoroughly, and with nothing worrisome added to his already sensitive
system.
This is a pretty healthy household, if I say so myself. Run on a shoestring,
comprised mostly of rescues – 90% of what I use for my animals, I grow or
wildcraft myself. Almost everything is local, sustainable and developed
specifically for the individual. Whole food diets balanced to cover the needs of
the individual form the basis of health and longevity here.
This was not always the case. I used to buy whatever trendy herb was
recommended by my holistic vet, not trusting in what was growing right here
and how accessible healing can be.
And neither is this how herbalism tends to work in veterinary medicine, not
yet.
But change is on the horizon.
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Danny and four of my cats hang out in the kitchen

In their drive to conquer disease, the supporters of technological medicine have
created a great many industrial products: pharmaceuticals; personal care
products (things like sunscreens and antibiotic soaps); radiopharmaceuticals
and chemotherapy; pharmaceutical delivery and medical practice products
(things like hypodermic needles, latex gloves, thermometers). All of them end up
in the environment. All of them have significant impacts.”

Stephen Harrod Buhner

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The Humane Society of the United States informs the reader of their site that
There are approximately 78.2 million dogs in the United States and 86.4
million cats, for a total of 164.6 million OWNED animals. The most reliable
information on Canada I could find states 8 million owned animals (cats and
dogs) in total. Between just these two countries, we’re looking at 172.6 million
dogs and cats. The AVMA suggests Americans alone keep around 8 million
horses for pleasure, sport and companionship, while approximately 12
million households have one or more caged birds.
These are estimates based largely on licensing and veterinary statistics, and
thus refer to animals living with people who license and/or take them to a
veterinarian at least occasionally. The farmer down the road has 5 Border
Collies and countless barncats – I suspect these, and millions more like them,
are not counted in the AVMA or Stats Canada’s estimates.
There are a lot of companion animals in North America, Europe, the world -
living with us as companions or raised for our consumption as food. And most
of them will be not only vaccinated yearly, despite innumerable studies
showing both the lack of need and deleterious effects of this practise, but fed
wholly unnatural diets designed chiefly to supply nutrient in an isolated form
- diets based on up to 70 cereal, for carnivores, and without dispute linked to
the alarming decline in canine and feline health since the 1970s.
Most will be treated at one point in their lives with steroids, antibiotics,
pesticides and more.
The above statistics do not begin to address “livestock” – the millions upon
millions of chickens, cows, pigs and sheep kept in factory farms across the
continent. These animals are also routinely vetted – receiving antibiotics
often as part of their feed, hormones to hasten growth, and drugs such as
phenylbutazone for inflammation. The relatively short lives of food animals
combined with incessant consumer demand means there is essentially a
steady stream of these drugs from the cow, pig or lamb straight into the
ground water, via urine. 20 million pounds of antibiotics alone were
administered in one year in the USA alone.

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Animal waste has long been known as a source of nutrients such as nitrates that cause algae
blooms in water and can threaten human health at heavy concentrations in drinking water.
But new studies are hinting at another, possibly more serious, source of water pollution:
veterinary drugs, such as antibiotics and synthetic hormones. Mixed with feed or implanted to
make cattle, chickens and hogs grow more quickly, these pharmaceuticals are entering the
environment through animal waste, scientists are discovering.”

And that’s *just* antibiotics and growth hormones, it doesn’t take into account
tons and tons of pesticides used for flea, worm and tick control, nor the
astonishing quantity of steroidal drugs, such as prednisone, routinely
administered to companion animals, cats and dogs, for any condition from
food allergy to arthritis to cancer. It adds up to a staggering amount of
veterinary medication passing through the animal and into the water supply.

Like the use of yearly vaccinations when the manufacturer has clearly stated
each bottle is good for at least three years, this excessive and unending
transfer of drugs and hormones from animal to environment is simply, in an
overwhelming number of cases, not necessary at all. In many cases, the drugs
prescribed to companion animals merely mask symptoms, leaving the
underlying cause of dis-ease unaddressed and the owner reliant on a lifelong
supply of the drug. I am in the unique position of having seen the veterinary
industry from many angles, growing up as I did working for my veterinarian
father and indoctrinated for many years with how things should be done.
Later, my own health issues, unresolved by conventional care, led me to study
human nutrition and herbalism – opening my eyes to the myriad problems
associated with conventional medicine. Still later I trained in canine nutrition
and have been handling clinical cases since 2001. In addition I run a yahoo
discussion group of over 2000 members, where I am able to not only help
individuals with frustrating (and often readily helped) canine issues, but to
witness – daily – how common the cycle of overmedication with no real healing
truly is in the veterinary world. I can state without a moment’s hesitation that
a huge number of canine and feline health issues treated this way can be safely
and readily cleared up or managed, with appropriate application of both diet
and herbal support. In treating animals preventively and naturally, much of
the toxin and chemical poured into the water from animals can be avoided.
And veterinarians are our key method of conveying this information to the
average person.
So – where to begin? An overwhelming majority of companion animals will go
to the veterinarian for minor complaints, such as skin conditions, parasites,
gastric/digestive disorders, bladder infections, arthritis or wounds.
Increasingly over the last decade dogs and cats in particular, are undergoing
chemotherapy and radiation for cancer, which is dramatically on the rise in
both species. A comprehensive list of drugs used in veterinary medicine would
be too lengthy for this discussion, but a few of the more commonly used
categories include sedatives, heart medications, various fungicides,
insecticides, analgesics, anti-inflammatories, anti-seizure drugs and diuretics.

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While the majority of these conditions are curable, they can become chronic and expensive to
treat. Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (VPI) policyholders spent more than $46 million in 2011
treating the 10 most common medical conditions afflicting their pets. VPI recently sorted its
database of more than 485,000 insured pets to determine the top 10 dog and cat medical
conditions in 2011.”

Clearly a major expense for millions of people, in monetary terms, as well as
environmentally disastrous..
Let’s have a look at the Top Ten feline and canine conditions as expressed by
the Veterinary Pet Insurance company.

