In theory dogs can eat just about anything, but whether what they eat is safe and non-toxic is another matter. Thankfully when it comes to herbs, most can be eaten by dogs safely. But, please don’t now go and loads your dog’s bowl up with them… you could make your dog ill.
I’ve written the guide below which explains what herbs can dogs have, and what to be aware of to not put your dog at risk. As with anything related to feeding your dog, always check with your vet before letting your pet eat herbs.
What herbs can dogs have?
Few of the plants that are toxic to dogs, can be classified as herbs. Dogs can eat most herbs that humans eat, but in moderation.
However, if your dog is on medication, about to go into surgery, or is nursing or pregnant, it is best to consult a veterinarian, preferably one who understands herbs or holistic medicines.
Here’s my view on the herbs dogs can eat safely, but before you feed them, always check with your vet.
1. Turmeric herb
You can add the turmeric herb to the list of herbs dogs can have. This yellow spice will add a warming color and an earthy-yet-flavorful seasoning and taste to your dog’s food.
When people ask me what herbs dogs can have on chicken, this is my “go to” flavor.
Along with its fantastic flavor, sprinkling a small quantity of turmeric herb powder into your dog’s diet can make a huge difference in your canine friend’s well-being and even lifespan.
Turmeric powder has a natural compound known as curcumin. Some researchers call it “cure-cumin” because of its endless body-healing benefits. In fact, in small doses, turmeric is said to have positive impacts on dog’s health – here’s a research study.
In dogs, the curcumin in turmeric herb fights off conditions such as arthritis, cancer, kidney disease, liver disease, and gastrointestinal complications. The study I linked to would also suggest that this seasoning dogs can have could support healthy joint mobility and comfort.
Curcumin has also been said has a calming effect on dogs that struggle with anxiety.
As with any herb let your dog eat, keep the quantity very small and check with a vet first.
2. Basil herb
Basil is another herb dogs can eat safely. I believe that basil has the perfect balance of sweet and peppery and adds an enticing flavor to any dog bowl.
You can chop a few washed fresh basil leaves and mix them with your dog’s kibble. Or add basil powder when cooking your dog’s food or treat (they will love it).
You could even make a dog pesto – but don’t add garlic. Garlic is toxic to dogs.
But is the basil herb healthy for dogs?
It’s a resounding yes from me. The basil herb is said to help reduce joint problems in dogs, improves their overall mood by lowering anxiety levels, strengthens immunity, and prevents diseases like diabetes.
Basil is also full of anti-cancer agents that could stop the spread of cancer cells.
3. Rosemary herb
Other herbs dogs can eat includes rosemary. Rosemary’s powerful aroma and sharp, earthy flavor go a long way in making a dog’s meal appetizing. Some will add it to improve the taste of water if their dog refuses to drink from his bowl.
In fact, the rosemary herb is used in many commercial dog foods as a natural preservative, so there’s no harm in adding a small amount of rosemary powder, or a few rosemary leaves to your canine pal’s diet.
This dog-safe seasoning can help with digestive issues in dogs, fights infections, and boosts a dog’s mood and energy.
Rosemary is also said to contain anti-cancer properties and has Carnosic acid that prevents brain damage and heart diseases in dogs.
4. Dill herb
To really add herby seasoning to a dog’s food, try dill. Whilst you might know it as being used to season fish and cucumber dishes, dill can also give your dog’s food a zesty flavor.
As with other herbs dogs can eat, you can use fresh dill leaves or a minimal amount of dill powder in your canine friend’s meals.
Dill seasoning helps relieve gas and other tummy discomfort problems in dogs. It contains plenty of nutrients, can treat bad breath, keeps their organs healthy and minimizes arthritis symptoms.
Dill is also said help eliminate free radicals so might have cancer-fighting properties.
Herbs in various forms and their effect on dogs
If you are an enthusiastic gardener, you may have a go at growing your own herbs. If you are growing them to eat, the leaves will be fine for your pets too. Presumably, if they are for your consumption, you will not be applying pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides to them.
Almost all herbs, if consumed in large quantities are going to cause a digestive reaction in your dog, such as diarrhea or vomiting. If your dog shows these symptoms, and large portions of your basil bush or parsley plant are missing, try to keep the dog away from them.
There are very few fresh herbs that have possible negative side effects. Comfrey can be taken as an anti-inflammatory, for short periods and in small doses.
In the long term, and in large quantities, it will cause liver damage. Chamomile is a mild sedative and a remedy for rheumatic pain. It can be an irritant if eaten in large doses.
The best dried herbs for human and canine consumption are those that are grown organically, without any artificial fertilisers or pesticides. Dried herbs are easier to manage with respect to your dog’s food, as you can control the quantities consumed.
