Nutrition and herbs go hand in hand. A species-appropriate diet of whole foods supports healing, energy flow and organ function, and creates an environment in the body where herbs can perform miracles. Without an appropriate diet, herbs can still help, but will have to work much harder to overcome the sluggishness and toxins that result from a diet of processed dry or canned foods. Lifestyle is important, too. A happy, active animal has good energy flow, which aids with digestion and organ function in general.
Feeding your dog or cat food they were designed to eat, including herbs and nutritive greens, is the very best path to vibrant health and longevity.
Green herbs are nutrient-dense, offering macro- and micro-nutrients, chlorophyll, fiber and good energy from the earth and sun. Here are some nutritional profiles for some of my favorites:
Barley Grass: nutritive, antioxidant; high in Calcium, Chromium, Fiber, Niacin, Phosphorus, Potassium, Riboflavin, Selenium, Thiamine, Vitamins A and C.
Chickweed: beneficial for circulatory, respiratory, urinary, and digestive systems; high in Calcium, Cobalt, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Phosphorus, Potassium, Protein, Vitamin A and Zinc
Dandelion: nourishes the liver, kidneys, gall bladder, pancreas, and circulatory systems; liver tonic; high in Phosphorus, Protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C
Hawthorn: affects and benefits circulatory and digestive systems; cardiac tonic, sedative; high in Chromium, Dietary fiber, Selenium
Kelp: nourishes and heals the digestive and thyroid systems; nutritive tonic and blood purifier; high in Calcium, Magnesium, Manganese, Potassium, Selenium, Sodium, Vitamin A
Milk Thistle: supports and strengthens the liver; high in Chromium, good fats, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Phosphorus, Selenium, Vitamin A, Zinc
Nettle: supports and heals the urinary and respiratory systems; high in Calcium, Chromium, Cobalt, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Riboflavin, Thiamine, Vitamins A, C and Zinc
Oatstraw: general nutritive nervine tonic; high in Calcium, Chromium, fiber, Magnesium, Selenium, Silicon, Sodium
Parsley: benefits and nourishes urinary and digestive systems, including liver; high in Calcium, good fats, Magnesium, Niacin, Phosphorus, Potassium, Protein, Riboflavin, Vitamins A and C
Peppermint: supports and heals digestive, circulatory and respiratory systems; high in Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Niacin, Phosphorus, Potassium, Protein, Riboflavin, Selenium, Thiamine, Vitamins A and C
Rosehips: a general whole body tonic; nutritive, antiseptic, antispasmodic; high in Chromium, crude and dietary fiber, Manganese, Riboflavin, Selenium, Sodium, Vitamins A and C; Natural source of vitamins and minerals, especially Vitamin C and bioflavonoids, strengthening capillaries and connective tissue.
My favorite way to add herbs is fresh from the garden or a patio pot. Some of the most nutritious are violet, dandelion, lettuce, cilantro, chard, and prunella. Violets grow with abandon in a pot or garden. Same for Prunella and Dandelion. I grow them both ways so I can just grab some from a pot when I’m making food for my dog and cat. Just a few leaves or flowers minced up with a meal add a bountiful supply of nutrients and good energy. Violets are a main ingredient in my formula for reducing or eliminating fatty tumors.
Wheat grass, barley grass and oat grass are super easy to grow in a pot. I grow oats every summer on the patio, and my dogs have always made it their first priority in the morning to snack on some of this delicious grass. The plants go on to produce oats even when the grassy parts get nibbled. It’s great to have fresh herbs on hand!
Grow some wheat grass in a pot on the windowsill and snip some into your dog or cat’s food each day. If the grass grows faster than you can use it, simply harvest and dehydrate (air dry) for use in powdered supplements. It will regrow and give you another full harvest if grown in a sunny window. You can do this same process for pretty much any herb you grow, and well you should! (although Chickweed is best used fresh)
Dried, powdered herbs are super useful and practical for supplementing dog and cat food year round. For cats, wheat grass, barley grass and oat grass are always good. Kelp is also frequently recommended for felines, although I favor Spirulina nowadays. I usually keep things very simple for cats, with just a few ingredients.
For dogs, it’s easier to be more creative. My little dog is somewhat fragile due to a birth defect that impairs her immune system. She is prone to bacterial infections, so I make sure she gets her vitamins and minerals from things like Spirulina, Barley Grass and Rose Hips. To that I add some healing and anti bacterial herbs such as Calendula, Thyme, Oregano and Slippery Elm.
You do not have to grow your own herbs and greens! These are often available at your local herb shop, growing in your back yard, or you can order on line from places like Mountain Rose Herbs.
When a dog needs digestive support, I add some Peppermint, Mallow and/or Solomon’s Seal to a nutritive greens base formula – Peppermint is soothing and aids in digestion, while Mallow and Solomon’s Seal support gut flora.
Solomon’s Seal is also an excellent joint support herb given in whole herb (powdered) form, or tincture – actually miraculous for some dogs. It gave my German Shepherd, Ozzie, an extra year of good, comfortable mobility in the last few years of his life.
Mallow is extremely healing. For irritations in the gut, lungs or bladder, mallow is an excellent herb. Also useful for external inflammations as a poultice, and can even reverse the early stages of gangrene, according to Dr. Patrick Jones. For all sorts of skin irritations, make an infused oil with Mallow, Comfrey and Calendula. All forms of Mallow are medicinal, not just Althea off. Mallows grow very easily and with gusto here in Colorado, and I imagine elsewhere as well.
