Psst Are you a brand, artist, shelter, or dog looking to get on Dogly?
Your dog probably knows the answer. But since your dog can't talk, how do you figure out which healing herbs your dog needs to be at his/her healthiest?
That's a question I often get from pet parents who want to know how to use the healing properties of herbs for their dog's health rather than automatically relying on conventional medications.
Herbs are natural healers that can help keep your dog well AND act as herbal remedies when health issues occur, without the side effects and sometimes unintended toxic consequences of conventional medications.
The healing power of herbs to build your dog's health
As we begin to talk about herbs, what are the ways they can contribute to your dog's diet and keep your dog well?
1) As an anti-inflammatory
Herbs with anti-inflammatory properties include ginger, turmeric, black pepper, green tea, rosemary, and cinnamon.
2) As an antioxidant
Herbs with antioxidant properties include fresh parsley, thyme, sage, rosemary, oregano, and again, cinnamon.
3) As support for your dog's digestive health, your dog's nervous system, and blood pressure
Herbs with these properties include ginger, licorice root, fennel seed, chamomile, and marshmallow.
4) As an antidote to intestinal gas, irritable bowel syndrome
Herbs with these properties include chamomile, slippery elm, and turmeric.
5) As an anti-viral and anti-fungal as well as delivering antimicrobial properties.
Sage, for example, serves as all three.
It's easy to see that whatever your dog's needs might be, there's an herb (or maybe a few) for that. You just need to know how to access each herb's healing power and use it safely.
That's where zoopharmacognosy and your power of observation of your dog come in.
What is zoopharmacognosy
Ever wondered why your dog eats herbs in the garden? Or why dogs eat thyme or dogs eat parsley instead of choosing something else to munch on? Like most pet parents, you might be new to the word "zoopharmacognosy," but you've probably seen the concept in action when you see your dog grabbing a bite of fresh basil or dandelion greens.
Zoopharmacognosy is a field of research and thought that simply means animals have been known to instinctively choose certain plants in order to heal their bodies. Zoopharmacognosy is a means of self-medication where plants may take on a different and more enticing smell when the body needs it due to something a dog is lacking, or to overcome stress, disease, or a type of illness.
This practice allows your dog to use medicinal plants on his/her own terms when your dog's body needs it to heal. It's not a widely known practice in domesticated animals but can be a good entry point to collaborating with your dog to decide which of many herbs could be beneficial in treating the root cause of health conditions rather than addressing only the symptoms with medications.
Power of observation
Your power of observation comes into play as you look for signs that indicate what herb could help your dog heal. For example, if your dog is exhibiting signs of anxiety or stress, you might consider herbs that can calm and soothe. If your dog has digestive issues, you could look at herbs that are known for their healing properties for this area.
By learning about the potential benefits of certain medicinal herbs and paying attention to how your dog responds to them, you can take charge of your dog's health in a natural way.
How to know which herbs are best for your dog
"Know your dog" is your best diagnostic tool
No one knows your dog better than you -- unless you count your dog herself/himself. Knowing your own individual dog and always observing and staying in tune with your dog is your best guidance on diagnosing and supporting your dog's health.
Knowing your dog and the issues that tend to pop up, think about planting herbs that address those issues in your garden outside or in a kitchen container garden. Fresh herbs or dried herbs from the market work too.
Let your dog sniff around and see what's appealing. Added bonus: dogs were born to sniff so it's also a nice enrichment activity. Follow your dog's cues on what looks appealing and you can cut and sprinkle small quantities on a food snack or in boiling water for some healthful dog tea once cooled (a small amount can be poured on a snack, also on your dog's food if you know your dog is good with it) or make it an ingredient in homemade dog treats.
Tell me more
With all the signals swirling around our modern-life dogs, don't worry if your dog isn't giving you lots of super clear signals on herb preferences. You can always work from observing outward signs of what's going on with your dog -- digestive problems, motion sickness, issues with your dog's skin, etc -- and match herbs to share with your pup.
Whatever your entry point to match herbs to your dog's needs, it's always good to include your dog and make it a consensual process as much as possible. Give your dog plenty of opportunities to sniff and discover with you!
Give your dog good choices for self-selection
I love taking my shepherd on walks by one field near us that has a ton of different grasses and wildflowers where we spend time slowly walking as he picks out the grasses he wants to eat. It’s so interesting because you can tell how particular he is being in selecting the exact grass and herbs he wants.
Why your dog chooses which grasses or herbs
Dogs eat herbs and grasses for many reasons. There’s a huge misconception that dogs shouldn’t eat grass and that a dog eating grass only means they do it to throw up.
While it can be true that dogs will eat grass in order to purge, it can also be true that the grasses provide something the dog is craving, like extra fiber or vitamins and minerals, and to correct something in their digestive system.
For an idea of what that means, a couple quick examples...
