Top 10 Herbs for Dogs: Slippery Elm Bark

535883_10151708881544027_1745371932_nLast night we held our first class about the use of herbs at SFRAW: Top 10 Herbs for Dogs. It was a great success and a lot of fun! I had a wonderful time talking about some of my most favorite herbs, and everyone gathered around to watch while I prepared an incredibly delicious smelling healing salve. Students took home samples of this special blend I prepared just for their class. Participants will also revieve a document I wrote that profiles all 10 herbs featured for this class. I decided to share one of these profiles with our blog followers as well.





Slippery Elm (Ulmus fulva)
Slippery elm is a large, deciduous tree native to North America; the inner bark is used for herbal and nutritional applications. Considered one of the most valuable remedies in herbal practice, this wonderfully strengthening and healing herb has been used for centuries for everything from a highly nutritional, restorative food to treating skin conditions to calming respiratory and gastrointestinal disorders. Native American populations prepared slippery elm bark as a porridge for infants and the elderly during times of famine, and it works incredibly well as a nourishing gruel for very young, sick and old animals.



  • Mucilage that coats, lubricates, soothes, tones, and protects the entire digestive tract. Has a similar action on the respiratory system, so it is useful for reliving the discomforts associated with Kennel Cough and bronchitis; makes swallowing easier, soothes pain from coughing & reduces inflammation.
  • Being tolerated by the stomach when other foods fail, slippery elm is a highly nutritive food that contains fiber, bioflavonoids, calcium, magnesium, sodium, vitamins A, E, C, K and B-complex.
  • Considered a prebiotic; helps to promote a healthy, balanced gut flora.
  • Normalizes the bowels; acts as a bulk forming laxative that relaxes smooth muscles while tannins tighten digestive mucosa to reduce inflammation and inhibit the entrance of excess fluids into the intestines to help combat diarrhea. Soothes ulcers & reduces stomach acid. Oily mucilage helps lubricate the digestive tract to assist in the elimination of waste; draws out impurities and toxins from the body.
  • Aids in healing and protecting, slippery elm has antioxidant, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and astringent properties. It is used in a popular herbal remedy for cancer patients (Essiac Tea) and helps to stimulate the immune system.


Internally for convalescence, fasting, gastrointestinal or respiratory distress:

  • During sickness: Mix 1-2 teaspoon slippery elm bark powder steeped in 8 oz of liquid (broth or hot water) with 1 teaspoon of unfiltered raw honey, grade-B maple syrup or blackstrap molasses.
  • For constipation, add 1 teaspoon of organic goat or cow’s milk whole, unsweetened, unflavored yogurt.
  • Prepare a soothing, nutritive treat by blending slippery elm bark powder with a small amount of equal parts unfiltered raw honey, grade-B maple syrup or blackstrap molasses & raw, unfiltered virgin organic coconut oil & raw organic tahini (sesame paste). You may also choose to add a small amount of cinnamon, nutmeg, peppermint, fennel, chamomile or ginger. Make a stiff dough and press/roll together to make bite-sized balls. This is a healing, nutritional power treat for pets and people. Store in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Feed any of these options as often as needed throughout the day – slippery elm is medicinal food and you do not need to be concerned about overdosing.
  • For weaning puppies and lactating bitches (starting at 4 weeks of age), prepare a nutritive gruel of warmed raw goat’s milk, raw local unfiltered honey, pastured raw egg yolks, chamomile or dill, and slippery elm. You may also add a small amount of soaked organic oat bran. This incredible Natural Rearing supplement was first recommended by the highly respected herbalist Juliette de Bairacli Levy; used for generations by NR breeders to promote optimal health, bone structure and muscle development, and overall strength and vitality in their litters.

Externally for all skin conditions and tissue trauma:

  • Make a poultice (prepare a paste with small amount of warm water) of slippery elm bark powder and apply directly to wounds, ulcers, boils or abscesses. It is soothing and healing; reduces inflammation and pain, while drawing out impurities.

