There are many herbs that can play a useful role in supporting an animal’s digestion. Herbs can serve as an important source of nutrients, as well as helping with minor digestive upsets (like poor appetite, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation and flatulence). Because herbs are typically eaten, they naturally come into contact with the surface of the digestive tract. Some herbs affect an animal’s digestion in this direct way. Others are first absorbed into circulation before they exert their beneficial effects on digestive processes.
- Calming nervous indigestion (e.g. Chamomile)
- Improving circulation to intestine (e.g. Ginger)
- Easing spasms, colic (e.g. Chamomile, Fennel)
- Increasing appetite (e.g. Chamomile, Wormwood)
- Reducing nausea (e.g. Ginger, Peppermint)
- Promoting healthy bowel flora (e.g. Globe artichoke)
- Supporting intestinal healing (e.g. Calendula, Chamomile)
- Reducing worm burdens (e.g. Wormwood)
Common Causes of Digestive Upsets
The list of factors influencing the digestive process is a long one. Here is a short summary of the most common causes of digestive upset in animals.
- Nutrition – Eating something disagreeable, or eating unsuitable food, is a common cause for digestive upsets as the body attempts to deal with the offending material.
- Stress – Stress causes changes in the nervous and hormonal systems that control the digestive system and can lead to a range of symptoms as a result.
- Infection – A wide range of viruses, bacteria and protozoa can cause digestive upsets and many of them are contagious, spreading from one animal to another.
- Worms – Intestinal worms, more common in the young animals, can lead to digestive problems.
- Travel – Some animals experience motion-sickness when traveling by car.
Herbs to Support Digestion
- Calendula flowers (Calendula officinale) – Calendula is a mild herb that can help reduce inflammation and support the healing of damaged intestinal tissue.
- Chamomile flowers (Matricaria recutita) – Chamomile is an all-round, soothing digestive remedy. Chamomile is most helpful for nervous digestive complaints, helping to calm the mind, improve the appetite and reduce signs of indigestion.
- Fennel seed (Foeniculum vulgare) – Fennel seeds, with their warming, relaxing effects, have a reputation for reducing flatulence, indigestion and colic.
- Ginger root (Zingiber officinale) – Ginger is a very useful warming herb in digestive upsets. It has a role to play in travel sickness, and to help improve digestion by increasing circulation and relaxing spasms.
- Globe artichoke leaves (Cynara scolymus) – Globe artichoke helps as a general digestive and liver tonic. It is also a natural pre-biotic, providing a good environment for a healthy bacterial flora.
- Wormwood leaves (Artemisia spp.) – Wormwood, as its name suggests, has a reputation for being useful for intestinal worms. It’s extremely bitter taste probably rules it out when easier ways exist, but it is useful when you need to try and get the appetite stimulated.
First-Aid from your Herb Garden
For healthy animals, adding small amounts of a variety of herbs with high nutrient value can enrich their diet. Herbs like parsley, rocket, and dandelion leaves are rich in vitamins and minerals. Herbs from your herb garden can play a useful role in promoting a healthy digestion, and the first-aid treatment of minor digestive disorders. Creating a Happy Animal Garden, with a wide variety of herbs, enables animals to browse and choose what they need. As a single herb, Chamomile is most useful for minor digestive upsets. Chamomile flowers can be carefully harvested in season, dried well and kept for later use. Chamomile can be added directly to some easily digested food, or made into a tea that can be added to the food.
When to See a Vet
Most minor digestive upsets are self-limiting and should clear with simple support. A bland diet, fresh water and rest are essential to help the digestion recover. Animals with a temperature, in pain, weight loss or with a poor appetite should be seen by a veterinarian for assessment. Animals can dehydrate rapidly so also be sure to always seek veterinary support for animals with ongoing diarrhoea or vomiting.
Words of Wisdom
Remember that health is natural and healing is optimal in animals that are happy. Don’t forget to pay attention to your animal companion’s nutrition, lifestyle, environment and relationships to ensure they digest well.