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.
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)
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)
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)
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.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
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)
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.
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
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)
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