Category Archives: conditions

Herbs to Support Liver Health


thIt seems that wherever canine hepatic issues are discussed, Milk Thistle is recommended for treatment or prevention. It has become a well-known panacea for any health issues related to the liver and, although it is extremely effective at improving liver function and clearing disease, other herbs may be more appropriate in this endeavor, as they may address the specific conditions of your dog. Remember, a holistic perspective differs from a conventional one in that it considers this dog with these conditions at this time rather than employing a one-size-fits-all approach.

We also see Milk Thistle recommended or utilized in more of a pharmaceutical manner. How is buying capsules of 450mg of a standardized isolate of silymarin different from buying a drug? Rather than using a neutraceutical, a better approach may be found in using the whole seed. Silymarin has been identified as a flavonoid compound consisting of silibinin, silidianin, and silichristine. But that’s just one of many compounds found in Milk Thistle. The phytochemistry of plants is complex, and we do not yet fully understand its symbiosis; so, while silymarin has been identified as a potent hepatoprotective, we may be losing other beneficial actions of the plant by isolating this one constituent. Using Milk Thistle in its whole state also allows the body to assimilate it more naturally and effectively, allowing you to see better results.

OK, but enough about Milk Thistle. I prefer to reserve its use for cases where there is more serious liver impairment. If you need to help damaged liver tissues to regenerate, then by all means – use Milk Thistle; but if you are trying to assist cases of bile insufficiency, inflammation of the liver or spleen, elevated liver enzymes, or just trying to prevent toxicity from drugs such as Phenobarbital or NSAIDs such as Rimadyl®, there are many other options – and ones that are likely more appropriate for your dog.



Burdock (Arctium lappa) is seen primarily as a blood purifier – but it does so by stimulating the liver to function more efficiently, thus filtering waste. As a broad-spectrum alterative for the whole body, it specifically balances and restores the liver, lymph system, and kidneys, making it ideal for preventing or treating drug toxicity.

As a bitter, it stimulates digestive juices – especially bile secretion. It helps moderate glucose levels, stimulate metabolism, and release excess metabolic waste from the cells and blood, which alkalyzes body pH (use with dogs prone to hyperacidity). It’s rich in minerals – especially iron.

The diuretic action helps to eliminate waste from the kidneys, taking some of the burden off of the liver. Seed tincture is used topically in TCM for psoriasis and chronic sores (ideal for dogs with skin issues). The seeds are considered more immediate; the root slower and deeper. The root is considered better when used fresh.

This is an excellent long-term liver tonic, gentle enough for use with pre-existing liver or kidney disease. A good choice for deep, chronic issues. Its thermal nature is cold, so use with dogs that tend to run hot.


Like Burdock, Dandelion (Taraxicum officinale) is one of the first herbs to consider in addressing both kidney and liver issues. It tonifies, restores, and rebuilds, and its use is not so much for an acute state as for deep, chronic issues (think of roots as going deeper). This is a slow-acting herb.

The root stimulates the liver to eliminate toxins from blood, reduces inflammation of the bile duct and liver, and clears obstructions of the spleen, pancreas, liver, gallblader, kidney, and bladder. The root milk is bitter, which increases salivation and bile production (hence digestion).

In keeping organ systems flushed, use the whole plant. There is probably no diuretic more balancing than Dandelion leaf. Where other diuretics deplete potassium, this leaf is rich in it. It balances electrolytes, as well as reduces uric acid. This is probably the best choice for an herbal diuretic. By acting through the kidneys, the leaves reduce pressure on the liver to eliminate toxins.

Like burdock, it is hypoglycemic. With diabetic pets, use the whole plant. The root helps moderate glucose levels while the leaf acts as a bitter, aiding assimilation in the digestive tract. This is also a good nerve tonic, making it an excellent choice for dogs with issues relating to nerves.

Its thermal nature is cold. Think of it for conditions where you want to dispel heat – especially in the liver and stomach (dyspepsia is an example of stomach heat).

