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Herbal Medicine for Animals - Veterinary Herbs

Updated on June 15, 2011

Nature's own medicine

Herbal medicine or herbalism is a time-honoured practice of natural medicine, that is older than mankind himself.

Animals are able, instinctively, to self-medicate with herbs (zoopharmacognosy) and early man would almost certainly have been just as capable, later refining it to the ancient art that we still have today.

Herbal medicine is widespread throughout the World, with the best known practices being Traditional Chinese Medicine (Chinese Herbs, TCM), Ayurvedic Medicine from the Indian Sub-Continent, Native North American Herbal Lore and Western Herbal Medicine, derived from Europe and the Arabic culture.

Herbal Medicine is effective over a wide range of medical conditions and illnesses, having stood the test of time. In fact, many believe that there is a herbal medicine for every ill.

It is not generally understood that the majority of modern drug medicines derive from plants, more or less directly. The pharmaceutical companies still search the World for plant medicines that they can extract, purify, modify and patent, to make new modern drugs. Sadly, this process makes side-effects very likely, removing the supposed active ingredients from their much safer holistic context within the plant tissue.

Chicory
Chicory

What are herbal medicines?

Herbal medicines can be made from wild flowers, trees, shrubs, fungi, algae, ferns or other plants.

Herbal medicines can be classified according to their identified effects in the body (e.g. digestive, sedative, calmative, alterative, cholegogue, emmenagogue, sialogogue, anthelmintic, astringent, aperient, diuretic, cardiac, anti-inflammatory, hepatic, vulnerary, antiseptic). They are given to the patient either singly or combined, in order to try to achieve the best balance of desired actions.

Herbal medicines can be harvested fresh, preferably as clear of pollution as possible (e.g. not from the roadside). They can be fed fresh, dried, made into powders, made into tinctures, given as tablets, made into teas, made into creams and ointments or used in any other physical form that seems appropriate to circumstance and to the particular herb. Dried herbs and tinctures can be kept for a year, at least.

Hemlock - poisonous
Hemlock - poisonous

Are they safe?

In general, used properly and responsibly, herbal medicines are very safe. However, there are some cautionary notes.

Some herbs are only safe below certain doses. If too much is given, toxicity may develop.

Be certain to identify plants correctly - mistakes can be fatal!

Be extremely careful when using herbs alongside conventional medicines. It is likely that your vet won't know but they can dangerously summate with drugs being used for the same purpose effect or counteract drugs.

Herbal medicines could fall foul of sports 'doping' regulations.

Herbs could contaminate milk, meat or eggs from farm animals.

The image shows a very tall Cow Parsley-like plant - Hemlock - distinguishable by the purple spots on the stem.

Comfrey
Comfrey

Which animals can herbs help?

Herbal medicines can be used for the horse, pony, dog, cat and other species. In the case of horses and ponies, they are grazing animals and archetypal herbivores, thus drawing all their nutrients from plants and minerals. Herbs can therefore be an excellent source of minerals and vitamins (nutrients) for equines. This clearly demonstrates the blurred boundary between medicine and nutrition. Dogs and cats will also benefit from herbal dietary supplements, if formulated by a traditional and experienced herbal pharmacy.

Disease examples:

HORSES and PONIES (Equine): allergy, arthritis, asthma, COPD, gastric ulcer, heaves, hoof quality, injury, laminitis, liver problems, nervousness, sinusitis, skin problems, sweet itch, urticaria, wounds.

DOGS (Canine): allergy, arthritis, atopy, cystitis, excitability, fear, heart disease, injury, kidney problems, liver problems, skin disease, wounds

CATS (Feline): allergy, arthritis, asthma, cystitis, liver disease, renal failure, skin problems

