Dandelion: The Near-Perfect Plant for Your Dog

Use dandelion as a supplement to your dog’s fresh; wholesome, nutritious diet for best effect.

It might be that like me you suffer from a surplus of dandelions in your garden! But really we should welcome the much-maligned dandelion (Taraxacum officianale) both for its health properties as well as one of the first food sources for bees. Here, I want to discuss how we as dog owners can benefit from this common and easy to harvest natural food…and in the process, by using it instead of eliminating it, we will be supporting the natural bee population!

Dandelion offers a broad spectrum of medicinal and nutritional applications that can be freely accessed and safely employed by anyone. Contained within its leaves, roots, and flowers is a myriad of medicinal actions: diuretic, diaphoretic, cholagogue, alterative, astringent, antimicrobial, analgesic, immunostimulant, and nutritive, just to name a few.

Although it’s largely lost to conventional Western medicine, dandelion remains popular in herbal preparations throughout the world, especially in Europe and Asia. Despite the fact that it’s more versatile than many trendy herbs, dandelion remains relatively obscure in the modern marketplace, perhaps by virtue of its weedy abundance.

Dandelion as a Nutritive

A one cup serving of fresh dandelion greens will provide as much as 2000 IUs of vitamin A (1½ times the RDA for an adult human); 20 percent protein (double of what spinach provides); vitamins C, K, D, and B-complex; iron; manganese; phosphorus; and many other trace minerals. It’s also a rich source of potassium.

All of these vital nutrients are conveniently contained within a single source, in quantities that the body can fully absorb. This means that dandelion will gently supplement the diet without overworking the liver and kidneys with excess vitamins and minerals (this is often signified by dark urine), a problem that sometimes occurs with the use of high-dose vitamin supplements.

Dandelion as a Bitter Tonic

The “bitter tonic” principle. Bitter tonics have been well-known for centuries in Europe and Asia, where dandelion and other bitter greens are commonly consumed before a meal to stimulate the secretion of digestive juices (this is how the dinner salad was born). The idea is to “warm up” digestive metabolism before we ask the digestive system to go to work. When a small amount of a bitter herb is taken into the mouth, a sudden increase of salivation occurs. Meanwhile, as the bitter herb reaches the stomach, bile and other digestive agents are triggered into production. This results in less indigestion, better absorption of nutrients, and increased appetite.

The bitter principle is no secret to animals. If you have an opportunity to watch a deer as it begins its day of feeding, you will likely see it nibble at a few bitter plants before turning to the forage it prefers. Even many domesticated dogs and cats nibble bitters when afforded the opportunity.

Bitters are particularly useful in animals who have a chronic problem with indigestion. If your companion has frequent gas and/or passes food that does not appear digested, get him to chew a fresh dandelion leaf.

Dandelion as a Diuretic

Dandelion is a safe but powerful diuretic and liver stimulant. Diuretics promote urine elimination; normal urination is critical to health. The efficiency of diuresis (the elimination of excess water and systemic waste) can mean the difference between life and death. Congestive heart failure, pulmonary edema, arthritis, gall bladder disease, kidney stone – these are all imbalances resulting from the body’s inability to eliminate water and/or accumulated excesses.

In conventional veterinary practices, drugs such as furosemide (widely known under the brand name “Lasix”) are often used to pull excess fluid from the body and thus promote the elimination of accumulated waste materials. Pharmaceutical diuretics are fast-acting, easy to administer, and very effective, but they tend not to discriminate between what the body needs to keep and what it needs to lose. As a result of pharmaceutical diuretic therapy, the body often loses too much potassium – a crucial heart and brain chemical – through the urinary tract. In this event, potassium must be supplemented throughout the therapy.

Dandelion leaf, in contrast, contains its own rich source of fully assimilable potassium, which helps to replace what would otherwise be lost through urination.

Many herbalists (including medical researchers, physicians, and veterinarians) claim that when used as a strong tea, dandelion may be as effective as furosemide. And, unlike many other herbal diuretics that work largely by acid-induced kidney irritation, dandelion is very gentle and soothing to the kidneys.

