Have you ever seen your dog eat grass? What about your kitty eating catnip? Many animals have a natural instinct to consume or eat plants, and that includes herbs that can help animals heal from health issues. Sometimes when dogs feel sick, they will actually go outside and eat grass or plants outside (which often include medicinal herbs) to make themselves feel better. And catnip is actually a natural way for cats to feel great, it’s very calming and soothing — that’s why so many of them love it!
As a holistic veterinarian, I routinely use herbs instead of medications to help animals heal from medical conditions. I also teach animal caretakers how to use herbs for their pets at home. Herbs are generally safe to give to animals, but it’s always a good idea to be guided in administration by a veterinarian trained in herbalism. There are a few herbs that I recommend for animals that are easily accessible for all pet owners, and easy to give in small amounts for overall health.
Catnip is one of my favorite herbs to calm cats down, especially those that are traveling or making a trip to the veterinarian. I often use catnip in a hydrosol spray, which is the herb distilled in water — and it has the same effect as the plant itself. Catnip is also very helpful for dogs as a calming agent and is used medicinally for nausea, motion sickness and general GI upset. It is easy to grow at home so you always have fresh catnip on hand.
Peppermint and catnip are in the same family, and the plants look similar. But peppermint is even stronger at settling an upset stomach, and soothing nausea from car sickness.
Sometimes letting a pet smell peppermint (either in the form of the essential oil or a hydrosol) can help, but it’s very effective if you can steep peppermint in hot water to make a tea and give that directly to your dog, mixed in with their food. It’s also available as a glycerin or alcohol-based tincture, which is a concentrated extraction of an herb. If dogs get really hot and overheated in the summer, a splash of peppermint tea in their drinking water can help to cool them down. Adding coconut water to their regular water dish is also very cooling for dogs in the heat of summer.
Chamomile is a beautiful little flowering herb that is wonderful for helping pets relax if they’re restless, and again, if they have an upset stomach. If your dog gets very excited, very anxious or very stressed out, chamomile can help to calm them down. It can even make them a little bit drowsy. For dogs and cats that have noise phobias — perhaps thunderstorms or fireworks really scare them — chamomile tea or tincture for a dog can help them get through the loud noises without being so scared. You can mix in chamomile tea right along with your dog’s food a couple of hours before fireworks start, or a storm is coming.
If you’ve ever had a dog or cat that scratched or scraped itself and then started licking at that wound, which then became even more red and irritated, you might find it helpful to have a healing herbal salve on hand to apply to the irritation to promote healing. Salve made from calendula is a simple and powerful healing herbal. I make my own calendula salve. It’s quite simple to make, or can be purchased pre-made as well. Application of a calendula salve twice daily to minor irritations and scrapes prevents infection, soothes the skin and provides healing.
Lavender is an herb that can help in a wide variety of situations. Similar to calendula, it can also help to heal skin irritations, including tick or mosquito bites, and stop them from becoming infected. I often use lavender in the form of the essential oil that can be diffused in the air, administered as aromatherapy, which has wonderful healing benefits. When dogs and cats smell lavender, it often makes them very calm and relaxed, just like chamomile. Having a bottle of lavender essential oil on hand can be a great tool in a first aid kit for a pet — I even mix a little bit of lavender in with my calendula ointment to give it additional healing properties.
There is a whole world of healing herbs that any pet owner can learn to use for the benefit of their animal. Herbs can provide gentle support and healing benefits, and have powerful medicinal properties. Work with a veterinarian trained in herbalism and see the transformative healing power of herbs!