Beet and Burdock roots are excellent liver-friendly additions to meals

Another herb traditionally used to detox and cleanse the liver is Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus). As with the others, it acts as an alterative, enriching the blood and skin, so is well-indicated for dogs with skin issues such as hot spots. It’s cool, bitter, and damp, making it a good choice for pets prone to constipation (herbalist Matthew Wood reminds us to think of it as a heat reducer rather than as a laxative). It improves the flow of bile and stimulates peristalsis in the intestines, helping to regulate bowel movements. This is especially useful for dogs with hyperacidity and esophageal reflux (use tea or decoction). Use caution with quantities, as it can cause diarrhea; try using a little in conjunction with other herbs.

Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) encompasses all of the actions that most support the liver (cholagogue, alterative, bitter, and diuretic), and as such is effective in almost all liver problems. It stimulates the flow of bile from the gallbladder into the small intestine, and helps remove excess bile from the system.  As an antidiarrheal, it will normalize bowels (though diet changes and deeper causes should be considered in resolving cases of chronic diarrhea).

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) is primarily considered a blood purifier and liver herb. It stirs up deep, stagnant, hot blood and brings it to the surface, improving peripheral circulation to rid joints of arthritic depositions and promote diuresis. It expels wind from the stomach, and its oils stimulate renal function. Its name is believed to be a corruption of saxifrage from Late Latin saxifraga, literally: rock-breaker (probably alluding to its ability to dissolve kidney stones), from Latin saxum rock + frangere to break.


This is a good stimulating liver tonic to help detox the overall system and clear blood disorders. Think of it for dogs with skin and skeletal conditions, such as acne, hot spots, and arthritic joints.


Beet root (Beta vulgaris) has traditionally been used as a blood cleanser, but the leaves, being more bitter, are more specific to liver cleansing. What I often do is just cut up an entire beet plant – root and leaves – to include in the pot of simmering roots and greens that I add to my dog’s meals.


A cousin to Milk Thistle, Blessed Thistle (Cnicus benedictus) is a pungent bitter that works on the liver and stomach/spleen. It is best used in damp (mucousy) conditions, diminished appetite, and dyspepsia.

When thinking about liver health and eliminating toxins and other waste from the dog’s system, the discussion doesn’t end here. The herbs above represent a small sampling of plants growing right here in New England and may provide a starting point for those interested in a more targeted, holistic approach. Ask your herbalist or holistic vet about them. With all of the great herbal options out there, please consider reaching for Milk Thistle last. Give other plants a chance to address your dog’s condition(s) more specifically and effectively. Milk Thistle will still be there, should you need it.




Leave a comment

Filed under conditions, dogs, herbs

The Natural Weight Loss Secret No One is Talking About


thYes, I totally stole the ridiculous headline from some internet site.  But, I have a stubby-legged little client that prefers to spend his time curled up on the couch than actually moving his little legs.  He was being fed a grain-free food, but his treats started coming more frequently and his harness was slowly getting tighter and tighter.  A veterinary check-up resulted in the recommendation to lose a few pounds.  And yes, once again in the world of nutritional advice dispensed by veterinarians with a waiting room full of Hill’s Science Diet, they sent him home with a bag of – you guessed it!  Science Diet r/d, their weight loss formula.  The list of ingredients starts “Whole Grain Corn, Corn Gluten Meal, Chicken By-Product Meal, Soybean Mill Run, Powdered Cellulose, Soybean Meal, Chicken Liver Flavor, Dried Beet Pulp, Lactic Acid, Soybean Oil, Caramel Color…”

Hill’s says right there on their website “Factors contributing to weight gain include age, lack of exercise and overfeeding,”  but instead of suggesting more frequent exercise and smaller portions, they want to sell you a bowl of corn and gluten and by-product.  Now, I’m not a veterinary nutritionist, or a scientist of any sort, and I don’t think I need to be to guarantee that if you’ve got a chubby dog, he or she does not need a bowl full of corn, gluten, and by-product meal.  Your dog needs less food and more exercise.  I think that’s science.

