Include herbs in your dog's diet
by Nicole Mackie
What are herbs?
Herbs are plant foods, just like vegetables are plant foods and many be eaten to help boost the immune system and provide nutrients. Vegetables may even be used because of their healing properties, and so can herbs. Herbs have many healing properties to them. They are food, they are nutrients and they are a good source of vitamins and minerals.
Why should we use herbs when feeding our dogs?
Dogs can benefit from herbs as much as humans can. They are easily absorbed into the body’s systems, especially in tincture, tonic or tea forms where the herb is already broken down. Some minerals are destroyed by the stomach’s hydrochloric acid, but when food is given in a form that is already broken down, it can pass through the stomach quickly into the intestine where it can be re-absorbed and utilized more easily because little has been destroyed in the stomach. Many dogs I see have the symptoms of nutritional deficiency, but when these extra nutrients are added to the diet in the form of herbal remedies, the dog’s symptoms may disappear completely and the dogs are often calmer.
Can anyone treat their dog with herbs?
In the United Kingdom (UK) it is illegal for anyone to treat their dogs without a veterinary referral. If you want to see a canine therapist in the UK, you must get a veterinary referral. Many therapists will have a referral form you can take to your vet. However, in other countries the rules are not so stringent.
If you want to treat your own dog for a problem, do speak to your vet first and let him/her know that you are intending to treat your dog with herbs. However there is nothing stopping you from sprinkling a few chopped herbs on your dog’s dinner, just as you would with your own and he/she may still reap the benefits from the nutrients in the food.
Never take your dog off its veterinary prescribed medication unless your veterinarian has told you to. But work with your vet and allow him/her to observe how the herbal remedy may be affecting your dog.
Are all herbs safe to eat, can we just take them from the roadside or wild in the fields?
No, some herbs are toxic and can even be fatal. We have to know what we are doing and how to identify the herbs we gather from the wild. If you are not sure, don't use them. Try to have an expert with you when collecting herbs for correct identification. Even having a book with good pictures is not a guarantee you will get it right. Some herbs look alike so be careful.
So where can we find safe herbs for our dogs?
You can purchase seeds or dried herbs from your local stores and grow your own.
What can I do with it once I have purchased it, how can I feed the herbs to my dogs?
Use fresh or dried herbs that you know are safe to eat. You can sprinkle a few chopped herbs such as parsley, mint or coriander on your dog’s food or you can make herbal teas for them, let the tea cool and poor into a bowl for your dog to drink. Make sure the tea is watered down and not too strong. A cup of tea poured into a bowl of water. It should not be placed in the water bowl. Make sure it is a different bowl from the bowl of plain water as your dog needs to have a choice whether or not he wants to drink the tea.
How do I know which is the right herb for my dog?
Once you have prepared your dog a herbal tea, leave the tea down for him for a few hours - if he is not used to it, he may come back to it later. If he does not drink it at all, then maybe this is not the right herb for him that day. Your dog should know instinctively which tea he needs for that day. When I give my dogs a tea, they may not drink it right away but after a couple of hours I might check the bowl and often find most of the tea is gone. If it is not touched, then I know its not the one they need today and make a different tea for them.
In the wild dogs will self-medicate. You may see them eating the tops of grass sometimes. The reason is that the ends of grass are sweet and provide the energy they need when walking or running about. I have found that low energy dogs tend to eat a lot of grass. Eating too much can make them a little sick, just like a child eating too many sweets or chocolate can make them sick.
Can you give us a couple of examples of safe herbs we could feed to our dogs?
Calendula Officinalis This is not the type of marigold used in the garden as ornamental flowers, the type to look for is calendula officinalis. This herb is known to help stimulate wound healing, to be a good liver function enhancer, to have a calming effect on the nervous system and to enhance and stimulate the immune system. It can be made into a drinking tea.
Ginger Zingiber officinale contains essential oils and is used to stimulate many organ systems, to help stimulate poor circulation especially to cold limbs, increase appetite, ease pain of the lower back and stomach and is also used to help with all sorts of digestive problems.
Any final words on herbs?
Yes if you are going to start using herbs to treat your dog, speak to your veterinarian first for referral to a qualified canine therapist and use only under the guidance of your therapist. Have a professional herbalist with you when collecting or trying to identify fresh wild herbs.
If you want to feed herbs to your dog regularly, do some research on herbs yourself and eat them yourself so you know how they affect your own health before using on your dog. Don't take your dog off any veterinary prescribed medication even if you feel the herbs are clearing up the condition. Speak to your vet first.