Following is a seven-step herbal pet health guide to help guarantee that your pet will have its best chance for a long and healthy life.
1. At one with nature
To stay healthy, all animals—four-legged and two-legged included—need to be “grounded.” We all need a daily dose of the great outdoors. A walk in the park, a roll in the grass, a chance to sniff the more earthy aromas that seem to delight our critters—any combination of these, given once a day, will keep the doctor away.
Try adding a little “spice” to your pet’s life. Plant an herb garden where your pet can roll and smell and take advantage of the healing essence of the herbs. Even a few square herbal inches will give your pet plenty to appreciate. Remember: skin is the largest organ of the body, and much of the essential parts of an herb are readily absorbed through the skin. Also remember that animals have an extremely sensitive sense of smell, and this most primitive of the sense organs can transmit much of the healing powers of an herb’s volatile oils directly into your pet’s body.
Our cats seem to enjoy rolling in our little patch of pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium), and because they never have fleas, they are apparently enjoying the benefits of the plant’s supposed ability to repel fleas. Our catnip (Nepeta cataria) patch is under constant siege from the cats. Rufus, our aged golden retriever, doesn’t seem to have any particular favorite herb; instead he is a nibbler, munching daintily on whatever herb he thinks he needs at the time.
The intention of all holistic medicines is to balance the patient’s body, mind, and spirit. This is in direct contrast to Western medicine which directly confronts the supposed etiology of the disease (the “germ”), and then assumes that, by ridding the patient of the germ, his body will heal. Western medicine has little or no concern with the patient’s mind or spirit.
I’ve found that flower essences oftentimes will balance an animal’s mind and spirit so that it allows the body to heal. For example, walnut is a good remedy for the animal that has just moved from one house to another and is having difficulties adapting to the change. Aspen may restore calm to the animal who is apprehensive or anxious, and Rescue Remedy is good for any “emergency” condition—a trip to the vet or a thunderstorm, for example.
Veterinarians are seeing more and more cases of chronic diseases such as arthritis and thyroid imbalances, and pet behavior problems have become a concern for many. The shame of this is that exercise—a daily twenty-minute walk—has proven benefits for arthritic, thyroidal and behavioral problems.
I also think it is important to get your pet off of the concrete and onto the ground. Not only is consistent grounding with the energetics of Mother Earth a crucial component of any holistic health program, but your pet’s balance and flexibility will be enhanced when he has to walk over the terrain.
Trying to exercise a cat may present some problems, but (and I’ve taken some flak for this stance) I still think they will be healthier and happier if they have the chance to walk the earth, scratch the trees, mark their turf, smell the roses (and the pennyroyal) and chase the occasional mouse. If you live in a neighborhood where car traffic (or roaming dogs) are a problem, and especially if your neighbors are bird lovers, everyone will be happier if your cat’s outings are supervised.
Any effective holistic health program for pets and their people has good nutrition as its scaffolding. Once again, the more natural, the better. Look at what a coyote eats and what a bobcat eats and you’ll be pretty close to the ideal diet for a dog and cat. Okay, so I know you’re not going to let your dog chase rabbits, and chances are slim your cat will be able to find enough mice to keep her happy, but you get the idea.
An ideal diet for both a dog and cat would be made of a balanced source of organic foods, and it would not contain synthetic preservatives or artificial colors. Holistic vets are finding that a small amount of human-grade raw meat seems to add a dose of vitality not found in the oftentimes-overcooked commercial foods.
Consider the following tonic herbs, sprinkled over your pet’s food several times a week, an added source of basic nutrients: alfalfa (Medicago sativa), nettle (Urtica dioica), red clover (Trifolium pratense), cleavers (Galium aparine) and oats (Avena sativa).
5. Herbs as boosters and balancers
Not only are herbs an excellent source of basic nutrients, many of them act to boost or balance the whole body or specific organ systems. For example, milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is an excellent herb for any liver ailment, and dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale) is useful for both kidney and liver problems. I’m convinced that many, if not nearly all, pet diseases are brought on by an imbalanced immune system, and there’s nothing better to help bring the immune system back into balance than echinacea (Echinacea spp.).
The whole key to giving herbs to pets is to get them used to the taste early on. (Most of our pets have grown so accustomed to the bland tastes of commercial foods, they actually come to believe they are the norm.) Add an herbal sprinkle atop your pet’s food every day. This way, when you need to use herbal remedies for specific diseases, your pet will have already developed a taste for their tartness.
Use as your sprinkle-on the tonic herbs mentioned above or any culinary herbs such as oregano (Origanum vulgare), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), thyme (Thymus vulgaris) or parsley (Petroselinum crispum).
6. Hands on
The best part about petting, caressing, and massaging your pet is that both the pet receiving and the person giving the hands-on care will benefit. Pets and humans both experience an improved immune system and enhanced mental calmness from this contact. In addition, as you rub and pet, you’ll be able to straighten out any mats of hair you find, and with your hands on your pet on a daily basis, you’ll be able to find any lumps or bumps that might spell problems if allowed to grow untreated.
As good as a daily rubdown is for pets and their people, you can add to the effects by rubbing on some herbal essence. My favorite rub-on is lemon water, made by boiling the rinds of a few lemons in a quart of water, cooling, and then rubbing the liquid onto my pets. The limonene in the lemons is good for the skin, it is deodorizing, and it may also help repel fleas. You can enhance the effects of this rub-on tea by adding lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), rosemary and calendula (Calendula officinalis).
7. Herbs for healing
The final step in a holistic herbal program for pets is to consider herbs whenever your pet has a medical need for them. When used correctly, herbal medicines can be extremely potent. However, I have found them to be even more useful as supportive medicines for other alternative therapies such as acupuncture and homeopathy.
In my practice, herbs provide us with the perfect adjunct therapy, used to balance any organ system that is under duress from a pet’s disease. For example, almost every disease puts stress on the liver, the major organ for detoxifying harmful byproducts of disease. So, we prescribe milk thistle for most of my patients. In addition, I think all diseases can be helped by an immune-balancing herb such as echinacea.
The key is to use the herbs as a supportive system, relying on them primarily as a source of basic nutrients, for disease prevention, and as tonic to help balance whole body systems. Then, if disease does occur, I like to think of herbal medicine as lending a helping hand (oftentimes a very potent helping hand) to whatever other medicines we choose to use.
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.
Information provided in “Pet corner” is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified veterinarian