Leave a comment

Filed under conditions, nutrition

Hot Spots

As I’ve walked along the bike path, I’ve always thought it rich with urinary herbs.  Juniper, Goldenrod, Dandelion, Couch Grass… all seem to have such a presence, there.  But on a recent herb walk (for dogs) that I gave on a sunny Saturday morning, I found myself mentioning hot spots over and over.  Hm.  Purslane and Sweet Leaf and Burdock and Rose and Red Clover and Plantain and Yellow Dock…  Aaaah, the dog days of August, and the heat that comes with them!  If we consider hot spots from the perspective of energetics, it is a damp heat condition.  Hot spots are, essentially, eczema, and the challenge in treating them is that they may arise from a wide variety of reasons, depending on the individual.

Rupert and Barney sit with Sweet Leaf

Diet really is #1, here.  I know that I talk about food a lot, but humor me and take a peek at the ingredient panel on your dog’s bag or can of food.  In my experience, grains have been the most common culprit with hot spots. So many dogs that I have seen with skin issues have cleared up completely with merely a food switch.  Hell, I battled with my own hot spots until I changed my diet!  (Seriously.  I finally realized that my eczema was triggered by gluten and other dietary indiscretions.)  What the body sees as impure, it will push out.

We often think of the epidermis as an organ (or system) of absorption – and it is (which is why you should never put anything on your dog’s skin that you wouldn’t put in his mouth) – but it serves also as an organ of elimination.  This means that impurities that are not eliminated through the colon or kidneys are often pushed outward, through the skin. We have come to expect that we can simply smear a cream on an external condition and it will disappear. While that may be so for ringworm or staph, hot spots are actually an outward symptom of a heat condition originating much deeper in the dog’s body.  If we use the analogy of the hot spot as a chimney, then by applying a steroidal cream or anti-inflammatory, you are closing the damper and the heat is left down there to simmer, going deeper into the body or seeking other outlets.  Instead, we want to ensure that the channels of elimination are open so that the heat may be released while we address the underlying issue that is causing the fire in the first place.

Aiding the liver, kidneys, and colon in their attempts to eliminate is always a good place to start.  The Docks (Burdock and Yellow Dock) are considered premier blood and skin cleansers – but they do so by stimulating the liver to function more effectively, which is why they are so effective in chronic and hepatic skin conditions.  Burdock seeds have a diuretic action which helps to eliminate waste from the kidneys, taking some of the burden off of the liver and enhancing the elimination of all wastes.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine, tincture of the seeds is used topically for psoriasis, chronic sores, and other skin issues. Yellow Dock stimulates peristalsis in the lower digestive tract, aiding in elimination through the colon.  Yellow Dock is also very specific as a fire reducer in the body.  Dandelion, used in its whole form, is also excellent for keeping the channels cleansed and primed.  Red Clover acts as a blood cleanser, although it doesn’t clean the blood as much as nourish it to a healthy state.  Regardless, keeping everything moving along is the goal, and it’s great for chronic skin issues – especially hot spots.  Another plant that is excellent for internal use with hot spots is Sweet Leaf, because it acts to diffuse the heat.  Where there is internal heat, Sweet Leaf will drive the heat to the surface.

And so, while we’re addressing the condition from the inside (identifying possible triggers like food and diffusing heat in the system), we also want to provide some relief at the site of the hot spot.  (This detoxification process may bring more sludge to the surface, exacerbating the condition and, while it’s good to see evidence of the heat and invaders being flushed out, it is obviously uncomfortable for the dog, and we want to relieve the hot, damp itching that the dog just wants to gnaw furiously… making it hotter, damper, and more itchy.)  The first plant that most herbalists think of for any hot, itching, skin lesion is Plantain.  This is a very cooling plant which will pull the heat up and out of the body.  If you have a clean source of Plantain, you can use the leaves right on the hot spot.  I was taught to chew the leaves just enough to get them mushy, then apply it right to the spot. Purslane, another very cooling plant, is great for hot skin conditions and may be used similarly. It’s always a good idea to keep the area around the spot(s) trimmed – especially with longer-haired dogs.  This is especially pertinent if you have a swimmer, and the coat stays damp against the skin for extended periods.

