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. ❤


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
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
But change is on the horizon.

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


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.


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.


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
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
Intestinal upset/diarrhea
Ear infection
Skin Allergies

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

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.

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!
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.

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

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



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.


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.


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.

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.


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!


Ready to roll!

Finally – the new course is opening this weekend! A full  Outline is now available – you will need to email me  – and I am accepting registrations right now.

This is the course I’m talking about:  https://thepossiblecanine.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/the-course-that-so-far-doesnt-have-a-name/

…and my email is catlane@thepossiblecanine.com

I will not be able to keep the tuition at 350.00 forever; this is an Introductory price, and I will extend it to the first twelve students who join me. If you are new to herbs you will discover an amazing world of healing and nature-connection; if you have some experience and knowledge I guarantee you will deepen it greatly as we journey past the basic uses for the plants and all of their popular applications.

Herbs are a part of my household and life from the  home made lotions and toiletries I use, to the many remedies and tonics we all take (dog, cat, human, avian) to the plants I grow, tend and gather, to the spices in our favorite dishes. It is my sincerest hope that once you have taken this course,  you will live the herbal life with me.
You, and your little dog too. 🙂


elda mor

The Course that (so far!) doesn’t have a name…

..I’m  a bit stuck on a name right now, but I’m not going to let that stop me from sharing the content, and letting folks know what’s coming up next. This is something I’ve been trying to get to for some time, and since spring is almost here, I feel a need to get rolling. Don’t we all long for green and growing things right about now? I love winter, and all the magical things we can make with conifers, poplar buds, spices and dried plants from our last harvest – but, enough is enough, and I for one am very ready to get into the garden, the fields and forest and  feel the earth beneath my feet one more.
I imagine Danny has a bit of cabin fever about now as well – perhaps some of yours do too.

So; without further adieu, here is what I’m planning for an April 2 start up.

This course  will  be open-ended, and self paced, although I very much like the idea of a tight knit group working together, I also respect the reality of our busy lives and that not everyone can keep up with a schedule. So, the first thing you need to know is, while it *should* take about a year to complete this program, you have as long as you need.

Second – what we will be covering is a pretty wide range of material, but not geared to a professional/practitioner goal, more of an Intro – to Intermediate student. There is a great emphasis on understanding and learning through doing; so many projects and recipes and suggested exercises, not all of which you are marked on – but which seek to bring the plants we discuss into your life and home, so you can begin to work with them safely and effectively.
There will be some theoretical work – for example I will want you to get used to using the Latin name of each plant, mostly because common names can overlap and you just might end up with Joe Pye weed when you went to order Boneset…botanical names are important. If you want to go more deeply into botany and plant identification, I will  be providing a great list of resources. but the emphasis here is on working  daily with the  herbs featured on the course. We’ll learn their Actions – primary and secondary – and thus, how we might use them for various conditions and preventively! – we’ll learn  about Energetics, or how to  personally experience a plant’s Vital Actions so you have a better sense of when to use it (as opposed to just going by a list of actions in a book); we’ll start on some of the principles of formulating, the art of pairing herbs in groups (two, three or even more) to optimize efficacy; we’ll be spending a goodly bit of time on the principles of making stuff with herbs! and that means salves, tinctures, glycerites, elixirs, vinegars and oxymels, pastilles, decoctions and syrups, and more.

Because this course is for YOU as well as your companion animals, we’ll take time to explore the making of lotions, hair rinses face creams, and massage oils, because it’s not just the animals who need care; we need some too.
We’ll learn how to incorporate herbs into daily use, blending teas for all sorts of common complaints (and for pleasure) also how to make and use nourishing infusions to keep us at our healthiest; medicinal uses of popular culinary herbs and spices, recipes for herbal vinegars/salad dressings, soup stock, baked goods, marinades and more.  I will be providing a detailed and more organized Course Outline by the end of  the week – Friday March 8. What I can tell you right now, is how we’ll break down our learning pathway; it goes like this.


Because culinary herbs are so common and often a  beginner’s first  contact with herbal medicine, we’ll start this course looking deeply at 20  of them, their full range of medicinal application, as well as how to prepare them in a variety of tasty, nourishing and  healing ways. Many of these herbs have become very popular in commercial use, and so often their full range of action is limited by the emphasis on one: Ginger for chest colds! well absolutely, but there is so much more to ginger (Zingiber officinale) than this. I’ll be making suggestions for cultivation,   medicinal uses, creative recipes and more, all with herbs you most likely know well, but might not have thought of is quite this way..for you, and your canine /feline companions as well.