A gallery of medicinal herbs

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Burdock - it is generally the root that is used (e.g. in Dandelion and Burdock drink - traditionally used as a blood purifierHawthorn berry - important traditional heart medicineDandelion - nature's diuretic and wild foodFoxglove - an important but potentially toxic heart medicine - not for home useBorage - culinary herb - the edible flowers can adorn a salad - traditionally used as an anti-inflammatory and expectorant medicine - also used to regulate menstruationElecampane - traditional expectorant and respiratory system medicine - do not use during pregnancyMeadowsweet - like Willow, it contains salicylic acid, the precursor of Aspirin - anti-inflammatory and antirheumaticNettle - wild food - a traditional diuretic and skin treatment - also used in cases of malnutritionSt John's Wort - much used in modern times as an antidepressantGreater Celandine - traditional liver and jaundice medicine
Burdock - it is generally the root that is used (e.g. in Dandelion and Burdock drink - traditionally used as a blood purifier
Burdock - it is generally the root that is used (e.g. in Dandelion and Burdock drink - traditionally used as a blood purifier
Hawthorn berry - important traditional heart medicine
Hawthorn berry - important traditional heart medicine
Dandelion - nature's diuretic and wild food
Dandelion - nature's diuretic and wild food
Foxglove - an important but potentially toxic heart medicine - not for home use
Foxglove - an important but potentially toxic heart medicine - not for home use
Borage - culinary herb - the edible flowers can adorn a salad - traditionally used as an anti-inflammatory and expectorant medicine - also used to regulate menstruation
Borage - culinary herb - the edible flowers can adorn a salad - traditionally used as an anti-inflammatory and expectorant medicine - also used to regulate menstruation
Elecampane - traditional expectorant and respiratory system medicine - do not use during pregnancy
Elecampane - traditional expectorant and respiratory system medicine - do not use during pregnancy
Meadowsweet - like Willow, it contains salicylic acid, the precursor of Aspirin - anti-inflammatory and antirheumatic
Meadowsweet - like Willow, it contains salicylic acid, the precursor of Aspirin - anti-inflammatory and antirheumatic
Nettle - wild food - a traditional diuretic and skin treatment - also used in cases of malnutrition
Nettle - wild food - a traditional diuretic and skin treatment - also used in cases of malnutrition
St John's Wort - much used in modern times as an antidepressant
St John's Wort - much used in modern times as an antidepressant
Greater Celandine - traditional liver and jaundice medicine
Greater Celandine - traditional liver and jaundice medicine
Echinacea
Echinacea

Who can treat animals?

In the UK, only a qualified vet may treat animals with herbal medicines. However, it is legal for an owner to treat his or her own animal.

Herbal vets don't grow on trees! Sadly, very few vets in the UK have bothered to study or learn about herbal medicines. Do not expect the average conventional veterinary surgeon to know anything about herbs. Some may even consider herbal medicine to be quackery!

There is a plethora of herbal products on the market, whose labelling and marketing stretch the law to the limit and often beyond. Sadly, even herbal medicine is not immune to commercial exploitation. It can be unwise to buy off-the-shelf products like these for your animal.

Have you or has your animal received herbal treatment (phytotherapy)?

How was it for you?

Good - I can recommend it

Good - I can recommend it

Submit a Comment

  • puerdycat lm 6 years ago

    My great-big new-for-me feral-born kitty-cat came out of hiding with the help of Rescue-Remedy aka Bach's flowers, misted on her bedding and favorite places. Three months later when something new scares kitty, out comes the Bach's!

  • anonymous 6 years ago

    I gave my last dog chamomille tea when he was very very sick after surgery, and I really do think it calmed him and his tummy. Poor boy had a reaction to the painkiller they gave him.

  • sousababy 6 years ago

    I used slippery elm for my beautiful cat Pika's IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) before she passed away. Although the big pills (broken in pieces) were hard to swallow, I truly believed this gave her some relief. Great lens, by-the-way.

Bad - failed to help

Submit a Comment

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Hops - calmative - aid restful sleep
Hops - calmative - aid restful sleep

Summary

Herbal medicine is the most ancient form of medicine known to mankind.

Plants give us medicines for most, if not all, ills.

Modern drugs have been derived from plants, in a great many cases.

Herbal medicines can be applied to animals of all species, including dogs, cats, horses and ponies.

The author is independent of commercial interest or sponsorship and cannot endorse any products or advertising material attached to this lens.

For more information, visit AVMC's information website (over 600 pages).

Chris Day - holistic vet - runs the Alternative Veterinary Medicine Centre in Oxfordshire (AVMC) in Oxfordshire, UK.