These are just some of the plants most useful for hot spots that are growing on the bike path between Davis Sq and Willow.  Of course, there are plenty of other plants that are applicable (Aloe Vera is a good one for hot spots, as is Chickweed).  Some suggest Tea Tree Oil, and I have used it in a very diluted form, but I prefer to err on the side of caution when using any essential oils (especially Tea Tree) with dogs, and I would never apply it to an open sore. Mixing up a spray of ½ water and ½ apple cider vinegar is simple and very effective at drying up and reducing the spots.  Cambridge Naturals has both the spray bottles and the apple cider vinegar.  Even better if the apple cider vinegar is infused with Yellow Dock (…which you can also get at Cambridge Naturals).

As with all health conditions, a full assessment of the whole dog should be made in order to determine the organ system most in need of support, and then determining the herbs most appropriate for that organ system and the energetics involved.

1 Comment

Filed under conditions

Gastric Dilatation Volvulus

Preventing Bloat

It has been said that those of us with Swissies fall into two categories: those with dogs who have bloated and those who will.  As such, we try to keep up with the latest findings in bloat research, but the reports are often confusing and even contradictory.  Soak the food before feeding.  No, wait – don’t soak the food.  Feed from a raised bowl.  No, actually… don’t feed from a raised bowl.  How are we to make sense of it when even the researchers don’t understand it?  How can we prevent it when we don’t truly know what causes it?

For this reason, bloat is especially challenging to approach from a holistic perspective — which is to go to the root cause of the issue.  Because we really don’t understand the source of the issue, it is more difficult to pinpoint the best methods of prevention.  There are, however, a number of things that we can do to reduce our dogs’ chances of bloating.

Of course, diet is at the top of the list.  When you consider that processed foods can take up to 16 hours to digest, it’s no wonder that many believe a balanced raw diet to be the best possible preventive measure you can take. Those who do feed raw report far fewer cases of bloat, so many bloat-prone breeds are gravitating more and more toward a more natural, raw diet.  Unfortunately, that’s just not practical for many.  Raw foods do provide enzymes crucial to the digestive process (which are destroyed in the processing of commercial food), but for those who cannot offer raw foods, a digestive enzymes supplement may be your dog’s best defense.

Perhaps more to the point of raw feeding, however, is the lack of grains.  Current thinking holds that hyperacidity in the stomach may be a factor contributing to bloat, and grains are mostly acidifying.  When we consider that grains were added to processed dog foods as a cheaper way of increasing the protein content, it becomes clear that grains are not the dog’s preferred source of protein.  Dogs eat animals.  By adding so much grain, is it causing hyperacidity in the deep-chested breeds?  If you prefer feeding processed food, consider switching to a high-quality grain-free formula.

Another factor in digestive health is intestinal flora.  Although we know that antibiotics kill the good flora as well as the bad in the colon, we tend to overlook the fact that tap water from a public source does the same thing due to chlorination.  Healthy intestinal flora aids in the absorption and assimilation of nutrients through the intestinal walls, so we want to try to replenish as much flora as we can. Plain, whole milk yogurt is a good start and kefir is even better, but they offer only so many strains of good bacteria, so you may want to look into a good probiotic if you are concerned about your dog’s digestive health.

The easiest thing you can do to start supporting your dog’s digestion is to just make some tea and pour it over his or her dinner.  If you don’t have an herb shop nearby, check the local health food store to see if they carry bulk herbs.  (For the locals in Cambridge and Somerville, Cambridge Naturals in Porter Square has an excellent bulk herbs section.)  The first herbs that I like to start with for a dog prone to bloat are the acid reducers like Meadowsweet and Yellow Dock.  Meadowsweet’s high salicylic acid content makes it a great choice for dogs with aches & pains – especially rheumatic complaints in joints and muscles.  Yellow Dock may be the better option for those dogs with high liver values, hot spots, or constipation.