They list the following for dogs:

Ear infections
Skin allergies
Skin infection
Non-cancerous skin growth
Upset stomach
Intestinal upset/diarrhea
Arthritis
Bladder infection
Bruise or contusion
Underactive thyroid

And this list refers to feline disorders:

Bladder infection
Chronic kidney disease
Overactive thyroid
Upset stomach
Periodontitis/dental disease
Diabetes
Intestinal upset/diarrhea
Ear infection
Skin Allergies
Lymphosarcoma

Without a doubt, eight of the listed canine conditions and nine of the feline
are preventable with proper diet and herbal medicine. The two thyroid
conditions are best handled through ethical breeding practise (eg not mating
any individual who has proven thyroid disease,) and the condition itself is well
managed with oral hormones. “Non cancerous skin growth” is too vague a term
to comment upon, but in the case of fatty tumours, for example,diet and liver
support can indeed be preventive. The typical veterinary approach to canine
ear infection, skin allergy and subsequent infection for raw abraded open
sores, is – antibiotics and prednisone. In the hundreds of cases I have dealt
with that present with one or more (often three together) of these symptoms,
dogs have often been on repeated rounds of one or more antibiotics, been fed
an expensive and notoriously poor quality prescription food designed to
minimize food intolerance, and are now spiralling into secondary health
issues related both to the drugs and the diet. In 95% of these cases the dog
experiences an astounding turn around with a balanced whole food diet, and
herbal protocol designed to reduce inflammation, rebuild immunity and
intestinal health, and address the whole system gently and constitutionally_.
In 10 years I have two cases, both German Shepherd Dogs with severely
damaged intestinal tracts, who could not be stabilized with diet, supplements
and herbs. I have turned around cases so severe the owners called me as “a
last hope before euthanasia”. No drugs, no expensive treatments – just a
correct therapeutic diet (as distinct from the popular ‘species appropriate”
approach) and a carefully selected and monitored herbal protocol.
Digestive problems most definitely form a large part of my own case load, and
have been rising steadily since the 1970s in all dogs. Colitis is an umbrella
term that includes straightforward bacterial infection all the way up to IBD,
which can be so severe as to greatly reduce the dog’s quality of life and place
enormous stress on the owner, emotionally and financially. The standard
approach from conventional veterinarians: steroids. Much of what is termed
“colitis” is food intolerance, arising from multiple factors including feeding the
same highly processed foods over and over, vaccinations and overuse of
antibiotics.
Veterinary-pharmacist

Arthritis is treated with painkillers (Rimadyl, Metacam) so notorious for
damaging the liver and even causing sudden death there are groups and
forums set up all over the Internet to inform and warn unsuspecting owners.
Even of the animal is not as severely affected as this, all these drugs will do is
mask symptoms, so the owner feels their friend is “better”, when in fact he’s
now simply overdoing exercise without the natural inflammation/pain
curbing his enthusiasm. My own arthritic dog (severe; early onset secondary
to double cruciate injury, and spondylosis from age seven) was managed
entirely with diet, supplements, physiotherapy and herbs, almost to the end of
her fourteen years. Arthritis is not the inevitability in dogs it is now claimed
to be, nor are drugs like Rimadyl by any means the only option.
Likewise bladder infections; dogs are prone to UTI and to the development of
various forms of uroliths, related to breed, diet, assorted factors. While these
can be very serious and should always be assessed by a veterinarian, simple
UTIs can be cleared up gently with adjustments in diet, and an herbal protocol
developed for the individual dog. Martin Goldstein DVM, internationally
renowned “father of holistic veterinary medicine” states categorically he has
never failed to clear up feline UTI within 48 hours – naturally.

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Dr. Martin Goldstein and friends

There has been a movement for change over the past 15 years, gaining
momentum especially since the widespread and well-publicized petfood
recalls that began with the melamine-contaminated foods in 2007, and
continue to this day with new “ultra premium” foods. Dogs all over North
America and Europe are going for massage therapy, seeing acupuncturists and
of course the ubiquitous Holistic Vet. One leading proponent of better health
for companion animals is Dr. Jean Dodds, who has led the way for a growing
acceptance in veterinary circles that yearly vaccinations are not only not
needed, they are linked to myriad avoidable health issues. Martin Goldstein,
Susan Wynn, Steve Marsden, Richard Pitcairn – all have become household
words for many, with the publication of their books on veterinary herbal
medicine and natural healing for all species of domestic animals. Change has
started to come -initially I can only say I was jubilant. The new breed of
holistic vet and natural pet store could only be cause for celebration – let’s
spread the word! However, as time has passed and I have watched this
movement grow, there are some core criticisms I cannot but make. The
movement that started with intense concern for our companion animals and
environment has become – and remarkably rapidly – big business, and out of
reach for many who need it the most.
The new brand of so-called holistic vet represents an improvement, and I
would not want to overlook the real strides made in the field. In my
experience, most tend to vaccinate much more conservatively than
conventional vets do; most will limit reliance on medication and use an
approach that makes more sense to my mind – start with gentle support and
use the drugs as a needed, instead of simply dispensing the usual arsenal right
off the bat. Every holistic vet I know of considers good nutrition to be of
utmost importance both proactively and therapeutically. And many – most –
are at least open to working with herbs. Most definitely these are steps in the
right direction!
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Dr. Ronit Aboutboul of Tel Aviv, gives eyedrops to a camel, in the nude

However. The new foods, while still not as desirable as a home made fresh
diet, are vast improvements from the cereal based and 4-D meats that
characterized cat and dog food of old– and so much more expensive only the
financially very well- off can afford them. The price of seeing a holistic vet is
sky-high – just to walk into a local clinic for a consultation here in Ottawa runs
about $300.00. These costs mean the average income earner cannot possibly
afford the good food and the “enlightened” practitioner so they remain stuck
in a cycle of poor quality food, endless drugs and deteriorating health. The
cost of having healthy animals appears to be prohibitive.
My bottom line is simple. Keeping animals healthy should not require
expensive appointments, designer food and endless supplementation. Keeping
animals healthy and managing simple conditions is feasible with informed use
of both diet and herbs.

The use of herbs in holistic veterinary practise is somewhat contentious for
me as well. For many years I believed in using herbs this way – the same ones,
all the time, for every individual, as “gentle replacements for drugs”. And yes,
some can work that way – the ubiquitous Slippery Elm, for example, works
wonders for the all too common canine bowel issues – and so just about every
holistic vet I know suggests it on a regular basis. Devil’s Claw, Boswellia,
Artemisinin, milk thistle, turmeric and a wide array of Chinese formulas are
standard recommendations and can be deep healers for dogs and cats. But
there are problems with this approach; many of these plants are not local
(Devil’s Claw, turmeric) endangered ( elm, boswellia) or simply not optimal for
the condition (Rehmannia for every single kidney case I’ve ever seen from a
holistic vet; milk thistle alone when a combination with burdock, artichoke,
dandelion, and/or fringe tree bark would have been far more helpful). Almost
to the person, every client who has been working with a vet in this way thinks
of herbs as “crude drugs” to replace the ones “with more side effects”. The use
of herbs is trendy in veterinary circles, but it is reliant on generic application,
on endangered and non-local species, and it has a very long way to go.
For this article I’ve selected several of the most commonly recommended
herbs, why I might NOT suggest them – and what options I might suggest the
client use instead. This is of course by no means exhaustive and cannot replace
a comprehensive evaluation of the individual. But it does highlight the three
elements I would like to see more of in veterinary herbal medicine; that is,
plants that are local, abundant and chosen/formulated for the individual.