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    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @vlivlia: The FEI is not very forward with its 'banned substances'. I suppose that they want to keep their options open. As far as I know, there is no such list available. As to your list, its unlikely that any would come up, esp. as a grazing horse could get them Thanks for the visit and the question.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @darciefrench lm: Thanks so much for the very encouraging and heart-warming comment. Thanks also for the Blessing - so very kind and encouraging.

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 6 years ago

      Thanks again, Chris, for all you do for the world. Hopefully as time goes by, more vets like yourself will come into practice. It's an honor to know you on Squidoo and to have access to such a wealth of info in holistic veterinary care.

    • profile image

      vlivlia 6 years ago

      Hello. This was a really wonderful article. Thank you! Does anyone know if any of the following herbs can test out positive as doping in horses: Chamomile, rosehips, burdock root, marigold, echinacea, mint? Is there a list which states which herbs are forbidden/test positive for doping, for horses from the FEI?

    • profile image

      vlivlia 6 years ago

      Hello. This was a really wonderful article. Thank you! Does anyone know if any of the following herbs can test out positive as doping in horses: Chamomile, rosehips, burdock root, marigold, echinacea, mint? Is there a list which states which herbs are forbidden/test positive for doping, for horses from the FEI?

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @ChrisDay LM: Thanks for this very important contribution to my lens - animals do self-medicate, given the opportunity.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
      Author

      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @Krafick: Yes, they'll help parasite control, for a start! Zoopharmacognosy.

    • Krafick profile image

      Krafick 6 years ago

      When I was a child there were lots of ricin plants growing in many places. I saw cats eating them many times. According to what I was told they were using it as a medicine to treat some disease.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @hamshi5433: Thanks for your support and encouragement.

    • profile image

      hamshi5433 6 years ago

      very useful information here especially for those who have pets! great lens=]

    • puerdycat lm profile image

      puerdycat lm 6 years ago

      Absolutely! Like-fave-lensrolled your wonderful (as always) resource!

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @lollyj lm: Thanks so much for your visit and supportive comment.

    • lollyj lm profile image

      Laurel Johnson 6 years ago from Washington KS

      I don't think the veterinarians around here use too may herbals.

      A new product on the market -- Vetericyn -- is non toxic and works wonders for various external injuries or conditions.

      Great lens.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @RetroMom: Thanks RetroMom! Good to see you here.

    • RetroMom profile image

      RetroMom 6 years ago

      Wonderful information for all pet lovers.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @junecampbell: I think it is wise to go carefully and be cautious but there is a lot of help out there, for those who want to try it.

    • junecampbell profile image

      June Campbell 6 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

      I've never tried herbal medicine for an animal. I'd be afraid to unwittingly give a toxic dose. My vet is starting to introduce other forms of holistic treatment, though, which is a good thing.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @anonymous: Yes, that should be the objective. Thanks for responding.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Yes very, if we can keep our animals healthy and out of the vet office, we are all happy.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @sousababy: Thanks!

    • sousababy profile image

      sousababy 6 years ago

      Lensrolled to my Healthy Gifts for Valentine's Day lens. Thank you.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @sousababy: You are very kind.

    • sousababy profile image

      sousababy 6 years ago

      As an animal lover, I truly appreciate how much you care about animals and their owners. Educating owners is so important and few Vets have the time to do so, in clinic. Thank you so much Dr. Day. I hope you stay on Squidoo. Fondly, Rose

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @darciefrench lm: You bet!

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      I can not agree with you more about so many things and how we need to do more natural things for our animals as well as ourselves. Love your lenses, will be back to read more soon.

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 6 years ago

      I am so excited to have found your lenses on alternative veterinary health. Please keep sharing -:)

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @anonymous: Thanks so much for the encouragement.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I can not agree with you more about so many things and how we need to do more natural things for our animals as well as ourselves. Love your lenses, will be back to read more soon.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
      Author

      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @dahlia369: Thanks for your interest and positive energy.

    • dahlia369 profile image

      dahlia369 6 years ago

      Very interesting and useful, lensrolled to some of my herbal lenses.