NOTE: If your dog receives conventional pharmaceutical diuretic therapy, see a holistic veterinarian before seeking the dandelion alternative. But on the other hand, there’s no reason why your animal can’t benefit from dandelion’s replacement of potassium while eating it on his meals.

Dandelion is a Liver Tonic

While dandelion’s leaves are very nutritive and diuretic, the root possesses its own usefulness as a safe, reliable liver tonic. The liver is the primary filtering organ of the body, responsible for removing toxins and excesses from the blood for elimination via the kidneys.

The liver also plays critical roles in digestion through its production of bile, bilirubin, and various enzymes. If bile ducts in the liver or gall bladder become congested, blocked, or otherwise diseased to the point of dysfunction, the body will invariably suffer one or more toxicity-related imbalances. Such imbalances may be characterized by symptoms such as jaundice, rheumatoid conditions, eczema, dandruff, or chronic constipation. And while dandelion leaf tea or tincture may help relieve the symptoms of such conditions through a nutritive/diuretic action, the root will work closer to the underlying causes.

Dandelion root has a proven ability to stimulate bile production and circulation throughout the liver. In one study involving dogs (bear in mind that I strongly oppose animal testing), researchers observed a three to four times increase in bile production after administration of dandelion root.

The gallbladder (which stores bile from the liver) is also stimulated, causing this small, hollow organ to contract and release bile into the digestive tract, thus aiding in digestion and acting as a gentle laxative to promote the elimination of solid waste. And in clinical studies using an over-the-counter preparation of the root, dandelion was shown to be effective in treating inflammatory diseases of the liver and gallbladder, including gallstones.

(But please remember: Most of these conditions are preventable, and improper diet is often the underlying cause. Although dandelion has been used successfully in the treatment of liver disease, it is best used at the onset of such conditions; and when adjustments to diet, environment, and the reduction of introduced toxins remains the primary course of therapeutic action. If your animal is in an advanced stage of liver or kidney disease, see your holistic veterinarian for guidance.)

Dandelion for Diabetes

The autumn-harvested root of dandelion is known to contain up to 40 percent inulin, a concentrated dietary fibre that is comprised chiefly of the carbohydrate (sugar) fructose. Inulin is easily assimilated by diabetics, and there is ample evidence to suggest it possesses insulin-like properties that may serve, at least to a limited degree, as an insulin substitute in insulin-dependent diabetic people and their animals.

Additionally, the fructose likely helps to maintain blood sugar levels, while the liver stimulating/diuretic actions of the root improves kidney function and the assimilation of needed nutrients. Many herbalists also believe that dandelion root strengthens pancreatic function; an action that may prove very beneficial in the maintenance of diabetic animals.

More Ways to Use Dandelion

Dandelion does possess mild infection-fighting qualities and can be used as a gentle, soothing astringent/disinfectant wash.. A weak decoction (a simmered tea) of dandelion leaves can be diluted in sterile saline (available in the eye care portion of Boots) and used as soothing eyewash for conjunctivitis and general eye irritations. Use ¼ teaspoon of the decoction diluted in one ounce of saline; a few drops in the eyes daily should bring relief. The solution will only keep for a few days, so mix it up sparingly.

Roots

Anyone who has tried to remove dandelions from a lawn or patio knows that their roots are stubborn and tenacious. Dandelion roots are healthful powerhouses. They are high in inulin, a dietary fibre that regulates blood-sugar levels. Herbalists believe the root also supports pancreatic health and liver functions. As the filtering organ of the body, the liver is responsible for removing toxins. Research has demonstrated that dogs with digestive issues benefit from ingesting dandelion roots.

The roots also have mild immunostimulant qualities useful as the slight push to the immune system nonetheless. What dandelion lacks in the auto-immune department it makes up for in the form of powerful nutritive qualities. A well-fed body stands strong against infection.

