Catherine McDowell = McDowell's Herbal Treatments 


Dogs, being primarily carnivores have a much shorter and faster digestive tract. Dogs don’t usually eat weeds except for grass when they feel a little unwell. How can we assume that they will respond to herbal medicines in the same way as say Horses, or even Humans?


The Dog is a scavenger and hunter

The herbivore has a long slow Gastro-Intestinal Tract (G.I.T.) designed to extract nutrients from a large bulk of difficult to process plant material. The cow even has several stages of chewing in its chemical factory. A dog, on the other hand, has a short and fast digestive system designed to quickly extract nutrients from flesh and other animal products.

The herbivore spends most of its time grazing, protecting itself with its bulk and its herding instincts. The carnivore spends only a small proportion of its time eating. It is designed to be able to go for long periods without food and it must be able to be on the move all the time.

Dogs, of course, do live off herbs and plants in the final analysis. It is just that most often some other animal has digested them first. We do see dogs favouring the partly digested stomach contents of their prey and in the wild, this would be their primary source of plants and grains. We do occasionally see a dog eating fresh plant material but this is usually for a very specific purpose and in response to an instinctive need to treat an immediate health problem.

A herbivore depends on the digestive system, which is very stable. The animal chooses almost every mouthful, with a view to maintaining stability within the chemical factory, which is its gut.

All its instincts are tuned to this task. The changes, which occur in the feed available, are slow changes. The available feed varies week by week with the passage of the seasons and the weather so the gut is able to adapt slowly to these changes.

The carnivore, on the other hand, eats irregularly and mostly has very little choice. It eats whatever it can get.

This can be the fresh raw flesh or stomach contents of a warm-blooded animal, a rotting carcass or long-dead bones, the faeces of another animal or at a pinch, fallen fruit or nuts, insects or whatever else it comes across.


Dogs, (and humans) can gulp their food.

One facility of the dog's digestive system is that it can gulp a large amount of food quickly due to danger or to competition.

However, for ideal health and whenever circumstances permit, it shouldn't. We all know a dog would rather spend a whole afternoon under a bush somewhere, salivating and chewing on a bone or a bit of dried up meat and skin. (Not the sort of thing you want happening on your living room carpet.)

The dog puts into its gut whatever it can, and then adapts its digestion to make the best of it.

For most of the time, the stomach of a dog should be empty, waiting to see what will be next on the menu.


Dogs are beginning to get Digestive Complaints

As a herbalist, I am finding myself using all those herbs which I routinely use for digestion problems in both humans and horses. Now it seems that dogs are experiencing more and more the issues of IBS and leaky gut. Herbs such as Chamomile and Slippery Elm I am now prescribing far more routinely to those animals that have been affected by antibiotic therapy or other medications routinely prescribed.


Most dogs health problems are dietary

Just about all the conditions I routinely treat domestic dogs for are derived from the effects of overeating, poor diet, inappropriate exercise, stress and confinement and medication.

In the case of racing and show dogs, we can add supplement abuse to this list.

This abuse of the frequency, variability and quality of feed does produce severe health problems in dogs from premature arthritic problems in their youth, skin and obesity in middle age, and an increasing variety of cancers which are rare in other animal species and probably almost unknown in the wild.

When treating a dog I always first have to consider the effects of their diet. If their diet has not been one based on raw meat and bones, if it has not had the benefit of variability of a raw or partially raw diet as discussed by the BARF principals then this is where you begin.

The two most common effects of our dogs diet and lifestyle are blood toxicity and minerals balance problems. It is these two basic areas from which most of the health problems I treat are derived.


Blood Cleansing

The results of denying the dog its natural rhythm of eating and its natural variety of input can be seen primarily as blood toxicity. The dog's metabolism functions by absorbing nutrients as fast as it can into the system and then spending the fasting times, when there is nothing in the gut, utilizing and rationalizing all these nutrients and clearing toxins from the system.

With regular and rather complex meals, little variety, little exercise and no fasting at all, the dog's system becomes toxic and most of my canine herbal treatments are heavily dependent on a class of herbs called alteratives.

Alternatives are blood cleansers and are usually high in Iron or Sulphur and they are tonic in their effect. They assist the primary systems in the body to dispose of waste products. This is to say they stimulate the blood quality through the


Liver, the Lymph and the Kidneys

The most common the these which find their way into my treatments are Garlic, Liquorice, Rosehips, Dandelion, Echinacea, Red Clover, Violet Leaves, Parsley, Yarrow, Nettle, Fenugreek and Horsetail.

The main illnesses which I believe to directly result from blood toxicity problems are skin problems and cancers involving the lymphatic system (Lymphomas). My standard preventative and curative treatments, which involve some of the blood cleansing herbs above are:

Do your dog a favour

If your dog's health is not as good as it should be, first change its diet and feed it once only a day with raw meaty bones and with cooked up grains, vegetables and greens. In addition, fast your dog a couple of days each week. Give it no commercial dog food at all and keep this program up for a month.

At the end of this month on the new diet, look at the dog's coat and its eye, look at its vitality and ask yourself how it is feeling. If you have to admit that it looks and feels great, you can be sure you have made a big step toward better health and life quality.

If some health problems still persist you should then consider professional help from a vet or herbalist to identify and correct the underlying factors responsible for these problems

As a full time practising Herbalist for both animals and people, my experience tells me that dogs respond to the herbs in the same way as people do – and what is wonderful is that they don’t have their thinking process getting in the way of their recovery!

The 1:1 extracts that I manufacture here at our premises mimic a pre-digested plant. Cold percolation of Herbs into extracts enables most plant bioflavonoids, sterols, vitamins and enzymes to be preserved – all beautifully biologically ready to be taken up via the digestive process. 

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