Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
What Exactly Is Slippery Elm Bark?
The slippery elm tree, also known as Red Elm, is a species of elm (Ulmus rubra) that grows in several portions of various states, such as along the Appalachian mountains, North Dakota, Maine, Florida, Texas, and Southeastern Canada. Its inner bark is used to obtain a herbal remedy that has been proven effective to cure many ailments. The term "slippery" is used to depict the viscid gel that forms when the powdered bark is mixed with some water.
In humans, this remedy is used for coughs, sore throats, diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, colitis, and for many skin conditions such as wounds, boils, and abscesses. This herb is estimated to have been used for hundreds of years in North America. Native Americans were familiar with this remedy and used it to create balms for many skin conditions. During the American Revolution, slippery elm was used to treat the wounds of injured soldiers. Nowadays, the remedy remains quite popular. Lesley Braun and Marc Cohen in Herbs and Natural Supplements: An Evidence-Based Guide claim that, "Although Slippery Elm has not been scientifically investigated, the FDA has approved it as a safe demulcent substance."
In dogs, this herbal remedy is mostly used for cases of gastrointestinal issues. In the next paragraph, we will look at how it works, what dogs it benefits the most, and some studies conducted on the efficacy of this herb.
Using Slippery Elm Bark for Dogs With Upset Stomachs
What makes slippery elm useful for treating digestive problems in dogs? The inner bark of slippery elm is blessed with tannins that help reduce inflammation. On top of that, slippery elm contains a substance known as mucilage, WHICH turns the powder thick, slimy, and gooey when mixed with water. When ingested, this mucilage coats, lubricates, and soothes the inflamed mucous membranes of the stomach and intestines, giving relief to dogs suffering from several gastro-intestinal disorders.
According to VCA Animal Hospitals, slippery elm is generally safe for use in pets because of its mild effects. Rarely will animals show allergies to this herb.The outer bark (which should not be used in commercial preparations, as the inner bark is the therapeutic portion) may cause irritation to the digestive and urinary tract and abortions in pregnant animals. Because slippery elm may interfere with the proper absorption of drugs, it should be given at a different time from when medications are administered.
What dog conditions benefit the most from slippery elm? The lubricating qualities of slippery elm can help sooth the respiratory passages of pets suffering from bronchitis and kennel cough, helping them swallow better. The tannins sooth the intestinal tract relieving acute diarrhea and the mucilage helps draw out impurities and toxins from the body. For the acute management of constipation and severe bronchitis, slippery elm may be helpful, but additional treatment may be required. The herb is also highly nutritive, being a source of fiber, bioflavonoids, calcium, magnesium, sodium, vitamins A, E, C, K, and B-complex. On top of that, slippery elm is also a prebiotic and helps promote balanced flora in the gut.
What do vets think about slippery elm? Many have many good things to share. Holistic veterinarian Michele Yasson claims, "I use this herb more than any other in my practice! It provides superb relief, and has kept many patients from hospitalization." She then adds how suitable it is for the inflamed mucous membranes of the digestive system and compares its use to a soothing internal bandage that coats the digestive tract from start to finish. Additionally, she claims that it has a bland taste that makes it easy to add to tasty foods.
Veterinarian Karen Becker claims, "My favorite all-natural anti-diarrhea remedy is an herb called slippery elm bark. I recommend always having some on hand so when you need it, it’s right there. Slippery elm is safe for puppies, adults, and geriatric dogs and it is completely safe blended with other medications. I recommend about a half teaspoon for each 10 pounds of body weight, mixed into the bland diet twice daily."
Note: In order for this natural "peptobismol" to work its magic, slippery elm must be mixed with cold water until it becomes slimy. Afterward, it could be mixed with food. Holistic veterinarian Michele Yasson suggests two different preparations the simple tea method and long brew method on her page on Guidelines for Gastrointestinal Problems.
For those interested in a study conducted on the efficacy of slippery elm, one was conducted recently, Expedited Management of Canine and Feline Vomiting and Diarrhea. Observational Study in 3952 Dogs and 2248 Cats Using Sucralfate-Like Potency-Enhanced Polyanionic Phyto-Saccharide—Elm Mucilage.
A Word of Caution
If you find your dog needs slippery elm for quite some time or that the moment you stop giving this herb, his symptoms reappear, pay attention to what your dog's body is trying to tell you. There may be chances you are dealing with an underlying chronic condition that needs veterinary care.
Therefore, just as using a bland diet for a dog upset stomach, you should use slippery elm only for those occasional mild causes of digestive upset that you know are due to a dietary change or recent stress. If your dog acts lethargic, develops other symptoms, or you see blood in the stools you should see your vet at once.
On top of this, since slippery elm coats the stomach and intestinal tract, it may interfere with the proper absorption of medications and supplements. If you must give slippery elm, it's a good idea to give it two hours before or two hours after the medications or supplements are given.
For Further Reading
- Dog Health: Understanding Pancreatitis in Dogs
What is canine pancreatitis? Why does the dog's pancreas get inflamed? What are treatments for pancreatitis in dogs? Learn more about this debilitating condition.
- Can Blood in Dog's Stool be Caused by Stress?
Blood in dog's stool may be caused by several factors and stress may be one of them. Learn what causes stress-induced diarrhea with blood and mucus in dogs and how to help them.
- Using Probiotics for Dog Diarrhea
At times, the use of probiotics for dog diarrhea can be helpful in restoring healthy bacteria in the gut. Learn more about probiotics and how they can help for cases of canine colitis an d much more.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 23, 2019:
Mofoya, thanks for bringing that slippery elm may interfere with absorption to my attention. Forgot to mention that, so updated the article with that important piece of info.
Mofoya on August 21, 2019:
Watch out with other medications while using slippery elm bark. Because it coats the stomach lining you can't absorb other medications properly.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 25, 2018:
It comes in powder form and is sold in many places online. There's even a brand made purposely for pets known as GastroElm Plus. Always consult with a vet before starting dogs on any supplements.
Benji's mom on January 25, 2018:
Nancy, I get mine in a powder form and organic. Just look up slippery elm bark on Ebay or Amazon. Amazon even sells a brand made for pets known as GastroElm Plus.
Nancy Besser on January 25, 2018:
So how do you buy this . I found it in vitamin section in a grocery store and it is a capsule . Is this the same thing or is there another way to buy this ?
Jandal33 on October 18, 2016:
This is an age old remedy, originating from Native American Indians. I have used it for 40 years on dogs, babies and myself. Its a great antacid, providing almost instant relief from the burning pain of an inflamed gut, while healing the area.
Less is more when using it, and always increase water intake as it absorbs fluids rapidly.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 27, 2014:
I am stocking up on some too, as you never know, but as I read about the benefits to humans, I may end up using it too!
Mary Craig from New York on January 27, 2014:
Looks like something every dog owner should have on hand! I think I'll go buy some. There are seven dogs in the family so I'm sure one of them will need it at one time or another.
Thanks for the introduction.
Voted up, useful, and interesting.