Hawthorn Herb Improves Cardiac Function in Dogs

Older dogs in need of a general tonic will benefit most from this herb.


[Updated August 22, 2018]


1. Consider hawthorn as a supplement for a dog with heart problems – especially high or low blood pressure, and arrhythmia.

2. Use hawthorn as a tonic for older dogs, in conjunction with an improved diet.

As a traveling, lecturing herbalist, I often hear the question of whether herbs might be helpful in treating old or debilitated dogs with chronic disease.

My answer: Yes – especially when used to supplement a good, natural diet and to strengthen or “tonify” the body’s natural healing functions. When used in this capacity, we refer to herbs as herbal tonics.

Cardiac Function in Older Dogs


Unlike most conventional drugs, tonic herbs do not suppress or replace natural functions in the body. Instead, they serve to improve the body’s efforts to stay healthy. Tonic herbs are neither drug-like remedies nor foods, but stand somewhere in between, providing supplemental measures of support that help bridge the gaps between what a body needs from diet and what it needs in terms of specific, added support.

Most tonic herbs do their work by providing special nutrients, enzymes, and other chemicals that the body needs to bring deficient or overtaxed organs and systems into higher levels of efficiency.

Hawthorn (Crataegus species), a tonic herb that has been used for centuries to improve cardiac function and output, is a classic example. Hawthorn does not initiate any immediate changes in heart function, but does so very gently over time, without adding stress or interfering with other body functions. Hawthorn helps support the heart and cardiovascular system in ways that no food or drug can.

Hawthorn is a Preventative Heart Tonic

Hundreds of scientific studies have validated hawthorn’s usefulness as a heart tonic.

It is well known that hawthorn dilates both coronary vessels and vessels of the brain, helping to increase circulation and the transport of nutrients and oxygen throughout the body.

It accomplishes this in a very effective and unique fashion: while it acts to dilate major vessels, it also increases blood flow from the heart to compensate for any reduction of arterial blood volume. In other words, it helps the body push more blood around by increasing cardiac output and decreasing blood flow resistance in the arteries, i.e., more blood flow at less pressure. This has been shown in studies performed with dogs, especially when used in small doses over an extended period.

Hawthorn also serves as a blood pressure regulator. Although the mechanisms of this activity baffle herbalists and scientists alike, the herb tends to gently elevate low blood pressure, and decrease high blood pressure. This is really quite amazing, especially when we consider the fact that hawthorn does this while increasing cardiac output. By helping with dilation of coronary arteries and strengthening heartbeat, hawthorn improves blood circulation without adversely effecting blood pressure.

Another well-documented benefit of hawthorn is its ability to steady and strengthen a weak or erratic heartbeat – such as that of elderly or energetically challenged dogs. In human applications hawthorn has been used as an alternative to antiarrhythmia drugs like digitalis, and to improve the effects of that and other cardiac drugs.

Hawthorn is also a great antioxidant. It scavenges free radicals that rob the blood of oxygen and may lead to various forms of vascular disease. Herbalists also use the herb to lower blood cholesterol.

All of these activities are largely attributed to a vast assortment of flavonoid constituents held within the berries, leaves, flowers, and twigs of hawthorn. Although flavonoids are also found in many other kinds of fruits (especially raspberries, blueberries, and other red or blue fruits), hawthorn is an especially rich source.

Studies have shown that flavonoids are essential in maintaining disease resistance and the integrity of smooth muscle tissues throughout the body. Some studies even suggest that hawthorn may help prevent myocardial damage in situations where the heart muscle is subjected to physiological stress. This means that animals such as race horses or working dogs who are constantly under cardiovascular stress will likely find preventive benefits from daily supplements of hawthorn.

And to top everything off, hawthorn is very, very safe. In fact, in the hundreds of animal studies that have been conducted with this herb over the past 100 years, hawthorn has shown extremely low toxicity in every animal tested. I place the risk of hawthorn berry toxicity on about the same level as that presented by rose hips, raspberries, or blueberries. In other words, I consider them all as medicinal foods.

Daily Hawthorne Use Shows Cardiac Improvements

It stands to reason that this cardiovascular tonic is useful in the daily care of any older dog, but especially those who suffer from chronic heart problems such as arrhythmia, congestive heart failure, postsurgical dysfunction, or other cardiac anomalies that have weakened the heart’s ability to pump blood.

I consider hawthorn to be strongly indicated in virtually any case where damage to the heart muscle has resulted from heartworm infestation, bacterial or viral infections, or protracted chemotherapy.