Several of the herbs we think of as culinary, overlap into the commercial section; turmeric, ginger and cinnamon have enjoyed a lot of popularity medicinally in recent years, for example. But when we look at “commercial herbs” as a whole we find many that are not commonly used in cooking;  many that do not grow locally, and almost all that are now sold mostly in healthfood stores and veterinary clinics, in dessicated, standardized, powdered medicinal form. I personally fee l that while using plants in this way is often effective medicine- and much better than using harsher drugs and chemicals-  it is also very much the tip of the iceberg with regard to these powerful medicinal plants. With herbs like St. John’swort, arnica, echinacea,  calendula, astragalus, Devil’s claw, slippery elm, milk thistle, hawthorn, chamomile, evening primrose, feverfew, gingko biloba, saw palmetto, ginseng, valerian and black cohosh, we often think of them only in terms of their one, popular action, when in truth there is much more to all.  This section of the course will explore these and other commonly used and popular herbs with an eye to preparation and dosage,  actions aside from the wellknown; safety/interaction issues, and alternatives you can often find right outside your back door.

…which brings me to, what to my mind anyway is the most exciting part; Wild plants and local medicine! Because this is often new territory for students, and because there are so many unsung heroes of the plant world in this category, it’s by far the largest – although not so large as to be overwhelming. In this section we will be exploring – literally – the yards, fields and woodlands local to our hones, and learning about the powerful and immediately accessible benefits of plants many think of as weeds: some we will cover include dandelion, stinging nettle, burdock, mullein, chickweed, plantain, yarrow, mugwort, Motherwort, heart’s ease, goldenrod, boneset, elecampane, ground ivy, skullcap, bee balm, Solomon’s seal, a variety of mallows, wild rose, self heal, raspberry, hawthorn, elder, poplar, pine and other conifers, and many more. We’ll learn how to identify these wild plants, gather them ethically (or cultivate in our own garden) dry/prepare and use them all, for ourselves, our families, canine and feline friends…and wind up with a section on building your herbal apothecary, with ideas for salves and ointments,  first aid, tools you’ll need for keeping and using herbs, and of course – recipes!


I have geared this course to be packed with information and provide exercise and tools you will use long after it’s completed. It can also be used as a starting place for deeper study; I offer an intensive 18 month Practitioner’s programme for those wishing to work herbally with cats and dogs.  And my goal as always, in working with plants for the benefit of us all, is to facilitate in others the connection to nature and  ways of healing that are gentle and powerful – healing animals, ourselves, and the earth.
The cost of this course is $350.00. While I will be making many suggestions for books you will want to purchase as you go, the only one required is a field ID guide, for the wildcrafting section. Otherwise, all notes are my own. Supplies – jars and bottles, mortar and pestle, oils and vinegars etc are of course, extra costs to consider.

This is an online course; while I emphasize fieldwork and practicuum,  it is taught online at your own pacing.

Throughout all sections, herbs will be examined for use in support of common health issues;  urinary and digestive tracts, for immune balance, to support  the skin, address minor injuries, abscesses, rashes and burns; for soft tissue injury and osteoarthritis, parasite control,   cardiovascular support, anxiety, and  more.

Interested students please let me know asap that you’d like to enroll; I may have to put a limit on numbers, depending how many applications I receive. If you think you’d like a spot, email me and I will be sure to hold space for you. Further details will be available by request.

Working with Animals – getting started

In my work with animals I am often asked what herbs people should get for a “start-up” kit – not exactly First Aid, which entails specific items for emergencies, but a general kind of “what herbs (and in which form) should I buy or make to get going with helping animals”?  So, in this article I’ll make a few suggestions, useful for anyone just starting out, and hopefully some ideas for the more advanced herbalist, too.

Working with cats and dogs is, on one level, much like working with people; before we administer anything herbal, we have to evaluate the individual.  We need to consider not just the herbs themselves, but which form to use, and of course, what dose to use. Beyond that, we want to consider if the herb will be used longterm or short, and in the case of the former, carefully evaluate any health conditions the animal may have. This is important with short term herbal choices as well, but when a specific formula or even one plant is used longterm, it may not only exacerbate existing conditions but promote the development of new ones, in the carnivore.  High oxalate herbs should never be used longterm with dogs or cats, for one example. But the core of our work is to establish the form – given the fact many animals simply will not be persuaded to ingest infusion – and also which dose we will use. The latter here is quite simple for me – I start at the low end of the therapeutic range and build levels only as indicated.  I tend to use tincture or glycerite most of the time, but some herbs (Marshmallow comes to mind) are probably most effective given in infusion, so  get creative about how to slip it into the food.  I use  green tripe, special home made recipes, or honey – not peanut butter, cheese and other foods not optimal for dogs. In cases of urgent need, and with herbs such as milk thistle that aren’t so great in tincture – I use capsules. Depending on the animal, herb and condition, we can look to tinctures, glycerites, infusion, capsules and pastilles – but let’s start with a few basics the Animal Herbalist can rely on in a very general sense.

