Interview with Dr. Anya on Herbs for Pets

Dr. Anya

A great veterinarian is committed to providing optimal care for their patients and the patients’ families. They bring a unique blend of medical knowledge, empathy, and communication skills. We are thrilled to introduce you to an extraordinary veterinarian who truly cares about the well-being of animals and is known for always going above and beyond to ensure that every animal under her care receives the best treatment. This week, we sat down with Dr. Anya Dziurzynski to talk about her journey, our new Pet Gardens, and the impact fresh herbs can have on the health of our favorite furry friends.

What made you want to become a veterinarian?

I think my story starts like everyone else – I love animals and have loved them all from an incredibly early age. As I progressed in my academics I gravitated towards science and biology which even more fueled my career direction. I knew I wanted to be the voice of those that could not speak for themselves, i.e. pediatrics or veterinary medicine. So my love of animals is what ultimately made my decision!

What does an average day look like for you?

The average day is a different day, each day! It often begins with morning consultations and appointments. I see a variety of cases, including wellness exams, vaccinations, and routine check-ups.  Mid-morning and early afternoon is generally dedicated to performing elective surgeries, such as spaying or neutering, dental procedures, or minor surgeries. Emergency cases can occur at any time, and I may need to address urgent cases that walk in. Some are scheduled during the day. This can include injuries, sudden illnesses, or other emergencies. Intermixed in these exams I may need to perform diagnostic procedures such as X-rays, blood tests, or other laboratory tests to help diagnose and treat various conditions.

Throughout the day I communicate with pet owners to discuss their pet’s diagnosis, treatment plans, and answer questions. Sometimes I have time to eat lunch, but sometimes not! The day may end with evening consultations and follow-up appointments.

What is your favorite part of your job? What would you say is the most challenging part about what you do?

I love to educate my clients about their pet – when they are empowered with knowledge, they can better care for their pet which leads to a longer, happier, healthier life. Veterinary medicine is hard on a lot of different levels. Dealing with all the emotional aspects of veterinary care, including difficult cases, euthanasia, and client interactions, can be challenging.

Do you have any pets at home?

I sure do! I recently said goodbye to two loves of my life, a 16-year-old boxer mix and an almost 23-year-old Siamese but we still have a sweet hound mix named Dexter.

What types of fresh herbs are safe for our dogs? Which herbs are the most beneficial for dogs and why?

Gardenuity Pet Garden

Several fresh herbs are generally considered safe for dogs and can provide certain nutritional and health benefits. It’s important to introduce new herbs gradually and in moderation, as individual dogs may have varying tolerances. Here are some fresh herbs for dogs that are often deemed safe, along with potential benefits: 

PARSLEY (Petroselinum crispum):

Benefits: Parsley is rich in vitamins and antioxidants. It can be added in small amounts to a dog’s diet to provide fresh breath and contribute to overall health. 

BASIL (Ocimum basilicum):

Benefits: Basil is a source of antioxidants and can add flavor to your dog’s meals. It may have anti-inflammatory properties. 

DILL (Anethum graveolens):

Benefits: Dill is a flavorful herb that can be used in small amounts to enhance the taste of your dog’s food. 

THYME (Thymus vulgaris):

Benefits: Thyme is often used in pet foods + treats and contains antioxidants that may contribute to overall health. 

ROSEMARY (Rosmarinus officinalis):

Benefits: Rosemary has antioxidant properties and can be used in moderation to add flavor to dog food. It’s important not to overuse it, as excessive amounts may cause digestive upset. 

MINT (Mentha spp.):

Benefits: Mint can help freshen breath and add a pleasant taste to dog treats or meals. However, excessive amounts should be avoided. 

GINGER (Zingiber officinale):

Benefits: Ginger may have anti-inflammatory properties and can be beneficial for dogs with nausea or digestive issues. It should be used in moderation. 

CILANTRO (Coriandrum sativum):

Benefits: Cilantro is a source of antioxidants and can be used sparingly to enhance the flavor of your dog’s food. 

OREGANO (Origanum vulgare):

Benefits: Oregano contains antioxidants and may have antimicrobial properties. Use it in moderation to flavor your dog’s meals.

