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4 Natural Herbal Remedies & Medications for Dogs

By Heather Levin

dog and ownerThere are many natural and herbal remedies to ease the common ailments of humans: We can take valerian root and chamomile to sleep better, St. John’s Wart to ease the symptoms of depression, and feverfew to combat migraines. Furthermore, we can use natural and herbal remedies to ease some of the symptoms from chronic pain, constipation, and bad breath. Many of these same treatments work wonders for dogs – though we can’t assume that every remedy that treats humans will work for dogs.

That said, there are many benefits to utilizing natural remedies to heal man’s best friend. Just be sure to educate yourself before administering any remedy to your dog, herbal or otherwise. The most important benefit is that natural and herbal remedies can be much safer and less invasive than chemical medicines, as there are often fewer (if any) side effects with natural remedies. Also, they are much cheaper than most prescription drugs.

My Own Search for Natural Pet Remedies

A few years ago, one of my dogs, Gunther (who’s now 11 years old), injured his back while chasing after a ball. He was in intense pain because of the injury for which we gave him several hundred dollars worth of steroids and pain killers. After a period of taking the medicine and getting plenty of rest, he was fine.

The problem is that since the injury, his back has never been quite the same. Occasionally, he’ll hurt it again doing something simple, like jumping off the couch – and we have to start the whole treatment cycle again, which usually costs around $200.

I’ve always been interested in natural medicine and herbal remedies, and after the third visit to the vet for Gunther’s back, I began to wonder if there was a safer, more affordable, and still effective way I could treat his pain. I hit my herbal books and the Internet, and quickly discovered that treating dogs with natural herbal remedies can be both safe and effective. The treatment to Gunther’s problem was an herb that I already had in my own personal arsenal: feverfew.

Feverfew, which I take in a liquid form to ease my headaches, is effective in managing pain, reducing inflammation, and treating arthritis. It also works perfectly for Gunther’s back pain: One squirt of the feverfew tincture and he visibly relaxes, and after several minutes he’s no longer shivering from pain or walking funny. His muscles relax, and he quickly goes to sleep for several hours. It usually takes two or three doses (given over two days) until his pain completely dissipates and he’s back to his old self. There are no side effects from this occasional treatment.

orally administering a tincture to a dog

What Are Tinctures?

A tincture is a concentrated alcoholic extract of a particular plant or herb, and I rely solely on these to treat myself and my dogs. I feel that tinctures are the best way to take herbs because they preserve the natural compounds. In contrast, herbs that are in pill form have been dried and pounded, sometimes under intense heat (if they’re turned into a pressed pill). This limits or destroys many of the compounds that make an herb beneficial. Tinctures are more expensive than pills, but they’re also much more powerful and effective.

One of the best websites to purchase tinctures is Mountain Rose Herbs. Its selection is great, and almost all of its herbs are 100% organic. It also has an entire page dedicated to natural pet herbal remedies. I’ve used several of these tincture combinations and have had good experiences with all of them.

Another brand I recommend is Herb Pharm, which has the bright gold label. You can find Herb Pharm tinctures in most health and natural foods stores, including Whole Foods.

Natural & Herbal Remedies for Pets

I truly feel that the remedies I rely on are safe and effective – if I even suspected they weren’t working, I wouldn’t use them. There are a number of remedies that work well for a vast range of ailments:

1. Separation Anxiety, Tension, Travel Stress, and Hyperactivity

My other dog, Pep, is very hyperactive. Therefore, I follow the advice of Cesar Millan (“The Dog Whisperer”): A tired dog is a happy dog. Intense exercise is one of the best ways to treat a dog that’s hyperactive, tense, or stressed from travel. However, I know it’s not always possible to take your dog on a run or play a game of fetch. When you can’t exercise and your dog is bouncing uncontrollably off the walls, turn to herbs like valerian, chamomile, skullcap, or California poppy. However, do not use these herbs as a regular replacement for exercise – most dogs require a great deal of exercise, and hyperactivity is a result of this need. If you choose to simply drug your dog instead of exercise it, you may seriously undermine your dog’s health and well-being.