Note: this list does not cover medicine-making, but assumes you are just working with purchased products – at least for now. Because this article will go on forever if I start to recommend doses , I will cover  the range in my next installment; for those who want to start right now, an excellent resource is listed at the end of this article.  For now, here’s the basic starter kit. I’ve emphasized local herbs and those that do double duty, for example chamomile as a relaxing nervine (to help an anxious animal relax) and as a soothing carminative for upset stomach and gas.

Tinctures and Glycerites:  Echinacea, Mullein leaf, Hawthorn berry, Calendula, dandelion (root and leaf) plus, a nervine , respiratory and a urinary formula, and perhaps one for pain. I say “perhaps” because there are many kinds of pain and it is always best addressed according to type; that said, a general formula can be a blessing, in acute or chronic scenarios. If you prefer glycerites to tinctures – there are pros and cons to both – some lovely products available here:


A few examples of formulas I like:

1) This is an excellent nervine formula, but you can of course work with individual herbs and experiment. I encourage you to do so! http://www.animalessentials.com/#products:66

2) Mountainrose Herbs has a line of herbal formulas I have used with animals over the years, and especially like the Bladder Care and Respiratory Blends here: http://www.mountainroseherbs.com/extract/combin.html

3)  For pain, I often combine Corydalis and Meadowsweet with a relaxing nervine like Skullcap. A good formula can help a lot, but look for something with a nervine and possibly an anti-spasmodic like lobelia.  Be aware that cats in particular should not have a lot of salicylic acid, so go easy on both White Willow bark and meadowsweet.  Devil’s Claw is a superb anti-inflammatory and included in many formulas for pain,  but it is contraindicated for dogs n heart medication. One popular formula is a capsule called “DGP” – DoggonePain – and  can be used for most dogs with arthritic soreness. It contains, among other things, Boswellia, Corydalis, Cayenne, Feverfew and Turmeric.

Powdered herb: Goldenseal, Marshmallow root, slippery elm, blackberry root

With just these four, you have a powerful  herb to use topically for infection;  Mallow is the  “bandaid for the stomach” you can use for dogs undergoing chemo or with any kind of gastric upset; Elm is endgangered but has its place especially with IBD and dogs who need extra nutritional support, and blackberry is a superb plant for diarrhea. Give in food, or honey, or  home made capsules if need be.

Dried herb: Yarrow, elderflower, nettle, calendula, marshmallow leaf and root, milk thistle seed, burdock root, chamomile

This list – all of which can be made into infusion, placed directly in food,  or used externally as washes/compresses – covers a wide range of uses. Yarrow, elderflower, calendula and chamomile are all superb herbs for the skin, as such can be used in rinses, compresses, poultices and home made salves. Internally they can be used for infectious conditions(yarrow and elder) for gastritis(calendula and chamomile) and anxiety (chamomile alone or with other nerviness, such as lemon balm, skullcap, passionflower, and others). Milk thistle is THE go-to herb for liver problems or just for general support; think of adding freshly ground seed in small amounts regularly to the diet, or a standardized extract of silymarin for acute conditions.
Stinging Nettle is a classic herb for animals who suffer with seasonal allergies. Make an infusion of the dried leaf and add daily, starting about four weeks prior to the allergy season. (Dietary changes, fish oils, other cooling herbs can ease symptoms a great deal as well).

Essential Oils: I never, ever use these with cats, as they are unable to metabolize them at all,and can die as a result of ingestion. Dogs can handle a little bit in dilution, but for the beginner I really only suggest lavender and tea tree, both of which are very useful but should be used with caution – and never internally.

Additionally you will want to have on hand:  Honey  – sometimes the only way to get that tincture into a reticent dog or cat is to sweeten it. A small amount of good quality honey can mask a few drops of tincture, or you can stir in a powdered herb such as mallow root, or elm and feed it directly.