Nettle leaf is highly nutritious – loaded with vitamins and many minerals. Yes, I’m talking about Stinging Nettle! This is a great addition to any nutritive blend, for rehabilitation, to treat urinary tract infections, and to alleviate diarrhea. As a tea, the leaf is helpful in easing arthritis pain. Harvest with care, protective clothing and gloves. Then dry, powder and sprinkle on food or blend with other nutritive herbs. This is one herb that we obviously don’t use fresh! The stinging quality disappears once the herb is dried.
Parsley is not only nutritious, but can help soothe the gut and resolve stomach aches. It can also help clear lung congestion and treat bladder and kidney infections.
For stings and bites, including snake bites, use Plantain as a poultice, changing it every 30 minutes. If treating a snake bite, give Echinacea tincture every 15 to 30 minutes, as well. Taken internally, fresh or dried, Plantain is also very healing and detoxifying, especially when combined with Echinacea, Dandelion Root and Mallow. The early spring leaves of Plantain have a very pleasant, almost nutty flavor. Delicious! For infected wounds or to draw out foreign bodies, a Plantain poultice is very effective.
Chamomile is a multi-use herb for digestive assistance and calming. Keep a small jar of a raw honey/Chamomile infusion and give 1-2 tsp prior to vet appointments or car rides if your dog is anxious. Another great use for chamomile is to roll it – fresh or dried – into a bandana and tie it around your dog’s neck for calming. I’ve used it this way around a dog’s head to calm an inflamed ear. It worked!
For most dried herbs, dosages for dogs and cats: 1/8 tsp per 10 pounds of body weight
1-3x/day. Use the same amount of herb to make an infusion. Tinctures, 5-15 drops
Start with the basics:
Mix equal parts of the organic ingredients:
Nettle Leaf, Dandelion Leaf, Alfalfa Leaf, and Spirulina.
This combination provides a whole-food source of protein, vitamin C, B complex (including B12), vitamin A (beta-carotene), vitamin E, Vitamin K, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium & omega-3 fatty acids. Cats receive 1/16 to 1/4 tsp 2x per day (yes, this is possible!) Start with a teeny tiny amount mixed into your cat’s species-appropriate food.
To this formula, you can add the more medicinal herbs to achieve a desired outcome.
Since this is strictly nutritive, the dosage can be a little higher:
Dogs receive 1 tsp per 20 pounds of body weight 2x/day.
Cats receive 1/4 tsp per 10 pounds of body weight 2x/day.
Start with very small amounts for those companions who are unaccustomed to eating fruits and vegetables. And please feed a whole-food diet!
The value of whole-food supplements in the form of nutritive herbs is beyond measure. Your friend can absorb the nutrients needed by the body, and will not be overwhelmed or receive out-of-balance minerals or vitamins (which can happen with synthetic vitamins). All of the books listed below discuss nutrient profiles for dogs and cats, and many have guidelines or recipes to make it easy to formulate nutritive herbal blends for your dog or cat.
Wishing you and yours the best of health.
Belfield, Wendell O., and Martin Zucker. How to Have a Healthier Dog: The Benefits of Vitamins and Minerals for Your Dog’s Life Cycles. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981. Print.
Belfield, Wendell O., and Martin Zucker. The Very Healthy Cat Book: A Vitamin and Mineral Program for Optimal Feline Health. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983. Print.
Bernard, Michelle T. Raising Cats Naturally: How to Care for Your Cat the Way Nature Intended. Lincolnton, NC: Blakkatz Pub., 2003. Print.
Frazier, Anitra, Norma Eckroate, and Anitra Frazier. The New Natural Cat: A Complete Guide for Finicky Owners. New York, NY, U.S.A.: Plume, 1990. Print.
“HomeGrown Herbalist.” HomeGrown Herbalist. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.
Kidd, Randy. Dr. Kidd’s Guide to Herbal Cat Care. Pownal, VT: Storey, 2000. Print.
Kidd, Randy. Dr. Kidd’s Guide to Herbal Dog Care. Pownal, VT: Storey, 2000. Print.
Pedersen, Mark. Nutritional Herbology: Including the Nutritional Profiles of 106 Commonly Used Herbs and Foods. Bountiful, Utah (P.O. Box 761, Bountiful 84010): Pedersen Pub., 1987. Print.
Puotinen, C. J. The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care. Los Angeles: Keats Pub., 2000. Print.
Tilford, Gregory L., Mary Wulff-Tilford, and Mary Wulff-Tilford. Herbs for Pets: The Natural Way to Enhance Your Pet’s Life. Laguna Hills, CA: BowTie, 2009. Print.
Zucker, Martin. The Veterinarians’ Guide to Natural Remedies for Cats: Safe and Effective Alternative Treatments and Healing Techniques from the Nation’s Top Holistic Veterinarians. New York: Three Rivers, 1999. Print.
Zucker, Martin. The Veterinarians’ Guide to Natural Remedies for Dogs: Safe and Effective Alternative Treatments and Healing Techniques from the Nation’s Top Holistic Veterinarians. New York: Three Rivers, 1999. Print.
Thanks Sarah for the great info on pet nutrition. Will definitely be referring to the article
again and again for things to add to my new puppy’s food.
Thank you so much for all the important information that you share with us…invaluable!
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