An increasing number of dog parents are turning to natural remedies for their furred family members. Veterinarians consider some of these products to be ineffective and even dangerous for dogs, while giving positive reviews to other products.
One herbal supplement largely touted for treating gastrointestinal upsets like diarrhea, constipation, and ulcers, is slippery elm. Below, find out what veterinarians are saying about slippery elm for dogs.
What is Slippery Elm?
The slippery elm is a tree native to North America that is found in the central and eastern areas of the United States.
“It’s a medium-sized tree with light gray bark, a sticky, gummy inner bark that has been used as a survival food for centuries, sandpapery large leaves and a reddish heartwood,” says Dr. Deborah Mitchell, medical director and practice manager at Knollwood Hospital for Pets in Schaumburg, Illinois. “It has a long history of use in American Indian, Western, Chinese, Ayurvedic, and other medical traditions.”
Native Americans, for example, have used slippery elm for centuries as a healing ointment, to relieve stomach upsets and coughs. Slippery elm’s benefits are centered around its key properties as an astringent, anti-inflammatory agent and nutritive, Mitchell says.
Astringents like slippery elm work by contracting tissues to prevent bleeding. Mitchell says that it helps dry, oozing skin and stops bleeding to speed healing. As mentioned, slippery elm has also been used as a survival food.
“The shredded bark can be eaten like oatmeal for those who have nothing else to eat or who are so weak that they are having trouble keeping any food down,” she says. “We find it to be very useful for helping cancer patients who have received chemotherapy gain their strength back.”
How Slippery Elm Is Used for Dogs
Slippery elm is primarily used in dogs to relieve gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea and constipation, says Dr. Susan Jeffrey, a veterinarian at Truesdell Animal Care Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin.
“It helps reduce inflammation in both the intestinal and respiratory tracts. It also lubricates the intestinal tract to help with the passage of stool in dogs with constipation,” Jeffrey says. “For dogs with diarrhea, the coating properties help reduce inflammation, thereby helping relieve discomfort.”
Slippery elm can also be helpful in reducing the intestinal tract inflammation that often accompanies ulcers, colitis and gastritis in dogs. Because it is high in fiber, it can also assist with the passage of waste, Jeffrey says.
Because slippery elm can help reduce respiratory tract inflammation, it can also help ease a cough caused by bronchitis, Jeffrey says. In addition, it can also be used for inflammatory skin conditions such as boils, burns and oozing skin infections.
How to Give Your Dog Slippery Elm
Slippery elm is available as a lozenge, capsule, powder that combines with water, or as an alcohol- or glycerin-based extract. It can also be finely shredded and applied topically to draw out toxins from burns or skin infections, says Mitchell.
“For larger pets, I find that tablets or capsules are often the easiest form of slippery elm to administer, while for small pets, glycerin-based [extracts] work well and are readily accepted,” she says.
For dogs who are vomiting, the powder can be mixed with slightly warm water and given as an enema, she says. “This is a nice way to get around the issue of the medication being vomited right back at the caretaker,” she adds.
It can also be added to food, says Jeffrey. Regardless of which form of slippery elm you choose to give your dog, she recommends talking to an experienced veterinarian for brand recommendations.
Is Slippery Elm Safe for Dogs?
Unless a dog is sensitive or allergic to slippery elm, it’s generally safe, Jeffrey says.
“However, due to its coating nature, it may interfere with the absorption of other medications,” she adds—another reason to work with your veterinarian when administering slippery elm to your dog.
One of the biggest risks of giving your dog slippery elm is that certain products may not live up to their label.
“Slippery elm preparations [tablets, extracts, etc.] are not regulated as drugs are and thus are not subject to FDA evaluation for safety, effectiveness, or purity,” she says. “Some herbal and health supplements have been sold that were later found to be contaminated with toxic metals or other drugs.”
Purchasing products from trusted brands is essential. One reliable way to gauge a brand’s trustworthiness, aside from asking your vet, is to check for third-party accreditation.
“I always advise my clients that they not utilize herbal products that do not display the quality seal of the National Animal Supplement Council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing a unified voice for animal health and nutritional supplement companies,” says Mitchell.
Products that receive this seal must meet certain guidelines and standards, including using a written quality control manual, following proper labeling guidelines and implementing a system for tracking complaints and safety concerns, Mitchell says.
Lastly, although slippery elm can be helpful in easing upset stomach and healing inflamed skin in dogs, there are no published, peer-reviewed studies of slippery elm use in dogs, Jeffrey says, so it’s important to take care in how it is administered and to follow your veterinarian’s recommendations closely.