Rescue Remedy (Bach Flower Essences)

Traumeel – by Zeel, a homeopathic blend used for animals in distress or pain

A good basic salve,  perhaps made with calendula, plantain, chickweed or other mild safe herbs – for skin rashes and insect stings

Green tea bags – for hot spots

Apple Cider vinegar

Therapeutic clay – to mix with goldenseal and perhaps some tincture, apply to abscess or other sores



A thermometer


Scissors, tweezers, magnifying glass


Mason jars for storage (and for any infusions or other medicines you may make)

Cheesecloth, a small and a medium sized sieve

Measuring spoons and cups

Gelatin capsules (for filling with powdered herb)

Plenty of blankets and towels

A hot water bottle (NOT an electric heating pad)

Olive oil and beeswax, in case you are up to making your own gentle salves

And – very important! A good veterinary herbal that can help you make choices about herbs and dosing them safely and effectively. I highly recommend Veterinary Herbal Medicine by Drs. Susan Wynn and Barbara Fougeres. It’s THE reference book for both  the home herbalist, and the clinician working with animals.

Next article I will take a look at conditions, and how  all the herbs in your starter kit can be used most effectively. Until then – hug your furfriends, and eat the weeds.


A few herbs for radiation exposure…

…and wonderful for multiple other purposes as well.

I mentioned in the last entry that along with foods and supplements, some herbs can assist the body in coping with an upswing in radiation exposure, or simply deal with the everyday levels we and our dogs receive through Xrays, computers, microwave ovens and  energy-saving lightbulbs. In the last entry I covered a bit about the importance of fiber and green foods such as spirulina and chlorella, along with COQ10, Vitamin E, selenium and mushrooms.

Herbal support is important, too.  My core suggestions for dogs are

  • Stinging Nettle (Urtica Dioica)
  • Milk Thistle ( Silybum Marianum)
  • Burdock (Arctium Lappa)
  • Cleaver‘s (Galium Aparine)

I chose these four because they are safe, effective and also offer a range of other health benefits.

Let’s go through these one at a time.

Stinging Nettle (Urtica Dioica)

The uses of Stinging Nettle for dogs are many.One of the conditions I use it most frequently and effectively is for allergy; the seed is important with renal disease and the leaf, for osteoarthritis. Clinical actions include :anti-inflammatory, diuretic, nutritive, hemostatic and anti-diarrheal, and kidney trophorestorative .  The high mineral content and gentle diuresis of nettle makes it a helpful support for dogs exposed to radiation; my preference is to use infusion, ladled into a home made food, several times a day (as opposed to tincture, for example, or commercial capsules of the dried  herb/extract).

Although stinging nettle does indeed STING when fresh, drying (thoroughly) or cooking removes the problem. In Veterinary Herbal Medicine, Susan Wynn notes that ” handled with gloves, stinging nettle can be sauteed in butter and is tastier than spinach” (I agree!)  For dogs, make an infusion, and ladle an appropriate amount onto their food three times a day. You may only be feeding twice; if so,  either use it all up in the two or add a small mini-meal (tripe?) mid day and spoon the nettle infusion over that.

To make a nettle infusion;

  • Put one ounce of dried herb into a quart jar; fill jar to the top with boiling water and cap tightly.
  • Strain after 4-8 hours and drink hot or cold
  • Refrigerate what you don’t drink right away; drink that within a day

(from Susun Weed’s article on radiation here)

This is my method with dogs,  I have a lot of nettle around my house. Because infusion is used over a longer period of time than a tincture you might take for an acute condition, I advise mentioning it’s use to your vet. If your dog is on a diuretic such as Lasix, nettle’s diuretic actions may potentiate  the drug. Again, Susan Wynn says” Cautious authors have suggested that diabetes, heart failure, kidney disease, edema, pregnancy and lactation are contraindications for this herb. The authors do not agree and believe this to be a very safe herb in practise”

VHM, page 609

Dose for infusion: 1/4 to 1/2 cup per 20 lbs Body Weight, divided TID.(optimally) So, for example, your 80 pound dog could get between one and two cups of infusion per day, in three doses. I tend to work with the lower end. But if my dog had just had a lot of exposure to radiation, I might well use the higher end of the range as well. I have found nettle to be a very safe and useful herb in practise and in my own life (and I’m sensitive to everything!)

That said, I always start dogs on very small doses of any herb, or supplement for that matter –  give a lower amount (say one third of this total) for two to three days, then build up to the level you want to be using.

Dose for Tincture: 1-2 drops per pound bodyweight, TID (three times daily)

Milk Thistle (Silybum Marianum)

Well, I wrote a whole lot on this one in the monograph, but it’s worthwhile to revisit in light of the topic at hand. Milk thistle strengthens and protects the liver,and in cases of ANY toxin exposure I like to add a round to my dog’s  supplement regimen.

For this herb I use either a standardized powder extract, (80% silymarin) or an alcohol tincture (which they hate, so  it’s second choice).

If using tincture, the standard dose is 1/4 teaspoon per 20 pounds body weight, diluted in water and added to food. With the capsules,  I do about 15 mgs per kg BW, again divided daily, not all at once.

