Historically, herbal therapy in China dates back to the third century BC. About 1/5th of the herbs listed 1,600 years ago are still in use today. While herbs are being studied to find active ingredients that can be synthesized in the lab, the use of the entire plant or part of the plant may have synergistic effects that are more potent.
In veterinary medicine, we started using Chinese herbs in the US about 20 years ago; Western herbs have been used for much longer.
The most important thing to remember is that herbal does not mean harmless. Herbal therapy at home should not replace a veterinary exam and diagnosis.
Herbs can be used to treat almost any condition. By looking at the properties of the herb from a TCVM perspective, it is easier to choose the proper herb.
i.e.-stomach upset – aloe and slippery elm are cooling, whereas ginger and pumpkin are warming. The choice of which herb to use would depend on symptoms associated with GI upset.
When using human dosing (tablet, capsule, tincture), it is fairly safe to use 1/8th the human dose for small dogs, ¼ the human dose for medium dogs, and ½ the human dose for large dogs. Tinctures made with alcohol are generally not the best choice for pets.
Herbal remedies can be made as an infusion, decoction, tea, or topical preparation. Generally 1 teaspoon of powdered herb is combined with 1 cup of boiling water or the combination is simmered on the stove. Pour the liquid through a coffee filter and add the liquid to food, give as a tea, or use topically. A cream or poultice can be made by juicing the herb, mixing with vitamin E cream or coconut oil, and applying to the skin or wound.
Unsafe herbs that should be used cautiously, if at all:
- Pennyroyal – insecticide, don’t use if the pet has kidney disease or is pregnant
- Tea tree oil – can be toxic to cats and small dogs; be sure to dilute, dilute, dilute
- Comfrey – can cause liver damage if used in large doses or for prolonged periods. Don’t use in pregnant, lactating, or an pet that has liver disease. Do not use the root internally and be careful the pet does not lick poultices or creams made with comfrey.
- White Willow Bark – contains salicylates, toxic to cats, don’t give if dog is on NSAIDS
- Wormwood – causes liver and kidney damage and can cause nervous system damage. Use with extreme caution! Doses needed to be effective as a dewormer are toxic.
- Garlic – cats are very sensitive, can cause Heinz Body anemia. Don’t use in pets with anemia or AIHA (autoimmune hemolytic anemia).
Commonly used herbs:
Calendula Flowers – anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-bacterial. Can crush petals and apply as a wound dressing or make into a tea for use as an antiseptic wash. Good for acute and chronic infections. General tonic that strengthens digestion and balances the liver.
Ginger Root – can be used fresh or dried or as a tea or tincture. Warming, Qi tonic. Soothes stomach upset and is good for car sickness. Soothes arthritis pain and inflammation. Can cause drop in blood sugar and blood pressure. Use carefully with blood thinners or if pet has to undergo surgery, as it can decrease clotting. Give ¼ tsp grated for small pet, ½ tsp for medium, and ¾ tsp for large dogs.
Goldenseal Root – used as a tea, tincture, or wash for the eyes. Used for infection with redness and yellow, mucoid discharge. Good for any inflammatory condition involving mucous membranes, like bowel ailments (diarrhea), anal gland abscesses, and anal fistulas, as it clears Heat and Damp. Acts like an antibiotic and can damage the gut flora in the colon. Do not use for more than two weeks. Can be fed at one pinch per 15 pounds body weight 2 to 3 times daily or made into a tea using one cup water with ¼ teaspoon powder.
Yarrow – Used externally to treat wounds, aids liver, used for upset stomach and poor digestion. One of the best herbs to treat fevers and can be used for viral upper respiratory infections.
Thyme – antiseptic for the mouth and throat, commonly used to treat gingivitis. Can make a tea and use as a mouth rinse or apply with swabs. Stops cough, expectorant, stops bronchial spasms. Can be mixed with honey which is a great cough treatment (Lung Qi and Yin tonic).
Milk Thistle – treats the liver and gall bladder. Also strengthens the red blood cell wall and can be used for ulcers and healing tissue in general. One of the most commonly used herbs in veterinary medicine. No known toxicity, but can cause loose stool in large doses. General dose 100 mg per 25 pounds body weight twice daily.
Fennel Seed – anti-spasmatic, anti-gas for over eating. Add up to 1 teaspoon of seed directly to food.
Dandelion greens – drain Damp, drain the liver, clears heat and stagnation. Drains swelling and edema, promotes urination and acts as a diuretic. Bitter, acts as a digestive stimulant.
Dandelion root – contains the prebiotic inulin which feeds the good gut flora. Antioxidant.
Peppermint & Spearmint – resolves Phlegm (gets rid of mucous), cooling, soothes the stomach and bowel. Good for indigestion, nausea, and dry eye.
Mushrooms – fight cancer, help stop metastasis, strengthen the immune system. Drain Damp, remove heat, and resolve Phlegm in the lung. Japanese mushrooms best: Shiitake, Maitake, Reishi, Turkey Tail
Garlic – immune booster, Qi tonic, warming, natural antibiotic and pesticide. Be very careful with cats!
Licorice Root – natural cortisone, used for allergies, swelling, inflammation, soothes mucous membranes. Decreases pain and inflammation in arthritis. Avoid in diabetic, pregnant, or nursing pets. Give up to 1 teaspoon of tea three times daily. (1 tsp in 1 cup water to make tea)
Cornsilk – kidney Qi tonic, useful to treat urinary incontinence
Green Tea – antioxidant (fights cancer), anti-inflammatory, great for hot spots, wounds, swelling, can be used topically or internally
Alfalfa – good for underweight, high-strung, nervous pets. Stimulates digestion and appetite, helps gain weight and improves physical and mental vigor. Use before it flowers, don’t use the seed which can cause blood disorders. Can combine with dandelion and licorice for arthritis and inflammation. Feed a pinch of dried herb per ten pounds of body weight per day.
Turmeric – anti-inflammatory, fights cancer, antioxidant, immune stimulant. Used for arthritis, inflammation, and cancer. Best absorbed when made into Golden Paste and combined with black pepper. Feed ¼ tsp Golden Paste per ten pounds of body weight per day.
Parsley – Blood tonic, diuretic, resolves phlegm and mucous. Great for liver and eye health.