My Top Ten Indispensable Herbs for Dogs(updated)

I’ve been on a pretty steep learning curve with herbal medicine this past few years, and looking over this  entry I can see a need to change the Top Ten list a little bit.This list is geared to herbs that most dog owners will know about, can use with ease, have very few Contraindications (mostly allergy, which can happen with anything) and are applicable to more than one condition.

I’m going to do full monographs on all of them, as well as some articles on alternatives for each type of Primary Action; this is just the short version, a few points on each.. These are easily obtained and good to have on hand, in a couple of forms if possible.

Slippery Elm (Ulmus Fulva)
Family: Ulmaceae
Clinical Actions: Demulcent, Astringent, Nutritive
Energetics: Neutral, sweet
Selected Constituents: Mucilage, tannins, phytosterols
Parts Used: dried inner bark
Use for: diarrhea, IBD, any GI tract inflammation; aso dry, hacking coughs; externally for boils, abscesses and wounds ; also potentially helpful for feline urinary tract disease.
For IBD, in combination with the more cooling mallow; for external boils and abscesses in a poultice; for all kinds of GI complaints. Helpful for kennel cough, in a little honey. Slippery elm is an endangered species, but other elms (Siberian, for example) can be used in a similar way. I also use one of the mallow family roots along with an astringent such as rose, with excellent results.One value of elm bark powder for animals; it’s actually palatable, and we can’t underestimate the value of THAT when dealing with a nauseated, inappetant 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).

Dose:I use about 5 grams of the powder  in a cup of cold water and about 1/4 cup of the infusion per 20 lb body weight, in divided doses or a couple of teaspoons – to Tablespoons, according to size of dog and what else is being given. It’s safe to go higher, up to twice this amount, but I like to work with lower doses first and increase as necessary.Important to note that like all mucilaginous herbs,  slippery elm has the potential to affect absorption of veterinary drugs if administered at the same time, so I recommend giving any medication a few hours before or after you give the elm infusion.

Milk Thistle (Silybum Marianum)

Family: Asteraceae

Clinical Actions: Hepatoprotective, cholagogue, galactagogue, antioxidant

Energetics: Bitter, warm

Selected Constituents: Silymarin, which is a flavonoid complex thought to be responsible for most of Milk thistle’s benefits; also contains lignans, sterols, other flavonoids (apigenin, quercetin) and mucilage

Parts Used: seeds, collected late in the season, freshly ground

Used For: Hepatitis, any kind of toxicity to the liver, pancreatitis,  protection for the liver during treatment with drugs such as Rimadyl, phenobarb, or pesticides like Advantage; cancer (antioxidant, bioflavonoids)

Dose: A standardized extract of 70% silymarin is usually dosed at 10 – 15 mgs per kg BW, divided BID: Tincture I use 1-2 mls per 20 lbs BW: and the freshly ground seed, I add about a quarter to a third of a  teaspoon per 20 pounds BW, daily for three weeks spring and fall

For more on milk thistle, see my gigantic monograph – I love this plant and all it’s gifts.In conjunction with diet, can be a wonder-herb for the liver. .. but don’t forget Schizandra, burdock, dandelion,  and others that work a little differently, but can offer targeted help for specific problems. Milk thistle may be the Queen of the Canine Liver herbs, but it’s definitely not the only one. More on this in the Herbs for Liver entry; coming soon. 🙂

Hawthorn (Crataegus Oxycantha)

Family: Rosaceae

Clinical Actions: Cardiotonic, astringent, diuretic

Energetics: Berries are sweet and warming; flowers are sweet, astringent and slightly bitter

Selected Constituents: Oligomeric proanthocyanidins, triterpenoid sapogenins, flavonoids(quercetin, rutin, vitexin)

Parts Used: Berries, leaf and flower

Used For: Congestive Heart Failure, dilated cardiomyopathy,  high blood pressure

Preventively as a cardiovascular tonic

Dose: Water infusion, use 5 -30 grams of dried leaf/flower to 8 ounces boiling water, give up to three times a day. Tincture (alcohol) I use about a ml per 20 pounds BW, in divided dose (BID/TID)

I use  tincture, infusion and decoction (but mostly tincture or dried herb for dogs). SO MUCH to love about this safe, lovely, most healing herb for the dog with DCM or a murmur or any number of heart issues – a must for the geriatric of any type. Gregory Tilford wrotes that” hawthorn is safe- the toxicity potential of hawthorn is on the same level as rosehips, blueberries and raspberries – in other words, hawthorn is a medicinal food”. I use a low alcohol tincture a lot of the time, but also grind the dried berries to a powder and simply add to the food. Hawthorn should not be used alongside some veterinary drugs used for the heart, as it can potentiate their actions (esp. digitalis)so if your dog is on medication for heat disease,  please discuss the use of hawthorn with your vet.

Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum procumbrens)


Clinical Actions: Bitter tonic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic
Energetics: Cool and bitter

Selected Constituents: Iridoid glycosides (harpagoside and harpagide) phenolic glycosides, flavonoids, triterpenes, sterols

Parts Used: Secondary tubers

Used For: Reducing inflammation, especially with osteoarthritis

Dose: There is a great range of dose with Devil’s Claw, and I tend to start low and work up. Most owners use a standardized extract, and my recommendation if using one of these is start with a 250 mg capsule for a small dog, 500 for a medium and up to 1000 daily for a giant breed dog. Side effects if giving too much can include diarrhea, but I have yet to see that at these levels.

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,and some forms of digestive upset – although it should not be used with ulcer, it is a bitter tonic and can help dyspepsia and inappetance related to GI upset or chronic pain.  Not THE most versatile herb; just one of 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 anti-arrythmics in particular, but also anticoagulants; check with your vet if your dog is on any of these.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis)

Family: Asteraceae

Clinical Actions: Lymphatic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic,vulnerary, astringent
Energetics: Neutral to cool, dry

Selected Constituents: Triterpene saponins, flavonoids, essential oils, sesquiterpenes

Parts Used: Flowers

Used For: Externally; as an eyewash, compress for rashes or dermatitis of any kind; in salve for wounds,  burns, insect bites; in the mouth for gingivitis; uses are myriad. Internally: in infusion or tincture, for swollen lymph nodes, infection in the GI or urinary  tract, IBD, cancer.

Dose:the standard range for infusion of the dried flowers is 5-30 grams per cup of water, steeped at least a half hour; I am not so precise in measurement with these very mild and safe herbs and especially when using topically. I often put about a third of a pint of flowers in a jar, fill with boiling water, steep for several hours, drain and use. Internally, I use 1-2 mls per 20 pounds BW, diluted in water and given in three or four doses per day. If the dog is very sensitive, I spoon the infusion into the food directly, again not so very precise here, a few Tbsps for an average size dog, several times a day.
Calendula was not on my original Top Ten list, but last summer I grew so much of it I had to use it more energetically, and I did more reading as well as using it in salve, compresses, infusions, and tinctures of a variety of types. It’s bumped Oregon grape for this list, as a top herb for  the average owner to use. like the others here I will be writing more on it in the months ahead. One of my favorites and very easy to grow.

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Family: Urticaceae

Clinical Actions: anti inflammatory, nutritive, diuretic, hemostatic and astringent
Energetics: Sweet and cool

Selected Constituents:Flavonoids, phenolic acids, coumarin, sterols, fatty acids and multiple nutrients

Parts Used: Leaf, root and seed

Used For: I use nettle for allergies, urinary tract inflammation and kidney disease(the seed) prostatic hypertrophy, osteoarthritis, topically for hot spots, and as a slow-healing, nourishing   helper for dogs who are exhausted from overwork, long kenneling or abuse (often with rose and appropriate Flower Essences). Greg Tilford uses nettle as an alternative 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.


Infusion: 5- 30 grams dried herb infused in 8 ounces of water; 1/4 to a 1/2 cup pr 20 pound BW; given three times a day

Tincture: 1- 3 mls per 20 pounds BW, diluted in water or in a formula(or directly in food), spread over three doses per day. I use the higher end of all these ranges if  the herbs are being administered alone, or if the animal is ill (as opposed to using them preventively).

Marshmallow (Althea officinalis)

Family: Malvaceae

Clinical Actions: demulcent, diuretic, vulnerary, immunostimulant
Energetics: Sweet, bitter, cool

Selected Constituents: Mucilage, asparagines and tannins in the root; mucilage, flavonoids and phenolic acids in the leaf

Parts Used: Leaf and root, together or separately – use cold infusion to preserve mucilage content

Dose: 5- 30 grams dried herb infused in 8 ounces of water; 1/4 to  1/2 cup per 20 pound BW; given three times a day I rarely use tincture.

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 of 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 don’t really love the taste, but I’ve been thankful for her help on many an occasion.