I also find hawthorn useful in cases of renal failure, especially in early stages of the disease. When combined with ginkgo biloba (for small capillary circulation) and herbs that improve urinary function, hawthorn may be useful for getting more blood and oxygen into renal arteries and smaller vessels of the kidneys. This, in theory, is thought to slow degeneration of whatever healthy tissue remains in the diseased organs.

What is Hawthorn, Anyway?

Hawthorn is small deciduous tree or large shrub (up to 16 feet tall) that is easily recognized and quickly remembered by its nasty one- to three-inch curved thorns, which are strategically spaced along the branches – often at eye-level! The alternate leaves are narrowly fan-shaped or ovate and are presented on short petioles. The margins of the one- to two-inch-long leaves are toothed, with tips all pointing distinctly forward.

Blooms appear on the hawthorn plants from around April through June. The white, quarter-inch flowers are presented in flat, terminate clusters; each blossom with five petals and numerous stamens. When in full bloom, the blossoms often have an unpleasant “dead” odor. In late summer the flowers are replaced with clusters of red to black berries, each containing two to five seeds.

The Crataegus genus is large and varied, with hundreds of species (all of which readily hybridize) in North America. Most species are found in riparian thickets, where they serve as important forage and nesting habitats for birds and other wildlife. While Crataegus oxyacantha and C. monogyna are the primary hawthorns of commerce, C. douglasii is one of the most common and widespread wild species of North America. While very little study has been done to ascertain which species are most useful, most herbalists will agree that all of them hold therapeutic value.

How to Feed Hawthorn to Your Dog

When combined with a good natural diet and other tonic herbs, hawthorn will act exactly as an herbal heart tonic should – to fill the special cardiac needs in the golden years of an animal’s life.

Other tonic herbs can be used in combination with hawthorn to round out the supplemental needs of older animals. These might include ginkgo or yarrow (for strengthening capillary walls and improving blood supply to the kidneys and extremities); garlic (for added antioxidant and immune system support); alfalfa and red clover (to nourish the blood, increase appetite, and raise energy levels); dandelion leaf (to assist in the removal of excess water); and oat tops (as a nervous system tonic).

In the natural pet product industry, the berries of hawthorn are the most commonly used part of this plant. This is probably because they make such palatable medicine. However, the flowering branch ends (leaves, flower buds, twigs, thorns and all) are fine medicine too, and can be clipped into small pieces and brewed into a decoction (a simmered tea). However, unlike the berries, the “twig tea” tastes awful!

If you are lucky enough to have a hawthorn tree near your home and a dog that likes red fruit, you can pick the ripe berries and feed them as tonic treats.

Or, when the berries become fully ripe, they can be picked, dried on a clean sheet of paper, and ground with a mortar or pestle (be forewarned that they burn out small coffee grinders!) into a coarse powder. The powder can then be added to your companion’s diet at a rate of one teaspoon per pound of food fed each day.

If your pup won’t eat the berries either way, try making a tea (with about a teaspoon of dried berries and a cup of hot water) and pouring it over his food. If that doesn’t work, you can use gel caps wrapped with expensive, imported Brie cheese (just kidding!). Better yet, you can use a liquid hawthorn tincture (one-half tsp. for small dogs; one-half to one tsp. for larger dogs). Alcohol-free, glycerin-based tinctures are quite sweet and easiest to feed.

Greg Tilford is a well-known expert in the field of veterinary herblism. An international lecturer and teacher of veterinarians and pet owners alike, Greg has written four books on herbs, including All You Ever Wanted to Know About Herbs for Pets (Bowie Press, 1999).


    • My dog is also on benazapril, Lasix, vetmedin snd sildenafil(viagra). She diagnosed with CHF and pulmonary hypertension. Just bought dandelion, ginger and Hawthorne all in capsule form. She’s 12 lbs and and 12 yrs old. Don’t know the proper dosage to give and how often. Can someone please help me.

      • I created a garden of fresh dandelion leaf plants (which people consider weeds) & chop one leaf per meal in my dogs homemade food/stews for his heart failure, he’s at 6/6, so in august vet says he only has a year, but I don’t believe that. he gets hawthorn drops & cardiac support supplements which help him tremendously. I truly believe in holistic medicine. it works! western medicine is only RX. your dog needs more that only RX. dogs are not meant to eat kibbles, majority are awfully bad. our dogs don’t live long cause we feed them crap. love your fur baby & feed him real food. when I eat steak broccoli & potato, my dogs eat that too! sardines & salmon are their favorite!

