Pet Corner

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We Americans always try to make things more difficult than they really are — and often we’re quite successful. When it comes to using herbs for pets, however, I’m a big advocate of keeping it simple.

Delivery Systems: Start with the Simplest

Using what I call “sprinkles” is the easiest — and I argue that, for almost all herbal applications, the best — way to use herbs. Simply add a bit of the fresh or dried herb to your pet’s food dish, perhaps mixed in with his favorite food; just as you’d do with your own dinner, season with a pinch or two of the herb to add some flavor.

In addition to this being the easiest method, there are other advantages. Sprinkles are a “no-muss, no-fuss” approach; there’s no fearful, slobber-filled attempt to reject the dose, no fear of claws and teeth or of unnecessarily insulting your animal companion. Herbs can enhance taste, so the right herb can be just the thing to perk up a flagging appetite. The same herb that tastes good can be good medicine for one or more of the body’s systems. But good flavor isn’t a foregone conclusion. While herbs can enhance and enliven the taste buds, they also can be almost too bitter or acrid to tolerate. It all depends on the herb … and on the individual animal. The only way to know your pet’s preference for herbal tastes is to try them until you find the ones he seems to enjoy.

Finally, your animal rejecting one herb is no cause for concern. Many herbs have the same or similar activities in the body, so you simply need to try other herbal “cousins” until you discover the ones your pet enjoys.

Another advantage of using sprinkles is the evidence that the immune system is activated by oral contact with the chemicals contained in many herbs. Bypass this activating contact (as with capsules) and you might not have enhanced the immune system to the fullest extent possible. Also, because the total amounts of the herb (and thus the amounts of chemical constituents within) are so minute in sprinkles, it is almost impossible to get toxic amounts of any ingredient. The question is, are there enough of the herb’s active ingredients in a pinch or a teaspoonful? Most traditional herbalists I know and respect claim that small amounts are often very effective. My observations confirm those of the herbalists: If my patients are going to benefit from an herb, most of them seem to get along quite well with very small amounts.

Teas, Tinctures and Pills for Pets

Teas are almost as easy to administer as sprinkles. Simply make a cup of tea from a teaspoon or so of the herbs you want to use, and (after you’ve poured your own cup) wet your pet’s food with some of the tea. Because a higher percentage of most herbal constituents are extracted with alcohol, water extraction usually will yield a brew of lesser medicinal value. But, the teas are a mild and sometimes more tasty way to add some herbal essence to your pet’s life. Another way to improve the taste of the herbs is to add a bit of chicken or beef bullion into the herbal tea brew.

Tinctures put some of the herb’s chemical constituents into liquid form. The idea is to draw out the plant’s active chemicals, and alcohol is the best extracting agent for most of these constituents.

In the old days, many herbal remedies were mixed in wine — patients benefited from perhaps a better-tasting herbal, and they also got an additional boost from the feel-good alcohol. Unfortunately, alcohol and animals don’t mix very well (most animals hate the taste of alcohol — a good thing, because they don’t have the enzymes necessary to metabolize it adequately). So, for our pets, nonalcoholic tinctures (often found on the shelves as “children’s tinctures”) are best. Most often the extracting agent is vegetable glycerin, which is nearly as effective as alcohol.

Capsules and tablets are the most common way for humans to take herbal medicines, but they aren’t the easiest nor the best way for pets. It’s tricky to determine correct dosages, and most animals do not enjoy the pill-taking process.

Determine the Dosage

It may be impossible to derive an accurate herbal dosage for every pet, but here are some tips:

Think small. Your pet possibly needs only a small dose of herbs. The smaller the dose, the easier it is to give and the less likely you’ll encounter individual sensitivities or potential toxicity. Often, a little pinch of herb sprinkles is enough, perhaps up to a teaspoonful or so for bigger dogs.

Start early. Get your pet accustomed early on to the taste of herbs. When she’s still young, find out what she likes, and you’ll know what herbs you can use when and if they’re needed.

Tonic versus therapeutic. I think herbs are best applied as a general tonic, or perhaps to enhance specific systems that are under attack from some disease process. I know they also have benefit as therapeutic medicines for curing disease. But therapeutic use of herbs often requires practitioners to resort to high levels of an individual constituent extracted from the plant, which also increases the potential for toxicity. If you think your pet’s health situation requires a therapeutic dose of an herb, seek the advice of a qualified herbalist.

Be patient. It may take 30 to 90 days before you’ll see any significant results from the herbs. Give them a chance. If your critter has a condition that can’t wait for 30 days or so to resolve itself, you probably need to think about a faster-acting, more-potent medicine — perhaps in addition to herbal support.

Randy Kidd holds doctorates in veterinary medicine and veterinary and clinical pathology. After practicing traditional veterinary medicine for 10 years, he opened Honoring the Animals, a holistic practice in Kansas City, Missouri. Visit our website,, to order Dr. Kidd’s pet-care books.

Information provided in “Pet Corner” is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified veterinarian.

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