Mother Earth Living

Protect Your Pets from Urinary Problems

There’s nothing more changeable than the
weather, and when it changes to snow or rain, my practice is often
overrun by local cats with varying degrees of urinary problems.
Weather changes even seem to affect some indoor cats.

Tomcats, whether neutered or not, have the most frequent
problems because their urethra (the bladder’s outflow valve) can
become completely plugged with a thick mucus-like substance that
sometimes contains small, gravely stones. As the bladder fills up,
it quickly results in a life-threatening condition that requires
catheterization under anesthesia and considerable after-care. Once
plugged, 50 to 75 percent of these cats will have the same problem
time and again, and often surgery is required to maintain urine

However, if caught early enough, herbs can help prevent the
worst urinary tract problems, and I use them routinely for
­preventing recurrences. Dogs and female cats don’t plug as
frequently as male cats; their urinary problems are more usually of
the infectious variety. Nonetheless, the herbs recommended here
will be helpful for prevention and the early care of any urinary

Unless otherwise noted, these herbs are safe to experiment with,
and you’ll need to. Herb potency can vary and pets will respond
individually. Start with a little dried herb sprinkled on food and
work your way up.

A Pair of Herbs for Early Treatment

The two herbal remedies I routinely start with for chronic,
recurring urinary problems in cats or dogs are dandelion root and
Oregon graperoot.

Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale) is a
potent diuretic, meaning it will make your pet urinate more,
providing he is not totally plugged. Be absolutely certain your
cat’s litter box attempts (or your dog’s fire hydrant visits) are
productive. Otherwise you could merely be filling up the bladder
more quickly, making the condition worse. A free flow of urine
cleanses the urinary system, and increased volume alone often
clears up urinary diseases. Dandelion is also a wonderful general
tonic and an excellent source of potassium, unlike other diuretics
that can deplete this mineral. Cats, especially, can be very
sensitive to decreased levels of potassium.

Oregon graperoot (Mahonia aquifolium) is a
reasonable substitute for the cases where I once used goldenseal
(Hydrastis canadensis), which is now seriously threatened in the
wild. Oregon graperoot’s usefulness comes from its high content of
berberine, a substance with strong antimicrobial qualities. It also
stimulates bile flow and is a general tonic. Long-term use of
Oregon graperoot may decrease the ­normal, good-guy bacteria in the
gut. To help maintain healthy bacteria, I recommend that you also
give your pet a teaspoonful of nonsweetened yogurt containing
active cultures.

Dandelion and Oregon graperoot work best in the very earliest
stages of urinary disease. I recommend 1 to 3 drops of each herb in
tincture (nonalcoholic, if possible), given orally, five to six
times a day. When your pet returns to a normal urinary frequency
and flow (without straining), then switch to a
prevention/maintenance regime, using dandelion root only; sprinkle
several drops of the tincture or up to a teaspoon of the ground
root on your pet’s food a few days each week. If infection recurs,
return to the original treatment.

Supporting Herbs for Various Conditions

Depending on the specific condition, I recommend other herbs for
urinary problems too.

• Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is a diuretic, astringent, and
general tonic that seems to be most useful for painful urination
such as that caused by kidney stones. Dried nettle leaves can be
used long-term as a general tonic, sprinkled on pet food or in tea
form. Steep the leaves or roots into a tea and use it to moisten
the food.

• Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) acidifies the urine, which
helps kill bacteria and keeps it from attaching to the bladder
wall. The problem is getting your pet to drink it; most animals
don’t appreciate the taste of cranberry or citrus fruits. Cranberry
capsules are an answer for easy-to-pill critters, but the large
capsules aren’t very practical for cats. Most store-bought
cranberry juices are sweetened, which will only make the urinary
problem worse, so don’t use them.

• For blood in the urine, I use herbs that are astringent
(tightening to connective tissue, thus helping control bleeding) or
demulcent (soothing to irritated tissue). But blood in the urine is
not something to fool around with until you have an accurate
diagnosis from your veterinarian. After you’re confident of the
diagnosis, some herbs may help. Urinary astringents include
horsetail (Equisetum arvense) and plantain (Plantago major).
Urinary demulcents include corn silk (Zea mays) and marshmallow
leaf (Althaea officinalis).

Environment Counts

For as long as I’ve been a veterinarian, I’ve been trying to
figure out the cause of urinary problems, to no avail. Nutrition,
crystal formation, neutering too young, bacterial infections, an
undiscovered virus–none of these seem to be the cause of the cases
I see, nor have they held up under scientific scrutiny.

However, two factors can contribute to urinary tract problems:
nutrition and stress. Upgrade your cat’s nutritional level, and
he’s likely to avoid the syndrome entirely or avoid recurrence, as
the case may be. And remember that cats once weren’t
domesticated–they stalked prey and acted out fears and aggressions
in a natural fashion–and they could urinate whenever nature

If we could only let our cats and dogs be what they were meant
to be, we likely would see far fewer problems. On the other hand,
there would be much less need for veterinarians. So it’s with mixed
emotions that I recommend a return of the natural for all our

Randy Kidd holds doctorates in veterinary medicine and
veterinary and clinical pathology. After practicing traditional
veterinary medicine for ten years, he opened Honoring the Animals,
a holistic practice in Kansas City, Missouri.

  • Published on Nov 1, 1998
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