CAUTIONS & RISKS Possible allergic reactions are rare, but this is the only known possible risk for using slippery elm bark. Slippery Elm is very well tolerated and incredibly safe. Look for fluffy beige to light pink fibrous bark or a soft powder – it is sweet and nutty.Because this herb coats the digestive tract, there is a concern that continued long-term use may inhibit the absorption of nutrients. This is merely a theory of possible risk and has not been demonstrated or proven. However, out of an abundance of caution, we recommend limiting the use of slippery elm to acute periods of distress, and limiting long-term administration to three month periods of time; taking regular breaks from continued long-term use.

Slippery elm could theoretically slow down or decrease the absorption of medications or supplements taken by mouth due to hydrocolloidal fibers, although there is a lack of actual interactions or experiences reported.

If not collected carefully, you may end up contaminating your herb with the *outer* bark, which is not the part that should be used. This contamination is not a risk at all when purchasing this herb from any reputable sources. The outer bark may cause irritation to the digestive and urinary systems, and may induce abortion in pregnant animals.


NOTE: Slippery elm is considered at risk for being overharvested and populations in the wild are threatened by some common elm diseases, so responsible use is important. If you would like to use a different herb that acts similarly to slippery elm, you may also consider marshmallow root (Althea officinalis) as an alternative. Marshmallow is another excellent nutritive food herb that soothes, lubricates, and protects internal tissues and mucous membranes. Combine in equal measure marshmallow root with goldenrod or raspberry leaf for best results to match slippery elm’s action on the digestive and respiratory tract. Externally, common plantain (Plantago sp) would work similarly for skin ailments.


10 thoughts on “Top 10 Herbs for Dogs: Slippery Elm Bark

  1. So may I ask a question please: Do you guys put forth the information to dog and cat owners that their pets are omnivores or carnivores? I love your advice for people, but do you think honey , ginger, oats and other miscellaneous herbs and dairy products are species-appropriate food for cats and dogs? People, of course! I will follow your suggestions, but I will not use them for dogs and cats. I have used grass fed beef marrow bones for human and pet consumption, but only when a pet has to be kept hydrated due to a medical issue. I also used SEB when during once incident at the beginning of my raw feeding experience when I made a FEEDING ERROR and gave my dog too much bison heart. However, I sprinkled SEB and L-glutamine for 3 days and then it took care of the inflammation and I stopped. It does assist a dog whose gut is inflamed and whose stools are loose and/or runny, but it’s only appropriate for a short time because it works marvelously!

    • Hi Victoria,

      SFRAW’s position is that dogs and cats are carnivores. We promote and encourage feeding dogs & cats a meat-based diet prepared using fresh, wholesome foods.

      As you mention, herbs are a wonderful, powerful tool to be employed for first-aid situations and treating imbalances medicinally. The above blog post here illustrates this – my suggestions for use of this herb are all based on addressing imbalances or special needs/conditions circumstances. We have also found that there are select, highly nutritive herbs that are supportive and balancing for dogs (and occasionally cats) when used responsibly, to enhance a meat-based diet.

      Nutritive foods such as eggs, raw dairy, herbs, seaweed, clay/soil, nuts/seeds, fungi, produce, fermented foods, etc. make-up a very small portion of the diet for wild carnivores and domestic dogs/cats historically. We think ignoring or dismissing these foods entirely is not in the best interest of our domesticated carnivores. Considering the fascinating eating habits of wild carnivores and how modern, domestic dogs were fed before the industrialized era (dogs co-evolved with humans and have shared many of our eating habits since before the agricultural revolution), we have learned small amounts of these types of foods have always made up part of their regular or seasonal diet. There may be some nutrients lacking in the modern food supply as well that these nutrient dense foods can help to provide or enhance meat based diets on a synergistic level. Because of this, we encourage enhancing fresh meat-based diets with small amounts of these wholesome and nutritive foods, when an individual animal’s health and vitality improves with the inclusion of these foods.