Good to note too, that other members of the mallow family can be used interchangeably – common mallows (malva neglecta and sylvestris) have very similar actions and constituents.

Mullein (Verbascum Thapsus)

Family: Scrophulariaceae

Clinical Actions: Demulcent, expectorant, mild diuretic
Energetics: cooling and bitter

Selected Constituents: Polysaccharides, saponins, volatile oils, flavonoids

Parts Used: flowers, leaves, stalk, root

Dose:5- 30 grams dried herb infused in 8 ounces of water; 1/4 to  1/2 cup pr 20 pound BW; given three times a day

Used For: Bronchitis (especially with dry cough)  gastric issues calling for  demulcent action; flowers use in oil infusion for ear mites and inflammation; externally  as a poultice for pain and swelling

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 wonderful 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, calendula, vervain,  milk thistle and marshmallow from seed along with about two dozen others) and have to say, mullein is  a plant I use time and again, especially for respiratory conditions, little wounds and ear issues in dogs.

Dose: Infusion: 5- 30 grams dried herb infused in 8 ounces of water; 1/4 to  1/2 cup pr 20 pound BW; given three times a day

Alcohol Tincture: 1 – 1.5 ml per 20 lbs BW, in water and divided 2-3 times a day

Chamomile: Matricaria recutita, Anthemis nobilis

Family: Asteraceae

Clinical Actions: carminative,  relaxing nervine, tonic, cholagogue, bitter tonic
Energetics: Neutral; slightly bitter

Selected Constituents: Flavonoids, sesquiterpenes, essential oil

Parts Used: dried flowers

Used for: Anxiety, and assorted nervous disorders;skin inflammation;  flatulence, dyspepsia, indigestion;  teething irritability

Dose: Infusion: 5- 30 grams dried herb infused in 8 ounces of water; 1/4 to  1/2 cup per 20 pounds  BW; given three times a day

One of the best know and most widely used plants in the world, chamomile is gentle, can be used internally and out in teas, tinctures, salves, compresses, rinses – gentle enough for babies and powerful enough to ease insomnia in an agitated adult. Contraindicated for allergy only ,as with any herb; chamomile also should never be given to cats. But for dogs, this is a powerful ally and very useful herb to get to know well. In my monograph I’ll be sure to include many ways you can use it, and its another very easy one to grow.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis)

Family: Asteraceae

Clinical Actions: Diuretic, cholagogue
Energetics: cool, bitter

Selected Constituents: Triterpenes, flavonoids,  inulin, saponins, phenolic acids, quercetin glycosides

Parts Used: Flowers, leaves, root

Used For: Digestive and liver tonic (root);  pancreatitis, edema (leaf)

Dose:Infusion: 5- 30 grams dried herb infused in 8 ounces of water; 1/4 to  1/2 cup per 20 pounds BW; given three times a day

(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.  The leaf and root are valuable for many conditions involving edema (water retention) and the flowers are extremely high in antioxidants. I’ll cover more on this, including recipes, in the monograph. I tend to use root and leaf together, in decoction/infusion –  and mostly with liver, kidney and heart disease, for canines.

NOTE: Dandelion should not be used in cases of bile duct obstruction, in acute gallbladder inflammation  and the high mineral content *may* affect the absorption of a class of antibiotics (quinolones)

Other incredibly helpful and important herbs to have on hand for use with dogs, include:

Goldenseal, plantain, elder,Oregon grape, corydalis,  burdock,  skullcap, uva ursi, vervain, couchgrass, gravelroot, raspberry leaf, bilberry, blackberry root, echinacea, cornsilk,  horsetail, St. John’s Wort, Self Heal, rose (flowers and hips) and yarrow.


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


33 thoughts on “My Top Ten Indispensable Herbs for Dogs(updated)

    • Thank you – yes, and goldenseal too – many we used to use freely, are sadly endangered. I still use slippery elm, but much less than I once did. there are other herbs with lovely demulcent properties and sometimes, more appropriate energetics for the individual. Glad you enjoyed the post, too. 🙂

  1. I was so happy to read about how Nettle is good for kidney disease. Is it only the seed that can or needs to be purchased and how much should be given to a 33kg dog please?

    I use slippery elm and marshmallow root powder and mix half each in a paste to give both my dogs each day. It helps greatly with their individual digestive problems.

