Skin is truly a remarkable feat of biological engineering. Consider for a moment that a single square inch of human skin harbors 19 feet of blood vessels, 19 million cells, 65 hairs, 625 sweat glands and at least 90 oil glands. Equipped with all of these sensors, the skin works around the clock to shield us from invading bacteria, regulate body temperature, remove toxins and provide a glove-fitting waterproof covering for our fragile bodies. Skin is not only an amazing instrument for people, but is the first line of defense for our pets as well.
Your pet can suffer from a variety of skin disorders and, with the exception of fleas (hopefully), they may be very similar in nature to those that can affect you. Many minor irritations can be treated naturally and safely with simple herbal preparations at home.
There are several methods of application that can be used on your pet, but you’ll have to be the judge on the best method to use and whether or not it will be well tolerated. For instance, applying certain herbal treatments – such as a salve or poultice – to dogs is usually quite a bit easier and less dangerous (for you) than applying the same treatment to a cat. Cats will usually endure a quick application of a preparation made with essential oil instead. Generally, the guidelines described here are limited in application to just cats and dogs. You should consult your veterinarian if you need assistance with other types of pets.
Herbal poultices are easy to make and work well with highly mucilaginous herbs like mullein or plantain. Two or three large leaves chopped finely in a blender or food processor with a small amount of oil or witch hazel (just enough to make a paste-like consistency) will suffice. The poultice can then be applied directly to your pet’s skin, gently working it under the hair as you go. If you find that your pet becomes anxious about this, you might try distracting them with a good petting or massage session while giving the poultice a chance to work for 15-20 minutes. Dogs, especially, are massage addicts.
Salves are another alternative. But, your pet may lick it off before it can be of any benefit. Again, combining the application of salve with massage will help. Salves can be messy and time consuming to make though, so you may want to purchase an already prepared one from your local health food store. One I’d highly recommend is Hot Spot Ointment from Furry Friends that contains vitamin E and calendula and comfrey root extracts.
One of the best and easiest ways to topically treat your pet with herbs is to use essential oils. Essential oils should not be applied directly to your pet’s skin but diffused in a carrier oil such as sweet almond first. The carrier oil will help to distribute the essential oils and enable them to be quickly absorbed. Generally, 2-3 drops of essential oil diluted in 1 teaspoon of carrier oil should be used.
Which Herbs to Use?
Lavender is excellent for burns, scrapes, cuts and dermatitis. Its antiseptic and antibacterial qualities will help to speed healing and prevent infection. Use the essential oil of this herb.
Aloe juice squeezed from the fresh plant will help to speed healing of burns and all wounds.
Chamomile is an antispasmodic and seems to calm animals with this action even when applied topically. The flowers yield antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. Use the essential oil of this herb.
Mullein leaves make a good healing poultice for just about anything skin-related. When chopped and mixed with oil or witch hazel, it can be used for treating ear infections. Mullein is antiseptic and has a mild anesthetic effect.
Comfrey leaves are astringent and appropriate to use in a poultice.
Yarrow can help to check oozing (blood) wounds, clear infection and to help old wounds that prove slow to heal. Use the fresh herb or essential oil.
Calendula is one of the best herbs to use and can be combined with any or the above mentioned herbs. Calendula promotes the growth of epithelial tissue to help close wounds. This herb is also astringent, antifungal and anti-inflammatory. Use the fresh herb or the essential oil.
Please note that serious conditions, such as deep cuts, extreme itching or chronic hair loss associated with scratching or shedding, should be evaluated by a veterinarian. Deep cuts and wounds may require stitches and severe itching or hair loss can be a sign of illness or even allergy.