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A lovely tangle of backyard medicine;Borage, Calendula, Marshmallow, Motherwort, Hyssop, Plantain, Mugwort, Feverfew, and Wild Lettuce

1) Milk thistle ( Silybum marianum) : while no one can dispute the great
value of this lovely plant, and it is thankfully abundant, it’s also
consistently prescribed as a do-all for “liver disease”. We might look at a
range of other herbs, including Burdock, Blessed Thistle, Oregon grape,
and dandelion, to name a few. A formula for liver disease will depend on
the cause, type and nutritional status of the individual. While milk
thistle is wonderful, it is also most often sold as isolated Silymarin – the
whole seed is almost never used in veterinary herbal medicine.

2) Boswellia serrata; a standard recommendation for all kinds of
inflammatory-related illness, boswellia is both endangered and distant.
In my experience it is also very harsh on many sensitive canine and
feline stomachs. I see boswellia suggested for_ cancer, arthritis, mostly;
while cancer is too general a term to make recommendations, for
arthritis I often use nettle, evening primrose, populous – the
importance of diet and fatty acids cannot be understated in arthritis,
and simply adding Devil’s Claw (or any herb) as one would a drug, to a
poor diet, is not likely to produce the effects of even dietary adjustment
alone.

3) Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) : This beautiful plant from
South Africa, without question a powerful pain reliever, Devil’s Claw is
used chiefly for arthritic pain, often with older animals. Many older
dogs, in particular are on a variety of heart medications, contraindicated
with Devil’s Claw. There is a huge range of anti-inflammatory and
analgesic herbs to use with arthritis, as mentioned above.

4) Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) : used in veterinary practise for anything
related to gastric or digestive distress. Some alternatives I use include
marshmallow root , alone or with astringents such as rose, raspberry
leaf, tormentil or blackberry root; chamomile or calendula for upper
gastric ulcers and gastritis; antimicrobials/anthelmintics as indicated;
with idiopathic diarrhea (Irritable Bowel) I always use a nervine
formula; peppermint and or lemon balm for nausea. It’s good to note
that other elms, such as the Siberian, are not endangered and possess
similar Actions as Ulmus rubra. The overuse of this lovely species is
completely unnecessary – especially when the underlying causes are
dietary or emotional.

5) Rehmannia glutinosa: Current Herb of choice for dogs with kidney
disease, Rehmannia has some studies behind it, but is also from China
and prescribed generically. I have often used mallow, nettle seed,
hawthorn, couch grass, horsetail and plantain in conjunction with a
“kidney-friendly” diet, with positive results equal to that of Rehmannia.

6) Assorted TCM formulas – issues with TCm formulas for animals are
threefold. One, they are used by Western vets with often little more than
a casual acquaintance with Chinese medicine so administered, again,
like a drug replacement; two, by definition the herbs used in veterinary
TCM formulas are of course, non-local, and three, many of them are in
fact, endangered. Alternatives can only be recommended via an
assessment of the case, but they abound.

7) Artemisinin – as both canine and feline cancer has increased
dramatically, so have herbs and dietary strategies for cats and dogs
emerged, become trendy, and then often faded from the spotlight.
“Artemisinin” is one such product – derivative of artemisia spp,
veterinarians often prescribe the expensive isolate in the absence of
appropriate dietary adjustment. While research has shown promise for
the use of Artemisia, as part of an overall strategy, it is not a “wonder
drug” nor is the isolate likely to be as effective as the whole plant. Many,
many other plants can address the specifics of cancer – by type, stage
and grade, treatment used and the whole dog overall.

Other veterinary standards include kava kava, astragalus, Yunnan Baiao and
valerian – imported, generic, endangered.

While this is a very cursory set of examples, it illustrates how the use of plant
medicine in veterinary practise appears to be limited to standardized
products with some kind of research that vets can support. It would be
powerful indeed to see see veterinary herbal medicine expand dramatically,
with the goal of reducing use of medication, prolonging and improving quality
of life for patients, and encouraging owners to learn about and use local
plants proactively. I would hope to see more vets referring to experienced
herbalists, more herbalists deciding to specialize in the unique needs of nonhumans,
and hope too that more grassroots and accessible literature
pertaining to animal herbalism will start to appear, in order to interest and
engage the general public.
Much of what we need to address our companion’s needs – and help minimize
environmental distress – is right in our own backyard.

Originally printed in Plant Healer Magazine

http://planthealermagazine.com/

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Concerning the herbs we’ll be looking into…

The one question I have seen over and over from interested students and the newly enrolled alike – which herbs will we be covering in the course? well, fair question! First off, the ones we focus on will not be the *only* herbs discussed, but certainly the main ones. In your own research projects and assignments I will always leave room for plants you have worked with that may not be on the course as featured herbs. It’s also important to note that this is a Beginner-to-Intermediate course and therefore the medicines we think of as “low-dose” or advanced, won’t be featured. I’m also not including a lot of the trees, which I personally work with a lot, but again am always open to your experience; if you’ve done a lot of work with populus or betula, use that knowledge! But again, I am gearing this course most specifically to what I have seen – over and over, for a decade now – from my fellow animal-people on lists, groups and forums of every description. And that is, simply put, a desire to work more with herbs, but a bit of confusion as to how to start. A tendency to rely on the retail outlets, popular websites and holistic vets as sources, which can often lead to one-track thinking, to using herbal extracts as substitutes for medication, using them in a way that often does not fulfil the real promise and potential of the whole plant. A lack of knowledge with regard to the amazing properties of local “weeds” – many of which I could not do without in my own family and work. So, to structure my course in such a way as to offer the most learning possible in a program of this length and type, I’ve broken the herbs down into three categories: these are Herbs of Commerce (you know – the one the vet gives you and the petfood store sells)? Two – So-called Kitchen or Culinary Herbs – parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme! not to mention some crossover herbs like turmeric and cinnamon…and Three, the neglected “Wild Weeds”, so dear to my heart – you can grow or harvest from many forests and fields, and more healing action than you might suspect.