  2. Cat how much ground hawthorn berry would you give? I have recently adopted a 13yo 30lb dog with a slight heart murmur so would like to add it to the herbs I give her. Btw I mix equal amounts dried ground alfalfa/basil/oregano/spirulina/nettles and a touch of ginger and turmeric and give a 1/4 tsp daily as a supplement/antioxidant per either Tilford or Kidd don’t remember which one and sometimes I use different herbs. When necessary I use other herbs medicinally. I love herbs and use them myself for any ailments I have.

    • Hi anneh – sorry about the delay, I get swamped somedays. the range for dried hawthorn berry powder is from 25 – 300 mgs per kg daily, preferably divided into three doses. With hawthorn berry I prefer to use tincture and I use – personally – about 1 ml per 10 kgs BW, daily….again so much is individual, I might use more if hawthorn is all I’m using or less if employing other herbs. I would divide that dose again into threex daily. Does your dog have heart disease?

      • thanks for response 🙂 She has a heart murmur but holistic vet said it is not a bad one. However I notice occasionally she will cough a little plus when the regular vet cleaned her teeth they said her heart slowed down twice and she should not have anesthesia again unless emergency. I have Hawthorn powder from MT Rose and have been putting a 1/4 tsp on her food once a day (she is 30lbs). I could tincture it but not sure how to do low alcohol for a tincture. She also gets 30mg CoQ10/200 IU E/1,000mg fish oil daily. Also adding a little raw beef heart daily to her raw diet.

  3. Thanks for the wonderful information…I felt like I was in the kitchen of an heb gather from old as I read! 🙂
    I have a senior pet and will be trying at least five of your recommendations rght off the bat.
    Thanks again.

  4. Thank you for this great article on herbals for dogs, I teach pet first aid and try to include holistic remedies as a part of the class. I will direct my students to your informative post.
    Creekside Critter Care
    Auburn, WA

  5. I have been looking for something like this for years! I love your blog. And especially this post on herbs. I just wrote a post on Garlic-Mullein ear oil on my blog. Would it be okay if I linked to this post under further resources/reading?

  6. Hi there and so glad you enjoyed the post – I have a lot more planned this summer. I’d be delighted to have you link to the blog, and I’ll be sure to check yours out as well. 🙂

  7. My vet recommended milk thistle for my shepherd mix for Cushing’s disease, 500 mg. I found it easily in 750, 1000, 150 and occasionally 250 mg. I finally went online and got 500 mg through, 100 capsules for approximately $10. Great buy. I found exactly what I needed for a reasonable price.

  8. My recently adopted senior dog has a poor appetite. After she does eat her stomach gurgles although no vomiting or diarrhea occurs. I usually feed raw but was cooking for her but she actually seems to prefer raw cubes of beef. Any ideas? Thanks for any help

  9. anneh, I’d need to know much more about her, how much she eats at each meal, her veterinary history, what else is in the diet (carb sources, fats, supplements) – I am available for a phone consult if you’d like to explore this more deeply, but I’d look to the diet first and then add herbs selectively based on what kind of results you get with diet. 🙂

  10. Just wanted to add that our 13 year old lab went to vet after 48 hours of not eating, diagnosis was a possible hepititis and elevated liver enzymes… Since this dog has had probably 5 visits to the vet in his long life we were expecting the worst. The dog just wasnt the same for about 3 weeks prior like not barking at the door and greeting guests and the not eating was final straw. After paying for some pain meds and being told to feed him a light diet (rice boiled chicken) I needed to do some research because they were suggesting $100+/month of medication and maybe another $20-50/medication after another $147 blood test. I have plenty of money but seriously our family does not do medicine and we as humans do not spend that kind of money on our health so… Off to the interwebs, I found this article and several others that led me to start feeding him the following..
    2 times a day he would get the following.
    1 Cup White Rice
    1/3 Cup Boiled Chicken or 1/3 Cup Browned Venison
    1/3 -1/2 Cup of Veggies (Carrots, Celery, Spinach, Green Beans, Snap Peas, Broccoli)
    I would chop the veggies up fine for him but I think the key was I started inserting Milk Thistle in to his food, 1/2 the adult human dose per feeding.

    Since visiting the vet the dog has a bounce in his step, jogs around the yard after squirrels, has a soft coat and the best thing of all his stool size went from equaling what he was eating in dog food to being so small we did not have to even pick it up. We also have noticed some of his fatty deposits on his chest shrinking as well as the swollen area around the liver (back of rib cage). I have since upped some of the quantities and even added in a 1/2 cup of dry dog food just to be sure he is getting his nutrients. I also have started him on a doggie vitamin, I will have to look more at adding other herbs as he is an older dog.

