Warmth is vital for animal wellbeing and is a central factor when caring for happy, healthy animals.
Our sun plays the central role in providing animals with the warming required to feel good and function well. The hot summer sun requires that animals find ways to keep cool. Tiled floors and shady spots in the garden become favourite hangouts. In the winter months, however, as temperatures drop, an animal’s fur coat thickens to provide extra insulation and their behaviours change. Now favourite places include fireplaces, heaters and sunny spots in the garden.
For some animals, the cold (and damp if you live in winter rainfall areas) can be challenging and associated with health problems. Cold temperatures mean animals must conserve body heat by reducing activity and decreasing blood circulation to superficial tissues. Mobility problems due to arthritis, stiffness or frailty are often more pronounced. Older animals are particularly vulnerable, and animals with respiratory problems.
Common Herbal Warmers
Traditionally, warming herbs have long been used to provide relief for symptoms associated with cold (and damp) and many are well-known winter remedies (like Ginger). These aromatic, often pungent, herbs and spices have a drying, warming nature and can help stimulate blood circulation, relieve stiffness, and reduce mucus in the lungs.
Warming herbs are normally given to animals mixed in with the food, but they have also been used topically on the skin as oils or plasters to cause local warming and increased circulation. Herbs used in this way are called rubefacients, from the Latin meaning to make red. This practice is less common in animals these days as warming herbs, especially the hot ones (like Chilli and Mustard seed), may lead to discomfort, burning or blistering with the added risk they will be ingested leading to irritation of the sensitive lining of the mouth and intestine.
Ginger root (Zingiber officinale) – Ginger roots (rhizomes) have a broad range of qualities that are useful to animals. Ginger’s warming nature can also help improve circulation and reduce joint stiffness and discomfort. Ginger can also help settle the stomach, especially useful in animals with travel sickness.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) – Similar to Ginger, Turmeric root’s warming, drying qualities are useful to ease stiffness and joint discomfort by stimulating the circulation and reducing inflammation. Additional uses of Turmeric include respiratory infections and cancer support.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) – This well-known warming, aromatic spice is made from the dried inner bark of the Cinnamon tree. Cinnamon bark is a useful warming remedy for stiff, arthritic joints, and the astringent, antiseptic qualities mean it is useful for mild diarrhoea episodes too.
Garlic (Allium sativum) – The Garlic bulb is a well-known remedy for cold weather problems. Garlic is best used in small quantities as excessive consumption of plants in the onion family can damage red blood cells leading to anaemia in animals.
Chilli (Capsicum annuum) – There are many Chilli varieties, and you definitely want to avoid the very hot ones with animals. However, the milder chilli seeds and fruits, in very small quantities, mixed in with the food can be useful.
Words of Wisdom
In animals where the symptoms are worse in cold, damp weather, the warming and drying effects of pungent herbs can be very helpful. Be creative and make use of other naturally warming strategies – like providing cosy shelters, blankets, coats, heaters, or access to sunny spots – to allow animals to better regulate their temperature.
As many pungent, warming herbs work in a similar ways to conventional non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), care should be taken when used in combination as they can predispose to ulcer formation and bleeding. Avoid warming herbs if animals are suffering from conditions characterised by heat or inflammation. Also, in old or debilitated animals, too much warming can be over-stimulating and depleting. As always consult your veterinarian if your animal is on medication, pregnant, lactating or undergoing surgery before using herbs.