Like people, animals feel the cold and their immune systems are put under pressure by cold weather. There are skin complaints, joint inflammation and arthritis that can flare up as well, especially in older animals. Besides being kept warm, cats and dogs, even birds, can benefit from healthy herbal tonics added to their food and drinking water. Using herbs for pets to ease digestive problems and expel worms are other ways to help to maintain a pet’s general level of health, while herbal washes keep coats and skin healthy. (It is always important to stress that herbal treatments should never replace a visit to the vet.)
According to Mary Wulff-Tilford and Gregory Tilford, authors of Herbs for Pets (Bowtie Press), the greatest healing potential of herbs lies not as an alternative to conventional drugs but as a support for the body’s natural healing mechanisms. Even though the actions of herbs are generally weaker and gentler than most conventional drugs, they still “demand respect”, say the Tilfords. More is not better, and recommended applications should be adhered to. Breaking the cycle of use for a day or a week before resuming it can act as a safety measure too.
Things To Keep In Mind When Using Herbs For Pets
- Herbs have a slower action than most drugs.
- Don’t expect miracles: if a herb is used as a replacement for a conventional treatment, do not expect it to perform better than the treatment. It is about the depth of cure.
- If herbs are used to relieve symptoms like conjunctivitis or itching, do not expect it to be a cure. The underlying cause of the problems needs to be discovered and treated for a long-lasting cure. Parsley, thyme, calendula, catnip, catmint and pet grass are herbs that will benefit your pets at this time of year.
Parsley – Tonic Herb For Good Health
Even if a pet has no problems, a weekly dose of one tonic or culinary herb helps maintain a good level of health. Parsley is one such tonic herb for pets, and it can also help to relieve arthritis and inflammation.
How to use: Finely chop fresh parsley leaves and sprinkle it in small amounts over the dog’s food or add it to the gravy. This provides a small amount of the herb in its entirety and is likely to enhance body’s balance yet does not contain enough active chemical substances to be toxic.
Alternatively, make a mild herb tea using between 1 teaspoon and 1 tablespoon of freshly chopped parsley with 1 cup of boiled water. Let the tea cool to room temperature and pour it over the food.
Good to know: Cats may find the herb tea more palatable if it is combined with a chicken stock. A small amount could also be mixed into strong-smelling fish and given as a weekly treat.
How to grow: Parsley needs at least four hours of sun a day, and deep, fertile soil that drains well. Fertilise monthly and water regularly. The soil should never dry out completely. Do not plant with mint.
Thyme – All-Round Tonic And Healing Herb
Thyme is an essential herb for pets that is good for pets in many different ways. As a tonic herb and food supplement, it helps maintain vitality, fights infection and relieves digestive problems. For animals with persistent skin problems, it can be given as herbal support in conjunction with veterinary treatment. It supports the body to find a cure for itself naturally. Finally, thyme added to food will minimise the population of worms and parasites.
How to use: Finely chop fresh thyme and cook it with the food. Even if the diet consists mainly of biscuits, a side dish of cooked chicken, rice and gravy will usually be gobbled up. Thyme is a robust herb that stands up to long cooking and the taste mellows considerably, so it will be more palatable to your pet.
Alternatively, an infusion can also be added to the drinking water. Thyme’s volatile oil is strongly antiseptic and anti-fungal so it can be used externally as well. For skin problems, spray an infusion onto the skin or add the essential oil to aqueous cream and rub on as a salve. Thyme is also good for caged birds. Add fresh or dried thyme to their food to supply nutrients and improve their health. Like other domestic pets, birds need to get used to the new ingredients. Slowly add the herb to the food so that the bird develops a taste for it.
How to grow: Thyme likes full sun and ordinary, well-composted garden soil that drains well. It grows well in pots but needs regular watering and fertilising. Pick or prune regularly to keep plants bushy and to prevent them from becoming woody.
Calendula – For Infections And Wounds
The petals of calendula have anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties and can be used to soothe itchy skin or a pet’s sore eyes. The bacteria-fighting properties of the calendula petals, as well as a mild astringency, help to reduce the irritation.
How to use: Make an eye wash from a strong infusion of calendula petals. Use the cooled infusion to treat a mild eye infection or mild conjunctivitis, usually indicated by weepy eyes. It is a good idea to strain the infusion through muslin or gauze to make sure there is no pollen. Wipe the eyes with cotton wool dipped in the infusion or use a dropper to apply it to the eyes. The infusion can also be used as a skin wash for inflammations caused by flea bites, poison ivy or eczema.
How to grow: Calendula is a compact bedding plant, growing about 20cm high with bright yellow or orange flowers. Grow in full sun in soil that is enriched with compost before planting. Pinch out the tops to stop the plants becoming straggly, and remove dead flowers to encourage more blooms. Plants flower from the middle of winter into spring. Harvest the flowers when they are in full bloom.
Cat Grass – Digestive And Purgative
Cat grass helps regular bowel movements and digestive problems because it can prompt vomiting, which clears the stomach of fur, feathers or bones that may irritate the digestive tract.
How to use: Grow this grass in pots for cats and dogs to chew on. For cats kept indoors, grow it as a houseplant.
How to grow: This cool-season perennial grass with grey-green leaves grows into a dense tussock about 20cm tall. It tolerates all kinds of soil and is drought tolerant. It can be invasive and is best grown in containers.
Catnip – The Happy ‘Pill’ For Cats
Catnip is the biggest treat you can give adult cats. When they sniff, lick, rub or roll on the leaves, it releases aromatic oils that produce a euphoric effect, or a calming effect. In its way, it is an excellent tonic for cats. It is not addictive, and the green leaves are good for them. Catnip acts as a flea and tick repellent for dogs, too.
How to use: Cats respond to both fresh and dried leaves. Train a cat to use a scratching post by rubbing catnip on the post. Also use it when introducing a cat to a new environment or when you put it in a cat carrier to transport it to the vet. Dried catnip can be used in sachets and cat toys to encourage the cats to play. To repel fleas in dogs, put some sprigs under the dog’s blankets and rub fresh sprigs over your dog’s coat after it has been walking in the bush. A strong infusion of catnip (about 3 cups) can be added to the rinsing water after the dog has been bathed.
How to grow: Catnip is a hardy perennial belonging to the mint family, and grows up to 1m high, with serrated dark green leaves and an antiseptic mint scent. Plants do best in full sun and in moist, fertile soil. It’s best to grow plants out of reach of cats, either in a hanging basket or a regular container with a cage over it. That’s because cats tend to roll on it.
Dog Grass – Mineral Supplement
Dog grass is also known as prairie cordgrass and acts as a mineral supplement for dogs.
How to use: Grow it in pots and keep it as a healthy snack close to the dogs’ food and water dishes or near their bedding.
How to grow: This grass is a tall-growing evergreen perennial that does well in fertile composted soil that is well watered.
Catmint – Digestive And Mood Enhancer
Catmint also attracts the attention of cats, and it can energise them, but not to the same extent as catnip. Its value is more as a herb that aids digestion.
How to use: Allow the cats to ‘self-medicate’ by nibbling on the fresh leaves or pick sprigs and scatter it for them to roll on.
How to grow: Catmint is a beautiful garden plant with aromatic grey leaves and spikes of mauve flowers that attract bees. It does best in full sun, in moist, fertile soil that drains well. Trim it regularly (for the use of cats) and to keep it in shape. It may die down in cold areas but will sprout again in spring.
This information was supplied by Lonehill Media, publishers of The Gardener and Die Tuinier magazines. For more gardening tips and advice, visit www.thegardener.co.za
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