Is something that's 'natural' always 'safe'?
It is an assumption often made that when something is natural, it's always beneficial. This is not the case. For example, poison ivy is a plant growing as Mother Nature intended, but no one would use it as a skin tincture. The same holds true for other herbs, even medicinal ones.
Indeed, think about it logically. Medicinal herbs affect the body, in a similar way to drugs. It therefore stands to reason that they can have bad effects as well as good. To illustrate this, let's take a look at some popular herbal remedies and their downsides.
#1: When Herbs are Harmful
Herbs need to be treated with respect. Before dosing your dog, it's always best to consult a holistic veterinarian. This is especially important if your fur friend is already taking medication or has an underlying health issue.
Here are some examples of harmful herbs:
Tea tree oil: 100% tea tree oil is extremely toxic! When licked and ingested it can cause liver failure, seizures, lack of coordination, and severe gastric upsets. It is best avoided in small dogs altogether, and for bigger dogs diluting one part tea tree oil to 100-200 parts of carrier oil is essential for safety.
Wormwood: Sounds so tempting doesn't it: 'A safe natural remedy for heartworm'. The trouble is, at a dose high enough to kills worms, wormwood is toxic to dogs, and at too low a dose its ineffective against worms. This means the safe zone where worms die but the dog is unharmed, is very slim. The active ingredient is thujone, which is recorded as causing seizures in rats at relatively low doses.
Pennyroyal: On the plus side, this pennyroyal is an effective insecticide, but on the minus, it's toxic to your pet. The active component is pulegone, and its use is be avoided in dogs. In one documented case, a small dog developed symptoms within one hour of one application to repel fleas, and subsequently died.
#2: Side Effects and Signs
For every up, there is potentially a down. Take wormwood as an example of a dilemma. It is safe at a low dosage, but then the effectiveness drops off. This risks exposing your pet to a potentially deadly parasite, heartworm, when there are other highly effective preventative options available. Would you want to take that risk?
Here are some of the potential side effects associated with herbal remedies.
Tea tree oil: Liver failure, seizures, severe sickness and diarrhea
Wormwood: Seizures, liver failure, kidney damage.
Pennyroyal: Bleeding from the nose, coughing up blood, disorientation, sickness, diarrhea, seizures, coma, death
Even foodstuffs such as garlic, come with some risks attached. Garlic is often given to relieve respiratory issues or as a dewormer; small doses are usually not problematic. However, larger doses are linked to nausea, drooling due to oral irritation, sickness and diarrhea, racing heart, rapid respiration, anemia, weakness, and collapse
Hence, why it's so important to be aware that 'natural' isn't always 'safe'.
#3: Complications and Considerations
Do you take aspirin? When our distant ancestors had toothache they chewed on willow bark. Indeed, it is the salicylic acid found in willow bark from which aspirin is derived. However, aspirin isn't safe under all circumstances, which is a salient point to remember when considering an herbal remedy for your dog.
Even when an herb is safe, there is the potential for it to cause complications with other treatments or medications, or worsen existing health conditions. Again, take willow bark and aspirin. This must not be combined with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as this could result in serious gastric ulceration.
If your dog takes medications such as those listed below, it is essential to speak to your vet before dosing with any herbal remedy:
And finally, Many traditional herbal remedies have been used down the ages, precisely because they are effective. However, be aware that in modern times we use more medications with the potential for interactions, and back then life expectancy was shorter (so herbs were never a magic 'cure all').
It is every pet parent’s responsibility to choose wisely what treatments their dog is given. So be be aware even natural herbs can be harmful and think before reaching for that herbal remedy.