Top 5 Herbs for Kidney Disease in Dogs

Here are the top 5 herbs for kidney disease in dogs that you mightn’t have heard of but studies show they are the most effective…

Organs closest to the digestive system (gut, liver, kidneys) are the easiest to effect with herbal remedies taken by mouth, and the studies absolutely support that, as we show below. This article was written specifically to help remedy kidney disease in dogs but to be honest these herbs will work for anyone looking for a good gut flush. And those kidneys need it. They are the filtration system of the body and like all filtration systems, they always appreciate a good flush out now and again.

picture of a kidney with water flowing through it from a bottle

A great number of herbs can be used to alleviate the symptoms of kidney disease in dogs. Some of the more popular and certainly readily accessible include dandelion (a known diuretic as well as being a powerful antiviral and antibacterial, so if it’s an infection, a great idea at any time. There are no official dosage guidelines here as studies are all but absent in dogs but 0.5g of dried root/leaf per 10kg of dog is fine), horsetail (common all around Ireland and often sought out by dogs themselves, horsetail has a huge array of health benefits including lowering uric acid and therefore treating kidney stones) and parsley (by helping to regulate urinary pH and reduce blood pressure, parsley sprinkled on their food can boost kidney health and lower the risk of kidney stones). By all means, these should be sprinkled into your dog’s food should they have ailments of the kidney. Easy to source (often in your own back garden), we know these three work and a quick review of the literature backs this approach up.

However, we are not here to talk about them right now. We know about them. I wanted to find the top five herbs for kidney disease in dogs, and these five pop up repeatedly. In fact, the above more-common herbs rarely make the top five list. So here they are. Please note some of these can be tricky to find but good old Amazon rarely lets you down in that regard.

Before we begin, a HEADS UP on the use of conventional meds and diuretic herbs for kidney disease in dogs…

The efficacy of herbs should not be underestimated. Most of the herbs in this article are powerful diuretics and so they might clash with diuretic drugs your pet is already on. For instance, an excellent review of dandelion here suggests that dandelion may interact with some meds including diuretics which dogs with kidney disease may well be on. So please, this is a heads up as to why you should not undertake the treating of your dog’s kidney disease herbally whilst going the conventional route at the same time without holding the hand of at least a herbalist who is aware of such things or ideally a vet trained in herbology. This is important for all the herbs mentioned below.

The top five herbs for kidney disease in dogs…

1) Couch grass – Agropyron repens

How many people have dogs that eat grass? Lots of us, as it’s a very common practice of dogs. In a survey of 1571 dogs, 79% were documented to eat grass at least monthly (Chieko Suedaa 2008). There are lots of theories for grass eating including to induce a vomit (only 20% of the 1571 dogs surveyed vomited after eating it), for fibre to help form a good poo (possibly, they don’t digest it well so lots gets through to the back passage), to clear their guts of parasites (in other animals this seems to be the case) and finally, and most likely in my opinion, for some form of medicinal nutrition.

We put these theories to the test by testing 10 grass eaters for worms (only 1 had worms, which in itself was surprising!). We then gave five dogs some good quality Irish kelp (as a type of multivitamin) and another five a great quality fibre. In short, neither worked to curtail the habit. This tells us there is something in the plants they are selecting that they need. One this is for sure, they are very selective over which grass they eat, even which parts, so that suggests they’re not just absently grazing. With noses literally thousands of times better than ours, who are we to argue.

couch grass

When it comes to eating grass, it seems the most popular consumed is couch grass, and there is likely a very good reasons for this. Couch grass (the most common wild grass in Ireland), particularly the fresh stuff, is full of vitamins and nutrients and things like chlorophyll, but also a few other bits you mightn’t have heard of including triticin (a polysaccharide) and beneficial volatile oils such as agropyrene. These two, in particular, are shown to have a variety of positive effects on the body, most notably on issues of the kidneys and liver, and we’ve known it for some time. It’s reported that as early as 25AD couch grass has been used to increases urine production as well as treating urinary tract infections such as cystitis and urethritis. Couch grass is even known to partially dissolve kidney stones. For instance, Brardi et al. 2012, who studied 50 (human) patients for five months with kidney stones and found that a dried extract of couch grass (particularly when given with postassium citrate, which is used to make the urine less acidic) resulted in a significant reduction in both the diameter and total number of stones present. Nor are these authors alone with their findings.

