Herbs for Dogs: Maggie’s Bout with Meningitis

Here is another real life story about using herbs with dogs.  I want to share this information in case someone else has the same frightening experience with their dog.  In fact, this is one reason why I teach about herbalism -so that people will have the tools (the herbs and knowledge how to use them) not just to maintain wellness, but to help their friends and family in crisis.

We had a bad scare with Maggie, our Lab mix farm dog who isn’t just the protector of the goats and chickens, she is part of our family.  It’s a long story but the gist is that Maggie had meningitis (probably viral) or encephalitis and almost died. We gave her lots of herbs.  She got better.

Background: it’s hot here in Albuquerque in July. We were having a heat wave. Maggie was lethargic one Thursday evening. We didn’t think much of it, but the next morning she wouldn’t eat breakfast. She’s a Lab. That’s unusual. We attributed it to the heat wave and dehydration. She had a temperature. We put her in the bath to cool her down. We gave her fluids since she wasn’t drinking, and I threw in some yarrow infusion in case she had some kind of bug. By Saturday she was eating and moving around a bit more and drinking on her own. By Sunday, she was running and eating. Much better.

Monday morning we woke up and no Maggie. We found her in one of our irrigation ditches, leaning against the fence. She was in bad shape. She couldn’t move her rear legs and could barely move her front. She was salivating and was in respiratory distress. I expected her to go into cardiac arrest at any moment. Her eyes were glazed over but she would still look at us. She seemed very stressed and scared.

Tree called our large animal vet who was in surgery until the afternoon. We called another local vet who thankfully let us bring her in right away. Tree went off to the vet with Maggie in the front seat. I thought that was the last I would see of Maggie.

I soon got a call and was informed that, after ruling out several other possibilities, the Vet thought it was probably some form of meningitis or cancer. She said that Maggie was in such bad shape that we could put her down then or we could leave her at the office so that they could hydrate her with an IV, but that there wasn’t much they could do beyond give her antibiotics which probably wouldn’t help anyway (and only if it was bacterial) because once meningitis gets to that stage it’s hard for the antibiotics to get into the brain to be effective.

Well there was no way I was going to have Maggie put down without a fight, and no way I would leave her in a cage at the vet, alone, with an IV, especially since she couldn’t lie down without spasming (her head had to be elevated). She would have died had we left her there. Of that I’m certain. So Tree took the ridiculously expensive prescription for antibiotics, asked the vet how much fluid to give her to keep her hydrated (minimum 1 liter up to 2 liters) and brought Maggie home.

Tree had called me from the vet’s office with the diagnosis so I got busy with brewing up the strongest anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-microbial concoction I could with the herbs I had on hand. I made a very strong decoction of elder berries and licorice root and a separate infusion of yarrow. I used probably about a half a pound of herbs to a quart of water which is a very strong infusion (usual strength I use for acute situations in one ounce per quart of water).

My reasoning was that if she had some form of swelling in the brain that was causing these neurological symptoms, then my main goal was to reduce inflammation and give her anti-virals to help in case it was a viral condition causing it.

When Maggie got home (and the other herbs were still brewing) I immediately gave her what I call Tessie’s Tincture (Tessie, our other dog, occasionally gets joint injuries, and I give her this tincture will good results: white willow bark, yarrow, nettles and St. John’s Wort).  In Maggie’s case, I wouldn’t have given her the White Willow Bark but the other three herbs were appropriate.  I put two tablespoons of tincture in a cup of water and we “drenched” her with this over the course of an hour. Drenching is a term we use with the goats. It simply means we give them liquids orally using a syringe.

I also gently heated (to burn off the alcohol) and diluted two tinctures, skullcap and St. John’s Wort, a tablespoon of each in 8oz of water. This we gave to Maggie rectally with a bulb syringe over the course of several hours. We did this for several reasons: to hydrate her quickly, bypassing the upper GI tract, and to get the herbs to act more quickly in her system. Once we were done with the tincture mixture, we moved to giving Maggie yarrow infusion rectally throughout the day. We aimed to give her 100 mLs per hour to get her hydrated.

After an hour or so, the elder berry and licorice root decoction was ready and we mixed that with yarrow infusion and gave her that orally by syringe throughout the day. She was very good about taking her medicine, probably because she was in such bad shape.

Because she was so neurologically impaired, Maggie had to lie against one of us to keep her head propped up. For the first few hours, we just dosed her and soothed her and told her how much we loved her. I didn’t think she’d make it, but I told her stories about how grandpa would give her ice cream or how she’d go for a RIDE in the CAR to go to the PARK to go for a WALK and go for a SWIM and then go back in the CAR to go HOME (all her favorite words). I told her if she got better, I’d give her pizza every night.

After about 4 hours of dosing and promises of pizza, Maggie could move her back legs again, standing with assistance and walking with us supporting her (we “walked” her outside to see if she would pee. she didn’t). She would list heavily to the right even with support and couldn’t walk on her own, but it was an improvement. She was still panting heavily but it wasn’t as bad as when she went to the vet that morning. Her eyes were more clear, and she was no longer drooling. By dinnertime she looked a little more like herself, but she still couldn’t walk on her own or lie down without spasming, and she was still panting.

She didn’t have a fever, but we worried that whatever was cooking her brain might have done permanent damage if she did survive. By nightfall, she drank twice on her own (a minute amount) and peed a very small amount. We propped her up on pillows so her head would stay up and went to bed. Tree slept out in the living room next to Maggie and tried to wake up periodically to dose her. Tree woke up at one point early in the morning with Maggie breathing hard like she had the previous day, so Tree heavily dosed her for a few hours, and they finally went back to sleep.