  1. My vet approved us to use Hawthorn with our dogs heart medications. He is on lasix and benazepril. There is actually a supplement called Bio-cardio by Thorne she told me to get that has Hawthorn and many other heart healthy supplements. Haven’t used it long enough to know how well it will work but we’re getting desperate since the lasix seems to not be working as well and he is showing signs on his bloodwork of kidney damage 🙁

    • Candis,
      I saw your post and I had to respond. A few months ago Huey, my 13 year old 18 lb Maltese-Chihuahua mix, was diagnosed with a high grade murmor, enlarged heart, elevated blood pressure and elevated liver functions. Long story short after a couple Vet visits recommending Enalapril, Lasix and Pimobendan I am only giving Huey Enalapril along with supplements, herbs and a diet change. I never started the Pimobendan because of lethal side-effects. I did a lot of research. I am a registered nurse and knowledgeable of congestive heart failure in humans, but I never had training in dog health. I was feeding my dogs a quality kibble (Orijens). I have three dogs and feed twice a day. I started making a homemade diet for their pm meal. I still give kibble in the morning. I substituted Dandelion leaf for the Lasix (1/2 tsp of dry leaves that I buy from a bulk jar at a health food grocery store twice daily). I don’t add it to his food, although I probably could, because he seems to like it. Dandelion is bitter and I add a little Greek yogurt or other food with water in a little cup. Dandelion leaf, is a natural diuretic and does not destroy the kidneys. It also contains potassium which the Lasix depletes. I give Hawthorn Berry extract from Animal Essentials. I found that the cardio products did not contain the recommended dosage of Hawthorn Berry. Huey is on Milk Thistle and SAM E for his liver. Huey is doing well.

  2. My dog is also on benazapril, Lasix, vetmedin snd sildenafil(viagra). She diagnosed with CHF and pulmonary hypertension. Just bought dandelion, ginger and Hawthorne all in capsule form. She’s 12 lbs and and 12 yrs old. Don’t know the proper dosage to give and how often. Can someone please help me.

  3. My shihtzu 14 lbs has stomach breathing for 3 months now. I give her Botannic Choice hawthorn berry tincture 3.5:1. I was dosing her at 7 drops twice daily for about 9 months and think if it was working I would think the stomach breathing would have stopped. After reading this article , I started on 8 Jan 2020 to give 1/2 tsp daily (which is 12 drops 3 times daily). Is this too much to give my dog of the 3.5:1 tincture?

  4. RENEE, My dog is 12-yrs old and 12lbs like yours. I give her 7-8 drops daily (2-3 drops with small meal 3 times/day) Nature’s Answer 1oz tincture without alcohol which includes berry, leaf and flower on Amazon. According to the canine cardiology specialist’s directions with this specific product, that is about 1/8 human dose.

  5. Hi
    My two year old vizsla Labrador is very high energy
    Even after walking playing and mental stimulation
    Very frustrated…
    A dog trainer mentioned hawthorn to take the edge off
    Any advice greatly appreciated x

  6. Should a dog be taken off of a supplement that has Hawthorn before surgery and then when should the dog resume taking the drug after being spayed? My vet said to keep her on the supplement with Hawthorn even though she is having surgery next week. What do you say about this?

  7. I’m getting ready to start my dog on hawthorn tomorrow evening. She is an 11 1/2 yr old chihuahua with arrhythmia and grade 2 heart murmur. She has been declining over the past week so I’m really hoping this helps, and soon. I cannot lose my baby girl right now. She is my world!

    Can anyone tell me how fast this works? Thanks!

  8. I have a nine year old Bichon that has recently been diagnosed with severe mitral valve damage and therefore he has an enlarged heart. Other than a slight cough a few times a day, he seemed completely himself therefore initially we thought he had kennel cough. Unfortunately after treating him with an antibiotic it persisted therefore we had an xray performed which indicated an enlarged heart. After the x-ray, I purchased Thorn Research Bio-Cardio which has many excellent ingredients for dogs with a heart issue including Hawthorn. While we were waiting for this to arrive, he had a heart ultrasound performed and we received a report from the cardiologist indicating that Hawthorn can be a pro-arrhythmic and she recommended not to give this to him. Our dog, does not have a heart arrhythmia at present. In the meantime, I had contacted Thorn Research before purchasing their product where I asked if he could take this supplement with vetmedin, and furosemide (in the event he would be prescribed these medications). I was told unequivocally that it can only make things better for him and that this is not a problem. I am now conflicted whether to give him this supplement as I have also researched the benefits of Hawthorn.

    • My cardiologist did not recommend I give my dig with CHF the herbal supplements including Hawthorne. Most are afraid of this and the meds combined. However the herbal companies say it’s ok, but they are not cardiologists?

  9. I have a friend who had taken traditional medicine and a diet plan from Nze Njoku Herbal Home on google to treat Arthritis and High Blood Pressure and for some years now he looks normal. From severe pain always a sick guy Now he looks so healthy and enjoying normal productive life😊 Praise God