Feeding candy licorice to your dog – or any kind of confection, for that matter – is a definite no-no. But the herbal form of licorice is a time-tested remedy for gastrointestinal upset and skin problems such as allergies. And some veterinarians use it as an anti-inflammatory for problems such as itching in the place of powerful drugs like steroids.
"The most important thing for people to understand is that the effects of licorice are slow and cumulative, as opposed to a steroid injection,” says veterinarian Carol Osborne, DVM, of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, author of “Dr. Carol's Naturally Healthy Dogs” (Marshall Editions, 2006). With the latter, “about four hours later the animal is in great shape, which lasts for about 10 days, but then you have the side effects of steroids, like stress on liver and kidneys.”
As with any herb, it is important to discuss licorice use with your veterinarian. The active ingredient in licorice is the nearly impossible to pronounce chemical component glycyrrhizin, which stimulates the adrenal glands and produces an anti-inflammatory response similar to that of corticosteroids such as prednisone.
Glycyrrhizin can decrease potassium levels as well as blood pressure, and increase the risk of bleeding in animals on blood thinners. For at-risk patients, such as dogs with diabetes or Addison’s disease, vets can prescribe deglycyrrhizinated licorice, in which the glycyrrhizin has been removed. Like many herbs, licorice should not to be used in pregnant animals, and excessive doses can cause temporary vision problems.
Licorice is available as tablets, fluid extract, cream or gel (for use on the skin) and powered root, which is Osborne’s personal preference. Depending on the dog, she prescribes up to 2 grams of the powered root daily, depending on the size of the dog, divided into three or four doses “When you’re giving this herb to pets,” she says, “it’s generally a good idea to give by itself an hour before other medications, or two hours after.”
Osborne adds that she has also had excellent results using licorice with the amino acid L-Glutamine to settle irritated stomachs, from bouts of gastritis to irritable bowel disease. Her recommended dose is 250 mg of L-Glutamine.