Slippery Elm

By Rania Gollakner, BS, DVM, MPH

What is slippery elm?

Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra, previously Ulmus fulva) is an herbal supplement made from the inner bark of the slippery elm tree (also known as red elm, gray elm, or soft elm). It is taken by mouth to relieve cough and gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea and stomach upset. The active ingredient is a mucilage, which is a substance that becomes viscous and gel-like when mixed with water. Therefore, it can act as a protective coating in the stomach and intestines. It also contains antioxidants that are considered helpful for treating inflammation. In humans, it has also been used topically to treat skin inflammation or wounds.

"The active ingredient is a mucilage, which is a substance that becomes viscous
and gel-like when mixed with water. ."

Dietary supplements are substances that can be used to supplement the diet, such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, botanicals, enzymes, and probiotics. While many supplements are sold over the counter, they still contain ingredients that have biological effects that should be managed by your veterinarian. Follow your veterinarian’s directions and cautions very carefully as their directions may be significantly different from those on the label.

There are differences in how countries regulate supplements. In the United States, these substances are not as vigorously regulated by the FDA as other medications, which means they can be sold without the manufacturer proving their effectiveness, safety, and without a guarantee of consistent or accurately reported ingredients. In Canada, products that have been evaluated for quality, safety, and effectiveness by Health Canada and authorized for sale will have a license number on the label.

How effective is slippery elm?

No known studies in animals, and a limited number of studies in humans have been performed, but there is anecdotal evidence that slippery elm works to treat stomach upset and inflammation by its ability to coat surfaces and its antioxidant properties.

How is slippery elm given?

Slippery elm is given by mouth in the form of a tablet, capsule, powder, or liquid. Measure liquid forms carefully. The powder is typically mixed with water prior to administration. It may be given with or without food; however, if stomach upset occurs after dosing on an empty stomach, give future doses with food. Dosing recommendations will depend on your pet’s condition, so please follow the specific instructions provided by your veterinarian.

What if I miss giving my pet the supplement?

If you miss a dose, give it when you remember, but if it is close to the time for the next dose, skip the dose you missed and give it at the next scheduled time, and return to the regular dosing schedule. Never give your pet two doses at once or give extra doses.

Are there any potential side effects?

Studies are limited for this supplement and therefore information regarding side effects is also limited. Currently, there are no known side effects.

Are there any risk factors for this supplement?

Studies are limited for this supplement and therefore information regarding risk factors is also limited. Do not use slippery elm in pets that are allergic to it, or that are pregnant or nursing as its safe use has not been established.

Are there any drug interactions I should be aware of?

Slippery elm should not be given within 2 hours of any other medications as it may affect absorption of those medications.

Vitamins, herbal therapies, and supplements have the potential to interact with each other, as well as with prescription and over the counter medications. It is important to tell your veterinarian about any medications (including all vitamins, supplements, or herbal therapies) that your pet is taking.

Is there any monitoring that needs to be done with this supplement?

There is no specific monitoring that needs to be done while your pet is taking this medication. Your veterinarian may monitor your pet to be sure that the medication is working.

How do I store slippery elm?

In general, store this supplement in a cool place, protected from light and moisture. There are many formulations and manufacturers of slippery elm, so always follow the specific storage instructions on the product label.

What should I do in case of emergency?

If you suspect an overdose or an adverse reaction to the medication, call your veterinary office immediately. If they are not available, follow their directions in contacting an emergency facility.

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