by Dr. Larry Siegler
As the prevalence of chronic disease and immune deficiency continue to rise in
our companion animals, more and more guardians are looking for more effective and
safer methods of treating disease than are offered by conventional medicine.
Herbal remedies are a valuable tool in both preventing and treating the issues that
plague many of today’s pets.
The ancestors of our companion animals had inherent instincts that guided them
in foraging for plants and herbs to aid with healing of wounds or illness or for
discomfort such as digestive troubles, as well as sources of important vitamins,
minerals and trace elements needed in their diet. Native peoples around the
world learned about the use of plants and herbs from watching wild animals.
Though our companions are rarely able to forage for the herbs they may be in need
of any longer, with education and the guidance of a holistically trained veterinarian,
we can still help them obtain optimal health and heal from discomfort and disease
through the proper use of herbs.
There are three main philosophies of herbal medicine; Ayurvedic Medicine, Traditional
Chinese Medicine (TCM), and Western Herbalism. Ayurvedic Medicine originated
in India and the Middle East. Herbal remedies are chosen based on an individual’s
metabolic type or “dosha”, as well as the symptoms or disease present. Traditional
Chinese Medicine addresses the body and healing in terms of the flow of energy or
“qi” – which is the life force of the individual. You may see references to
dampness or dryness or heat or cold involved in different conditions, as well as
yin and yang when studying Chinese herbal formulas. Western Herbalism is the
youngest of the three and has origins in the use of medicinal plants in Eruope.
Like both Ayurvedic Medicine and TCM, the body is viewed as a whole and the herbs
are used to stimulate healing from within, rather than simply suppressing symptoms
(although herbs can be used in this way).
Herbs come in a variety of forms including tinctures, capsules and tablets administered
orally, as well as tinctures and salves for topical use. Herbs are also brewed
into teas for administration both orally and topically. Tinctures may be alcohol
or glycerin based. Alcohol is generally the best extractive, meaning that
more of the beneficial properties of the herb are removed, but glycerin tastes better
so is easier to get down an animal. Some small dogs and cats can be sensitive
to alcohol, so a glycerin base is sometimes preferred. Most herbal tinctures
made for pets will have a very small amount of alcohol, if any, and it can be evaporated
out before administration by either putting the dose into a small shot glass and
leaving it in the open air for 15-30 minutes or adding the dose to a small amount
of very hot water and then administering this dilution after it cools. Tinctures
are often preferred for cats and dogs as they tend to be better absorbed.
Some herbal formulas, however, cannot be practically formulated in this way and
are more easily dosed as capsules or tablets.
Herbs can be used to treat specific illnesses or dysfunctions, somewhat similar
to conventional medication; matching the diagnosis or symptoms to the herbal treatment.
An example of this would be the use of milk thistle for detoxification of the liver
– a specific herb used for a specific purpose. Some herbs are more valuable
as adaptogens – having a tonic effect that helps stimulate the individual’s intrinsic
health and vitality. Siberian ginseng is a frequently utilized adaptogen for
older or weakened animals. In many cases I will utilize both types of herbs
in treating a patient with chronic or acute illness. Adaptogens are also frequently
administered to help prevent degenerative conditions, illness or immune deficiencies.
Many herbal formulas are available that clearly state the intended use, taking
some of the guess work out of choosing herbal remedies for your companion.
The variety of choices however, can be confusing, so when in doubt seek assistance.
Many holistic veterinarians offer phone consultations which can save you a lot of
trial and error, lost time in the healing process and money in the long run by helping
you choose the right remedies initially and administering proper dosages.
Also keep in mind that the source of the herbs is important. Use herbs and
formulas from reputable companies only since the potency of herbal remedies can
A few things to keep in mind when using herbal remedies:
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