This post was originally part of the 40 Day Herbalist Blog Challenge. You can read all of the posts from the Challenge here.
Welcome to Day 29 of the 40 Day Herbalist Challenge! So, I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like my family is complete without pets. At the moment, that means my rescue kitties, Inca and Argos, and a crazy catahoula puppy named Chaucer. Thankfully, they stay pretty healthy, but being able to give them herbal support helps us all feel better when they are a little under the weather. For today’s Challenge, let’s talk about herbs and pets!
My family has always had a soft spot for pets. When I was a kid, we had a small menagerie of cats, dogs, guinea pigs, and gerbils, and at one point we even had a stray dove that landed in our yard while we were playing outside. It was white and had a leg band, so I suppose it must have been someone’s pet before it took up with us for a few weeks.
My approach with herbs for pets is actually fairly minimalist. For cats and dogs, I usually focus on a single herb at a time when I want to give herbal support so that I can easily see how they are responding. Cats, especially, are very subtle when displaying how they feel, so I always keep a very close eye on them when I have added an herb to their diet.
If they just seem to be a little under the weather, instead of giving herbs, I’m more likely to provide them with broth and/or organic baby food as a treat to make sure they are staying hydrated and provide extra nutrition, and make sure they have some extra “nesting” spots around the house where they can rest.
How to Offer Herbs to Pets
When I do want to give herbs, mixing powdered herbs into baby food or a little canned fish has always worked for my cats. Peanut butter has always seemed to be the best accepted bribe for my dogs, but make sure that your peanut butter does NOT have xylitol as a sweetener. Xylitol causes dangerously low blood sugar in dogs and cats and can be fatal.
I prefer bribes because they tend to be less stressful for the pet, but if you must, you can use a dropper or small syringe (no needle, obvs!) to give herbal teas. Blending herbal teas with chicken broth can make them more enticing for cats and dogs, so you can try offering herb teas that way before resorting to syringe feeding. Your vet or a vet tech can show you the proper way to give liquids with a dropper or syringe - it can be a bit tricky if you haven't ever done it before.
Pets and Alcohol
Herbal extracts made with alcohol are great for a lot of reasons - the alcohol does a great job extracting the valuable parts of the herb, and it has a good shelf life. However, alcohol extracts should not be given to your pet, especially cats, because their liver metabolizes things differently than ours. Alcohol is extremely poisonous to them. Herbal glycerites are usually ok, but be sure to double check the label for alcohol, as some glycerites may contain both glycerin and alcohol since alcohol does a better job of extracting and preserving.
Watch Out for Toxic Plants
Plants that are fine for humans may not be ok for pets. Even fruits and vegetables that we eat as food can be dangerous for them (like grapes, which can lead to sudden acute kidney failure in dogs). So double check with your vet and some good herbal reference books specifically for pet health before you give your cat or dog a new herb. There’s one common herb in particular that I would like to mention: garlic.
Although it is a great herb for people, there is a compound in garlic can cause hemolytic anemia in cats and dogs (which can be fatal), so you should talk to your vet before you decide to give it to the furry members of your family.
Personally, I don’t feed my pets garlic. I’ve seen information saying that it’s safe in small amounts, but then I’ve also seen information saying that even small amounts can be problematic over time. It didn’t seem worth the risk to me.
Food for Thought
I’ve found that good food is just as important for pets as it is for people for staying healthy. I feed a high quality, grain free kibble and my pets get things like hard boiled eggs and veggies on the side a few times a week. Maybe my cats are just weird, but they get really excited about their peas!
The must-have herbs that I keep on hand for my pets are slippery elm powder, which is very soothing for almost any digestive imbalance, and plantain. Plantain can easily be prepared as a tea to use topically or mixed with broth for respiratory support (thankfully, my crew stays pretty healthy). For today’s mission, I’ve rounded up some pet first aid resources for you (all natural, of course!) so you can research herbs you might want to keep on hand for your own pets.
Pet Corner: First Aid for Pets
Herbal First Aid for Dogs: Top 5 Remedies
How to Build a Homeopathic and Herbal First Aid Kit for Pets
Basic Herbal Remedies for Pets
All the best,
P.S. My favorite herbal resources for cats and dogs are Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats and Herbs for Pets: The Natural Way to Enhance Your Pet’s Life.
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