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Natural Awakenings Greater Boston - Rhode Island

Canis Major Herbals: A Natural Approach to Pet Wellness

Mar 06, 2011 03:00AM ● By Kim Childs

If people do best with a program of exercise, whole food diets and herbs to occasionally cleanse and tone the body, would the same approach work for pets? Yes, says Somerville herbalist Nancy Anderson, who has been healing local pets for five years, using a natural approach to wellness. Anderson named her business Canis Major Herbals to honor the Big Dog constellation and her fondness for large canines. “I love helping dogs come back to wellness,” she says. “It feeds me.”

Anderson worked for years in the pharmaceutical industry before a lucky turn of events and a severance package allowed her to change course. She went on to pursue herbal studies and an internship in which she focused on the application of herbal remedies to animals. Today, she works at the B.Y.O.D. self-serve dog wash, in South Boston, while growing her business and blogging and lecturing about pet wellness.

“I talk with people every day who are either unaware that their dogs have a problem, or they’re seeing a vet who doesn’t seem to get to the underlying issue,” says Anderson, referring to conditions such as the red, itchy paws and chronic paw licking that she sees in some of the dogs that come in for baths. Nearly all of those ailments can be traced to food sensitivities, she says. “As an herbalist, I love formulating herbs and mixing up tinctures and teas and things like that,” Anderson explains. “But I’m equally happy when conditions can be reversed just by changing the pet’s food.”

A Natural Diet Is Key

Grocery and chain store kibble contains grains, fillers and byproducts that can throw off an animal’s pH balance and create other problems, says Anderson. She recommends a diet that is more like what animals eat in the wild. “Dogs that are switched to a raw diet do exceptionally well,” she says. “I often see a complete turnaround.”

Frozen, packaged, raw food diets containing meat and vegetables are available from many local independent pet stores and facilities, including LaundroMutt, B.Y.O.D., Animal Spirit and Bone Appetit. These foods supply the enzymes necessary for healthy digestion, says Anderson, while most processed commercial pet foods do not. “If the stomach is missing these digestive enzymes, it asks the brain to step in and rob metabolic enzymes that should be off doing things like fighting inflammation,” she notes. “That’s why we’re seeing lots of chronic illness in pets these days, like arthritis, allergies and urinary issues.” Cats are especially susceptible to urinary problems, she says, and benefit greatly from a meat-based diet with little or no dry food.

Pet owners can prepare raw diets at home with the right knowledge and guidance. Knowledgeable pet-shop staff can help with this process, as can books such as The Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog and Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats. Anderson says that certain processed and canned-food brands, such as Orijen and Solid Gold, are good alternatives to raw diets, if convenience is an issue.

Herbals Can Be Helpful

When it comes to applying herbal remedies to animal illnesses, Anderson says she’s had great success treating Lyme disease in dogs with a tincture that she formulated. “I’ll give a lecture on the subject, and people will buy a tincture,” she reports. “Then, I’ll get an email from them one month or six months or a year later to say, ‘My dog tested positive for Lyme disease for years and is finally free of it.’”

Urinary issues and incontinence are very common and sometimes difficult issues to treat, Anderson notes. Animals who suffer from these problems may benefit from a combination of pharmaceuticals to treat the illness and herbs to tone the organs and cleanse any toxins left behind by the medicines. She emphasizes that herbal remedies must be used correctly with animals, which have higher sensitivities and require lower dosages.

Exercise Is Vital, Too

Last, but not least, on Anderson’s wellness plan for animals is exercise—like people, pets need to keep their bodies moving for optimal health. “We’re a culture that likes to sit on the couch, and then we expect our pets to stay inside a lot and sit around,” says Anderson, who also runs a dog hiking service. “I’ll pick up your dog and take him or her to the [Middlesex] Fells,” she says. “There’s nothing like seeing a dog in the woods and the glee in their expression—they have so much fun, because that’s what they’re supposed to be doing.”

Anderson also sees horses in her practice. When not washing or treating other people’s pets, she can be seen running around with Rupert, her five-year-old greater Swiss mountain dog. For more information, call 617-501-9241, email [email protected] or visit, which also offers blogs and information about upcoming lectures on animal wellness.