It is known that many animals consume specific herbs to treat ailments, a process called zoopharmacognosy (yes that is a real word). The use of herbs for medicinal purposes among humans has been documented to have occurred as far back as 60,000 years ago based on remains found in an ancient grave in Iraq. It has been proposed that the human use of herbs may have started by early man (and woman) carefully watching and mimicking wild animals. If we have animals to thank for our practice of herbalism, then I think it is high time for us to return the favor and treat our pets with gentle herbs in place of harsh drugs.
Herbs often make great substitutes for pharmaceuticals. In fact, about 25% of today’s medicines were derived from herbs.
Partial list of drugs derived from herbs
Aspirin – white willow
Atropine – belladonna
Digoxin and digitoxin – foxglove
Morphine and codeine – opium poppy
Cancer Chemo – Paclitaxel (Taxol) – yew tree
Cancer Chemo – Vinblastine and vincristine – periwinkle
Don’t try to tell me that herbs don’t have a strong effect on the body
The confusing thing about herbal medicine is that herbal remedies come in many forms. Of course, this also makes them more versatile.
You can give a pet the fresh herb (green or dried). You can also give the herb in the form of a tea.
Herbs come as tinctures (a grain alcohol/water preparation of the dried herb). An extract uses the same extraction process only with the fresh herb. (Both of these are considered more potent than teas because the alcohol helps extract more active ingredients).
The problem with tinctures and extracts is the alcohol they contain. Some pets just don’t tolerate it. A way around that problem is to dilute the dose of herbal tincture with an equal amount of hot water. This evaporates off the alcohol.
Herbs can also be found as glycerin extracts but these are less effective than the alcohol preps. Recently a hybrid has been developed. Some herb companies use a water and alcohol extraction process, then evaporate off most of the alcohol and add glycerin as a preservative. This gives the best of both worlds?
When purchasing herbs, be sure the label contains the following information
Genus & Species (Not just the common name)
Expiration or Harvest date
Part of herb used
Amount of active ingredient (standardized)
When dosing herbs for your pet, the following chart may be helpful.
(Give the indicated amount 2-3 times a day)
Pet’s Weight Tea Dried Herb Tincture
0-10 lbs 1/8 c 1/8 tsp 1-3 drops
10-20 lbs ¼ c ¼-½ tsp 3-5 drops
20-50 lbs ¼-½ c ½-1 tsp 5-10 drops
50-100 lbs ½-1 c 1-2 tsp 10-20 drops
>100 lbs 1 c 2-3 tsp 20-30 drops
Here are some potential dangers to be aware of.
– Pennyroyal – Very toxic to dogs & cats
– Tea Tree Oil – Very toxic to cats & small dogs
– White Willow Bark – Contains salicylates which are toxic to cats
– Garlic – Can cause anemia at high doses
– Ma Huang – Toxic to cats
– Comfrey – Can cause liver damage
– Hops – Toxic to greyhounds
If your pet has any of the following conditions, the herbs listed should be used with caution.
• Kidney disease – Dandelion, parsley
• Heart disease – Motherwort, goldenseal, Oregon grape, barberry
• Autoimmune disease – Echinacea, reishi, maitake, astragalus
• Liver Disease – Dandelion
• Thyroid disease – Kelp, bugleweed
Herbs used to treat a certain condition may potentiate drugs for that condition
– Gymnema, bitter melon > insulin
– Licorice, bayberry > glucocorticoids
– White willow bark > NSAIDS
– Convallaria, squill > digoxin
– Hawthorn, ginseng > cardiac drugs
– Valerian > CNS depressants
High fiber herbs (flaxseed, psyllium) may delay absorption of drugs
High tannin herbs (grape seed extract, green tea) inhibit absorption of certain alkaline drugs
Anticoagulant herbs (gingko, garlic, ginseng, ginger, turmeric, cayenne, reishi, white willow bark) should not be used with anticoagulant drugs or if the pet has GI ulcers or any bleeding condition.
Many herbs interact with the liver’s detoxification system. They should not be used with phenobarbital, glucocorticoids, ketoconazole, midazolam & calcium channel blockers. Those herbs include: Cats claw, chamomile, echinacea, elder root, eleuthero, gingko, goldenseal, hops, garlic, licorice, milk thistle, red clover, rosemary, saw palmetto, St. John’s wort, valerian, and wild cherry bark.
Herbs can be very helpful for many common conditions. Mixing herbs and drugs can cause problems so you really need to know what you are doing. If in doubt, don’t mix the two. Future “Herbal Pet” posts will give information about specific herbs and their uses.