Herbs to aid the overall digestive system include Chamomile, Licorice, and Blessed Thistle. Chamomile is just a nice calming herb that tends to soothe the digestive system.  Licorice root encourages peristalsis, thus helping to keep things moving along, but should not be used for dogs with kidney issues. Blessed Thistle is a wonderful bitter specific to the stomach and spleen, so I like this herb for bloat-prone breeds. Of course, each dog is different and may benefit by different herbs depending on his or her constitution.

Stress is a huge factor in bloat.  Is your dog timid or nervous?  Nervine relaxants may be a nice addition to your nightly tea.  Scullcap is specific to jittery dogs (those who tend to be afraid of their own shadow), but any timid dog will benefit by it.  Dogs who suffer from separation anxiety can benefit by St. Johnswort.  Lemon Balm’s anti-depressive qualities make it very well-suited for digestive issues due to anxiety.  In thinking about stress, remember the exercise mantra – a tired dog is a happy dog…  Er-  just not after meals!

Some of the common aromatic herbs used in cooking are the best carminatives (herbs that dispel gas).  Fennel and Dill are a couple of good choices here.  Mints are wonderful carminatives (I like Catnip for dogs – it’s a nervine relaxant but a digestive stimulant), but should not be included if you use homeopathic remedies, as they tend to counteract the homeopathic.  Ginger is great for aiding digestion (and has anti-inflammatory qualities, which may serve the senior dog well), but is a very warm herb and I wouldn’t use it with dogs who tend to run hot  — especially in the summer.  For these dogs, Wild Lettuce may be a better choice.

Interestingly, another health issue common in my own breed (Swissies) is splenic torsion.  Just as the stomach can twist and torse, so too can the spleen (though this is not as common in other breeds).  This condition warrants its own article and I will not go into any depth here, but it is worth noting that in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), organ systems consist of a pair of organs – one yin or solid and one yang or hollow.  In this system, the stomach is paired with the spleen (St/Sp), so supporting this organ system through a TCM perspective can be very beneficial for Swissies.  A couple of herbs specific to the spleen are Ginger and Astragalus. Astragalus is an immuno-modulator as well, and I can’t imagine any dog that wouldn’t benefit by a little Astragalus every day!

Of course, should your dog exhibit signs of bloat or torsion, he or she should be taken to a vet immediately.  If you use homeopathics, two to have on hand are Alumina and Carbo Veg.  Wendy Volhard suggests using Alumina as soon as pica starts, and Carbo Veg if it progresses.

Hopefully, you will never need it.

Leave a comment

Filed under conditions


Regardless of the type of dog(s) sharing your life, regular grooming offers many benefits.  Brushing helps to keep the skin and coat well conditioned, and most dogs seem to enjoy it.  Massage is calming and improves both blood and lymph circulation (among many other benefits).  Just touching your dog on a regular basis, from head to toe, increases the bond that you share.  It also helps you to discover any lumps or bumps that may be developing, and have them checked out by your vet early.  With increasing rates of cancer in dogs, any bump can instill fear – but many are benign fatty tumors, or lipomas.

If you’re doing a web search for information on dog lipoma, you’re likely to read that it’s a normal part of aging.  When is a subcutaneous lump ever normal? It’s not; it is serving as an outward indication that something is out of balance in your dog’s body.

Technically speaking, a lipoma is a benign mass of abnormal adipose cells (which are fat cells with a greater affinity for spare fat calories).  More common in females, they are slow-growing and don’t spread to other parts of the body.  They do not involve hair loss, pain, or irritation. A lipoma can look and feel like a mast cell (or other type of) tumor, so a fine needle aspirate is always suggested, so that your vet can properly assess the lump. Because lipomas are benign and the dog is usually older, surgery is rarely recommended unless there is an associated issue such as bleeding, increased growth rate, or interference with mobility or functioning.

