Nature's Offerings - by Dr Clare Middle

Many people do not realise how many herbs, vegies, fruit and even "weeds" contain useful nutrients and treatments to benefit your pet. Such a simple and practical relationship with nature's abundance can be both enjoyable and beneficial.

When pet owners see how much healthier and more peaceful their animals can become on the right natural diet, they come to appreciate that vegetables, fruit and herbs contain essential nutrients that can be hard to identify and duplicate with supplements and medications. Somehow, the body digests and uses the nutrients in real food more easily than in processed, tinned or dried pet food or in pharmaceutical preparations.

Here are a few examples of what I mean. The antioxidant lycopene which is essential for elderly male humans and dogs with prostate enlargement, is found plentifully in watermelon and cooked tomatoes (and red wine for the humans!). Another prime treatment for the same condition is Saw Palmetto, found in ground pumpkin seeds. Add to these the beta carotene from pumpkin, sweet potato or carrot, and we can expect a much healthier prostate gland.

For the girls, beetroot and broccoli have been shown to reduce the chance of breast cancer.

Common culinary herbs most of us have in the kitchen or garden can help significantly with many common pet ailments. Many cat owners are aware of the common tendency for older cats to suffer from kidney degeneration. I see the best results when cats with kidney disease are given as natural a diet as possible - ideally raw chicken, fish or rabbit, cheese, egg, vegies, very limited good quality dried cat food, and herbs, as well as any conventional treatments which have been found to be helpful.

Useful and available herbs for kidney disease are parsley and couch grass. Make sure you have not sprayed chemicals or wetting agents on the grass before picking the newest sprigs. If your cat likes them, cut these herbs up well and pulverise or blend, and soak in a little boiling water to extract the active ingredients. A tiny pinch or a few drops in the main meal of the day long-term can help keep up appetite, weight and energy. (A qualified herbalist or holistic vet can give you a list of other helpful herbs.)

Many older dogs suffer from arthritis. There are many therapies available to ease the pain and stiffness, including acupuncture, chiropractic, Bowen, massage, and homoeopathy. A diet change is also often useful, away from processed, tinned and dried food, to more raw meaty bones, vegies, fruit, low fat yoghurt or cheese, and kelp and fish.

Added to this, glucosamine, chondoitin, green lipped muscle and other 'building blocks' of joint tissue can be very beneficial, but don't forget nature's original and best glucosamine supplement - raw bones.

Herbs you can add to the main meal of your arthritic best friend, include a large pinch of turmeric (now the main constituent of several well researched anti-inflammatory tablets for humans) and ginger, either fresh or dried, especially if the dog seems more stiff and in pain in colder weather. Many of the other Eastern curry herbs such as cumin, cayenne, black pepper and coriander, are also therapeutic Ayurvedic herbs and can have beneficial effects on pain and inflammation. Try making a bit of extra Thai curry for the dog!

Other anti-inflammatory herbs you may have growing in your garden are dandelion leaf and nettle leaf. Pour a little boiling water onto the macerated leaves and soak for a few hours, before adding a few drops to the dog's food, or just stir fry and add to food. The nettle does not sting after heating, and is a popular Chinese stir fry vegetable. Nettle as a food can help relieve itchy skin.

Plenty of different vegies in the diet of overweight, arthritic animals can help them lose weight, another big way to help overcome pain and stiffness. In summer, and especially if your dog doesn't feel the cold much, fruit can be a good addition to the diet too, but only if she likes it. In Chinese medicine, fruit and salad are 'cooling' foods, so don't overdo them with animals that are worse in cold weather, or feel the cold easily. Cooked vegies are good warming foods for pets who feel the cold, or whose symptoms get worse in the cold.

Never try and force your pet to eat things they hate - they normally have some sense of which herbs are beneficial to them.

Itchy, inflamed skin can benefit from bathing in a strong tea made from soaking lavender leaves/flowers and chamomile plant or tea bags in boiling water and leaving to cool, then using as a lotion or bath. Add a pinch of salt and of bicarb of soda if you have them.

Many young animals suffer badly from travel sickness in the car. This is often easily fixed by adding a small pinch of ginger to a small meal prior to travelling. If you have it, add a small pinch of soaked peppermint leaves, too, or some peppermint tea. Better still, if you have peppermint essential oil, put one drop onto the pet's collar or onto the car air freshener dangle. (Don't overdo it, or you will hate the smell of peppermint for a long time to come!)

Moving to the other end of the animal, mild diarrhoea can be treated with a pinch of psyllium husks and slippery elm bark with each meal. To begin with, a 24 hour fast, with plenty of plain water available, is the best treatment for otherwise healthy, adult animals. For most animals with this ailment, the best food to then give is well boiled white rice, cooked chicken meat (no skin or bone), and mashed pumpkin or sweet potato, then add in the moistened, powdered herbs.

Generally, dogs will refuse herbs that are not beneficial to them. But even if they like them, don't exceed the amounts proportional to body weight that humans would have in their food, and provide plenty of variety and change. Also remember that too much onion and garlic, especially if raw, can cause anaemia in some animals.

It is always a good idea to consult your holistic vet or qualified herbalist when using any new herb or diet for more than about a month.
Happy healing with nature's abundance!

Dr Clare Middle BVMS CVA DipHom is a holistic veterinarian in Bibra Lake, WA.
She is happy to answer your questions on animal health. Please email editorial@novazine.com.au