      We support:
      a) providing carnivores such as dogs & cats a meat-based diet
      b) that *all* beings will achieve their best health possible by consuming wholesome, unprocessed, natural foods produced/handled in a manner that preserves their nutritional integrity

      I have enjoyed nearly 25 years of experience feeding raw/fresh food diets to dogs and cats. Over this period of time, I have developed the wisdom to know that there is not one single “right” way to feed every single dog & cat (or people for that matter); certain foods benefit and truly just work better for individual beings. We are continually learning and expanding/adjusting our knowledge when it comes to our understanding of nutrition and achieving wellness in ourselves and our animals; this is what makes this topic such an engaging and interesting journey!

      It is our opinion that we must look to nature and consider history/ancestral ways of eating and feeding to learn what might be the best for our modern domesticated dogs & cats…but our understanding of nature/wild habits of animals and the past is not static; we remain open to new ideas on this subject because no one knows everything.

      The only thing we can know for sure is what works (or does not work) for our individual animal, right now – and this is not even static…organic beings that we all are, our health and needs change throughout our lifetime. We recommend that we pay close attention to the clear feedback/response our animal companions provide when put on a diet or regimen; this feedback/response must be the ultimate decision maker when it comes to the correct diet or therapy for that individual animal. Contrary to what we know about the value and species appropriateness of raw foods, some dogs actually do best when fed a cooked diet (sometimes for short periods of time, sometimes for the long-haul); some dogs do better with a small amount of carbohydrate in the diet (yes, it is rare, but it is sometimes true); some dogs absolutely require the simplicity and elegance of a strict prey-model diet while others require, and only finally thrive, when we take a different approach, one that incorporates additional nutrient-dense non-meat foods on a regular basis.

      Ultimately, we do not support any one theory or strict dogma – we support whatever works best for that individual and honor what we learn in the process.

      I hope this clarifies our group’s position and answers your question.

    • curcurmin and turmeric are both herbs that I know first hand decrease inflammation in my pet. From limping for 2 months to now running around like a nut. If that herb works for my dog, why wouldn’t others? I think sticking to strictly carnivore and shunning herbs is a bad idea. Would use choose medications if your dog was sick? Why not herbs?

  2. The response to the question is very thoughtful and appreciated. I wish dogs were so healthy they didn’t need extras… heck, I wish I was. But we are all exposed to so many toxins and stressors that the healing wealth of plants and other whole foods become a necessity for many. For some dogs even a well made raw diet is not enough to prevent health imbalances, illness, cancer, etc. It’s beneficial for everyone to learn basic herbal information and learn about the animal herbalists and holistic veterinarians who can help them navigate more complicated issues.

  3. I have Nature’s Way Slippery Elm Bark. For human adults, the directions say to take 4 capsules three times daily between meals (empty stomach) and not with medications. Each capsule contains 400 mg of Slippery Elm for an adult human dose of 1.6 grams. My dog is about 55 lbs. How many milligrams should I give her? (I’ve read posts on other sites and they also say to us X number of capsules, but are ALL supplements standardized for milligram dose per capsule – do all companies put the same milligrams per capsule? Should Slippery Elm be given also to canines on an empty stomach? Can I just give the capsules or is the gruel the only thing that will work? What constitutes an empty stomach? If I give it in the morning, how long should I wait before she eats her meal? Should I give it 3 times daily as suggested for humans?

    Also, if you know, is there a formula for giving White Willow Bark for pain? How many milligrams per pound? I have White Willow Bark capsules that are 400 mg each? How many milligrams can a 55 lb dog take for joint pain?

    • Hi Terri,

      Thank you for inquiring here about the safe use of Slippery Elm Bark and White Willow Bark. I am very happy to answer all of your questions!

      You may find Slippery Elm Bark in many different formats – the bulk powdered herb, tinctures (alcohol or non-alcohol/glycerite) and capsules are the most common ways to find this in your local health food store or online.