Flowers and stems

The flowers of dandelion are known by herbalists to be high in lecithin and to have weak but useful analgesic qualities as well. Research demonstrates that dandelion stems and flowers act as an antioxidant and boost the immune system. The flowers are also full of lecithin, a nutrient that is essential for cellular health. The herb may also be used topically mixed with saline, as an astringent or soothing eyewash.

The stems of the dandelion can be used as a natural liver tonic. This safe and reliable tonic can be delivered in the form of a tea or a tincture and is said to correct any toxicity-related imbalance. Such imbalances can lead to conditions like chronic constipation which dandelion seems to work well for.

Leaves

Dandelion Greens are Dandelion greens a natural source of vitamins A, C, K, D, and B, but they contain protein, and important minerals like calcium, potassium, iron, zinc and manganese. Compared to Broccoli; Dandelion Greens have 3 times more calcium, 3 times more Iron, 15 times more Vitamin A, and 3 times more Vitamin E.

That so many of these vital nutrients are contained in a single source — in amounts a dogs’ body can absorb without overworking the liver or kidneys — is one reason the dandelion is considered a superfood. It is a gentle herb that doesn’t tax the system the way synthetic supplements might.

That said, dandelion is a diuretic, so it’s important that dogs who ingest it have plenty of water to drink. You need to make sure your dog has ample opportunity to get outside to relieve himself during the day

The greens are thought to stimulate appetite and encourage digestion, particularly for dogs prone to gas or an upset stomach. The leaves also act as a prebiotic, feeding good gut bacteria/probiotics.

Adding Dandelion to Your Dog’s Diet

When you collect dandelion make sure they are never sprayed with herbicides or pesticides and dry them first. 

Once dried you can sprinkle a teaspoon per 20 pounds body weight into your dog’s meals.

dandelion tea:

Use 5g to 30g dried herb infused in 8oz water

For dried herbs, use a teaspoon per 20 pounds.

You can use 1/3 of a cup per 20 pounds of your dog’s body weight, up to 3 times a day.

  • Collect fresh, young dandelion leaves from plants that have not been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides
  • Dry the leaves by gathering them in a bunch, tying them with an elastic, and hanging them upside down
  • Once dry, add one teaspoon of dandelion leaves to one cup filtered water or broth
  • Boil the mixture, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes

Making a Nutritious Carrot Dandelion Juice

This juice can be fed to dogs to improve their digestion and skin conditions, as well as to support the urinary tract and cleanse the blood.

Use equal proportions of dandelion leaves and/or roots and carrots and make a juice using a juicer. Add a few drops of the juice to your dog's food to make her get used to the taste, and gradually increase the dosage to 1 teaspoon per 20 pounds of body weight per day.

Dandelion roots

Harvest dandelion roots from late autumn through to early spring, when the plant is dormant and has stored up energy in the root.  For medicinal use, most sources say fall harvest is best. This is because the levels of inulin (insoluble fibre) are higher and the fructose levels are lower.

To dig roots, use a dandelion digger or a sturdy fork. You want to break/damage the root as little as possible so you don’t lose much sap, which is where the medicinal properties lie.

You can use dandelion roots fresh for cooking and medicine, or preserve them for later use. For long term storage, drying works best. Scrub roots well before cutting. Slice thick roots lengthwise into strips of uniform thickness to decrease drying time and encourage uniform drying.

Dandelion Coffee

To make dandelion coffee, start with dried roots. Chop or break into small, even pieces, roughly 1/4″ across. Spread on a roasting pan and bake in a warm oven (200°F, 93°C) for around 4 hours. Stir occasionally. The dandelion roots should be browned and dried completely through. Cool completely. Grind and use as you would regular coffee, or place 1 heaping teaspoon of ground root in a cup of water, steep for 10 minutes and strain. Store in an airtight glass jar and grind just before use for best flavour.

I hope that the above is useful to you. If you like it please share, and please tell us your experience of using dandelion. And if you can like and our home page, you will receive our occasional Doghealth information bulletins. Enjoy!