I love cooking with spices so much that my collection of aromatic little bottles has overtaken an entire shelf in my kitchen pantry. In addition to supplying unique flavors and aromas to my dishes, I love that spices may contain medicinal properties. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has harnessed the healing power of plants for thousands of years — an entire aspect of TCM is based on using spices and herbs to treat a wide variety of health conditions. For advice on safely using spices to boost your dog’s health, I turned to Josie Beug, DVM, a Miami-based holistic veterinarian. Here are her tips on spices for dogs.
First, what are spices?
The definition of herbs and spices differs whether you are talking about them from a TCM perspective or a cooking perspective, according to Dr. Beug. “In TCM, herbalists use formulations from all parts of the plant to create herbal therapies,” she says. “However, in cooking, herbs come from the leaves of plants, while spices come from the other parts, such as roots, flowers, stems, fruit, bark or seeds.” Some plants produce both cooking herbs and spices. For example, cilantro is an herb, and coriander is a spice, but both come from the same plant. To complicate matters, some herbs, such as basil, parsley, oregano and thyme, are dried and sold as “spices.” And other ingredients we think of as spices are neither spices nor herbs. Garlic, for example, is a bulb also found in the form of garlic powder.
For this list, consider any dried form of the plant used for cooking as a “spice” — mainly because this is how we think of them in daily life.
Safe and beneficial spices for dogs
Dr. Beug recommends the following dog-safe spices.
Basil for Dogs
- Fights free radicals
- Helps prevent diabetes
- Protects the liver
- Reduces pain and inflammation
Tip: Add basil to help reduce pain and inflammation in dogs with arthritis.
Coriander for dogs
- Alleviates nausea
- Eases intestinal gas
- Helps detoxify the body
- Increases milk flow
Caution: Avoid giving coriander to pregnant animals, as it may stimulate uterine contractions.
- Displays anti-cancer properties
- Regulates blood sugar
- Combats free radicals
- Protects against heart disease
- May lower the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease in humans and similar conditions in dogs
Tip: Opt for Ceylon cinnamon over the more common Cassia variety, as it is much lower in the blood-thinning compound coumarin.
Dill for dogs
- Antimicrobial, antifungal, antibacterial
- Improves digestion
- Lowers blood sugar
- Regulates menstruation
- Relieves diarrhea
Caution: Avoid giving dill to pregnant dogs, as it may induce menstruation and cause miscarriage.
Fennel for dogs
- Acts as a diuretic to remove toxins
- Aids digestion
- Alleviates constipation, diarrhea and intestinal gas
- Benefits brain function Y Contains anti-cancer properties
- Increases milk production during lactation
Caution: Excessive fennel intake can cause health issues, including difficulty breathing and heart palpitation.
Ginger for dogs
- Eases nausea and upset stomach
- Helps boost cognitive function
- Helps regulate blood-sugar levels
- May block growth of cancerous tumors
- Reduces pain associated with osteoarthritis
Tip: Giving ginger to senior dogs may help boost cognitive function and decrease age-related joint pain.
Peppermint for dogs
- Alleviates spasms in the colon
- Improves signs of irritable bowel syndrome
- Reduces intestinal gas
- Relieves indigestion
- Soothes upset stomach
- Treats diarrhea
Caution: Avoid giving to dogs with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). May cause hypoglycemia in diabetics.
Oregano for dogs
- Contains cancer-fighting polyphenols
- Relieves indigestion and diarrhea
- Rich in antioxidants to combat free radicals
Caution: Oregano may increase the risk of bleeding in dogs with bleeding disorders. Use cautiously with diabetic dogs, as oregano can lower blood sugar.
Parsley for dogs
- May help protect against urinary tract infections, kidney stones and gallbladder stones
- Natural diuretic
- Rich in antioxidants
Caution: Avoid giving to dogs prone to calcium oxalate stones, as parsley is high in oxalates.
Turmeric for dogs
- Fights free radicals
- Helps heal the gut
- Improves brain function
- Reduces symptoms of arthritis
Caution: Turmeric acts as a blood thinner and may increase risk of bleeding in association with some medications and botanicals, like NSAIDs, garlic and Gingko biloba. As a rule of thumb, Dr. Beug recommends a ¼ teaspoon for small dogs, ½ teaspoon for medium dogs and 1 teaspoon for large dogs per day, mixed into food. “The key is to remember that more is not better,” she says. “Besides, a heavy spice aroma may turn dogs off from the food.”
Unsafe spices for dogs
Dr. Beug advises avoiding the following spices:
- Garlic (dehydrated or powder): “Giving dogs small amounts of fresh garlic is safe and beneficial,” Dr. Beug says. She advises avoiding the powdered form, however, due to its increased concentration and potency.
- Onion powder: Thiosulphate, a compound in onions, can cause hemolytic anemia in dogs, a condition in which the red blood cells burst. “Play it safe, and avoid it an any form,” Dr. Beug says.
- Pepper: Black pepper is a popular component of golden paste (a mixture of turmeric powder, water, oil and black pepper that’s taken orally for its anti-inflammatory and other healing properties) to help increase the absorption of curcumin in turmeric. Dr. Beug recommends skipping it, however, as piperine in black pepper also enhances absorption of prescription medications, increasing the chance of accidental overdose.
- Nutmeg: Nutmeg contains myristicin, which is toxic to dogs and can cause symptoms ranging from disorientation to seizures. ROSEMARY “Rosemary is generally safe; however, avoid giving it to dogs prone to seizures, as it can worsen this condition,” Dr. Beug says.
Thumbnail: Photography ©Chalabala | Thinkstock.
Diana Laverdure-Dunetz, MS, is a canine nutritionist and co-author, with W. Jean Dodds, D.V.M., of two books, including Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health. Their online course, Complete Canine Nutrition, can be found at myhealthydog.dog.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Dogster magazine. Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Dogster magazine delivered straight to you!
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