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Licorice Root for Dogs: Benefits and Uses

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Licorice has a long history of medicinal use going back to ancient China, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman times. In traditional Chinese medicine, licorice is one of the most frequently used herbs.  

However, many people only know about licorice due to eating the candy, Twizzlers, and are unaware that there are many medicinal properties to licorice root for dogs and for people.

Can Dogs Have Licorice?

German shepherd puppy with ears up and head tilted

When most people think of licorice, they likely think of Twizzlers or the black candy licorice that is sold in bins at stores. But most licorice candy does not have any licorice present.  

These candies use anise oil instead, which smells and tastes very similar to licorice but lacks the medicinal properties that licorice contains. You will be able to know if your candy has licorice present by reading the ingredient list. Some products will use licorice’s botanical name, Glycyrrhiza glabra. If the company is using this instead of the common name, you will see this on the product’s label. 

While you might like Twizzlers as a treat, licorice candy is not safe for dogs. It tends to be high in sugar and many candy companies use xylitol, an artificial sweetener, in addition to many other artificial ingredients which are not beneficial for you or your dog’s health. Xylitol is very toxic to dogs and can potentially lead to liver failure, severe hypoglycemia, and even death if ingested.  

When licorice is used appropriately in licorice root tinctures for dogs or Chinese herbal medicine that is made specifically for pets and prescribed by a veterinarian trained in Chinese herbal medicine, licorice and licorice root can be powerful natural remedies for dogs for many disease conditions.

What is Licorice Root? 

Dried licorice root branches

Licorice root grows in parts of Europe and Asia. When using licorice for its medicinal properties, the root of the licorice plant is what is used. With herbal medicine, different parts of the plant possess different medicinal properties. The major medicinal part of licorice is glycyrrhizic acid or glycyrrhizin. Glycyrrhizin is also a natural mild sweetener. This is what provides the health benefits in licorice. 

Licorice root has been used extensively in human nutrition and wellness for conditions ranging from coughs, antiviral activity, gastrointestinal (GI) peptic ulcers, liver disease and topically for eczema. Because of the natural sweetener properties of licorice root, many people will use licorice root to wean off sugar. However, there are some side effects that can occur when taking too much licorice for an extended period of time.

Is Licorice Root Safe for Dogs?

Happy smiling dog

Licorice root is safe for dogs when used appropriately. Licorice root possesses the ability to act as an anti-inflammatory agent when used topically and orally. It also has adaptogenic properties, which help combat stress and fatigue. It can also increase the effect of cortisol or steroids used for conditions like Addison’s Disease in dogs, when the pet is not able to produce enough cortisol on their own. 

However, pet parents should always consult their vet before starting any new supplement for their dog—just because it is generally safe does not mean it is always a good idea.

Benefits of Licorice Root for Dogs

Licorice root tea and dried licorice root

Licorice root can help decrease inflammation in a dog’s GI tract, balance cortisol to relieve stress, and combat skin inflammation when used topically. There are also many anecdotal cases showcasing the effectiveness of using licorice root tea for dogs for treating symptoms of upper respiratory infections or even bronchitis

Numerous studies have been done with animals to showcase how licorice root can help reduce inflammation in the GI tract. Many pet parents are worried about using NSAIDs for pain control, because of the potential side effects of GI upset or even GI ulceration.  A study done in 2015 showed that when licorice extract was combined with a certain NSAID drug colon inflammation decreased significantly (1). 

Other studies showcase the effectiveness of using licorice root extract in dogs to reduce stress and inflammation associated with chronic disease conditions (2). 

Topical licorice extract has also been evaluated in atopic dermatitis, and was shown to help with inflammation, but did not have a significant effect on reducing the itchiness present in the dog (3). 

 As mentioned previously, glycyrrhizin is the primary plant part that provides the medicinal benefits to both dogs and humans. It is responsible for the sweet taste along with the antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties.  

Because licorice is one of the most frequently used herbs in traditional Chinese medicine, there are numerous anecdotal reports of how licorice has helped dogs.  However, there are more studies being done to showcase how powerful this herbal medicine can be for treating GI upset, skin disease, allergies, respiratory disease and even helping to treat viral infections.  

How to Give Licorice Root to Dogs

Licorice root powder

Licorice root comes in many different forms for dogs. These forms include:

  • Herbal tea (licorice root tea)
  • Tinctures
  • Powder 
  • Tea pill
  • Supplement capsules and tablets 

Licorice root teas are some of the easiest to use with dogs, because licorice root is actually used as a taste improver and is sweeter in flavor. Dogs tend to take it well when mixed into their food. Also, organic licorice root teas are typically easy to obtain from the general supermarket in the human tea section. When using licorice root tea for dogs, make sure you discuss dosing with your holistic veterinarian to ensure there are no adverse effects. 

Licorice root tinctures are the next most available form of licorice that is available for use in dogs. Many pet companies carry these products for sale online or you may be able to find these in boutique pet stores. When using licorice root tinctures that are pre-made for dogs, you should follow the dosing instructions that are on the bottle based on your dog’s body weight. 

However, if your dog is currently taking any medications, always ask your holistic veterinarian if licorice root can be used together with the current medications. 

Licorice Root Side Effects for Dogs

Dog with sceptical face sitting outside

Even though there are many beneficial effects for using licorice root in dogs, there are also potential side effects that every pet parent needs to know about. 

Prolonged use of large doses of licorice root for extended periods (more than 4-6 weeks) may increase water retention, lead to electrolyte imbalances, and possibly high blood pressure (hypertension).  

Because of the potential for side effects in dogs, licorice root is not recommended in dogs with hypertension, end-stage liver disease, renal disease, or heart disease.  

Also, if your dog is taking prednisone or steroids, make sure to ask your holistic veterinarian if adding in licorice root is safe for your dog. Licorice root can increase steroid activity and can lead to further adverse effects. 

Where to Buy Licorice Root for Dogs

Licorice root branch and tea on table

When buying licorice root for dogs, avoid products that are contaminated with heavy metals or other chemicals. Look for pet-specific products and companies that have been making supplements for a long time, have numerous positive reviews, and are also a part of the National Animal Supplement Council (or NASC). The NASC is a regulatory agency that companies can apply to be a part of which ensures that the company is following certain requirements to guarantee a high-quality product. 

When using human versions or licorice root for dogs, like licorice root tea, make sure that the tea is organic. Having an organic label ensures that the product does not have additional chemicals or pesticides in the product. When using a human-grade product, remember to work with a holistic veterinarian to figure out the most appropriate and safe dosage for your dog. 

Licorice root can be a powerful natural remedy for dogs. However, make sure that you are using it appropriately to avoid any potential adverse reactions. If there is any concern, always ask your veterinarian for guidance on if a supplement can be used as part of your dog’s treatment plan.