“Without balanced nutrition, the use of herbal medicines in the holistic care of your animal is a waste of time, money and plants.” (Tilford et al 2009)
Herbs serve as a helping hand to good nutrition. According to author of, ‘Herbs for Pets,’ if the body lacks nutrients, herbs are a pointless addition to the diet. For herbs to be of benefit, they need to stimulate the energy and building materials from good quality nutrients. For example, the herb Echinacea can assist the immune system by stimulating what is already in place from good nutrients.
There are a vast array of herbs that can be of benefit to the health and longevity of our cats and dogs, however not all of such herbs are safe to use on a long term and continuous basis. For example, the herb Goldenseal should only be used short term. Goldenseal acts to inhibit pathogens that come into contact with the mouth, gut and urinary tract. It is an anti-inflammatory. Seven days use is the advised amount of time to give this herb, as after this time, it can cause excessive salivation due to a chemical called berberine. (Tilford et al 2009) Garlic is a relatively safe herb to add to our pets diet, however in large amounts it can cause anemia (Goldstein et al 2005).
Author, Goldstein, also suggests that when purchasing herbal remedies, they should be from a reputable source with standardized formulas, which guarantee purity and potency. Formulas should be extracted from organic herbs using minimal alcohol for preservation. (Goldstein et al 2005)
According to Tilford, a safe and long-term herbal supplement that can be added to cat and dog food is a combination of Nettle, Dandelion leaf, alfalfa, powdered flaxseed and spirulina. Mixed in equal parts, half a teaspoon can be added to a cat’s daily diet. This combination of herbs complements the diet with protein, vitamins A, B, C, E, K, omega 3 fatty acids and minerals including calcium, iron, phosphorus and magnesium.
Very popular herbs for cats and dogs include:
-Echinacea for immune support, short-term use
-Goldenseal inhibits pathogens, anti-bacterial
-Milk Thistle assists to detoxify the liver, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant
-Flaxseed (crushed) is rich in essential fatty acids, improves skin conditions
-Aloe Vera soothes the intestinal tract, anti-oxidant, antibacterial & tonic
-Garlic assists to rid the body of internal parasites
-Slippery Elm soothes the mucous membranes, assists gastrointestinal upsets
-Ginger an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and digestive aid
-Dandelion leaf* natural diuretic, flushes kidneys, cleanses liver
-Alfalfa* high in nutrients, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory
-Parsley* natural diuretic, treats anaemia, freshens breath, diuretic
-Yucca to ease and assist arthritis, stimulates appetite
-Mullein to assist upper respiratory infection & inflammation
-Nettle high in nutrients, assists allergies, antihistamine effect
-Chamomile anti-inflammatory, assists digestion, relaxing, soothing
-Rosemary calming, relaxing, antispasmodic, cardiovascular tonic
-Borage seed oil* anti-inflammatory, treats liver, cardiovascular tonic
-Hawthorn increases renal circulation without increasing blood pressure
-Ginkgo dilates and improves tonicity of nephrons (in kidneys)
-Burdock root long-term liver and blood tonic, diuretic, anti-inflammatory
-Turmeric potent antioxidant, stimulates bile production, thins blood
-Devil’s Claw reduces inflammation, eases osteoarthritis & stomach upsets
Four of the most popular herbs*, which can complement our pets health on a regular and long term basis and be added to the intake of minerals, vitamins, EFA’s and other nutrients are:
*Borage seed oil
Alfalfa contains a huge array of nutrients, which includes 50% protein, trace minerals, fibre, vitamins including A, B1, B12, C, D, E, K. Alfalfa is high in chlorophyll, which makes for an excellent antioxidant. Alfalfa is considered to be one of the best treatments for arthritis, rheumatism, gout and other inflammatory diseases. It is excellent in the care of older animals as it does not irritate the stomach. Its alkalinizing effect reduces acidity in the gut and urinary tract. (Tilford et al 2009) Regarded as a safe, regular use herb, Alfalfa is often fed to animals that need to increase weight. (Messonnier 2001)
Alfalfa can be combined with dandelion, yucca and licorice for overall health. (Tilford et al 2009)
In regards to safety, Alfalfa powder is not a problem. However, the seeds can cause blood disorders due to a chemical L-canavanine. Animals who are allergic to pollen may also be sensitive to alfalfa. (Messonnier 2001)
Borage seed oil is readily available in capsule form that can be added to the regular diet of cats and dogs. Borage has huge amounts of essential fatty acids, in particular, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). GLA, an omega 6 fatty acid, is effective in assisting the liver, cardiovascular problems, inflammatory diseases and in treating itchy, dry skin. As GLA is critical in the production of ‘prostaglandins,’ borage seed oil is an important addition to the diet. Prostaglandins are compounds essential for countless metabolic functions. As the body does not produce its own GLA, it must be obtained from a dietary source. (Tilford et al 2009)
According to author of ‘Natural Health Bible for Cats and Dogs,’ Borage Oil is often recommended to stimulate the adrenal glands. It can also be of use as an expectorant when suffering from bronchitis. It is also important that, due to omega 6 oils (including borage oil) being pro-inflammatory compounds, that omega 3 oils should be added to the diet for their anti-inflammatory effects. (Messonneir 2001)
Flaxseed is also another highly recognised essential fatty acid. However, unlike fish oil and borage seed oil it contains linoleic acid (LA). As LA needs to be converted into GLA to be of benefit, a specific enzyme is required to carry out this process. Unfortunately, the enzyme required to convert LA into the more useable form GLA is not active in most cats and dogs. Due to this inability to achieve the full value of flaxseed, I chose borage seed oil as it is an active form of GLA which is of great benefit to the health of my pets.