Obese dogs are more likely to develop them, but this is a no-brainer.  If your dog is overweight, (s)he is probably not active enough and/or is eating a diet high in carbs – both of which contribute to the formation of lumps.  The first step for any dog with any lump is to switch to a grain-free diet (gradually, of course). In grain-free kibble, the grain content is replaced with starches, such as potato, so check the carbohydrate content before switching.  Compare bags and if you have any questions about a food, don’t hesitate to call the dog food company.  They usually print an 800- number on the bottom of the bag and have staff available to answer your questions. Raw is best, but if you can’t feed raw yet want higher quality nutrition than processed kibble, consider a dehydrated raw diet like Honest Kitchen or Stella & Chewy’s.

The second step is to increase walks and other exercise.  Movement eases stagnation.  By getting the body moving, the channels serving it are allowed to flow freely, like highway traffic after the site of an accident.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine (note: I am not a TCM practitioner, and this a generalization!), lumps are considered stagnant qi – the operative word here being “stagnant.”  In The Web That Has No Weaver, Ted Kaptchuck writes of stagnant qi: “this is a case of a pattern of deficiency turning into one of excess.”  It seems to me that lipomas are a textbook example of this.

Here in the West, tissue states were identified by the physiomedicalists in the 19th century very similarly to the Eastern model, but ascribed different labels.  In this system, tumors are a form of stagnation which have progressed to a state of torpor.

Whether you view the stagnation from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine (stagnant qi) or the physiomedicalist model (torpor), alteratives are the herbs of choice, here. Alteratives cleanse the blood, altering existing conditions by strengthening various systems and eliminating waste from the bloodstream. They’re especially useful where the body would benefit by improved blood structure and elimination of toxic excess and systemic waste.  Bitter tonics are especially indicated here, as they increase digestive secretions and help eliminate waste such as that incurred by processed (and usually carb-heavy) pet food.

I like to choose the herbs by looking at any other symptoms that the dog is experiencing.  Kidney function weakening?  Liver values going up? Thyroid slowing down?  How is digestion?  Red Clover and Alfalfa are always good choices, but think of Yellow Dock or Burdock if there are skin or liver issues (Burdock specifically stimulates metabolism and releases excess metabolic waste from the cells).  Nettles is great for the entire body (in fact, most seniors would benefit by getting Nettles every day), but may be alkalizing, so I would not recommend it for a pet with a propensity for struvite crystals.  Blessed Thistle is a bitter better suited for the more acidic dogs (and any dog prone to gastric dilatation volvulus, or bloat).  Oregon Grape Root helps clear damp heat, so may be well indicated.  These are just several of many herbs that act as alteratives, and it’s important to find the ones best suited to your dog’s overall constitution.  I like to add Cleavers as a gentle way to aid lymphatic circulation, and Kelp may be added to the diet to help normalize metabolism.  Kelp is also useful in neutralizing waste in the body and breaking up masses.

If your dog does develop lipomas, massage should absolutely become a daily practice.  On the site of the lipoma(s), massage a salve or oil with Chickweed and Violet Leaf.  Every day.  For a long time.

Then, go for a long walk!

Leave a comment

Filed under conditions

Preventing Lyme Disease

Enjoy the woods - even during tick season!

Happy Spring! Call me crazy, but I already miss the snow. There is nothing like hiking through the woods under a blanket of white, with the air clear and crisp and the silence deafening. Yeah, sure, I’m looking forward to warmer weather and the green emergence of the plants (yea!) after a long winter hibernation, but I am very definitely not looking forward to the emergence of ticks – nor the spirochetes that many of them carry.

The first consideration when looking at Lyme Disease is prevention. Not all dogs bitten by a tick transmitting Borrelia burgdorferi spirochetes will contract Lyme Disease (many don’t), and the determining factor is immune function. The safest and most effective way to prevent any health condition is to support the body in healing itself. The dog’s body knows how to do this (in fact, it does it every day), but there are ways we can help aid our dog’s immune function in conquering invaders.

