Is Rosemary Safe for Dogs?
If rosemary adds flavor (and perhaps even health benefits) to your diet, you might be wondering if the fragrant evergreen herb can do the same for your canine companion. But is it safe to add rosemary to your dog's dish, or should you herb your enthusiasm for sharing? (Pardon the pun.)
As with all changes to your pet's diet, the question of whether rosemary is safe for your dog is best answered by your veterinarian, but generally, fresh or dried rosemary is safe for dogs. As rosemary extract is used in some commercial dog foods and treats, there's a chance your pup is already well acquainted with the plant. Rosemary essential oil, however, is not safe for dogs and should be avoided, whether it's ingested or applied topically.
With these realities in mind, we asked veterinary nutrition experts to answer some of our main herbal inquiries with a goal of facilitating better nutrition conversations between pet parents and veterinary teams.
Is Rosemary Safe for Dogs?
Answering whether rosemary is safe for dogs isn't straightforward for two main reasons. First, rosemary comes in several forms, and what's true for one preparation doesn't necessarily apply to another. Second, every dog is different, and what's safe for one pup may be problematic for another. These nutritional nuances are why it's so important to involve your veterinary team in any diet decisions.
Fresh and Dried Rosemary
According to Kurt Venator, DVM, PhD, Chief Veterinary Officer at Purina, it's generally safe for healthy dogs to eat small amounts of fresh or dried rosemary. The ASPCA lists the herb as nontoxic for canines, as well as for cats and horses. So if you have rosemary plants in your garden, you can probably cross them off your list of potential pet worries (at least as far as toxicity is concerned).
But this isn't a license to throw both caution to the wind and rosemary in your dog's food. "Some dogs may be allergic to rosemary," Venator explains," so it's recommended that pet owners consult with their veterinarian before adding any herb [even those generally regarded as safe] to their pet's food." Your vet will also be able to help you determine how much fresh or dried rosemary is safe for your dog to consume. Size matters, so what works for a chow chow will need to be adjusted for a Chihuahua.
Rosemary Essential Oil and Extract
Venator says it's important to note that essential oils and extracts aren't the same thing. Rosemary extract is the product of using a solvent (like alcohol) to draw out the herb's active compounds. It's generally regarded as safe (GRAS) by the FDA, and you can find it on the ingredient labels of human foods (from condiments to fresh ground meats) and dog foods and treats.
Rosemary essential oil, however, is a far more concentrated substance and isn't safe for your dog to consume. Side effects of ingestion include vomiting and diarrhea, the ASPCA says, but even the topical application of undiluted essential oils (also called volatile oils) to your dog's skin can cause problems like muscle weakness and behavior changes. And considering how sensitive canine noses are, it's best to keep essential oil diffusers away from your pet, particularly if your dog has respiratory issues.
In addition to these concerns, Elena Leavitt, DVM, a clinical nutrition resident at the University of Missouri's College of Veterinary Medicine in Columbia, Mo., notes that there are currently no regulatory standards for essential oils regarding important factors like sourcing, concentration, and dosing, and products lack post-production evaluation. "Because of this wide variation," she continues, "two bottles of the same essential oil—even from the same company—may not be consistent."
Are There Any Health Benefits to Feeding Dogs Rosemary?
Whether or not rosemary could be beneficial to your dog is difficult to say. According to Venator, there are relatively few peer-reviewed scientific studies looking into the efficacy of herbs for health benefits in pets.
If you're concerned your dog isn't getting what they need from their current diet, talk to your veterinarian before supplementing with an herb like rosemary. "If a pet is being fed a diet that's appropriate for their age, species, and disease management requirements (if applicable), that's complete and balanced [i.e. provides all necessary nutrients], that follows the World Small Animal Veterinary Association's (WSAVA) guidelines, and that's stored in an air-tight container in a temperature-regulated space, then there are very few occasions where supplementation is needed for optimal health," Leavitt explains.
Rosemary and Food Storage Safety
One of the main reasons why rosemary extract is added to dog foods and treats (aside from flavor) has less to do with enhancing your dog's life and more to do with extending the shelf life of the product itself. This is because rosemary extract contains compounds called polyphenols that have antioxidant and antimicrobial properties—two qualities that contribute to food preservation.
"Rosemary extracts are weaker food preservatives," explains Lisa Weeth, DVM, DACVIM (Nutrition), of Metropolitan Animal Speciality Hospital in Los Angeles, "which means storage conditions (especially temperature) will have a greater impact on these foods than those using different preservatives."
Weeth recommends trying to use up a bag of dog food within a month. "And because pets have a much keener sense of smell than we do," she continues," if you notice that your dog starts refusing a formally beloved treat after the packaging has been open for three or more weeks, it's time to toss it."