I feel milk thistle is one of THE most important herbs we can use for our dogs, with all the stress their livers are placed under (vaccinations, lawn and household chemicals, various other environmental hazards, and let’s not forget garbage eating). It only makes sense to include it in any protocol for surviving radiation exposure. Practitioners are divided on length of usage, with some claiming that longterm use can actually weaken liver function. For this reason, I use it preventively twice a year, and in all cases of liver disease, often 6 weeks on and two off.

Burdock (Arctium Lappa)

Even if you have never used burdock medicinally, if you have dogs and every go walking outside in the summer, chances are you are well acquainted with them; especially you folks with longer haired dogs. BURRS are one of the banes of existence on a grooming level – but from such a marvelous and potent healing plant.

Not to mention those of us who have horses…

but, the plant is pure magic. In Herbs for Pets, the Tilfords write ” We cannot emphasize enough the value of this herb in the longterm care of companion animals”..

With affinities for the skin – particularly inflammatory issues related to toxin exposure which may include poor diet, burdock is an essential for me in dealing with itching dogs  and especially for hotspots.  (There will be full monographs on all of these herbs coming up in future here). For our purposes, let me again quote the Tiflord’s simple summation; ” Burdock helps clean the body from the inside out”. Long used as a “blood purifier” or alterative herb, burdock is useful for  the removal of “pesticides and airborne pollutants from the bloodstream before they cause harm to the body”.

So, again, we can use a gentle and powerful alterative herb to assist the body’s detoxification process and self-healing throughout and after stress. I cherish all the local burdocks near my house, and lift the roots in the fall of the first year. I like to use them fresh for myself and partner, and tincture  a good portion for the dogs.

Dosage for Tincture: 0.2 – 2.0 ml per 20 lbs, diluted and divided, preferably TID

Dosage for Decocted Root: 1/4 – 1/2 cup per 20 lbs, divided TID

Cleaver’s (Galium Aparine)

Ahh, Cleaver’s. This herb is special friend of mine, as I have had issues from not one but two infected roots over the past year – one a failed root canal; and the second one, apparently related to grinding my teeth at night. Cleaver’s is a herb I’ve used as part of my own healing journey – and it has a role to play in your dog’s health as well.

Cleaver’s is one specific type of plant from a  genus that includes many other, similar species. Around here we have a lot of bedstraw; many farmers douse these plants with RoundUp annually to try and remove them (they do this with burdock and milkweed and Queen Anne’s Lace, it is almost physically painful to watch at times). Cleaver’s is one of the most important alteratives with affinity for the lymphatic system; applications include any condition in which swollen lymph nodes present, or where lymphatic circulation has been impaired. Cleaver’s helps  move fluid through the lymphatic system and clear blockages, infections, drain off accumulated toxins.  I generally prefer tincture, and dose at 1- 2 ml per 20 pounds, starting with the usual few drops to test reactivity. Cleaver’s is a safe herb with no adverse effects recorded, and a powerful aid to restoring balance during or after infection, cancer, radiation exposure.

In Summation…

So, these would be the Big Four for me, herbally, for use in canine radiation recovery. I might add infusion of nettle daily for, say, 8 weeks; combine the tinctures of cleaver’s and burdock,  and give the powdered standardized extract of milk thistle. I like to start any herbal therapy with ONE at a time, watch for a week, add another. Often this is not *really* necessary, but I’ve also seen dogs react to calendula and alfalfa, and I prefer caution in these cases. If you are adding chlorella and some assorted fiber, plus CoQ10, say, you have a strong foundation for helping your dog . On Susun Weed’s page linked to above, there are a lot of dietary ideas, such as adding orange and dark leafy green vegetables for beta-carotene, that I specifically did not recommend for dogs, as too much can create loose stool (and haven’t we all been there). My suggestion is, if you’re concerned about radiation exposure, start by optimizing the diet – upgrade to premium kibble if you’ve been using an economy brand; move to a home made diet if you’ve been using kibble. If the diet is already good, try a few of these suggestions, according to which ones  appeal to you and how much risk your dog is at. Don’t stress, but do be aware of the tools you can use.

And while you’re at it –  add a few to your own diet – some Miso soup, chlorella, a nettle infusion…. let us never forget – we need to be healthy and well,  after all- who else is going to cook for the dog?


Veterinary Herbal Medicine, Susan Wynn and Barbara Fougeres

Herbs for Pets, Gregory and Mary Wulff-Tilford

Manual of Natural Veterinary Medicine. Susan Wynn and Steve Marsden

Susun Weed’s website

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