The next morning Maggie was not only still alive, she was breathing more normally and lying with her head almost down. So the equilibrium issue was starting to resolve itself. At first she still wouldn’t eat or drink. We dosed her with more herb infusions, then later in the morning she ate a whole can of cat food and drank copiously on her own! She could walk albeit with difficulty and she was still listing to the right, but her eyes were clear. She was obviously much better. She gave two thumps of the tail when we asked if she was ok.

We continued to give her smaller and more dilute doses of the same herbs. She continued to improve each day. After about 3 days she was no longer listing to the right. After a week she was running and stealing cat food again. After two weeks, she still can’t jump on the bed (I guess that’s a good thing!), but is otherwise completely back to her old self.  She got her pizza and a walk in the bosque. We slowly tapered off her herbs and about day 5 or 6 she really didn’t want to take them anymore.

A note on the dosages I used. Maggie weighs about 65 pounds and is a 9 year-old lab-mutt mix. She has always been very healthy, extremely active, and has never had any health, allergy or digestive issues. A typical dose of herbal tinctures for a 150 pound human would be 5mLs (about a teaspoon), three times a day. Some people consider this a high dose. Maggie had four TABLESPOONS of tincture in addition to over a quart of very strong herbal infusions over 24 hours. This is a pretty high dose, but I felt it was warranted with the aggressive nature of whatever it was that was ailing her. I am sharing the herbs and dosing for informational purposes only. Please consult your vet or practitioner for advice specific to your animals.

Here is Maggie on her first hike after her illness.

I am so grateful to the herbs for helping Maggie recover, and I am grateful that we work from home so that we could take the time to help her heal. Herbs are amazing!

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9 Responses to Herbs for Dogs: Maggie’s Bout with Meningitis

  1. Zoe says:

    Wow – this is an amazing story, and I’m so glad your Maggie is okay. It’s an inspiring story as well – I’ll be researching herbs to help my old girl through her often painful days. Thank you for posting all the details. – from Zoe in PA

  2. jen silverman says:

    this a a powerful story- i only wish i had read it before i left my sick dog at the vet against every instinct in my body… why i did not follow my intuition i do not know. maya was so sick and i was so scared. from your story, and my experience with the fact that dogs do die that are left alone at the vet- i will be empowered to heal my next animal that needs me…. and yes of course i will ask my vet first… perhaps… and then take it with a grain of salt… thank you for always sharing such gems of life..

  3. Hey Zoe! I’m making a medicinal broth immune tonic for maggie (and me!): homemade chicken broth with astragalus and reishi mushrooms. A good book for animules is Gregory Tilford’s Herbs for Pets. Big & beautiful. Hope all’s well back in PA. Jen

  4. Thanks, Jen. I was so sad to hear about Maya. Funny, isn’t it, how we don’t listen our intuition in the face of “authority.” To be fair to the vet, I want to say that I value the vet’s ability to help us diagnose so that we could treat properly. The vet can only offer what they are trained to offer, and in acute situations if the anti-venom or antibiotics or steroids don’t work, they don’t have anything else to offer. That’s where I feel blessed as an herbalist, I can take advantage of the vet’s knowledge and experience and still have a whole other bag of tricks to choose from. Jen

  5. Kate T.W. says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. So happy to read it, and hope that you and Tree have had a little R & R since then! I would also love to know what your ‘ideal’ mix would be, had you had different herbs on hand. I’ve had such good results with burdock and viral meningitis– both in an acute phase, and also after the fact, in recovery. Pretty sure I first used it due to your recommendation several years back. Also would love to know the particulars of that bulb syringe– seems like a great thing to have on hand for my dogs.

  6. I love burdock. I just didn’t have much on hand and for whatever reason, with Maggie’s symptoms, I was drawn to elder berry and licorice with yarrow. Plus her first big dosing of STJW, skullcap & nettle (I think nettle is an amazing anti-inflammatory, the skullcap was for her jitteriness, STJW also for the spasming and an anti-inflammatory). You know me and yarrow. Can’t be without her. I’ll work on getting photos of the syringe. Until we kept goats, I never kept first for animals on hand, but now, I’m so glad I do. I can’t be without gauze pads, syringes, etc. We live hard! 🙂 Jen

  7. anneh says:

    Hi so glad to read about Maggie, hope she is still doing well. I would like to know which herbs I can grind and use daily for my dogs – to add as a supplement for instance. I was thinking basil/oregano/marjoram/thyme/parsley/ginger/alfalfa/garlic and a pinch of cayenne. What do you think and what ratios would you suggest? Thanks

  8. Hi Anneh,
    Yes, Maggie is back to her regular self. I count my blessings that she is still with us!

    As for herbal supplements, I don’t give my dogs any standard herbal supplements. If I give them anything regularly, it’s yogurt, raw bones and bone broth.

    There is a wonderful book on herbs for pets, called…Herbs for Pets! By Greg Tilford. I highly recommend it.

    Jen

  9. Robin says:

    I love your story here… I have a little Yorkie who was diagnosed with Meningitis over a year ago and put on Prednisone… Now I am seeing the unfortunate symptoms of muscle wasting effect her from the steroids… I’ve tried taking her off of them, but her seizures returned… However, I cannot bear to watch this little baby suffer as her legs become weaker due to the prednisone… Her spirit is still strong – she loves to play – but her body is slowly giving up on her…

    I’d love to try your tincture approach – wondering if your baby is still alive and well – and if you continue with the tinctures ?? Thanks so much for sharing your store –

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