Of course, the basis of health is nutrition. All systems of the body rely on vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids, etc. which are provided by food. I won’t go into food here (see “The Importance of Food” for that), but will mention that dry kibble alone will not provide your dog with optimal immune support. It will sustain your dog; it will not foster a healthy response to pathogens. If you buy your dog food at a grocery store or big-box pet store, your dog’s immune support is most likely sadly deficient. The same is true of “prescription” or “science” formulas found in many vets’ offices. These foods are loaded with cheap fillers and even known carcinogens banned for use in human food, with one or two key ingredients to mask or suppress symptoms your dog is manifesting.

Even if you are feeding a quality food, a good multi-vitamin and -mineral supplement should be added, as well as digestive enzymes. The processing of dry food includes a heat process, which destroys the viabilty of enzymes and minimizes the integrity of essential vitamins and minerals. (If feeding raw and rotating meats, these supplements aren’t necessary.)

Another huge factor affecting immune support is vaccination. By giving all of the vaccines that Big Pharma dictates, we are lowering the immune function of our dogs. I’m not anti-vaccination; I’m anti-overvaccination. Bombarding the immune system with repeated combo vaccines throws it into disarray, compromising its ability to function appropriately (see I often wonder how many of the autoimmune issues and cancers we see in dogs are a direct result of this unnatural bombardment. Talk with your vet about a limited vaccine schedule using single vaccines.

Please do not allow your vet to vaccinate for Lyme. The Lyme vaccine was developed for use in humans, but was recalled after too many people suffered the symptoms of Lyme. So, as is the case when pharmaceutical companies spend oodles of money on things that are not approved by the FDA or later recalled, the vaccine was peddled to the veterinary community. Now, vets are seeing more Lyme in dogs who were vaccinated for it than in those who weren’t. There are a couple of reasons for this (see, but the bottom line is that the vaccine isn’t doing your dog any favors – just compromising the immune response. A far safer option is the Borrelia nosode.  Unlike the the Lyme vaccine, there have been no reported adverse reactions.  Connecticut vet Dr. Steve Tobin recommends a dosage of 60C once daily for one week, then once a week for a month, then once every 6 months. If your vet insists on the Lyme vaccine (as many still do), find another vet. Really.

With immune function as the basis, we can build on that during tick season by giving herbs which specifically combat Lyme and other spirochetal diseases. The easiest way is to make a strong tea and pour it over your dog’s dinner every night. Astragalus is an excellent choice during tick season, aiding the immune system. Cat’s Claw is another immunosupportive herb, especially useful in spirochetal disease and prevention, as it raises certain lymphocyte counts specific to Lyme. Japanese Knotweed is an important antispirochetal herb for use during tick season, shutting down the pathways in the body that spirochetes like to take. We’ll talk about these herbs in more depth in Part II; but here, we’re using the root, which is best decocted (or, simmered) to extract the full benefits. Some people like to make up a jar to store in the refrigerator for a few days, but if you don’t see yourself doing that, a strong tea is better than nothing.

In addition, add fresh, raw garlic to your dog’s dinner every night. Garlic contains hundreds of sulfur compounds, which parasites will not tolerate. Garlic supports almost every system in the body – especially the immune system – and acts as a natural antibiotic.

Many choose to apply topical flea & tick preventives like Frontline. While I understand the need to protect your dog against these parasites, chemical topicals are actually neurotoxins which are absorbed by the skin (“wear gloves when applying”). As such, they actually suppress the immune system because it’s so busy fighting against these invaders.  Kind of negates the action for which it was intended, and the reason so many dogs smeared with these toxins get ticks, anyway. Parasites love a weakened host because they’re an easier target. I prefer applying a natural spray before going into areas where ticks are likely to be present. Honestly, I don’t recommend most herbal bug sprays, because they usually just don’t work – especially for ticks. The only herbal ingredients I have found to be effective against ticks are Tea Tree oil and Neem. Tea Tree oil is very potent and must be used in small quantities (only a few drops per spray bottle). Tea Tree and Neem are pretty stinky, so I will add some Lavender and Rose Geranium to make the spray tolerable – as well as help deter other bugs. Generally, I’m not a huge fan of using essential oils at all with dogs – but tick season calls for special measures, and it sure beats chemical neurotoxins.

