People aren’t the only ones in your household who can catch a cold!
Dogs are susceptible to a whole slew of respiratory bugs. Some are viral, like the flu or common cold. Others are bacterial, like Bordatella, a common cause of kennel cough. Kennel cough is characterized by a dry cough and retching, along with flu-like symptoms. Viruses and bacteria are very different, but improving your pooch’s health increases resistance to infection by either. There are many different cold viruses that infect dogs, and dogs even have their own flu virus, canine influenza virus, that has similar symptoms as the annual variety of “people” flu: Runny nose, wet cough, fever and lethargy. Recent research shows that your dog can even catch your flu (1), so don’t sneeze on your mutt!
With so many bugs wanting to set up shop in your pup, what’s an owner to do? There are vaccines against a number of the common doggie respiratory bugs, something you can discuss with your friendly neighborhood veterinarian. But not all bugs have a vaccine against them and vaccines aren’t necessarily 100% effective.
So, in addition to a visit to the vet, it’s important to work naturally to improve your pup’s resistance. A nutrient-dense diet, active lifestyle, and clean living environment are key to this. The first two support a healthy immune system while the latter is important because respiratory bugs are shed in dog boogers that wind up all over your house if you have a sick dog wandering about. In fact, it’s best to isolate your puppy patient if you have more than one dog in the house.
In addition to the above approaches, many of the herbs I’d use for cold and flu are also appropriate for Milo, D, Zeke and the latest addition to the pack, Ratticus Finch. A good resource for proper dosing and contraindications of each herb in dogs is “All you ever wanted to know about herbs for pets.“ by Greg and Mary Wullf Tilford (2).
You may have used echinacea yourself, but did that you know that it works for dogs, too? Echinacea may reduce the duration of an illness, or prevent it altogether, if your pooch has been playing at the dog park with a sick friend or when it’s given at the first sign of the sniffles. The funky taste of echinacea may go down better in the form of a glycerite, a sweet-tasting vegetable glycerin extract. Note that echinacea is not a replacement for a healthy immune system. In fact, it is best avoided in animals with known immune dysfunction (2).
Elderberry has traditionally been used for colds and flu to reduce symptoms and the duration of infection, and this usage has been backed up by research studies (3). One way elderberries might help is by preventing the virus from attaching to it’s receptor on the cell surface (4). This stops the virus from infecting the cells lining our respiratory tract. Your dog will probably like the taste, so it shouldn’t be difficult getting elderberry extract into him.
Another herb I commonly use for respiratory infection is thyme. Thyme eases excessive coughing and is strongly anti-viral and anti-bacterial. Thyme may even bump up the immune system to help with preventing or shortening the duration of illness. Because of it’s intense, pungeant flavor, thyme might be best used in glycerite form for your pooch. Be sure not to use thyme essential oil, which is much to irritating to use for your pet.
Yarrow is another useful herb for respiratory support. It is strongly anti-bacterial, so may be helpful for bordatella or bacterial respiratory infections. Also, yarrow may reduce some of the general bluckiness associated with the flu. Because the tea is bitter enough that your dog is unlikely to drink it, a tincture is a good way to go. Don’t use yarrow in pregnant or nursing animals.
Mullein is an herb that works well together with all of the herbs I’ve mentioned. The leaves of this common weed can be made into a tea, strained well and used for viral or bacterial infections of the respiratory tract. Mullein soothes the respiratory lining and eases overly intense coughing. In addition, mullein has mild anti-viral and anti-bacterial effects, though perhaps not quite strong enough to use alone. If your furry friend has frequent respiratory issues, mullein can be used regularly as a tonic to improve the health of her lungs.
1. Song, D, et al (2014) Canine Susceptibility to Human Influenza Viruses (A/pdm09 H1N1, A/H3N2, and B). J Gen Virol. Oct 13. [Epub ahead of print]
2. Wulff-Tilford, ML & GL Tilford (1999) All you ever wanted to know about herbs for pets. Bowtie Press, Irvine, CA.
3. Zakay-Rones, Z, et al (2004) Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. J Int Med Res.32(2):132-40.
4. Roschek B, et al (2009) Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. Phytochemistry. 70:1255-61.