Listing them all here is a little cumbersome, but you can email me anytime and check. Suffice to say there are currently 27 “Herbs of Commerce”… 14 Kitchen herbs and 34 wild herbs on the list. Doesn’t quite add up to 60? you have no idea how hard it was for me to stop with these!

One additional note; I am setting up a live-chat on Facebook this Saturday, to fill you all in about anything you may be wondering. The course starts March 2 and you work at your own pace! Payment can be made via PayPal or direct transfer – anyone who would like to discuss with me directly, please email me (don’t use Facebook!I’m not always there) at catlane@thepossiblecanine.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

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A re-cap on the new course

I am getting a number of emails asking for two things; one, the details listed at the bottom of the course description, so I am going to just repost them here, without the description.
NOTE: I have 27 applications for the scholarship so far; it is unlikely I will be able to choose more than three, if I get a very high enrollment – so please consider a sliding scale or payment option if you can. I’ll continue to accept scholarship applications of course, just to be clear as to where we’re at!

And two, many folks want to know just what percentage of the herbs we cover will be wild/local/easily available. I’ll post the herbs we’re looking at in a second post this morning.

I’m doing my best to keep up, if my reply takes a day or two, bear with me. :)
For now, here are the course details. SO excited to get going.

There are no required texts for this course, all the material is covered by my classnotes. I will provide a recommended/supplemental reading list and other resources (seed catalogues, canine and feline health and nutrition sites, botany and wildcrafting resources, recommended blogs and herbal schools for advanced learning). Assigned work will include research projects, much personal experimentation, some reading and written work. An approximate length of time for the course would be 24 – 36 weeks.
Tuition is sliding scale; 150$ to 250$. I am also offering an audit-only option(75$) a payment option(email me to discuss your proposal) and a maximum of three scholarships – one for every ten students to a maximum of thirty. Scholarships are based on genuine need(unemployment, illness) and a deep calling to work with animals. I will request an essay of 4 or 5 paragraphs describing why you need the course at this time.
And aside from all the knowledge and fun, you will receive a certificate of completion and a personalized herbal package from me.
Contact me here or at my business address for more information or to register.
catlane@thepossiblecanine.com

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Introduction to Animal Herbalism

Over the last few years, interest in herbalism for both humans and other creatures has grown dramatically. Some call this “The Herbal Resurgence” and I for one love that name. When I was a teenager and into my 20s, there was a certain underground interest in herbs, but nothing to what we are seeing today. I recall buying my first herbal(I think it was one by Jeanne Rose) around then, and though it would be a while before I realized this was my calling, I always used those first books for simple remedies and teas, a few cherished recipes from Kitchen Cosmetics, and over time, my interest grew. I remember those times with such fondness…and later, delving more deeply, I recall the sense of AHA! looking at my so-called culinary herbs with new eyes, not to mention the wild “weeds” I had for too long overlooked.The resurgence opened a door into herbs for me in a way that transcended the lovely but detached way I had used and thought about plant medicine – it transformed me. In this course, I hope to form one of those magical gateways for students as well, those just itching to know more, do more and understand more about herbs for both human and non-human care. When I look back and ask myself what kind of course, what specific knowledge do I wish I could have accessed in one place earlier in my studies, I know what I want to offer now. Not an overwhelming series of assignments and memorizations, but a dynamic programme of both study and practise that builds a steady, solid foundation of understanding. And because I work primarily at this time as a herbalist for non-humans, most of my requests for a course are geared to companion animals; still, I feel that the most important way to deeply know a plant and it’s medicine is to work with it ourselves, take it as daily tea or infusion; make and use simple recipes. Hence this course is geared to herbs for both human use and for the unique needs of companion animals, most specifically cats and dogs.

There is no question about it – working with animals is for me, a magical and beautiful calling. It’s a deep pleasure to share this work with others, I look forward to the journey.

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Course Outline (more details available upon request)

This course consists of 12 Units of study, and while a 2-3 week per Unit timeframe is optimal, I honour the reality of busy lives and leave it up to the individual to work out a schedule. There will be an open classroom/forum to discuss with others, and as always one-on-one support from me as we go. The material we cover includes:

1. Orientation - An Introduction to and history of veterinary herbalism..goals and method of the course…seeing everyday plants as medicine, using what you have, exploring herbs you are already familiar with in greater depth… how are animals different? Prevention and support versus “this-for-that” allopathic, illness-oriented herbalism..tools for getting started…why whole plants instead of extracts? What is Vitalism and how does it apply to this course?

2) Materia Medica – the main plants of this course, conventional and historic uses….herbs of commerce and how to use them/alternatives/…culinary herbs much more than seasonings…wild weeds and their bounty of healing…60 herbs (more or less)

stinging-nettle

3) Actions – what is meant by this term and why is it so important?Different meas of classifying Actions(allopathic, vitalist, biochemical) Exploring primary and secondary Actions (from a vitalist perspective) as a foundation of learning and working with simples and formulas…every herb IS a formula in itself..covering astringents, alteratives, tonics, demulcents, adaptogens, nervines and many other enormously useful terms

4) Constituents….a basic overview of the biochemistry…understanding groups of constituents (alkaloids, tannins, nutrients,mucilages

5) Energetics – what is meant by the term? how can we tell what is “cooling/warmimg or drying/moistening? traditional ways of grouping energetics(Western) Experience the energetic in your own body…how to apply/match herbal energetics with an individual constitution…do animals have constitutional types? Balancing energies in a simple formula.