    So far so good and I am happy to cook for my pets and I am happy to add in the Herbs..

    Thanks for the info!

  11. Great article! I frequently use calendula for my dogs allergies and compresses for her itchy eyes. I also use slippery elm for digestive issues with my dog! Great article!

  12. I have a question. I have a rescue dog Mini Dachshund and he tested positive for heart worms. He is 3-4 years old. We have put him on the slow treatment for the heart worms the one that does not cantain arsenic. He has a very bad cough with any movement. The only time he is not coughing is when he is laying still. I want to give him something that is not a drug for his cough. Do you have any suggestions that would not interfere with his Doxyciline or Iverhert meds he is taking? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. My heart is breaking seeing him like this.
    Thank you,

  13. Thank you for such great information Cat!
    I use herbs for myself regularly and am always researching the amazing health benefits they can offer. I do not use any conventional medication for anything. I also use herbs in the products I make (lotion, bath and body products, and cosmetics) because I do not particularly care for a lot of the ingredients that are in retail brands. I make topical sprays and shampoo for my dogs(I have 3) and make sure to include certain ingredients in their diet. Such as Spirulina, hulled hemp seeds, hemp seed oil or camelina oil and MSM. I purchase from Mt. Rose Herbs on a regular basis.
    I had never really thought about giving my dogs the herbs you have listed in this article, even though I have and use all of them myself for a variety of reasons.
    My sister just lost one of her 2 dogs to cancer. A 12 year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. She was a healthy dog for the majority of her life and then a week ago Monday she wouldn’t eat any hard or crunchy food. I checked her teeth and she appeared to have several bad or infected that I could see. My sister took her to the vet the next day and they kept her and removed 12 teeth including the canines. She came home the same afternoon but over the course of that week she never seemed to get better and her glands were very swollen. Following 2 more vet visits and injections of antibiotics and steroids she still kept getting weaker. Blood work and an X-ray revealed a swollen spleen and a low RBC count. She was taken to Parkland College Veterinary School of Medicine and they did a biopsy of the spleen and lymph nodes. She was diagnosed with cancer and there wasn’t anything they could do for her at that stage. My sister had to have her put to sleep the next morning. All in the course of a week, although she obviously had the cancer longer than that.
    I guess my story is one of those……….”if only I had……” In all my researching of herbs for myself and the products I make I really never thought of herbs to give my dogs, other than the ones I was currently putting in there food. Having recently done research on pet food also, I was appalled at what they will allow to be included in the ingredients. Meat by product (including road kill, euthanized animals, diseased animals). As repulsive and disgusting as that is there are actually worse things in there than that. Synthetic Preservatives!!! Our dogs eat what we put in front of them day after day, week after week, year after year. Yet the AAFCO, who regulates what goes in dog food, does not care that these preservatives are toxic and cause cancer. Ingredients like Ethoxyquin, BHA, BHT, propylene glycol, TBHQ and propyl gallate. I have researched every single one of these ingredients when looking at different bath and body and cosmetic ingredients on retail labels. I would never include any of these in the products I make and I am absolutely appalled that they are allowed in a food product………..I don’t even care who is supposed to be eating it!
    I will be switching my dogs to a different diet all together after reading about this.
    Cat you have such great information on herbs to keep our dogs healthy. Herbs are so wonderful, but if we are feeding our pets food with toxic ingredients it just seems pretty counter productive.
    I think it would be fantastic if you could do an article on the best dog foods available for our four legged family members…….and also what people should avoid when shopping for dog food. Please. We could all use some expert advise in this area.

    Many thanks and sorry for such a long reply.
    Decatur, IL

  14. Hi, I just adopted a 3 yr old St. Bernard who has digestive issues…I have changed his food and he’s doing much better. I’m also giving enzymes and probtiotics but he’s still burping up alot. Would you recommend the marshmallow or the slippery elm?

  15. I am going to try Marshmallow and Slippery Elm for my 13 year old lab who had LP surgery 5 months ago, as he continues to have a “hacking” like throat clearing, that no one is able to explain. Do I use the two recipes you have above and give both at the same time? Last, can you expain if increasing mucus with the Mullein plant is a positive or negative for a dog in our situation…he does have mucus production as I can hear it at times when he hacks, but rarely does it ever get expelled. My concern of increase mucus production is wont it make him hack even more? Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  16. Pingback: DIY Dog Friendly Herb Garden | Kol's Notes

  17. Pingback: ear infection? - Forums - Yorkshire Terrier Community

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