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Home > Animal Acupuncture > Herbalism for Pets

Herbalism for Pets

By Brian Puterman

Herbs are the oldest form of medicine on earth. In manís earliest recorded history herbs were already being used for healing. By 300 B.C. herbal medicine was a highly respected and practiced study at the medical cultural center in Alexandria Egypt. By 77 A.D. Pliny the Elder wrote the Historia Naturalis, a documentation of well over 1000 herbs. During the renaissance herbalism was refined into a true healing art. Unfortunately it was treated as a clandestine almost mystic practice wherein women and novices who were caught performing it were pronounced heretics and burned at the stake. This may be why it still has a connotation of being a more esoteric modality today.

If we observe animals in their natural habitat weíll see that they are instinctually drawn to specific herbs. The field of Zoopharmacognosy has demonstrated this to be true. From our kitchen to our back yards nature has provided us with a constant reminder that all we need to heal and soothe our pets and ourselves is well within reach. After all, 25% of conventional pharmaceuticals are derivatives of plants. The world health organization says that 74% of plant-derived medicines have current uses that draw a parallel to their historical applications. Pharmaceutical companies and the FDA continue to look closely at herbs and their effects. Most recently herbalism has been experiencing a renaissance of its own. As herbs become more widely available to the general public it is not surprising that people are applying this form of alternative medicine to their companion animals.

Like any form of medicine the strength and type of herb used is something to be approached knowledgably and with some care. The fact is that some herbs are harmless while others can have serious side effects if not used properly.

The Chinese divide herbs into three simple categories. This is a good starting point for identifying specific characteristics for individual herbs. Of course some herbs will work differently on a dog or cat. For instance Catnip is a stimulant and aphrodisiac for a cat as opposed to a sedative when given to humans in the form of tea.

    1. Poison herbs. These are extremely powerful herbs that have very specific benefits. They are only to be used for short periods of time and have very strict rules for application and quantity.
    2. Medicinal herbs. These are also quite strong and are used for a specific medicinal purpose, but here there is a wider margin for error.
    3. Food herbs. These are the gentlest of the three and can be used indefinitely without any harmful effects.

Using combinations of herbs can increase their effectiveness by working together or reacting with each other in synthesis. Sometimes one herb can act to stabilize the toxic effects of another particular herb or plant. There are properties in plants and herbs that modern science has been unable to reproduce or explain in its interaction with disease. For instance conventional medicine only has a few immune boosting drugs while there is a large resource of herbs that work to good effect.

Herbs and plants can be antimicrobial, anti-cancer or boost the immune system. Some plants can help strengthen the body and relax the mind. Herbs can be brewed into tonics and teas that have a variety of fortifying effects on the body as a whole. Herbs can be integrated into conventional medical treatments with the help of an enlightened veterinarian. Pet owners can educate themselves as much as possible about herbalism so that they know what particular herbs may be useful in treating the condition or illness their pet may be experiencing.


Aloe vera: A valuable soothing agent for burns, rashes and stings for both you and your pets. It can be taken for constipation or stopping chronic diarrhea.

Apple cider vinegar: Enhances bowel function. Itís also good for chronic yeast infection of the ear.

Astragalus: A Chinese herb that is effective in supporting the immune system and as an anti-cancer agent.

Burdock root: Used for alkalizing and soothing the stomach and intestines.

Calendula: Good for speeding up the healing of cuts, abrasions and burns.

Caraway: Aids in digestion and helps stop flatulence.

Carrot: Good for the intestines -- itís high in potassium and great for arthritis, heart disease and low salt diets.

Celery seed: Has an alkalizing effect on the stomach, is soothing to the intestines, increases appetite and prevents flatulence.

Chamomile: A great calming agent for irritable or anxious pets. Itís also effective in helping both you and your pet sleep.

Echinacea: Promotes healing of cuts and skin irritations. It also boosts the immune system.

Ephedra: Great for breathing problems like bronchitis and asthma. It also has a stimulant effect that should be considered when using it.

Eyebright: It can be used as eyewash to soothe red and irritated eyes.

Garlic: A natural antibiotic, antibacterial and antioxidant that also helps digestion. Itís also believed to boost liver function and prevent heart disease, cancer and other degenerative diseases.

Ginseng: An appetite stimulant.

Goldenseal: Helps fight infection both topically and orally. In diabetic pets it enhances their insulin.

Kelp: It supports thyroid function, which controls metabolism.

Milk thistle: Great for liver disease. It also contains flavonoids, which are believed to capture free radicals making it potentially an anti-aging agent.

Red raspberry leaf tea: Used to aid in the birthing process. Itís used for uterine problems.

Valerian: Excellent calming agent for hyper pets.

Yunnan Paiyao: Great for stopping bleeding both internally and externally.

Ar-Ease: Powerful anti-inflammatory thatís great for arthritis.

BLDR-K: Used for bladder and kidney problems.

Essiac: A combination of burdock root, Indian rhubarb root, sheep sorrel, and slippery elm bark. Itís good for supporting the immune system and to diminish the toxic effects of conventional drugs.

Hawthore caps: Contains hawthorn, heartsease, Siberian ginseng and motherwort. Good for supporting the heart.

Night Caps: A combination of valerian root, skullcap, passionflowers, kava root and GABA. It good for relaxing a pet and can be helpful in epileptic seizures.

The understanding and practice of medical herbalism is often convoluted by the numerous properties attributed to the remedies. It can be a challenge to find the particular plants or herbs that will prove most effective for your petís particular health needs. It is not just advisable to consult a veterinarian when using herbs and plant extracts, itís essential that you get advice from an expert in veterinary herbalism in order to assure the safety and well-being of your companion animal.

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