Herbal Medicine for Animals - Veterinary Herbs
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 herbsClick thumbnail to view full-size
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?
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.
- AVMC's website
Large information website, on alternative medicine and holistic medicine for animals (over 600 pages)
- Herbal medicine for animals (veterinary herbal medicine)
AVMC's page on herbal medicine for animals
- Quiz: 10 questions on Herbal Home Remedies
A fun quiz to see how well you remember family herbal remedies