However, when needed, an herbal relaxant can be a great help. The dosage depends on how large your dog is. For instance, my dog Pep weighs 31 pounds, so I only give him approximately 8 to 10 drops of valerian when he’s really bouncing off the walls. Research how much to give your dog, and be sure not to give too much.

You can try administering the herb or herbal mixture in your dog’s water. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work with my two dogs, as they won’t touch the water if it contains a trace of herbal tincture. Therefore, I have to administer a squirt directly into their mouths.

You can also use essential oils to treat your dog’s separation anxiety, tension, or hyperactivity. Mix several drops of lavender and chamomile with some water and spray it on their bed or blanket. This can help them relax when you’re gone, or ease tension associated with travel.

2. Fleas

Over-the-counter flea medicine not only smells awful, it’s also loaded with really bad chemicals. Fortunately, there are several natural ways to keep fleas at bay.

First, try a spray using this recipe:

  • 8 ounces apple cider vinegar
  • 4 ounces warm water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Spray your pet thoroughly, and really work the mixture into its skin. Next, rinse off the spray and then wash your dog with a natural soap, again rinsing thoroughly.

I used this a few months ago with only moderate success, though others have used it and say it works great. I think it’s more effective to use the spray, and then follow up with a few drops of lavender or fennel essential oil – both are effective at driving away fleas.

 3. Inflammation/Joint Pain

I’ve already mentioned how effective feverfew is to manage pain and reduce inflammation. I’ve had great success with this herb, and will continue to use it indefinitely for Gunther’s mild or moderate pain.

A common dosage of feverfew is 12 drops for every 20 pounds of the dog’s weight. However, there are other herbs you can turn to if you find feverfew to be ineffective. One good example is skullcap, which is used in nerve-related injuries. Skullcap can be even more effective when it’s paired with St. John’s Wort, as both herbs are known for their pain-relieving qualities. Combine 12 drops of skullcap and 12 drops of St. John’s Wort, and feed 12 drops of the mixture for every 20 pounds of the dog’s weight.

If your dog has joint inflammation, you can apply a topical salve of licorice to ease the pain. Although you can make your own salve at home, it’s often easier to buy one.

4. Liver Health

If your dog has liver issues or is on a medication that puts stress on the liver, provide a daily dose of milk thistle. It works by stimulating the growth of new liver cells, and it also aids the liver in removing toxins and heavy metals. Milk thistle is effective for digestive disorders and irritable bowel disease (IBD) as well.

happy, healthy dogs

A Word of Caution

Please understand, I’m not a vet or in any way trained in veterinary medicine. My knowledge of herbal remedies for pets has come through my own experiences and research. It’s vitally important that you do your own research and speak to your vet before administering any remedy. Furthermore, herbal remedies should never be used in lieu of veterinary care when your pet is seriously ill or injured. If your pet seems to be ill or in pain, pay a visit to your vet prior to administering any home treatments.

Also, keep in mind that one or more of these remedies might not work for your own dog. For example, feverfew is very effective for easing migraines in some people, and completely ineffective for others. The same is true with any natural remedy for dogs.

Lastly, these remedies should not be used for cats. Cats are far more sensitive to herbs than dogs are, and you can do more harm than good by treating your cat at home. It’s best to seek the advice of a vet or qualified herbalist when treating cats.

Final Word

People treated their dogs naturally at home long before there was a host of big-name prescriptions available. While I’m not disputing the benefits of professional veterinary care or the medicines these vets prescribe, I do believe that when possible, it’s best to use natural remedies. Natural remedies are easier on a dog’s system and can help you reduce the cost of dog ownership. And of course, the few conditions I’ve touched on only scratch the surface of what’s possible with herbal natural remedies. You can use herbs to treat ear infections, skin conditions, eye problems, respiratory problems, age-related issues, and much more.

If you’d like to learn more about herbal dog care, two great books are “Dr. Kidd’s Guide to Herbal Dog Care” and “Herbs for Pets.” Both books are written by trained herbalists, and Dr. Kidd is also a veterinarian.

Do you use any natural remedies for your dogs? If so, how was your experience?

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a freelance writer based in Detroit, MI. She's passionately committed to living green, saving money, and helping others do the same in their life.

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