Linda Arndt ~ Canine Nutritional Consultant

Use of The Herb Rosemary in Pet Foods

The use of Rosemary as a natural preservative in dog foods has come under question due to misinformation that has been generated on the internet.

In this article I want to explore this topic and get all this into perspective. I received another email today questioning the use of rosemary extract in pet foods stating, that this owner read on the internet that it is a neurotoxin and can cause seizures. 

Like most things in life, nothing is black/white but when these things get started on these discussion lists, they seem to develop a life of it's own. Often this is where pet nutritional information is regurgitated by individuals who are not credible nor knowledgeable, and information is inaccurate, misinterpreted and/or taken out of context. Such is the case with the information about "rosemary".

Many pet discussion lists and general pet care websites are organized by individuals who love their pets. And under the pretense of gathering information to help other pet owners, they do not have the knowledge to discern what is accurate or inaccurate information before posting it to their websites. Such as the case of one particular website that has an article posted on it concerning the herb, rosemary.

There is much information in the article that is simply not true and was misquoted from the research articles that were referenced at this website, as well as information taken out of context.

Here is an example - it's from a quote from the author of the article on Rosemary.

"UMMC states that rosemary oil (extract) should never be taken orally", it makes no sense to add it to a pet food recipe."

Yes, the research article states that rosemary oil should never be taken orally, and the reason is, is that it is a volatile many herbs, and volatile oils are not the form that is used for eating, it is the form used as a natural preservative, massage oils or fragrance oils.  It would never be a form that is used in a dog food anyway, it would be a powdered form from dried leaves and it would be in tiny amounts along with other botanicals, which is evident by its placement on the label - provided one know how to read a dog food label.

Another quote from the author of the article on Rosemary:

"In addition to problems associated with rosemary in pet foods, there are many other questionable substances, such as soy products, newly created fiber additives (prebiotics), live bacteria (probiotics), waste products such as soybean hulls, and even dangerous levels of fluoride in many cat and dog foods.

The truth is, to call rosemary, prebiotics and probiotics "new or questionable substances in pet foods" and equate them with "fluoride and waste products from soy hulls" is grossly inaccurate and only perpetuating another internet myth. It is an absolutely  ridiculous statement to make. Why even those with the least amount of nutritional knowledge, knows the word PROBIOTICS and recognizes it's something that is good to use in their diets, thanks to the numerous ads on television touting the "regularity" of Jamie Lee Curtiss's bowel movements, after eating Activia two weeks!  

Both prebiotics and probiotics have been around a long  time with substantial research articles available to the public,  showing the benefits of these substances to humans and pet nutrition.

Probioitcs and prebiotics were in Dr. Wysong's first diets and also in Eagle Pet Foods in the early 80's as well. The first article I wrote on probiotics was over 30 years ago, and prebiotics also known as fermentable fiber (beet pulp, chicory root; inulin) over 15 yrs ago.  It seems the author of this article not only knows nothing of nutrition (human or pet), they knows nothing about the history of the pet food industry.

When trying to teach owners/breeders about food myths, like garlic, or corn or in this case rosemary, I always preface answering the questions by giving them solid examples.

Let's take a  look at WATER.
We live in it in the womb....
Without drinking it we could not survive.
It's necessary for our food sources to grow and multiply.
It is absolutely critical in order to maintain life on this planet.
We need it for an occasional vacation cruise to the Caribbean but above all....
It provides us Life
And yet how can something so critical to sustaining life,  also have the ability to take life? ...because it is all relative

There are many factors one has to take into consideration.
Drinking an 8 ounce glass of water or drowning in an 8 acre lake.  
What gives us life, can also kill us depending on many factors.

Take Digitalis for example, it is a beautiful flower (Foxglove) that is used to make medicines for heart disease. Yet the entire plant is toxic (including the roots and seeds), although the leaves of the upper stem are particularly potent, a nibble is enough to potentially cause death.

Onions and Garlic both contain the toxic ingredient thiosulphate. However, the amount that is in onions is by far much greater, more potent and it can be dangerous for dogs. Whereas Garlic has a small amount of thiosulphate which is not toxic and in fact it has been used by holistic veterinarians for many years, due to its significant health benefits.

Likewise the situation with rosemary and any other herb for that matter.
All herbs come in these forms, not all forms are to be ingested orally due to safety issues.

  • Dried whole herb
  • Dried, powdered herb (in capsules)
  • Preparations made from fresh or dried leaves such as: alcohol tinctures, teas, liquid extract (with no oils)
  • Volatile oils

So the form of an herb, who is processing it (should be a certified wild crafter), how it is processed,  the dosage and frequency consumed, and what medicine or other herbs it may not be combined with, all play a part in whether or not something is toxic.  

Rosemary has been used in natural pet foods for over 20 years, the amount that is used in the foods is an miniscule and not a volatile oil extract. If it were a problem, after all these years, AFFCO and the natural/holistic pet food industry and breeders would have know it by now.

Actually, you can use 1 drop of rosemary oil extract (antioxidant) to a gallon of olive oil it will prevent it from going rancid, a chemical reaction which is by far more toxic to the body than the minuscule amount of rosemary oil. Yet an ounce of it consumed can be a problem for humans or pets.

Rosemary has not been studied in children for medicinal uses in therapeutic dosages, which are much stronger and higher quantities than ever used in dog foods or when eaten.  It is safe to eat as a spice in food, and it is safe to use in miniscule amounts for a preservative.

The University of Maryland Medical Center article states the following precautions:

The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. (editorial note: all herbs, not just rosemary, their use is never to be taken lightly, they are natural medicine - so proper dosage, form used and frequency is of utmost importance)  For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care in proper dosages and under the supervision of a health care practitioner.

Rosemary is generally considered safe when taken in recommended doses.
However, there have been occasional reports of allergic reactions. Large quantities of rosemary leaves, because of their volatile oil content, can cause serious side effects, including vomiting, spasms, seizures, coma and, in some cases, pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs). It is safe to eat as a spice in food, however.

Author of the article on the internet took this research article and used it as a reference however they took took information out of context and presented it in an article on a pet website.

So, I hope this has helped you understand that rosemary, the herb, used in the right form, amount and purpose has many benefits for animals and human health - and as it is with most things in life, it's never a black and white issue.

I find people are either fear based or faith based in life, and most of the nutritional issues surrounding the pet food industry is based in fear - and some individuals feed off of that and use it to perpetuate negative information. Some is actually planted by rival dog food companies to move people from one brand to another.

Personally, I have faith that much of today's  industry is moving toward improving the process, ingredients for our pet's nutrition, perhaps even more so than our own human foods. I have seen some tremendous improvement in formulas in the past 20 years and that to me is a great accomplishment.

After all, all we want is for our pets to live long healthy lives.


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