Tasty Ways to Supercharge Your Dog's Diet Using Herbs & Spices
Herbs and spice, and everything nice! Did you know that you can supercharge your dog's diet by feeding many of the same herbs and spices that humans also love? Herbs and spices have been used for thousands of years for their medicinal properties and to enhance the flavour of food.
In their natural environments, most mammals eat a diet that contains a huge amount of variety and I recommend feeding your dog a wide variety of food where possible. Herbs and spices are packed with disease fighting antioxidants thanks to their high polyphenol content; each one has the potential to assist the body in restoring and maintaining good health. Dog-friendly fresh herbs and spices are an easy way to nutritionally boost your dog's meals by increasing variety while feeding phytonutrient rich foods that fight inflammation - all without adding extra calories.
"Many popular herbs and spices - coriander, dill, oregano, parsley... cinnamon, ginger... and tumeric - are rich in polyphenols that can thwart both cancer and cardiovascular disease... neither cooking nor digestion diminishes the antioxidant or anti-inflammatory activities of herbs or spices" - Fred Provenza, Nourishment: What Animals Can Teach Us About Rediscovering Our Nutritional Wisdom
I like making things as easy as possible when it comes to feeding fresh food to dogs. While there are hundreds of herbs and spices that are safe and beneficial to dogs, I'm going to focus on some common fresh culinary herbs and spices you can easily find in grocery stores, or even grow yourself. Chances are, these are herbs and spices you already use.
My Favourite Fresh Herbs and Spices for Dogs
Parsley - Parsley is much more than just a pretty plate garnish. It's rich in antioxidants and it's a fantastic source of chlorophyll which helps to detoxify the liver. Use parsley to freshen breath and soothe the stomach. Parsley is also a mild diuretic and may help support kidney and urinary tract function. Special Note: Parsley is high in oxalate and should be avoided by dogs who need a low oxalate diet. Do not feed 'spring parsley'.
Dill - Dill is a member of the parsley family and is a popular and tasty herb to add to dishes - your own and your dog's. Dill improves digestion, freshens breath, has anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and anti-bacterial properties.
Peppermint - Peppermint is known for its ability to freshen breath, soothe the stomach, and to reduce gas and nausea. It may help dogs with IBS.
Basil - Basil is rich in antioxidants, contains anti-viral, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Oregano - Much like basil, oregano is loaded with antioxidants, reduces gas and aids digestion. Special Note: Avoid oregano if your dog has a bleeding disorder.
Dandelion leaves - You may be surprised to see that I have included dandelion leaves in this list, but dandelion - root, leaves, and flowers - is commonly used in herbal medicine. Dandelion leaves can safely be fed to your dog, but they MUST be completely free of any herbicides, pesticides and even 'safe' lawn treatments. Dandelion greens are loaded with antioxidants and are considered one of nature's 'superfoods'. They help to detoxify the liver, and are classified as a 'bitter' herb that works by stimulating digestive enzymes. A recommended amount to feed is 1/2 to 1 tsp. of minced dandelion leaf per 10 lbs of body weight.
Chamomile - Chamomile is known for its calming properties. Keep a box of organic chamomile tea bags in your cupboard for times when your dog has an upset stomach. Cooled, strong chamomile tea can be offered to dogs as a digestive aid, and during times when a dog is feeling stressed or anxious. Canine herbalist, Gregory Tilford suggests a tablespoon of the cooled tea per 30 lbs of dog every few hours as needed, but that it can be fed fairly liberally. Chamomile is a very safe herb and it has a wide range of uses. Special Note: It's rare, but some dogs can be allergic to the flowers, so best to test a bit of the tea on your dog's skin before feeding to your dog.
Ginger - Ginger is often a go-to for settling stomachs and is recognized as one of the best anti-nausea and digestive aids. Ginger is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties and may be used in the treatment of osteoarthritis and in cancer prevention. Feed the fresh root minced finely or choose organic powdered ginger. Special Note: Ginger may thin the blood, so check with your veterinarian if your dog is on any medications and discontinue feeding ginger two weeks before and after surgery.
Ceylon Cinnamon - Ceylon cinnamon is anti-inflammatory, supports the immune system and may regulate blood sugar. It's also rich in cancer fighting antioxidants. Ceylon cinnamon is more appropriate for dogs than cassia cinnamon which is the type most often found in grocery stores. Cassia cinnamon is high in courmarin which may be harmful in larger doses. Ceylon cinnamon, on the other hand, is lower in courmarin.
Turmeric - The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin. Curcumin has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial properties. Curcumin reduces chronic inflammation, supports the immune system, and is often used to help reduce pain from arthritis. Curcumin has potential as a cancer preventative. Special Note: Turmeric acts as a blood thinner; check with your holistic vet if your dog is on any medication, and discontinue turmeric about 2 weeks before and after any surgery.
Tips For Feeding Fresh Herbs & Spices to Your Dog
Fresh herbs need to be finely minced before feeding to your dog - just like other leafy greens. If you plan to use herbs and spices for a nutritional boost (and not for medicinal purposes), avoid feeding one particular type every day - again, variety is a good goal. If you aren't following a recipe or guidance from an herbalist or nutritionist this rule of thumb might help:
For fresh herbs try giving a pinch to small dogs, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon to medium dogs, and up to 2 teaspoons to larger dogs.
For ground spices try giving a pinch for small dogs, up to 1/4 teaspoon for medium dogs, and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon for larger dogs. * Ground spices should be mixed with food and not fed directly to your dog.
Every dog is different, and I believe we should respect a dog's taste preferences - if they don't like a particular herb or spice, it's best to move along and try something else.
Combinations to Try
I recommend mixing fresh herbs and spices in with other food. Some of my favourite combinations are:
basil and oregano mixed with plain tomato paste and a bit of fat (coconut oil or olive oil, for example)
dill mixed with hard boiled eggs - this combination can be used as a stuffing for Kongs
parsley and dill added to a mixture of other pureed vegetables
Ceylon cinnamon mixed with unsweetened applesauce
ginger or cinnamon mixed with coconut oil
Ceylon cinnamon mixed with cooked sweet potato or pure pumpkin puree
turmeric used in Golden Paste (Golden Paste is a combination of turmeric, coconut oil, and freshly ground pepper)
fresh mint mixed with blueberries and coconut oil (this combination can be frozen into molds)
Remember to introduce each new food slowly and try one new thing at a time. Some of these foods will be a fit for your dog, and others may not be. Amounts to feed will depend on your dog's body weight, tolerance, current health, and caloric needs.
Nourishment: What Animals Can Teach Us About Rediscovering Our Nutritional Wisdom, by Fred Provenza. Fred Provenza is an animal behaviorist and professor emeritus in the department of wildland resources at Utah State University.
Herbs for Pets: The Natural Way to Enhance Your Pet's Life, by Gregory L. Tilford & Mary L. Wulff.
Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health, by W. Jean Dodds, DVM and Diana R. Laverdure. This book has an abundance of information about functional foods which include many herbs and spices.
Food that Fights Inflammation, Yvonne-King.com
Please note: I am not a veterinarian and cannot diagnose or treat your dog. This article is for information purposes and is not a substitute for veterinary guidance. Please check with your veterinarian if you have concerns about your dog.