6) Preparation and Dosage; Making the basics – tea/infusion, decoction, tincture, glycerite, honey, vinegar, oxymel, basic oil infusions and salve, how to prepare a poultice, compress fomentation(and know when to use which) guidelines for dosing yourself and other species

7) Using the herbs 101- starts with prevention and nourishment – …. think of supporting tissues/systems rather than tackling a condition..daily infusions for you, seasonal rotated herbs for your dog and cat….gentle support for the skin, digestive system, nerves, urinary tract and more
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8) Carnivore nutrition…special needs and uniqueness of dogs and cats…herbs to avoid animals…alcohol vs, glycerin..using capsules..and honeys for debilitated animals….always assess the diet first

9) Using the herbs 201 – common conditions every animal lover will encounter…..dealing with fleas and ticks, internal parasites, colitis, arthritis, bladder infections, hot spots, anxiety and others

10) First Aid cuts, burns, soft tissue injury, insect stings, seizures, abnormal bleeding, animal bites, fractures, collapse, bloat

11) Recipe time! wherein I share many of my own favorites for YOU and the fourleggeds too…salves, tinctures, elixirs, tea blends, medicine balls(for you – chocolate! for them – coconut oil) coat conditioners, bath salts and body lotions

Herbal Delights herbs

12) Wrapping up – course review….notes on botany and wildcrafting…question period…where do we go from here? Other modalities of healing…for those wanting to work with animals…resources for all

There are no required texts for this course, all the material is covered by my classnotes. I will provide a recommended/supplemental reading list and other resources (seed catalogues, canine and feline health and nutrition sites, botany and wildcrafting resources, recommended blogs and herbal schools for advanced learning). Assigned work will include research projects, much personal experimentation, some reading and written work. An approximate length of time for the course would be 24 – 36 weeks.
Tuition is sliding scale; 150$ to 250$. I am also offering an audit-only option(75$) a payment option(email me to discuss your proposal) and a maximum of three scholarships – one for every ten students to a maximum of thirty. Scholarships are based on genuine need(unemployment, illness) and a deep calling to work with animals. I will request an essay of 4 or 5 paragraphs describing why you need the course at this time.
And aside from all the knowledge and fun, you will receive a certificate of completion and a personalized herbal package from me.
Contact me here or at my business address for more information or to register.
catlane@thepossiblecanine.com

Check that Thyroid!

A quick entry today, related to my recent focus on herbs for the anxious or stressed out dog. In my clinical work I very often meet dogs who exhibit a range of seemingly unexplained symptoms that have frustrated the owner for a long time. Many of them will improve with dietary adjustments and herbal support – but sometimes, we can’t seem to do as much. In years past I would try everything in my toolkit to help, and finally at the end of ideas, suggest the owner have a full-panel thyroid done. In the intractable cases, I would say 75% had undiagnosed thyroid disease; appropriate treatment (safe and inexpensive, relatively) cleared up all the lingering problems, so the diet can do it’s job of supporting optimal health. Thyroid disease often goes undiagnosed; there is such a list of symptoms it can be hard for people to connect the dots.Prominent amongst these are poor coat/dry skin, coldness/heat-seeking behaviour, unexplained weight gain, irritability or depression, slow wound healing/recurrent infection, lethargy and sometimes, snappishness that seems uncharacteristic…a whole range of behavioural symptoms that can appear without the characteristic weight gain and low temperature.

tibetan_terrier

These days, I don’t put us all through the time, money and frustration of trying everything dietary first, when I take on a case that suggests a thyroid issue. I ask clients whose dogs present with any of these suspicious symptoms to have a fullpanel thyroid test done right away. It comes back just fine in about 60% of the cases I work with..and the other 40%, get the treatment they need right off the bat – as well as the personalized diet plan. It’s win/win; owners whose dogs are fine, have their minds put at ease, I know what I’m working with, hypothyroid dogs get he treatment they require – we’re all happy.

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Takeaway messages:

1) Diet can support thyroid function but it can NOT correct hypothyroidism.

2) Not many veterinarians really understand the range of behavioural symptoms related to low thyroid. If yours doesn’t think a sudden behavioural change can be thyroid,insist on the test or find a better vet.

3) The test that is done in-house, the one that looks only T-4 levels, is not adequate for diagnosis; most authorities feel it’s wrong at least half the time. I don’t even know why they bother with it, to be blunt. If you suspect low thyroid, it’s imperative to have your vet do what is called a fullpanel thyroid evaluation – one that looks at T-4 and T-3 and a range of other factors (references below offer more detail).

4) Consider deeper education on thyroid issues; Jean Dodds has an excellent book on the topic I highly recommend to anyone with a hypothyroid dog, or a breed at high risk (and bear in mind, any breed or mixed breed dog can develop thyroid problems, these are just the highest risk ones). Check out the resources below too, for further learning.

Highest Risk Breeds

1. English Setter
2. Polish Lowland Sheepdog
3. Havanese
4. Old English Sheepdog
5. Boxer
6. American Pit Bull Terrier
7. German Wirehaired Pointer
8. Tibetan Terrier
9. Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
10. English Pointer
11. Maltese
12. Beagle
13. Dalmatian
14. Giant Schnauzer
15. Cocker Spaniel
16. Kuvasz
17. Rhodesian Ridgeback
18. Walker Hound
19. American Staffordshire Terrier
20. Welsh Springer Spaniel
21. Golden Retriever
22. Husky
23. Shetland Sheepdog
24. Pointer
25. Chesapeake Bay Retriever
26. Irish Setter
27. Brittany
28. Siberian Husky
29. English Cocker Spaniel
30. Gordon Setter

A last word; in terms of supplements and herbs to manage hypothyroidism, as always I don’t believe in generic advice or simplistic solutions; I evaluate your dog as an individual and recommend according to a full history; I make sure the diet supplies optimal levels of all nutrients, help support digestion with food selection that works for your individual; and suggest herbs as needed, with consideration for your dog’s whole history and needs. I’ve seen many generic recommendations for treating hypothyroidism at home and it just makes me cringe; have your dog seen by a vet, and then we can talk about what foods and supplements will be most beneficial for him or her.

kuvasz

Resources for further reading

1) This is the site you need to send your dog’s bloodwork to. Print it off if need be and bring it to your vet.
http://www.hemopet.org/hemolife/thyroid-testing.html

beagle

Herbal Nervines

This is a topic that has come up many, many times on all the groups and lists I’ve been part of over the past decade; how can we use herbs to help our nervous, hyperactive, thunderphobic, stressed out dogs? I’ve written a fair bit here, and elsewhere, on how to adjust diet, use supplements, TTouch, DAP and more for anxiety : so this entry will focus specifically on the selection and use of herbs. Herbs are extremely powerful allies for all kinds of nervous system issues in humans and in dogs, but the trick is to know how to use them. This entry, and my forthcoming E-book, will help you make the wisest choices – safest, most effective, and best suited to your unique individual.