When offering fresh herbs to your dog, ensure they are clean and free from pesticides. You can incorporate them into your dog’s diet by adding small amounts to their food or using them as a garnish. It’s important to remember that while these herbs are generally considered safe, individual dogs may react differently, and moderation is key. 

*Before introducing new herbs or supplements into your dog’s diet, especially for specific health purposes, it’s advisable to consult with your veterinarian. They can provide guidance based on your dog’s individual health status and needs.

Which herbs are toxic to dogs?

Introducing new herbs to a dog’s diet should be done with caution, as not all herbs are safe for canine consumption. While some herbs offer nutritional and health benefits, others can be toxic and harmful to dogs. It’s crucial to be aware of which herbs pose a risk to ensure the safety and well-being of your furry friend.

Here are some herbs that are considered toxic for dogs:

GARLIC (Allium sativum): 

Toxic Component: N-propyl disulfide 

Effects: Can cause damage to red blood cells, leading to anemia. Avoid all forms of garlic, including garlic powder and garlic supplements. 

ONION (Allium cepa):

Toxic Component: N-propyl disulfide 

Effects: Similar to garlic, onions can cause damage to red blood cells, leading to anemia. This includes all forms of onions, such as raw, cooked, and powdered. 

CHIVES (Allium schoenoprasum):

Toxic Component: N-propyl disulfide 

Effects: Chives, like garlic and onions, can cause damage to red blood cells and should be avoided. 

LEEKS (Allium ampeloprasum):

Toxic Component: N-propyl disulfide 

Effects: Leeks contain the same toxic compounds as onions and garlic, leading to anemia in dogs. 

AUTUMN CROCUS (Colchicum autumnale):

Toxic Component: Colchicine 

Effects: Can cause severe gastrointestinal upset, kidney and liver damage, respiratory failure, and even death. 

FOXGLOVE (Digitalis purpurea):

Toxic Component: Cardiac glycosides 

Effects: Ingestion can lead to heart arrhythmias, vomiting, diarrhea, and potentially death.

What types of fresh herbs are safe for our cats? Which herbs are the most beneficial for cats and why?

Gardenuity Pet Garden For Cats

Many fresh herbs are considered safe for cats when given in moderation. However, it’s important to note that individual sensitivities can vary, and some cats may react differently to certain herbs. Here are some fresh herbs for cats that are generally considered safe for cats, along with potential benefits: 

CATNIP (Nepeta cataria):

Benefits: Catnip is well-known for its stimulating effect on cats. It contains a compound called nepetalactone, which can trigger a temporary sense of euphoria in many cats. Some cats may become more playful, while others may become more relaxed. 

CATMINT (Nepeta mussinii):

Benefits: Similar to catnip, catmint is another member of the Nepeta family that can elicit a positive response in cats. It can be used as an alternative to catnip. 

VALERIAN (Valeriana officinalis):

Benefits: Valerian root has a mild sedative effect on some cats, promoting relaxation. It can be useful in stressful situations, such as during car rides or visits to the veterinarian. 

CHAMOMILE (Matricaria chamomilla):

Benefits: Chamomile has calming properties and may help alleviate stress and anxiety in cats. It can be used in small amounts and is often included in calming cat products. 

PARSLEY (Petroselinum crispum):

Benefits: Parsley is a source of vitamins and antioxidants. While it is generally considered safe in small amounts, it’s advisable to use it cautiously. 

DILL (Anethum graveolens):

Benefits: Dill is a flavorful herb that can be used in small amounts to add variety to a cat’s diet. 

BASIL (Ocimum basilicum):

Benefits: Basil is rich in antioxidants and can be a safe addition to your cat’s diet in small quantities. 

When offering herbs to your cat, it is crucial to ensure they are fresh and free from pesticides or other contaminants. You can provide fresh herbs by placing them in your cat’s environment, using them as a garnish on their food, or even growing a small herb garden for your cat to explore. 

*While these herbs are generally considered safe, always introduce new herbs gradually, observe your cat’s reaction, and consult with your veterinarian if you have any concerns. Additionally, if you’re considering using herbs for specific health purposes, it’s advisable to seek guidance from your veterinarian to ensure they are appropriate for your cat’s individual needs.

If owners really want to incorporate herbs in their animals’ diets, consider seeing a holistic veterinarian who specializes in this! A great resource for pet owners is this book: Herbs for Pets by Greg Tilford, DVM.