If your dog is bitten by a tick and you would like to take extra precaution, you can give the homeopathic Ledum at a dose of 1M, three times a day for three days. Dogs respond very well to Ledum, and there are no adverse effects, even  if there were no spirochetes transmitted by the tick.

Don’t let ticks keep you out of the woods!  Enjoy long and happy hikes with your dog.

Leave a comment

Filed under conditions

Kennel Cough

If you’ve ever had or heard a dog with kennel cough, you know the sound of the hacking cough that is its signature. While rarely life-threatening, the virus is airborne and spreads quickly in a closed environment of barking dogs (hence its name).  It is a viral infection caused by parainfluenza or canine adenovirus and is characterized by a dry, hacking cough. In fact, no other symptoms accompany the cough, such as phlegm or fever – just that raspy cough. If not treated properly, a secondary invasion may develop in the form of a bacterial infection (Bordatella bronchiseptica).  Bordatella then presents a more hoarse, moist, croupish cough.

Unless the infection has advanced to Bordatella, antibiotics are usually of little use here, and more an example of the overuse of antibiotics as dictated by the pharmaceutical companies. While indicated for Bordatella, please question your vet if (s)he prescribes antibiotics for kennel cough.

First- please give garlic!  Garlic fights infection better than any other single herb, and is specific to the respiratory tract, as the essential antibacterial and antiviral constituents found in garlic are excreted through the lungs. Give 1/4 bulb nightly for small dogs, 1/2 bulb for medium-sized dogs, and an entire bulb for large breeds.  Contrary to what you may have heard, garlic is not dangerous to dogs (unless fed in excessive quantities for extended periods); in fact, fresh, raw garlic may be beneficial to many dogs by assisting the immune system and helping to fight disease.

Any dog fighting an infection should be fasted and given vitamin supplements. The process of digestion takes a lot of energy, so when your dog is fighting off pathogens, allowing the body to use all of its resources for healing rather than digesting for a day is a good move.  Vitamins A, C, and E are most important in supporting the immune response, but you can also aid the immune system and healing process by giving a good whole-food multivitamin. Whole-food vitamins are better recognized and assimilated by the digestive system than synthetics (which are mostly just peed out), so spend your money wisely!

While I’m not usually one to suggest Echinacea, as it seems so overused now, this is one of the few conditions in dogs where it’s clearly indicated. Echinacea is effective in both viral and bacterial infections, and its action is specific to the upper respiratory tract. Though most effective when given at the first hint of symptoms (like the tickling in your throat before a cold comes on), dogs are more sensitive to the effects of herbs, and may respond well to its use.

More specific to bronchitis, Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) is primarily an expectorant and may relieve the rawness associated with an unproductive, spasmodic cough.  A nice companion to Coltsfoot may be Licorice Root (Glycyrrhica glabra), with its antiviral and antibacterial properties – along with its demulcent action to help soothe the trachea.  Other herbs to consider are Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), Goldenseal (Hydrastis spp – which is endangered, so Oregon Grape Root [Mahoma aquifolium] is a good substitute), and Lobelia (Lobelia inflata).

Dogs with any form of respiratory infection should spend as much time as possible outside. Breathing fresh air is key in clearing respiration, and our dogs spend so much time indoors, now.

Of course, feeding a quality diet, adding garlic and whole-food vitamins, and ensuring lots of outdoor activity will help to prevent a health condition, to begin with!

Happy and healthy dogs to all.

Leave a comment

Filed under conditions