tincture-tea-powderpill

First; a look at the terms. We call any herb whose Actions affect the CNS (central nervous system) a “nervine“. In popular usage, a nervine more or less equates with a sedative – a relaxing herb that helps your dog calm down. And to be fair, some of them do exactly that – excel at that! But, to understand the term more fully, and develop the formulation that offers optimal support for an individual dog, we need to take a deeper look. Nervines are classed as stimulating as well as relaxing (think:coffee! now that affects the nervous system) and also as, tonic (or trophorestorative, meaning they act over time to balance and heal  the system) hypnotic, anti-spasmodic, and adaptogen. So, the best way to define a nervine is a herb that affects the nervous system; and to be more precise, classify them further according to just how they do that. While we humans use herbal nervines in a wide variety of ways, the most popular usage for dogs is generally to help them calm down, overcome anxiety, and maintain a peaceful outlook in the face of situations that stress them.

dog-at-vet

So, simply put; for nervous, excitable dogs, we want to help them handle stress. But often, the sedating effect is transient and acts only for a few hours – relieving or mitigating the most challenging symptoms, but also potentially masking whatever is going on underneath.To more fully address the anxious or nervous dog, I often recommend the use of one formula at the time of the stressor,  and a second formulation might well be given daily to help the body adapt to stress or to balance hormones and calm excitability. Trophorestorative Nervines can help bring back a  feeling of safety and control; they can work to calm a reactive  dog;  in concert with behavioural work, TTouch and sometimes dietary changes, they can be powerful allies for healing the nervous, anxious, uptight, reactive, phobic individual.  Put simply; the goal of longterm nervine use is to restore balance to the nervous system. T

whale eye

Short term, the sedating, relaxing and hypnotics are most useful; longer term, I tend to use adaptogens ( helps the dog  adapt to stress) along with trophorestoratives. In case this is all sounding very technical, I’ll break  it all down categorically, by Action. An understanding of the Actions of plants is foundational knowledge for anyone working with herbs. So let’s take a quick peek at herbs that have a sedating/relaxing effect, and may be best utilized in instances of acute stress; vet visits, pain, thunderstorms or other sources of fear and anxiety.

stress
The main herbs I use for this purpose include:

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) – tried and true, safe, gentle, will calm associated upset stomach as well

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) – probably my single favorite relaxing nervine for dogs. period full stop – short term and on a regular, restorative basis

California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) – sedating to the point of soporific, good where pain is fueling the issue; not for the novice herbalist

Wild Lettuce (Lactuca virosa) A wonderful medicine to help old, perhaps cognitively impaired dogs to rest at night. I make my own but recommend working with a skilled herbalist , as it needs precision dosing, often very little.

Jamaica Dogwood (Piscidia Piscipula) Sedating and antispasmodic but toxic n high doses, so I almost always use in formula

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) gentle and sweet, but a potent relaxant – only point of contraindication is possible thyroid-suppressing action. Not for use in dogs with hypothyroidism, but wonderful otherwise.

Skullcap (Scutalleria lateriflora, related species) I use it in almost every anti anxiety formula I make. Safe, gentle but powerful, occasionally a dog as no response, so I tend to test it alone first – it may be all you need, it may do little. When it works, it’s incredible.

Wood Betony (Stachys officinalis)

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)It’s popular and highly effective for many, but because it carries a risk of exacerbating anxiety (in people, too) it’s not a go-to herb for me at all.

Lavender (Lavandula spp) I don’t use it internally much but sometimes spray a Hydrosol around a room when I’m dealing with, say, thunderphobia.

Kava Kava (Piper methysticum) A good anxiolytic, not top of my own list but I have used it and will likely again. Bad press about kava’s potential to cause liver damage was largely unfounded.

Linden flower (Tilia Platyphyllos) Gentle and safe, linden puts ME right to sleep, and is a favorite of mine (with wild lettuce) for anxious seniors.

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) I tend to use Hypericum more as a longterm remedy, but it does seem to help with acute issues like thunderphobia, and vet visits, so I see value for it in formula for those types of cases.

Vervain (Verbena officinalis, but I use Verbena hastata, or wild Blue Vervain as well, in small doses/formula!) Not for the home herbalist, I start very small and use with dogs who have pain, and exhibit rigid, tense muscles – it’s amazing in formula but too much and they space out, can create nausea too.

Rose (Rosa rugosa, reated spp)..my personal favorite when grief has implanted a sense of anxiety about specific situations, such as the dog saw anoterh dog die at the vet and is now fearful; for emotional pain

All of these herbs (and of course, there are others) can be used singly or in formula to address the acute symptoms of stress and anxiety. Depending on the dose and the dog, they may gently relax or they may put your dog right out. In my E-book on herbal nervines for dogs I will discuss dosage, formulation and possible contraindications for each one, as well as looking at various delivery systems (tincture or glycerite, infusions, honeys, in treats and more). Some, like chamomile, have virtually no warnings attached save for the possibility of allergy, as with all herbs it’s important to test the dog with a low dose first before using it medicinally. Others, as mentioned above, are best used under the guidance of an experienced herbalist. The goal of a relaxing nervine is to help your dog relax, not knock him or her right out, so dosage is extremely important.

ttt

Many home herbalists who want to help dogs calm down (say, during a thunderstorm, or when separated from a family member) use a formula to address symptoms at the time of the stress. As mentioned above, what’s missing is a herb or formula to help the anxious dog’s CNS regain balance over time. Some herbs, such as the wonderful milky oats (Avena sativa) or the less popular (but amazing) peach leaf, work as restorative, healing medicines for these issues (and note too that the high strung or worried dog likely will manifest stress in the body in other ways, such as bouts of unexplained loose stool, skin sensitivity, or cardiac stress, along with the more familiar pacing, panting, whining, drooling and destructive behaviour designed to offset the worry). Others act to build the body’s resistance to stress; these are the adaptogens and include many popular plants such as Ginseng, Rhodiola, Ashwaganda, Shatavari, Reishi mushroon, Cordyceps and astragalus. For me, these longterm herbs are what really benefit the dog overall the most. In many of my client cases I have seen not just improved reactivity in stress situations but also better digestion, fewer hotspots and a range of other systemic benefits. How we select and formulate adaptogens for dogs is entirely dependent on taking a clinical history and understanding not just what stresses him and how it manifests, but all kinds of details such as his body temperature, vaccination history, relationships to family, how he’s been trained, exercise level and more.