Which herbs are toxic to cats?

While certain herbs can provide nutritional and health benefits, others can be toxic and dangerous to cats. It’s essential to have knowledge of which herbs are harmful to ensure the safety and well-being of your feline companion.

Here are some herbs that are considered toxic for cats:

LILIES (Various species):

Toxic Component: Unknown, but ingestion can cause severe kidney damage.

Effects: Ingesting any part of the lily plant, especially in cats, can lead to acute kidney failure, which is often fatal. 

CHIVES (Allium schoenoprasum):

Toxic Component: N-propyl disulfide

Effects: Chives can cause damage to red blood cells in cats as well, similar to dogs. 

GARLIC (Allium sativum) and ONION (Allium cepa):

Effects: Both garlic and onions are toxic to cats and can cause anemia. 

AUTUMN CROCUS (Colchicum autumnale):

Effects: Similar to dogs, ingestion of autumn crocus in cats can lead to severe gastrointestinal upset, kidney and liver damage, respiratory failure, and death. 

FOXGLOVE (Digitalis purpurea):

Effects: Cats are also susceptible to the toxic effects of cardiac glycosides in foxglove, causing heart arrhythmias, vomiting, diarrhea, and potential death. 

It’s important to keep potentially toxic plants out of reach of pets and to be vigilant about what plants are present in and around your home. If you suspect your pet has ingested a toxic plant, contact your veterinarian or an emergency poison control hotline immediately. Early intervention is crucial for a better prognosis.

Certain herbs possess natural properties that can aid digestion, boost the immune system, and even help alleviate certain ailments. (For example, we know parsley can freshen breath and promote healthy kidney function.) Do the nutritional benefits of herbs also benefit our dogs and cats in the same way?

Gardenuity Puppy Pet Garden

Yes, some herbs can offer nutritional benefits for dogs and cats similar to those experienced by humans. However, it’s essential to approach the use of herbs for pets with caution, considering their specific physiological and metabolic differences. Here are some examples of herbs that, when used appropriately, may provide nutritional benefits for dogs and cats: 

Parsley – As mentioned, parsley is known for its potential to freshen breath and may have mild diuretic properties that can support healthy kidney function in both dogs and cats. It contains vitamins and antioxidants that can contribute to overall health. 

Basil – Basil is a source of vitamins and antioxidants that can potentially support the immune system in pets. Like parsley, it should be used in moderation. 

Dill Dill is a flavorful herb that, in small amounts, can be a source of vitamins for pets. 

Thyme – Thyme is sometimes used in pet foods and treats and can provide antioxidants that support overall health. 

Echinacea – Echinacea is believed to have immune-boosting properties in both humans and pets. However, the use and dosage should be discussed with a veterinarian. 

Calendula – Calendula may offer anti-inflammatory benefits and can be used topically in pet care products. It is essential to use it in a pet-safe form and under veterinary guidance. 

Chamomile – Chamomile is often used to soothe digestive issues and promote relaxation in pets. It can be used in small amounts under veterinary supervision. 

When considering herbs for pets, it’s crucial to remember that their digestive systems and metabolic processes differ from humans. What is safe and beneficial for people may not be the same for pets. Always consult with a veterinarian before introducing herbs into your pet’s diet, and be cautious about the dosage and form in which they are administered. Some herbs can be toxic to pets in large quantities, and individual sensitivities vary. Additionally, certain medical conditions or medications your pet may be on could interact with herbs, making professional guidance essential for safe use.  

Nutrition is a critical component to the overall health and wellness of dogs and cats. What are some of your top recommendations you make to new pet parents?

Ensuring proper nutrition is indeed vital for the overall health and well-being of dogs and cats. Here are some top recommendations for new pet parents to promote a healthy diet for their furry companions: 

Consult with a Veterinarian

Schedule a visit to the veterinarian for a thorough health check and to discuss your pet’s specific nutritional needs based on factors such as age, breed, size, and any existing health conditions. 

Choose a High-Quality Commercial Pet Food

Select a well-balanced commercial pet food that is appropriate for your pet’s life stage (puppy/kitten, adult, senior) and meets the nutritional standards set by organizations like the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). 

Read + Understand Ingredient Lists

Pay attention to the ingredient list on pet food labels. Look for high-quality protein sources, whole grains, and essential nutrients. Avoid foods with excessive artificial additives. 

