Pet Vet Integrative Column: Chamomile is a useful herb for the holidays

The holidays are a time to celebrate our family and friends by getting together and eating. It’s easy to overeat with plenty of the right food and companionship. As companions, our pets can also overeat when we give them special treats or when they eat leftovers. This can lead to digestive upset, which is common in pets in the days following holiday gatherings. Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is an herb often used for digestive problems.

Chamomile has been used for human health care for at least 5,000 years. Today, chamomile is the most popular herbal tea with around 1 million cups consumed daily. Beyond tea, powder and dried chamomile extracts can be taken internally or used externally as a wash or mixed into an ointment or cream. The dried flower and its essential oils have been used extensively for a range of health concerns, and the essential oils have been used in cosmetics and for aromatherapy. It is also often used in combination with other herbs.

Interestingly, but unsurprisingly, chamomile has also been used in animals for a long time. Descriptions of its use can be found in the first veterinary manuals of the 1850s. Chamomile is considered to be a very safe herb that is well tolerated by dogs and cats.



Traditional use has been for conditions affecting the stomach and intestines such as inflammatory bowel disease, diarrhea, vomiting, and bacterial infections. It also has topical benefits to aid in the healing of inflammatory conditions and bacterial infections of the skin and mouth when used as a wash, ointment, or cream. Cases of use as a mild sedative and anxiolytic have been reported.

Current research explores and validates many traditional uses and provides insight into new clinical applications. Chamomile has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects with mechanisms similar to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. In clinical trials, chamomile increases wound strength and healing rate and reduces bacterial contamination. Improvements have been seen in people with generalized anxiety. Chamomile extracts have similar activity to benzodiazepines.



Chamomile, like all herbs, has a list of clinical benefits, and the effects are a result of the active constituents in chamomile and their influence on cellular targets. These results depend on the dose and the duration of cell contact of these active constituents. Traditional doses have been described and continue to be used. Although chamomile is considered safe, allergic reactions have been described and excessive doses may be of concern for potential impacts on blood clotting. There is a risk of increased sedation or depression when used in combination with opioids and benzodiazepines. Chamomile can cause miscarriage and impact the fetus when used in pregnant animals.

It is always important when using any herb or supplement that a clear diagnosis is obtained so that the appropriate treatment is initiated in a timely manner. This is important when using an herb like chamomile for gastrointestinal issues in pets, as there are many causes of vomiting and diarrhea. Some problems, like a simple stomach ache (i.e. gastritis), are easily managed with one herb while other problems are not well managed with one herb alone. For example, a vomiting cat with a string-like foreign body in the intestine potentially needs urgent surgery to fix the problem. Other problems, such as bacterial overgrowth in the intestines due to excessive consumption of leftovers, may respond appropriately to chamomile, but its antimicrobial effect on its own may not be sufficient to control an aggressive infection.

Enjoy the holidays with your fellow pets, but remember that they can overeat or have digestive issues just like a person. Chamomile can be a gentle way to relieve them of these problems and help them deal with holiday stress and anxiety. Always seek advice from your veterinarian when you have any questions or concerns about your pet.

Ron Carsten, DVM, PhD, CVA, CCRT was one of the first Colorado vets to use the integrative approach, has lectured extensively with vets, and was a pioneer in the therapeutic use of feed concentrates to manage disease. clinical problems. He is also the founder of Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE). In addition to his doctorate in veterinary medicine, he holds a doctorate in cellular and molecular biology and is a certified veterinary acupuncturist and certified canine rehabilitation therapist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs.