Herbs for digestive problems in dogs

Digestive problems are common in dogs. Take a look at how herbs can help resolve these issues.

Anyone who shares their life with a dog will sooner or later have to deal with a bout of diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, bladder stones or other digestive problem. Used properly, herbs can gently support the body and ease the symptoms of these conditions so that deeper healing can happen.

Digestive problems

• A main function of the digestive system is to absorb nutrients. When the mucosa malfunctions, too much water pours into the gut (some water is needed). Causes of diarrhea or vomiting can range from eating something that disagreed with the dog, to over-eating, emotional stress or a chronic, persistent problem often diagnosed as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

Diarrhea or vomiting is often useful, ridding the body of toxins, and is part of the healing process. Conventionally, our goal is to quickly stop the symptoms. Holistically, however, we want the body to continue cleansing, so we start with gentler, supportive herbs and lots of towels to clean up. If symptoms persist, or cause distress, then stronger astringent herbs can be used. Often you can begin with fasting, maybe with some honey/lemon juice, until the bad odor is resolved. Then give the dog apple juice, followed by herbs as needed.

A major concern with vomiting, if you have a dog with a deep chest, is bloat. A blockage can also cause these symptoms. See your veterinarian without delay if you suspect something serious.

• Constipation can usually be treated at home, unless the dog has been straining for several days. This could indicate a blockage. Colic, burping, passing gas and trapped gas often have similar causes and can usually be treated at home unless bloat is present.

In short, as long as your dog has an appetite, is active, and does not have a fever (the normal temperature for healthy dogs is 100°F to 101.5°F), you can try some homecare treatments, including herbs.

Urinary problems

Common urinary problems include stones and cystitis. The kidneys eliminate toxins from the body. Weakness in the liver, skin, intestines or circulatory system can overwork the kidneys or cause inflammation or stones in the bladder. Feeding your dog the best possible diet, along with building general health and reducing toxins, is the best way to prevent kidney and bladder issues.

Symptoms include urinating or drinking more frequently. The dog may lick his genitals more. Straining is common. If no urine has passed (not even a drop) in 24 hours, or there is extreme discomfort, lethargy or vomiting, take your dog to a veterinary clinic as soon as possible. The same applies if your holistic treatments result in little to no improvement within a few days.

Using herbs

Some herbs are so safe – parsley, burdock, nettle and dandelion – that they can be given as nutrition every day. Others can be toxic in large doses, or so strong – like slippery elm – that they should be used only short term. Being a whole plant, herbs help the whole body heal. Luckily, most dogs love to eat herbs, especially if given in a nice treat. Tinctures, teas and powders can be given in food, although pills should be given on an empty stomach. Many herbs work well in combination.

Herbalist Matthew Wood recommends living with one herb a year to really learn all about each one, taking them in each season and noting their effects on you. If you have found certain herbs to be healing for yourself, consider them for your dog. Humans and canines often need similar treatments.

How do they work?

Understanding the way different herbs work will help you choose them for your dog. It will also help you evaluate herbal combination products.

• Demulcents have mucilaginous properties and are the very first to reach for because they soothe and coat the bladder or intestinal walls. They can help stools pass when the dog is constipated.

I think every house should have marshmallow root powder. Plantain (Plantago) is a common “weed” that has many healing properties (it regulates the immune system, too), though it is less mucilaginous and has higher astringency than others in this category. Licorice root should not be given concurrently with conventional drugs.

Even when vomiting is the only symptom, a demulcent would be good, along with ginger, peppermint and thyme.

Astringents are needed for diarrhea and cystitis. The tannins “shrink up” the mucus membranes so they are healthier. The gentlest ones to reach for first include chamomile, raspberry leaf, slippery elm, plantain, cranberry, nettle, shepherd’s purse, cornsilk and couchgrass. The stronger ones for cystitis include uva ursi, horsetail (for bladder bleeding) and yarrow.

Anti-microbial herbs such as goldenseal, Oregon grape root, cranberry, Echinacea or mullein can be added in if you have been told that bacteria are present.

Anti-inflammatory herbs include dandelion, goldenseal, mullein, chamomile, cranberry, Echinacea (which also helps the immune system), licorice, cornsilk, myrrh, uva ursi and Oregon grape.

Soothing herbs include aloe vera (use the drinkable gel or squeeze it from a plant), calendula, chamomile, boswellia (also aids the liver) and mullein.

Anti-spasmodic herbs or carminatives like chamomile, cramp bark, peppermint, fennel, myrrh and thyme (which is antifungal and also aids in digestion) can help ease the discomfort causes by muscle or gas spasms.

Used wisely, herbs offer a gentle alternative to conventional medications. Next time your dog develops one of these digestive problems, consider herbal remedies to help heal him.


Veterinarian Dr. Christina Chambreau graduated from the University of Georgia Veterinary College in 1980. She is a founder of the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy, was on the faculty of the National Center for Homeopathic Summer School and has been the holistic modality adjunct faculty liaison for the Maryland Veterinary Technician Program. Dr. Chambreau is author of Healthy Animal’s Journal, co-author of the Homeopathic Repertory: A Tutorial, and former Associate Editor of IVC Journal.