How to give couch grass to your dog:

There are many ways to get couch grass into your dog. The easiest and best way is to simply give him access to good fresh stuff, ideally not the crappy, heavily weed upon stuff at the bottom of a telegraph post. They know what bits they want and how much to consumer.

You can also pick some fresh stuff and air dry it (preserving the good bits), then crumble it into his food like pepper now and again (they don’t mind at all). If you don’t want to prepare it yourself, you can buy a dry supplement of couch grass online (find dry rhizomes of couch grass here on Amazon, cheap as chips).

Lastly, you can simply fresh juice some nice pieces of grass and add to their meal but please remember a dog only eats 3-5 blades at a sitting so don’t go too mad.

mix fruit veg and herb ice cubes for dogs

Tip: Instead of having to do it each meal, why not whizzle it up with other great additions, like kale, blueberries, some pumpkin seeds to keep the worms at bay, whatever, and then store them as ice cubes. I call them power cubes! Pop one in the bowl each feed!

Tips on feeding dogs vegetables and fruit here!

More tips on how to make my own dog treats here!

2) Green tea – Camellia sinensis

Probably the most famous “system flush outs” is a cup of green tea. Again, before we get to the nutritionally sexy bits (polyphenols), and much like the other green herbs, green tea is packed full of nutrients. These include vitamins A, D, E, C, B, B5, H and K, manganese (which can be hard for fresh-fed dogs to source), zinc, chromium and selenium. Nutrients aside, the young, unfermented leaves of the green tea plant have been used for thousands of years to boost the health of the kidneys, liver and gut. Today we know extracts of green tea can be used to positively affect the health of almost every part of the body including the brain and pancreas, assisting with weight loss by strengthening the metabolism via thermogenesis (where an increase in body temperature helps to break down body fat). Green tea is also used in heart tonics as it reduces cholesterol, improving the heart and circulatory system.

green tea for kidney disease in dogs
Green tea for kidney disease in dogs

 

It sounds too good to be true but of all the herbs mentioned in this piece, green tea has literally thousands of studies backing it up. A colossal literature review of these studies by Cabrera et al. 2006 reveals copious amounts of evidence for the therapeutic effects of green tea. To quote from their study:

Recent human studies suggest that green tea may contribute to a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer, as well as to the promotion of oral health and other physiological functions such as anti-hypertensive effect, body weight control, antibacterial and antivirasic activity, solar ultraviolet protection, bone mineral density increase, anti-fibrotic properties, and neuroprotective power.

But importantly here, thanks to the relatively unique array of polyphenols and alkaloids it contains, green tea is a powerful anti-inflammatory, astringent and diuretic, all of which your dog with kidney disease will immediately benefit from.

Note: There was concern about using green tea in dogs, the result of people misunderstanding a particularly brutal overdose studies on beagles that resulted in “extensive morbidity, mortality, and pathology of many major organs”. The doses used (up to 1000 mgs/kg per day of green tea extract in capsule form over several months) is hugely excessive. Like the use of garlic in dogs (below), these overdose studies should not put folk off using these herbs corrently, in much smaller, more normal doses.

How to give DE-CAFFEINATED green tea to your dog:

The easiest way is to simply make them a cup of tea! Use the best quality green tea you can find and please look for the DE-CAF version for your dog, they don’t do caffeine. Any variety of green tea is fine but obviously the higher the quality the more effective you can expect it to be (the active components such as phenols don’t like too much processing). Make a cuppa from your de-caf green tea leaves / teabag and allow to cool. If they’ll drink it, great! If not, a little dash on top of their food will go down fine. Make a strong cup, keep it in the fridge and use it when you regular as you can.

Failing that you can always pick up a product from a company that have already produced an extract based on the plant. I’m no expert here but this is the best-reviewed green tea extract on Amazon, with a very high polyphenol content, apparently. Dose according to body size, if 1 tablet for the average 70kg human, then half a tablet for a large lab, type thing.

3) Java tea – Orthosiphon stamineus

There’s a heap of different tea plants and it seems they’re all pretty good for you. You can do one better than green tea by picking up some Java tea. Also known as “kidney tea” (or, less relevantly, cat whisker plant), the unique properties of java tea include flavones such as sinensetin and glycosides including orthosiphonin, both of which are shown to have clear kidney benefits. It also has a big range of volatile oils and large amounts of potassium. In fact, when you research tea and kidneys, it is this plant that (and sub-species of it) that pop up the most in studies, including a diuretic and hypouricemic (lowering of uric acid) effect in rats and a reduction in nephrotoxicity (a reduction of injury to the nephrons of the kidney, largely thanks to it’s dual diuretic and antioxidant effects). Further, by regulating amino acid output and choline metabolism, java can protect against oxalate-induced kidney injury. They don’t call it kidney tea for nothing!

Now, there is a problem here. Despite there being a great variety of Java teas available I am struggling to find a DE-CAF version of any of them. Amazon certainly doesn’t seem to have them. If you type “decaffeinated java tea” into Google you will find some sources. It’s often called “black tea” here but as long as it begins with the species name Orthosiphon you’re on to a good thing in terms of the bioactive compounds. Google often offers the sources closest or most accessible to your current location. Failing that, maybe try a local tea shop? Google “tea shop”, call the one nearest and give them a call.

4) Rehmannia – Rehmannia glutinosa

Rehmannia for kidney disease in dogs

Another plant that most of us haven’t heard of, Rehmannia is a beautiful, purple-flowered perennial with large sticky leaves. It has long been a cornerstone in Chinese medicine for herb for kidney and adrenal health. It contains phytosterols and antioxidants (including Rehmannia, unique to this plant), along with glycosides such as catapol. Unsurprisingly, the studies are now backing this plant as a powerful herb for boosting both liver and kidney health. Studies show Rehmannia alleviates progressive renal failure. It can also be used to detoxify the liver and treat hepatitis. Like the teas above, it is a powerful anti-inflammatory and has been used to soothe autoimmune disorders such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia.

A large literature review reveals a staggering array of compounds (and supportive studies) packed into this little plant. No matter who I talk to, this is top of the list along with or beside kidney tea.

In recent decades, a great number of chemical and pharmacological studies have been done on Rehmannia glutinosa. More than 70 compounds including iridoids, saccharides, amino acid, inorganic ions, as well as other trace elements have been found in the herb. Studies show that Rehmannia glutinosa and its active principles possess wide pharmacological actions on the blood system, immune system, endocrine system, cardiovascular system and the nervous system.

Zhang et al. 2008.

Once again, this is harder to source in non-Asian countries so my go-to is Amazon for ease. Here it is in tincture form. Dose according to body size of your dog but again be aware of a potential drug-clash with kidney meds your vet may have already placed your dog on.

tincture of Rehmannia glutinosa for kidney disease in dogs

5) Uva ursi – Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Last in our list of herbs for kidney disease in dogs, is bearberry. This is a low-lying evergreen shrub native to Europe and even stubbornly found in the Arctic. Harvested in Autumn, bearberries contains hydroquinones (including arbutin), phenolic glycosides, tannins and flavonoids. Uva-ursi is known to have antiseptic and antibacterial properties and studies show Uva ursi is one of the best urinary antiseptics out there, used to help disinfect the kidneys.

Again, probably easiest to find Uva ursi in capsule form in Amazon, cheap enough. Drug clash warning also applies.

bearberry for kidney disease in dogs
Note: uva-ursi should not be used in pregnant dogs for much more than a few days.

 

Dr. Conor Brady

After a doctorate studying the effects of nutrition on the behaviour and gut morphology of animals, five years with Guide Dogs as a trainer and supervisor, some success on Dragons Den with the finest raw dog food company and the last few years both writing and speaking on canine nutrition and health, I can say with some confidence that the pet food and drug industry cares not a jot for the health of your pet.
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