      For dogs or cats, a nice starting dose is 100 mg of the slippery elm bark per 10 pounds of body weight, given twice a day. Because of the tremendous margin of safety with this herb, you can even double this dose and give up to four times a day for all ages and sizes of dogs or cats without cause for concern. This is truly a healing food herb.

      Not all brands will necessarily have the same standardized amount in each serving of the liquid or capsule formats, so just determine how many mg are in a capsule or dose and calculate from here. For your 55-lb dog, using the Nature’s Way brand Slippery Elm Bark capsules (400 mg/capsule), you can give 1-2 capsules twice/day.

      When feeding the gruel, most people do feed this alone, as prepared, but this herb does not necessarily need to be given on an empty stomach to be effective. Some suggest feeding slippery elm bark separately from other medications due to concerns that it may inhibit full absorption of medications. This is because one of the beneficial actions of slippery elm is that it seems to create a protective lining in the gut – this is useful for inflammation and helps to speed healing.

      Administer in a manner that is the least stressful for your animal – some choices on how to include:

      Capsules by Mouth: If they tolerate taking capsules by mouth easily (not stressful to do), you can give them directly down the throat or in a snack. We recently learned how absolutely critical it is to wet or lubricate the capsules/pills first, and/or to provide a “chaser” of a liquid or soft food afterwards to prevent damaging your animal’s esophagus (condition known as erosive esophagitis). Read more about this topic here: I totally support Lisa Pierson’s wonderful and excellent information regarding feline raw diets/nutrition, but I can’t recommend/agree with some of the suggestions she provides on this specific page. Using commercial pill pockets, for example or any possibly dangerous commercial foods or products is never a good idea when we have so many other options available to us! I think using a little butter or oil, baby food, liver pate, water, pureed meat, meat balls, broth, coconut oil, mixing the herb or dry supplement with honey or tahini to make a pill, or hiding the capsule or pill inside the cavity of a raw chicken, duck, rabbit or turkey heart works best and is much healthier and safer method of hiding pills or capsules and getting them safely down your pet’s throat.

      Mixed with Food: Some suggest administering slippery elm bark 5-minutes before feeding a regular meal to better aid with treating diarrhea or sore throats, but I find it works just as well even if mixed directly into a small amount of their fresh foods diet, broth, baby food, pureed meats or any well-liked soft food (yogurt, kefir or pumpkin puree, for example). Simply open the capsule and add the amount you need.

      White willow bark is very different from the safe food that is slippery elm bark. For one, white willow bark can be toxic to cats because it contains salicylates, for which cats are highly sensitive to. I would personally never use it with a feline. It can be helpful for chronic pain in dogs, as it is essentially an herbal form of the NSAID aspirin, but it may actually come with the very same problematic side-effects as aspirin, and it is not always well tolerated. While white willow bark would not make my “Top Ten Herbs For Pets” list due to possible side-effects, it is something herbalists have used with success for decades. For chronic joint pain and inflammation in dogs, the recommended dose is 5-10 mg/lb, no more than every 8 to 12 hours. Do not use if your pet is young or also taking any blood thinning supplements or medications, this includes vitamin E, ginko biloba, and garlic. Dosing is very important with this herb as too much can be toxic (over 30 mg per pound of the dog) – start with just 5 mg/lb to see how they tolerate it first. Stop use immediately if you notice any side-effects or symptoms. Always give this herb with food as it may otherwise be too harsh on their digestive system/stomach.

      For additional suggestions on managing chronic pain in dogs, Mary Strauss has some excellent well-researched suggestions on her website here:

      I hope this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions.


      Kasie Maxwell

      SFRAW / Rara Avis
      250 Napoleon Street, Unit G
      San Francisco, CA 94124
      W: 415-225-0589
      F: 866-332-2698

  4. Indeed! This slippery elm has been trending for its potential uses for curing the illness for humans and pets, that’s why this bark tree is at risk as they continue to harvest without replacing a new one so they could grow into a tree. I hope everyone here is using it wisely. Here’s another article covering the same subject if anyone here is interested, they can check this out your post is worth to share, I hope to read another post from you soon, thanks.

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