One consideration that should be noted in regards to borage oil, are substances called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (also known as amabiline), which can be toxic to the liver. Therefore, borage oil supplements should be certified free of these alkaloids. Long term, large amounts of borage oil should be avoided. (Livestrong.com 2011)
Nettle contains a natural source of 30% protein, vitamins A, K, C, D, B complex and minerals including calcium, phosphorus, iron and magnesium. Obtaining nutrients from herbs such as nettle, means that a vast array of nutrients can be obtained without stressing the system. All the nutrients are highly absorbable, without overworking the liver and kidneys. Nettle is an anti-inflammatory. It contains a natural histamine, which may work as an anti-allergenic. (Tilford et al 2009)
In regards to long term, regular use, Nettle is more than 99% free of any side effects. Studies have shown Nettle to be very safe. The only precaution is, if the pet is taking anti-inflammatory or blood sugar lowering medications, nettle should be avoided. (Messonnier 2001)
Dandelion leaf has a mild diuretic action, flushing the kidneys whilst also discouraging bacteria from settling in the urinary tract. As a result, this action prevents the formation of urinary tract stone formation. Dandelion also cleanses the liver and improves digestion. (Allegretti et al 2003)
When the body is not eliminating its waste products efficiently, it leads to heart failure, arthritis, gallbladder disease, kidney stones and pulmonary edema amongst other diseases. Pharmaceutical diuretics tend to rid the body of what it doesn’t need, however, such drugs also tend to rid the body of molecules it does need. As dandelion leaf contains a rich source of potassium, it replaces what is lost in urination. (Tilford et al 2009)
Whilst the leaf of the dandelion is a nutrient and diuretic, the root serves as a liver tonic, assisting in bile production, constipation and arthritis. (Messonnier 2001)
Dandelion is a safe, regular used herb for cats and dogs. However, dandelion should not be used if the animal is being given pharmaceutical diuretics. (Messonnier 2001)
Besides dandelion, Parsley is also an excellent (milder than dandelion) diuretic. Parsley also assists the effects of arthritis, it treats anemia and fed in a pulped fresh form, it freshens breath. It has antiseptic qualities and can assist as a diuretic in the early onset of renal failure. Its main uses are for gastric and urinary disorders. However, parsley should not be used if the kidneys are inflamed. Parsley contains an array of nutrients including 22% protein, vitamins A,C,B,K, fibre and minerals including calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium and phosphorus. It is readily available fresh, and can be pulped and added into the regular diet. (Tilford et al 2009)
Allegretti, J. & Sommers, K D.V.M. 2003, ‘The Complete Holistic Dog Book, Home Health Care for our Canine Companions.’ Celestial Arts, USA
Billinghurst, I 1993, ‘Give your dog a bone,’ Warrigal Publishing, Australia.
Goldstein, R.S. V.M.D. & Goldstein, S.J. 2005, ‘The Goldstein’s Wellness & Longevity Program Natural Care for Cats and Dogs.’ TFH Publications USA.
Brown, A 2006, ‘The Whole Pet Diet, Eight weeks to a Great Health for Dogs and Cats. Celestial Arts, USA.
Coscia, J. A, 2005, ‘The Holistic Cat, A Complete Guide to Wellness for a Healthier, Happier Cat. North Atlantic Books, USA.
Khalsa, D. 2009, ‘Natural Dog, A Holistic Guide for Healthier Dogs.’ Bowtie Press, California.
Messonnier, S, 2001, ‘Natural Health Bible for Dogs and Cats’ Three Rivers Press, New York.
Olson, L 2010, ‘Raw & Natural Nutrition for Dogs, The definitive guide to homemade meals.’ North Atlantic Books, USA.
Pitcairn, R. H. & Pitcairn, S. H, 2005, ‘Dr. Pitcairn’s guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats.’ Rodale Inc, USA.
Poveromo, M. 2010, ‘To Your Dog’s Health.’ Poor Mans Press, Canada.
Puotinen, C.J. 1999, ‘Natural Remedies for Dogs and Cats.’ Keats Publishing, USA.2006)
Schultze, K.R 2008, ‘Natural Nutrition for Cats, The Path to Perfect health.’ Hay House, USA.
Tilford, G.L. & Wulff, M.L. 2009. Herbs For Pets. Second Edition. BowTie Press, USA.
Wolfe, D. 2009. ‘Superfoods. The food and medicine of the future.’ North Atlantic Books, U.S.A.
Livestrong.com, May 2010. Article, ‘Borage Seed Oil Side Effects.’
PureGreen Foods ‘Grower direct certified organic wheatgrass and alfalfa.
Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia Website. Article on, ‘Probiotic.’