Why dogs eat basil
Basil serves dogs as an anti-inflammatory, aids digestion and helps with stomach upset, and it's loaded with antioxidants that support red blood cells. It also has antibacterial properties so it helps fight infection, and has calming properties to reduce stress.
Why dogs eat rosemary
Rosemary is an antimicrobial so it helps fight gastrointestinal tract bacterial infections and stomach upset that goes with it. It's an antioxidant and a heart health promoter. It also happens to be a natural bug repellant.
*Avoid rosemary in essential oil form - too concentrated to be safe for dogs. Also avoid rosemary use with any pet with seizure disorders.
Self-selection allows dogs to use remedies on their own terms rather than pushing something on them they may not need, creating unnecessary stress. By presenting our dogs with a plant, herb, or essential oils, we give them the option of using it or not.
*Note for all herbs: keep your dog's body weight in mind when deciding amounts to give your dog. Large quantities aren't necessary to get the benefits of herbs. Small quantities do the job and are recommended. When in doubt, consult your holistic or integrative veterinarian or feel free to ask me here on Dogly.
A word about water
This practice shouldn't be forceful and shouldn't compromise their food and water. For example, if we add a compound to a dog’s water that the dog’s body doesn't need or want, we're steering them away from water. Water is vital to a dog’s body, so we don't want your dog to have any qualms against water. Instead, it's a good idea to always have fresh water out with a secondary bowl of water containing the herb or remedy that dogs may choose on their own terms.
Match herbs with health conditions
I love to make different teas and decoctions and leave them out for my dog alongside their water bowl to see if they are drawn to drink it throughout the day. One time that really sticks out to me was when I made a chamomile and fennel seed tea and both of my dogs drank multiple bowls of this tea. I have made this same tea multiple times since then, and they haven’t touched it.
Herbs are healing, but they are also really nutritive, so either they wanted something soothing that day, which was presented in the form of chamomile, or maybe they had a little upset stomach and wanted the fennel, which helps with GI issues. Or, they could have just wanted some extra vitamins and minerals. Whatever it was, it satisfied what they needed at the time, which I think is so beautiful.
Why it matters
Apart from self-selection, you can initiate the match with some research into what herb could benefit your dog when she or he is having a minor issue instead of going with the more conventional approach of manmade compounds. Medications such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, anti-nausea, allergy meds, etc. commonly administered by a traditional veterinarian mess with the gut flora and beneficial bacteria and further compromise a dog’s immune system.
Avoiding the domino effect
It’s quite a domino effect – your dog isn’t feeling well, and instead of boosting your dog's immune system to naturally protect against viruses and bacteria, we instead give him or her chemicals, which further compromise the immune system and the organs, and makes it harder for your pup to get back to 100%.
Addressing root causes with herbs vs just symptoms with conventional medicines
Conventional medications are going to address the symptoms your dog is having and will not get to the root cause of why those symptoms are happening. They also increase the toxic load in the body and put a huge strain on the organs. On the other hand, herbs and other more natural solutions help to address the root cause of the body as they work with the natural rhythms of our body (as we see in Traditional Chinese Medicine).
Herbs are preventive medicine, given to us by nature and proven by science to allow our bodies to heal. Herbs are also naturally detoxifying, which allows your dog to rid any pollutants and toxins within the body and clear the symptoms your pup is having.
Medications & their herbal replacement
Over the years, I've been able to replace medications with my family dogs with long-lasting success.
Here are a few examples of herbal replacements for medications for dogs prone to various health issues:
- Apoquel (immunosuppressant) could be replaced with nettles and bee pollen and local honey for allergy relief.
- Anti-nausea medications could be replaced with slippery elm bark or marshmallow root.
- Prescription anxiety medicine could be replaced with chamomile or CBD.
- Steroids could be replaced with turmeric. Note: anytime you're giving your dog turmeric, you can add coconut oil and a bit of black pepper to make the turmeric more bioavailable and effective for your dog.
- Prescription medicated creams for hot spots or cracked, dry paws could be replaced with a calendula and yarrow salve.
Whatever ailments you and your dog are dealing with, there is an herb or combination of herbs out there that will help. Working with a holistic or integrative veterinarian is also really helpful in implementing more natural approaches to heal and keep your dog well.
*General note: not all herbs are safe herbs. All herbs I've mentioned are safe and beneficial for dogs. The safe way as you add herbs to your dog's diet is always to check something new or unfamiliar. You can ask me about other herbs not mentioned or be sure to research before use!
Learn what zoopharmacognosy is and how to unlock the healing potential of herbs for your dog's well-being.
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Next up in the Herbs Channel on Dogly
Now that you know how to tell which herbs your dog could need, let's dive into a step-by-step guide on calendula - an herb to aid your dog's gastrointestinal tract, skin, & more.
Or hop over to the Herbs Channel if you'd like to ask a question in the Community discussion and start any of the other step-by-step guides in Healing Herbs.
If you ever need more personalized wellness guidance, please reach out!