Wile selecting adaptogens can be tricky, and may be best left to a professional, most edgy dogs can benefit from the simple medicine of Milky Oats, and/or Peach leaf, given over time as a trophorestorative. I encourage dog lovers to work with these gentle restoratives as well as the adaptogens; by far the best results I see are when the whole dog is supported, and brought into balance. If this topic interests you please keep an eye open for my full E-book on using all the aforementioned herbs, and more. Here’s to cool, calm, and happy canines!

happy

Enhancing a Kibble Diet

So, with about 25 topics in the drafts folder and a bunch of assignments to mark today, I feel a pressing need to add this entry. It’s mostly because I am asked about it all the time, because I have strong feelings about this, but also, well sometimes the spirit just moves us. Recently on my Facebook group Animal Herbalism, the topic came up, and I thought, well let’s add a few thoughts to the blog.

I really feel strongly about this, because the kibble diet alone is never optimal, but sometimes it’s necessary, and I do have sympathy for the human as well as the dog! I know all about being way too busy and not having time, energy and often times the finances to do home made fulltime. If you do need to feed kibble, it can be greatly improved with the addition of some fresh foods, and given the many very good dry-food products we now have available, compared to years past – I do see dogs doing well on dryfood diets with well-chosen fresh foods added.
That said, what the owner adds can also detract from the dietary balance, and  in some cases, do more harm than good. It’s very sad to see people who adore their dogs, who mean the very best for them, cause a problem unintentionally. How can this happen, you might ask, with the additional of fresh foods? Well, in lots of ways – so let’s go into this a little today. Basically, what you should  add, ideally, starts with two considerations; your dog, his or her health, preferences and general constitution,  first and foremost, and second,  the nutrient content of the food you’re using. So, if you have an older dog who has been eating a high carb food, never had any issues with fat or protein, and you don’t want to change the food, it might work well to add some eggs, fish,  chicken, or beef. If you have a dog who has been eating a high protein food such as Orijen, and may be a little hyper, hard to keep weight on – some good carbs (cooked sweet potatoes, for example) could make up part of the additions.  It’s important to think about matching the supplemental food with both the dog’s digestion, age, weight and activity level, as well as with an eye to the type of food he or she usually eats.

All this is with regard to an adult healthy dog, or a dog with minor issues such as a bit of sensitive tummy, some seasonal allergy. If your dog has had pancreatitis, cancer, renal disease, bladder stones – most likely you’re using a specialized diet, and the extras have to be worked out with your vet or nutritionist, so they don’t upset the dietary applecart. With healthy dogs, we’re looking to prevent problems, balance what’s lacking in the food, and add some pleasurable variety to the meals. It’s easily done, in most cases. You need to think about all the nutrients in a given food, not *just* for example, the protein.  (Liver has great protein, but a lot of other things that can be excessive for dogs on top of kibble, for example).

Let me go through a few foods I like to add, with a bit about how to use them, which dogs  might do best without them, how much to use. :)

Animal products

Meat, chicken, fish and eggs all come to mind for most of us as ideal foods for dogs. And for healthy adults, as the mainstay of the diet, that’s certainly true – but as extras/supplemental foods, some might contain too much fat, or phosphorus,or sodium -  some may be fine in small bits only, and there are the omnipresent contamination concerns (pretty much all foods, sadly). Here are some (very general) guidelines for adding these foods to your dogs’ kibble.

1) Muscle meat and poultry (lamb, beef, venison, pork, chicken and turkey)…  First, fat content – different cuts contain very different levels of fat, and your dog may not react well to an excess of any one type. Try to vary it up, use light and dark meat (chicken and turkey) start small and mix with a vegetable like sweet potato or winter squash, to test.
Second - minerals, especially phosphorus, can  add up and not only stress the kidney, but interfere with the absorption of  others. Balance with a little calcium if using more than 10% of the daily caloric total from meats .
Lastly – be wary of the source! Hormone free, grassfed beef is so far superior to feedlot cuts it’s hard to be succinct in comparing them. Better to add less and have it higher quality, for sure. And to minimize exposure to chemicals, rotate what you use. Eggs one day, a little lightly cooked ground beef the next, some white and dark meat chicken day three. Do be wary of poultry fat, even if your dog has never had a bad reaction to it, there’s always that first time. I generally have clients remove the skin.

2) Organ meat – liver and kidney… both of these are best used as small parts of the supplemental food only. Aside from the high phosphorus (liver has 140 mgs per ounce, beef brisket has 58) liver contains a lot of VitaminA, and copper, which  are amply supplied by the kibble. Kidney has about 86 grams of phosphorus and is a great source of selenium so you can use it a little more generously than liver, but be mindful; especially if you have a high protein kibble and/or your dog is a senior.
It stands to reason that any food  that causes an upset tummy shouldn’t be used…and ANY food can do that.

3) Fish – This is a bit of a conundrum because cold water fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel and herring are such superb sources of  the Omega 3 fatty acids we all need more of (us and our dogs.) but the very sad truth is, most fish is at least somewhat contaminated and some is very badly so (tuna in particular, has very high levels of mercury and pcbs, and I don’t use it for dogs or cats at all). Look for smaller fish (sardines, for example) or wildcaught over farmed salmon; limit to three times a week,  and consider a supplement of purified fish oils to meet Omega3 goals.  Any canned fish will have sodium unless otherwise stated on the label, and many have BPA in the can lining; so use with discretion. Older dogs or any dog with heart disease should not have the canned variety unless low sodium. Look for information about types of seafood and their toxin content here:  http://seafood.edf.org/common-questions-about-contaminants-seafood

4) Eggs – a great source of very bioavailable protein, and fresh free range eggs are even better. Give your smallish dog 1-2 a week, mediums can handle 3-4 and a large or giant dog as many as 6, depending on the diet (many giant breed dogs, for example, eat far less total food than is recommended on the bag, which keeps their weight down but can shortchange nutrients as well, For these dogs I don’t mind adding extra food more generously, but again – watch the nutrient content!

5) Dairy products are very often not well tolerated, with the exception of yogurt. If your dog likes yogurt and it doesn’t give him diarrhea, add a Tbsp or so a few times a week(medium dog example). I don’t usually use milk, and cheese is a high-fat treat only. As for ice cream! Ok – a little in the summertime, everybody needs a splurge. For more regular treats, I mash a banana with plain, whole fat yogurt, whirl in the blender and freeze in a Kong. Yogurt alone won’t provide the probiotic support of a daily capsule, but it is a healthy way to augment a dry food regimen.

