If we think of it at all, most of us consider the urinary system to be nothing but a waste-treatment plant. Actually, this essential system, which consists of the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra, is an elegant network that filters and eliminates wastes from the body. But it is also much more.
The kidneys are powerful chemical factories that perform a host of vital functions, including removing waste products, toxins and drugs from the body; releasing hormones that regulate blood pressure; balancing the body’s fluids; and controlling the production of red blood cells.
Herbal medicines can be used as adjuncts to specific therapies aimed at the more intricate functions of the urinary system, and several kinks in the urinary plumbing respond especially well to herbal remedies.
Diuretic Herbal Helpers
Healthy function of the kidneys depends on an adequate flow of fluids through the kidneys’ filtering mechanisms, and a good share of the success of herbal remedies must be attributed to their diuretic activity. What’s more, almost all herbs have at least a mild, if not profound, ability to cause diuresis (increased excretion of urine).
Note: A diuretic herb may cause an animal to urinate in prodigious amounts, and the timing of the need to do so might not be the most convenient for a sleeping household. Whenever you provide your pet with a diuretic herb, make sure he/she is given plenty of time and the proper places to relieve himself or herself.
This almost universal ability of the herbs to create diuresis provides a tremendous amount of leeway for selecting the correct herbal remedy for a particular patient. Because most herbs are diuretic, we can look to other known activities of the herbs as we choose one. For example, if the animal’s urine is tinged with blood, we might opt for an herb with astringent and diuretic qualities, such as shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris). Or, if the animal is known to have rheumatoid arthritis as well as kidney dysfunction, we might add sarsaparilla (Smilax officinalis) to our herbal prescription.
More Serious Urinary Problems
For the following, more serious, urinary problems, please check with a veterinary health-care provider who is experienced using herbs for animals.
Infections. In many animal species, the entire urinary system is a common site of infection. Many herbs with antibiotic and/or antiseptic activity work well for treating these infections, but my favorite two are goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) and Oregon grape root (Mahonia aquifolium).
Enhancing the immune system is good practice whenever an infection occurs, so I typically add echinacea (Echinacea spp.) to my herbal prescription. Because maintaining urine flow helps flush out infectious agents and their byproducts, I also typically will include dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale) in the herbal mix.
Plugged tomcats. In this disease, the cat develops mucus-based secretions or sandy/gritty particles that eventually accumulate in the lower urethra. Any animal can develop this syndrome, but it is most commonly observed in male cats. Pinpointing the syndrome’s exact cause is often difficult — for example, in some animals the source is a concurrent bacterial or viral infection; in others, it is not.
There appears to be a psychogenic component to the disease, as the incidence seems to increase during rainy or inclement weather. In fact, some practitioners feel this is a major component of the overall process, noting that they typically see a big increase in numbers of plugged cats during bad-weather spells.
This is one example where I’ve had better luck using alternative therapies than I ever had using Western drugs. The keys to treating these animals are to catch it early and to keep the urine flowing. If you keep an eye on your cat, you often will observe signs that he is about to have a problem with his outflow urinary pipes. If you see any or all of the following signs, it’s time to begin herbal therapy.
• The cat may visit the litter box more frequently.
• When the cats does visit his litter box, he may strain to urinate, or urinate frequently in very small amounts and his urine may be blood tinged.
• Inappropriate urination — on the floor next to the litter box, for example, or on a pillow of the bed where his human sleeps.
• Some affected cats tend to pace the house anxiously, and may occasionally cry out or yowl as if they are in pain. Some cats also cry when they attempt to urinate.
Please note that if an animal becomes completely plugged and is not able to pass any urine at all, this condition is an emergency that requires urgent attention. See your veterinarian immediately.
The herbs I use to treat the plugged-up cat are much the same as those that I use for urinary tract infections: dandelion root for its diuretic effects; goldenseal or Oregon grape root for the possibility of existing or developing infections; and possibly echinacea to help enhance immune response. Another herb I sometimes add to this recipe is nettle (Urtica dioica). Nettle is a diuretic, astringent and general tonic useful for the animal experiencing painful urination.
Because many of the cats that periodically exhibit urinary tract conditions tend to be “Nervous Neds,” I like to give them some additional herbal calmers such as catnip (Nepeta cataria), valerian (Valeriana officinalis) or oats (Avena sativa).
I tell folks to keep some fresh catnip around in a sealed baggie. At the first signs of stress (or for some animals, at the first signs of inclement weather), toss some catnip onto the floor, and let the herb work its calming magic. Repeat as necessary, a few times a day.
Uroliths (also known as urinary calculi or stones). A urolith is a crystalline mass, found in the urinary tract, and large, solid stones are more commonly found in dogs. Almost any mineral substance that passes through the kidneys could form one of these stony precipitates, and they may form anywhere along the urinary system. Stones are named according to the predominate crystal found within, and the most common stones found in dogs are struvite and calcium oxalate.
Symptoms will vary with the location and the size of the urolith, or animals may be totally or periodically asymptomatic. Uroliths often cause secondary irritation and result in infections.
Some practitioners have reported good success dissolving uroliths with herbal remedies such as gravel root (Eupatorium purpureum) or stone root (Collinsonia canadensis). My treatment regime has generally relied on nutritional methods (or surgery where indicated), along with dandelion root.
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, www.HerbsForHealth.com, to order Dr. Kidd’s pet-care books.
Information provided in “Pet Corner” is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified veterinarian.