It is quite common these days for people to use holistic remedies to enhance their lives and cure what ails them. Even if you don’t go so far as to grow medicinal herbs and forage for wild medicinal edibles (like I do) it is likely you have a supplement or two that has herbal components. Ie…Ashwagandha, ginseng, St. John’s Wort, or turmeric perhaps? We know that plants have the power to heal and enhance our health, in fact they are often the starting point for pharmaceutical breakthroughs. Nature is very, very wise and knows how to take care of her people.
A growing number of people are also seeing the benefits in using nature to care for their four legged friends and enhance their lives as well. Some veterinarians have even opted to specialize in holistic care, using herbs to promote wellness and improve the quality and length of life of our beloved pets. It is recommended that you work closely with such a veterinarian if you want to explore these options in your own home.
What are some herbs that you can use in an herbal pet care practice? Purslane, borage, chamomile, dandelion, garlic, parsley, burdock, peppermint, goldenrod, astragalus, nettle, and caledula are some of your choices.
Why Diet is Central to Pet Health
The basis of good health in humans and animals alike is a solid diet. Most of the conventional pet foods sold in common stores are pure garbage. Every month it seems you hear of some horrific recall that resulted in pet deaths. This market is not well regulated and what you get is often times not even very suitable for your pet to eat. As an omnivore would it be healthy for you to ONLY eat corn, wheat, carrots, and soy protein isolate? Heck no. You would never reach optimal development or health eating only these things but yet many dogs are raised eating much the same. If your pet has issues with allergies, dry skin, rashes, itchy skin, bad breath, gas, or a dull coat…you need to address this issue pronto!
Your furry friends need a healthy diet, balanced in essential nutrients, minerals, and vitamins. In the wild their animal ancestors would have thrived on protein and fat from meat, minerals from crunching on bones, and veggies/greens from the digestive tracts of their prey. Instead of commercial pet food start making your own. Give them whole foods, uncooked meat and plants, including herbs. For dogs the ration could be 1/3 protein, 1/3 grains, and 1/3 vegetables/greens. If you want to go grain free do 70% meat and 40% veggies/greens. For cats it should be 80% meat and the other 20% a mixture of grains or veggies. Powder supplements are also abundant.
Herbs for Overall Wellness in Pets
Astragalus is great for the immune system and for vitality in general. This is especially true of aging pets and can be used as a tonic. Nettle dandelion, and parsley are good for older pets and those with kidney and liver issues. Ginko and peppermint are good for animals with nervous system issues. Yarrow and hawthorn are beneficial to your pet’s heart.
Herbs for Pet Allergies
If your furry friend has an overactive immune response to allergens you first need to pinpoint the trigger and learn to avoid it but you can also use nettle and dandelion to help them detox the body of waste. Nettle is also an antihistamine, making it awesome for seasonal allergy issues. Astragalus is helpful in boosting their immune system and is also a immune system modulator, which involves bringing the ratio of the different immune cells back into balance to enable the immune system to function correctly in the first place.
Herbs for Pet Anxiety
Some of us just have nervous, anxious pets. It could be their natural makeup, it could be situational, and it could be the result of their environment. For acute anxiety brought on by something like fireworks or travel, try chamomile, passionflower, or valerian (occasional use only). As with humans, it helps them relax. For more chronic anxiety issues try Astragalus.
Herbs for Arthritis in Pets
No one wants to see their beloved pet in pain as they age but we can help relieve some of their discomfort and inflammation with anti-inflammatory herbs – alfalfa, licorice, boswellia, nettle, dandelion, and burdock. The latter three help detox and a compress of yarrow or comfrey can be made and applied externally to sore joints.
Herbs for Pet Digestion Problems
Diarrhea and vomiting are no fun for either one of you. First check to make sure these occurrences are not signs of a more serious medical issue. If confident they are not, you can use fennel seed, dill, peppermint, marshmallow root, or chamomile to ease colon spasms and gas. For runny stools try slippery elm or chamomile and for constipation try dandelion or marshmallow root.
Herbs for Pet Ear Infections and Infestations
For bacterial or fungal infections or infestation like ear mites use garlic, caledula, or mullein. Infuse them into an oil and rub on the ears daily until they clear up. Use an herbal flea spray for fleas and ticks.
Herbs for Pet Skin Problems
A spray or salve made with calendula flowers is perfect for inflamed skin, scrapes, and itchiness. St. John’s Wort, yarrow, and chamomile in spray or salve form can help the skin to heal. Aloe is good for burns, yarrow leaves are good for bleeding, and plantain leaves along with a spritz of witch hazel is good for dressing wounds.
A note of caution – Be careful in using essential oils. Using oils in place of the actual herb(s) is not always wise because they are highly concentrated. This is especially true for cats. If you want to learn more about oily pet care I recommend the book Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals: A Comprehensive Guide to the Use of Essential Oils & Hydrosols with Animals. Everything I mentioned above is plant based care and not oil based.