These are extracted from herbs in the form of concentrated chemical compounds. They are far more powerful than the original plants. For example, it takes one kilogram of lavender plants to make 10 ml of essential oil.
Because of their concentration, as a rule, these should be treated as toxic for your dog to ingest. Most should be used externally, while making sure that the dog cannot lick them.
Also, monitor your dog for any adverse skin reactions.
Alternatively, they can be diluted for consumption. For the final word, consult a veterinarian that understands herbal properties.
Even as a fragrant application, essential oils will probably be overwhelming. A dog’s sense of smell is exponentially more powerful than ours. Whereas a drop of lavender on our pillows could lull as off to sleep, the same will assault your dog’s senses.
Unfortunately, not all herbal supplements are created equal, and it cannot be assumed that they always provide health benefits. The herbal industry is growing and becoming more lucrative, which attracts a constant stream of newcomers.
Unlike the drug industry, the herbal supplement market remains largely unregulated. This is especially true of products that are imported from other countries. Some older herbal products have been known to contain toxic herbal extracts, such as strychnine!
Supplements may not be organic but made from plants that have been sprayed with chemicals, to ensure a successful harvest. It may even be a shock to learn that they are not always entirely plant based.
Some of the products are bulked up with grain and diverse animal products.
It is not always clear what part of the plant is being used. Whereas the leaves of most herbs are fine when consumed, this is not always true of the seeds, the roots, or other parts of the plant.
Tests have shown that dosages may vary greatly from batch to batch of mass-produced products. The amount ingested may be small enough to be ineffective, or large enough to be of harm.
It is also not always stated whether pharmaceuticals have been add to the supplement or not. The active ingredient that is curing your dog’s arthritis may be a drug and not a herb at all.
If the supplement is in tablet or capsule form, will it survive your dog’s highly acidic stomach juices? It needs to be robust enough to make it to the small intestine.
If your dog is on other treatments, or is about to undergo surgery, be extra cautious about giving it herbal supplements, until you understand the possible interaction between the herbs and the medication taken.
Herbs and your dog’s digestive system
Although dogs are classified as omnivores, they have little need for carbohydrates. Most of their energy requirements are extracted, by their digestive systems, from proteins and fats.
Unlike in humans, digestion does not start in the mouth. Dogs sometimes swallow food without seeming to chew it. Saliva is just there to lubricate their throats as it goes down.
If necessary, they will regurgitate the food and eat it again.
This often happens if they have eaten too quickly or too much at once.
It will take a hardy herb to make it past a dog’s stomach. The hydrochloric acid in there is at a pH level of around 2, which is way more acidic than humans. It is designed primarily to metabolise meat, bones and fat.
Food stays in the stomach twice as long as it would in a human. The stomach acts as a food reservoir, and if needed, energy can be released to the body at this stage of the digestive process.
The short intestine is much shorter than that of a human. Bile is activated to process fat and insulin from the pancreas deals with the carbohydrates. Any remaining nutrients are extracted. The processing time for food in a dog’s short intestine is about a quarter that of a human.
Undigested fibres, especially those from grains, make their way into the large intestine. No further digestion takes place therefore no more nutrients are extracted. The mechanism is designed for a speedy exit.
If the dog has any problems eliminating the waste, it will start to ferment and produce gas. If the gas cannot be released, the dog will be uncomfortable. If it is released, everyone in a five meter radius will be gasping for fresh air.
Human food that is harmful to your dog
Some substances that make it through the digestive system can cause your dog harm. Of the food eaten by humans, there are five that are particularly harmful. None of them can strictly be classified as herbs. These are:
- Grapes and raisins: The toxic ingredient is thought to be tartaric acid, which causes renal problems, and possible failure.
- Anything in the onion family, e.g. leeks, shallots, chives, garlic: These cause a break down in red blood cells and can cause anaemia.
- Cocoa and chocolate: These contain caffeine and methylxanthines, both of which are detrimental to your dog. One ounce (28g) of chocolate per kilogram of body weight could be fatal for your dog. Smaller dogs are at greater risk than large dogs, because of this weight ratio.
- Xylitol: Doses greater than 0.1 gram (100 mg) per kilogram of your dog’s weight are considered toxic. A single stick of sugar free gum could contain 1 gram of xylitol, enough to poison a 10 kg dog. It is quickly absorbed into the dog’s bloodstream and produces a massive spike in insulin, which causes the dog’s blood sugar to drop rapidly. Once again, smaller dogs are at greater risk.
- Alcohol, beer and raw yeast: These substances produce ethanol, and can give your dog alcohol poisoning.
Dogs can eat most herbs. There are a few I don’t recommend though including mint, oregano, and parsley – the reasons why are outlined in this blog post.
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