By Lan Hoang

Time has proven that the medicinal use of herbal remedies for pets can be safe and effective. Herbal medicines are used worldwide, from the Western culture with the use of healing plants, to acupuncture of Traditional Chinese Medicine. To address any hesitations that pet parents may have, this article will discuss the scientific reasons why herbal medicine works, and whether it is safe and effective for pets.

Why Herbs Work

In the modern world, herbal medicine is often called phytotherapy. From a scientific viewpoint, these plants can have physiological effects on the body, as well as on the organ systems, because they have chemical constituents. In herbal plants, there are many compounds that can perform specific functions once introduced to the body of a pet. These compounds can be divided into the following categories:

  • Alcohols: Include the components of volatile oils. Example: Menthol from Peppermint.
  • Alkaloids: Potent compounds that have many effects on both the body and organ systems. They have notable effects on the circulatory and nervous systems.
  • Anthraquinones: Include the plants that give purgative effects. Example: Rhubarb.
  • Bitter Principles: Acts as stimulation of the digestive system, as well as the liver. The compound, which has a bitter taste, causes a reflex action via the taste bud. Example: Gentian.
  • Carbohydrates: A major energy source, as well as the basis of many soothing components. Example: Elm, Seaweed.
  • Coumarins: Can strengthen capillary walls. Example: Horse Chestnut Bark.
  • Flavones/Flavonoid Glycosides: have a wide-range of effects, such as diuretic, anti-spasmodic, hepatic and cardiac support. Example: Buckwheat.
  • Glycosides: Have strong effects on the heart. Example: Foxglove.
  • Tannins: Have binding and protective effects on the skin. Example: Tea leaves.
  • Volatile Oils: Have antiseptic, stimulatory and calming effects.
  • Saponins, Plant Acids, Phenolic Compounds, and others.

Choose the Right Herbal Plants

From this categorization of compounds in herbal plants, scientists have been able to make full use of them. One can treat their pets (with the guidance of a veterinarian) by using the plant raw, in combination with other plants, using diluted plant extracts, or in recipes. Herbal plants that can be used to treat a common health issue can be classified in a group, as shown below.

Group Name Therapeutic Actions Notable Plants
Alterative Cleanse blood, restore vitality Burdock, Garlic, nettles, cleavers
Anti-catarrhal Remove mucus and catarrh Sage, Thyme, Golden Rod, Garlic
Anti-diarrheal Soothe the intestine, have astringent action to help resolve diarrhea Peppermint, Agrimonies, Cranesbills, Meadowsweet
Anti-microbial Fight off infection Garlic, Echinacea, Peppermint, Rosemary, Thyme
Astringents Reduce discharges Agrimonies, Raspberry, Yarrow, Slippery Elm Bark, Bearberry
Bitters Stimulate appetite and digestion Bearberry, Gentian
Carminatives Prevent colic and abdominal pain, stimulate digestive system Aniseed, Peppermint, Dill, Valerian, Garlic
Cholagogues Encourage bile production in the liver and gall bladder, stimulate digestion Gentian, Dandelion, Bearberry, Fringe tree, Milk Thistle, Peppermint
Diuretics Increase the elimination of water from the body. Used in heart failure, urinary tract disorder, kidney disease and bladder problems Buchu, Bearberry, Cleavers, Dandelion leaf, Juniper, Parsley Piert, Golden Rod, Yarrow and Burdock
Emollients Soothe and protect skin Comfrey, liquorice, mallow, marshmallow, slippery elm
Hepatics Support the liver Barbary, Milk Thistle, Dandelion root, Cleavers and Cascara
Hypoglycemic Lower blood sugar, treat diabetes Garlic, Chicory, Nettles
Laxative Relieve constipation Dandelion root, Barberry, Cascara, Rhubarb Root, Cleavers
Nerviness Stimulate and strengthen the nervous system Ginseng, Oats, Hops, Valerian, Skullcap, Rosemary
Sedatives Calm the nervous system, reduce stress. Notably useful in treating animals with behavioral problems due to nervousness Valerian, Skullcap, Chamomile and Hops
Stimulants Stimulate and support basic physiological functions Cayenne, Garlic, Ginseng, Peppermint, Mustard, Rosemary
Tonics Strengthen and maintain many organs and body functions Acrimony, Bearberry, Cleavers, Garlic, Parsley, Raspberry, Skullcap
Vulnerary Heal minor wounds Calendula, Aloe Vera, Arnica, Comfrey, Garlic, Yarrow.

Herbal medicine for pets is no longer just transferring what works for humans into pets. With the knowledge above, holistic veterinarians and pet parents can learn how to use herbs for their beloved animals when needed. With this said, the effectiveness of herbal remedies still depends on the quality of the herbs and the processes that the herbs have undergone.

Note of Caution: Your veterinarian should be consulted before adding herbs to your pet’s diet to avoid interactions or complications.  Not all herbs are safe for all species of pets.

Mary L.Wulff – Herbs for Pets: The natural way to enhance your pet’s life
Juliette D. B. Levy – The complete Herbal Handbook for the dog and cat
Susan G. Wynn – Veterinary Herbal Medicine

Guest Author Bio:
Lan Hoang is a researcher and dog lover. She also writes about how to live a happy life with dogs at Dogs To Love.

✔ You may also be interested in reading:
30 Essential Oils that may not be Safe for Pets
Using Nutritive Herbs for Pet Dietary Supplements (with Recipe)
Top 12 Natural Supplements for Senior Dogs (Infographic)


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9 thoughts on “The Science Behind Herbal Remedies for Pets

  1. This is an interesting chart of herbal remedies that are grouped together. Proceed with caution still and it’s best to consult your vet before adding any of these to your pets’ diet.

  2. I will be the first to admit, that I was not a big believer when it came to herbal remedies. However I will share two experience that changed my mind.
    We had a mule named Julie that got every sick. The vet gave her all kinds of shots ,but nothing seemed to helped. We knew a person that had herbal remedies and he gave us a couple of herbs to try. Within weeks we notice a huge difference. She looked and acted more healthy. In another month or two she was back to her old self again.
    We also had a horse that tore all of its ligaments in her leg. The vet said that she would never fully recover. Well this time we started her on herbs right away, and within weeks she went from putting no pressure at all on her leg, to putting light pressure on it. With in a few months she had full use of her leg again.
    I am not saying that herbs can cure all but I am a believer in them.

  3. Awesome,
    This certainly very useful information! I just know about herbal remedies for pets, this could be a consideration for me when I need medication for my furbaby

  4. I’ll have to read this a few times to wrap my dense head around it but understanding will hit me eventually lol. I love using herbal remedies but mostly for myself.

  5. WOW what a great chart! I knew different herbs did different things obviously but I didn’t know they were grouped. It helps to clarify HOW they work.

  6. Herbal remedies can do wonder but the biggest problem is to find one and decide if this is the one which will help you with your situation.

  7. It’s amazing how many people still don’t think herbs are medicine. Either they think they don ‘t work or they take them by the handful without checking with a doctor. Maybe this will help!

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