Provide Fresh Water

Ensure that your pet has access to fresh, clean water at all times. Hydration is crucial for overall health and helps support proper digestion. 

Portion Control

Follow feeding guidelines provided on the pet food packaging and adjust portions based on your pet’s age, weight, activity level, and individual metabolism. Overfeeding can lead to obesity, while underfeeding may result in nutrient deficiencies. 

Avoid Feeding Human Food

While it’s tempting to share food with your pet, many human foods can be harmful to them. Certain foods, such as chocolate, onions, and grapes, can be toxic to dogs and cats. 

Limit Treats + Monitor Caloric Intake

Treats should be given in moderation to prevent excessive calorie intake. Consider using healthy, pet-safe treats, and factor them into your pet’s overall daily calorie allowance. 

Consider Special Dietary Needs

If your pet has specific health concerns or conditions, such as allergies, joint issues, or weight management issues, discuss with your veterinarian whether a specialized diet or supplements may be beneficial. 

Regular Exercise

Combine a balanced diet with regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight and promote overall fitness. Playtime, walks, and other forms of physical activity are essential for your pet’s well-being. 

Monitor + Adjust

Keep an eye on your pet’s weight, coat condition, and overall behavior. If you notice any changes, consult with your veterinarian to determine if adjustments to the diet are needed. 

Remember that each pet is unique, and their nutritional needs may vary. Regular veterinary check-ups, a balanced diet, and a loving, active lifestyle contribute to the long-term health and happiness of your furry friend.

Is a varied diet important for our pets? Do you think our pets experience flavor fatigue?

The Pet Garden

Yes, a varied diet is generally considered safe for pets; however, if their diet is AAFCO-approved, it is not necessary. If you want to offer some treats and additives to their diet, you can! Here are a few reasons why a varied diet can benefit our pets: 

Nutrient Diversity: Different foods contain different nutrients. Providing a variety of protein sources, grains, vegetables, and fruits can help prevent nutrient deficiencies and ensure your pet gets a balanced diet. 

Palatability + Interest: Offering a variety of flavors and textures can make meals more interesting for your pet. This can be especially important for picky eaters or pets with medical conditions that may affect their appetite. 

Preventing Food Allergies + Sensitivities: Introducing a range of ingredients early on in a pet’s life may help prevent the development of food allergies or sensitivities to specific ingredients. 

Mental Stimulation: Variety in the diet can provide mental stimulation for pets. It engages their sense of smell, taste, and texture, making mealtime more enjoyable and preventing boredom. 

Preventing Flavor Fatigue: While there isn’t extensive scientific evidence on whether pets experience flavor fatigue in the same way humans do, it’s plausible that they might appreciate variety to avoid monotony in their diet. Offering the same food repeatedly might lead to a lack of interest in meals. 

However, it’s essential to make dietary changes gradually to prevent digestive upset. Abrupt changes in diet can lead to gastrointestinal issues, such as vomiting or diarrhea. 

When considering a varied diet for your pet, it’s crucial to maintain nutritional balance and choose foods that meet their specific dietary needs. Consult with your veterinarian to develop a nutritionally complete and balanced diet plan tailored to your pet’s age, weight, breed, health condition, and lifestyle. They can provide guidance on appropriate portion sizes and ensure that any dietary changes align with your pet’s overall well-being. 

And lastly, we just had to ask… Is it easier to remember the pet’s names of your patients over their owners’ names?

While I try my best to remember the clients, I almost always remember the names of my patients before the clients! After all, they are my patients!

If you’re interested in growing your own pet-friendly herbs, we hope you will try our new Dog Garden or Cat Garden. Thank you, Dr. Anya, for sharing your wisdom so that we can provide only the best herbs for our furry friends!

Dr. Anya Dziurzynski, DVM Bio:

Dr. Anya Dziurzynski grew up in a small New England town near Mystic, Connecticut. She earned her doctorate of veterinary medicine at Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine. Her professional interests include preventative medicine, nephrology, pain management, soft tissue surgery, dermatology, and geriatric medicine. Dr. Anya Dziurzynski now practices at Preston Royal Animal Clinic.

Suggested Resource: Herbs for Pets by Greg Tilford, DVM