6) Two specialty items – Bone Broth and Green Tripe…since these two foods are SO excellent for dogs, I have an entry planned devoted just to them. The short version is, it’s excellent to make bone broth (long cooked bones of an animal carcass, usually with a little vinegar and some herbs) but there are concerns about which bones and how long to cook, so I’m going to take the time to go into this more. Simpler stocks made by simmering the carcass of a turkey, chicken,  from beef etc can be used, 2-4 hours stovetop simmering and then the fat skinned off, makes a lovely base for your other additions, or even a doggie soup r stew. Bone broth is simmered much longer and can extract unwanted toxins as well as nutrients – look for an update soon.
Green tripe from any animal (it’s just the lining of the stomach, and as unpleasant as that sounds to us, dogs just adore the stuff) is almost always a healthful addition. I contacted Tripett (who make a canned version) and they assure me the lining has no BPA – I highly recommend a bit added to your dog’s kibble, anytime. Once you get past the smell, you’ll be glad you tried it. I’ll discuss the health benefits and feeding guidelines soon.

Vegetables and Fruits

1) In general,  vegetables  are rich in phytochemicals that can help defend the body against cancer, and they contain many vitamins, minerals and much fiber as well. All sounds great – but, there are considerations for usage. The first and obvious one is, too much fiber can loosen stool. This is one you will need to test on your own, but a guideline is to use no more than 1/3 daily for small dogs, 1/2 cup for medium and up to a cup for large/giant. Make sure the veggie mix is varied and stop or change it if you notice a problem! On e way to test your dog’s response to vegetables is to feed only one kind for a few days, then rest the system for a day, then try another one. Once you have figured out if brussels sprouts are ok, who much sweet potato is goo and so on, you can start to mix it up accordingly. Most problems associated with vegetable feeding are either from using too much, or one of the following specific issues.

2) Goitrogens, solanine, oxalate (oh my!)  These three are the most common problems I see with feeding a lot of vegetable matter, and the scope of this entry won’t allow for detailed exploration. The point here is that veggies, for all they do offer so much benefit, can have a few drawbacks as well. Brassica family vegetables – such potent cancer fighters – also contain compounds called glucosinolates, which are known to suppress thyroid function; cooking reduces the levels of these compounds, but I still limit them with dogs who have thyroid disease .http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=george&dbid=47

Nightshade family veggies contain an alkaloid called solanine, which can exacerbate inflammation in the body, and therefore I try not to use them at all. The nightshade family includes white potatoes(not sweet potatoes) eggplant, peppers and tomato. And veggies rich in oxalic acid can be problematic for dogs who have a history of calcium oxalate bladder stones – I tend to limit oxalates also with pre-disposed breeds. Oxalate also impairs the absorption of dietary calcium, so feeding a lot of them may result in your dog falling short of the calcium he needs . Some information here: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=george&dbid=48
With all of these groups, again – it’s important to consider your dog, his health history, what’s in the main diet and to use foods  with commonsense( not too much, nothing contraindicated for a condition).
In short, I (A) limit brassica family veggies with thryoid disease (and always cook them),(B) I don’t use nightshades at all(your dog is going to be JUST FINE without eggplant) and (C) I’m wary of oxalate content with all dogs, and use moderately (or avoid altogether with stone-former).

In terms of fruit, I’m not a huge fan. Many dogs don’t like fruit, and just like vegetables, fruits can  be problematic, in terms of fiber or oxalate content. Moderation is key; some dogs, for example, love bananas and a yogurt/banana smoothie (I freeze them in Kongs)  once a week in the summer is just fine. Berries provide potent antioxidants and can be pulped up and added to the slurry, but again, many are  loaded with oxalate. If you want to provide the cancer-fighting compounds of blueberries without the oxalate, you can consider one of the myriad supplements available now that offer the extracts without the issues. I’ll talk much more about anti-cancer support in that (upcoming!) entry series.

Grains, seeds, legumes

1) Grains – for over fifteen years now, the only grain I really use regularly has been rice, and given the current issues with arsenic I see no reason to add rice to any kibble. Other grains such as barley, wheat and rye, contain gluten and are not recommended unless therapeutically indicated (as with barley for diabetics).

2) Seeds: Both Quinoa and buckwheat (sometimes thought of as grains) are highly nutritious seeds that can be used as part of the kibble-topper. Quinoa is high in oxalate, but usually well tolerated; rinse well before cooking. Buckwheat is surprisingly well accepted by most dogs, and is nutritious and usually well tolerated. If your dog shouldn’t have too much additional protein, you can mix his eggs, chicken, salmon etc half and half with buckwheat and/or quinoa. Other foods such as wild rice can be used, but are usually prohibitively expensive.

3) Legumes: Lentils in particular are a great source of resistant starch, which I talked a little about in one of the carbohydrate entries. If your dog  tolerates them and you use organic products, a small amount of very well-cooked legume can be beneficial to the colon, and help regulate (soften OR firm) stool. Use guidelines above!

Core recommendations

1) Consider first the dog’s overall health, and the nutrient content of the food you’re using. Plug in holes accordingly, and mind not to go over15% (by calorie, not weight or volume) of the total diet. If you are using 25% or more of the daily total in your home made “topping”, you can be seriously unbalancing the diet, and might consider developing a fully balanced recipe to use instead.

2) Bear in mind not only nutrient content (fats, protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals in the supplemental food) but the sources of your supplemental foods; see my posts on arsenic in rice, radioactive sardines, and upcoming entries on fish safety in general, for example.It’s better to use less of a cleaner food than more of a chemical-laden, questionable one). Always limit organ meats, and be mindful of fat type as well as content.

3) Whatever you decide to add, start small and build up. Green vegetables as previously noted, can contribute to loose stool – as can many fats – use all this information as guidelines and then test on your own dog! No matter how great a food is, how healthy, it’s not a good one for your dog if it gives him or her gas, loose stool, or the itchies.

4) Don’t overuse any one food, over and over. Variety will not guarantee a balanced diet, but it will be a primary guideline when it comes to toppers. This is where we want the nutrient content diluted (which is what variety does) – so please DO rotate veggies,  carbs, proteins.

5) May sound contradictory after all of this, but relax! We are all doing the best we can for our dogs, and if you can’t get highest grade free range beef and so on, use what you can afford and access, mix it up and enjoy!

One last word, but I think it’s an important one; my advice is, don’t try to compensate for an inferior grain heavy, lower quality food by adding meats and veggies. You may add in some good nutrition, but what you can;t do, is take the nasty stuff (BHA/BHT, corn,  4-D meats, cheap minerals etc) OUT of the kibble. If you are using a lower grade kibble my first advice before anything else, is get your dog onto a premium food asap! more than adding in extras, think about the overall nutrition – and switch to premium.If you need help with that, let me know.  :)