Features February 2007 Issue

The Many Benefits of Calendula for Your Dog

This safe and common herb is famed for its ability to soothe and heal.

[Updated April 8, 2016]

The world of herbal medicine offers hundreds of choices to consider when treating your dog. Some are rather obscure; almost inaccessible to anyone but those who are connected to an exclusive, exotic source. Yet others are within such easy reach that they are often overlooked, considered mundane and useless simply by their abundance. After all, who would think first of the dandelions growing along the back fence when looking for an herbal approach to a rare and inoperable cancer?

Any self-respecting herbalist will admit that herbal panaceas do not exist. No single herb can cure all of your dog’s ills. None serve as silver bullets against canine disease. But there are some that are so generally useful that it is no wonder why they were once touted as “cure all” medicines.

Calendula

Calendula is highly effective when used in a cool water rinse for any sort of skin irritation. Dogs with pink, sensitive skin will especially appreciate calendula’s ability to quickly sootheflea bites, sunburn, or vexing “hot spots.”

Take Calendula officinalis, the common pot marigold that adorns herb and flower gardens in virtually every corner of the globe. Although many of its fans know of the skin healing attributes of calendula salves, lotions, and shampoos, its range reaches far deeper than the skin.

For many centuries calendula has been used to treat everything from skin lesions to tuberculosis and even syphilis. But its real claim to fame and effectiveness comes from its well documented ability to speed the healing of skin and most other body tissues, inside and out.

External Uses of Calendula for Dogs

Calendula is among the first herbs to consider in minor first aid situations. A broad array of medicinal compounds in the flowers of the plant, including various essential oils, flavonoids, saponins, triterpene alcohols, and carotenes, combine to help speed cell reproduction and inhibit bacteria and fungi at the site of injury. For minor cuts, insect bites, abrasions, or postsurgical incisions, a calendula salve (an oil-based product) will bring quick, soothing relief to pain and swelling, while lending antimicrobial properties to the body’s healing effort.

Infusions of calendula flowers are effective as a soothing and healing skin wash for various forms of inflammatory dermatitis, such as flea bites, poison ivy, eczema, or sunburn. The antimicrobial and astringent nature of this plant make it useful for treating burns as well.

In these circumstances, a cooled water infusion (skin rinse) is recommended over oils, salves, or poultices, as the latter may seal in heat, causing further aggravation of the injury.

A cooled water infusion may also be used as an eyewash for conjunctivitis, where the mild but predictable astringency of the plant combines with its bacteria-fighting properties to reduce irritation and infection.

Internal Uses of Calendula

Internally, an infusion or tincture of the flower may be used to treat inflammation or ulceration of the digestive or urinary tracts, where it assists with the drainage of lymph-engorged tissues and reduces inflammation. For these reasons, calendula preparations have been shown to be effective in the treatment of chronic colitis.

Calendula tincture may prove beneficial in the treatment of candidiasis. The antifungal qualities of this herb also make it a possible option for topical treatment of chromomycosis, an infection of the skin that occurs from various fungi origins.

While virtually no scientific data exist to validate the effectiveness of calendula against these forms of disease, its safety and reputed effectiveness as a broad-spectrum antifungal agent still make it an option worth considering.

The only contraindication for internal calendula use would be with pregnant females. While I have never heard of a case in dogs, rodent studies have revealed calendula’s ability to cause abortion, so it should not be used on pregnant dogs.

A Calendula Case Study

Mitsy, a four-year-old standard Poodle, has had big problems with fleas, but thanks to her owner’s meticulous efforts, Mitsy’s living environment is now less conducive to flea infestation. Improvements in food quality and a daily regiment of omega-3 fatty acids and herbal detox supplements have helped a lot, too. Within a few weeks only a few surviving fleas remained in the house or on Mitsy’s body.

But Mitsy still had a nasty sore on her back, near the base of her tail, and it just wouldn’t heal. Mitsy chewed at it practically every hour she was awake, and while the sore never looked infected, it didn’t have time to dry up and heal.

Fortunately, Mitsy’s owner, Janice, learned about the wound-healing powers of calendula extract. Every evening as Mitsy settled into her bed, Janice applied several drops of calendula tincture directly to the site of wound. To keep Mitsy from licking the calendula off, Janice would sit and pet her companion for a short while, until Mitsy’s mind was once again on the subject of resting, not licking.

The calendula inhibited bacterial growth and accelerated cell reproduction at the site of the wound each night while Mitsy was sleeping. Within a few days the sore was almost completely healed, and the itching had subsided enough to where Mitsy’s attention was back on chasing toys and playing with Janice.

An Easy and Inexpensive Herb

Calendula is easy to grow yourself, and thrives in just about any soil. If you continually remove the flowers (to dry and use), the plants will continue to produce blooms for months and months. You can readily find calendula in a variety of products in your local health food store. There are also many good products on the market that are designed specifically for use in dogs and other animals.

If your natural pet first aid kit doesn’t contain calendula salve, calendula tincture, and a small baggie of the dried flowers, then get some!

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