Click Here to Join Race for the RainForest!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Animal Herbology

Introduction to Animal Herbology

Herbal medicine is gaining popularity in Western culture. Those of us who use herbal remedies in our own lives, are also apt to use natural remedies to enhance the health of their pets. Herbal medicine is a very useful adjunct to traditional veterinary medicine, however, it is not without its own risks. Herbs that help in humans do not necessarily have the same effect on animals. And more importantly, some herbs that are safe for human consumption may kill or injure our pets. Therefore, it is essential to seek qualified professional assistance from professionals well versed in animal herbology and dosages.

I can’t stress too strongly that use of herbs or any other medical procedures on your pets without clear knowledge of what you are doing puts the lives of your animal friends at risk. Herbal and vitamin supplements can be of remarkable assistance in a well managed therapeutic regime, but you MUST make certain that you inform your veterinarian of any herbs, vitamins, or other supplements that you have administered to your pets, AND you must know what you are doing. When in doubt, speak to your veterinarian.

A note about birds: If you have pet birds, you are likely already aware how careful you must be regarding what medications are administered to them. Sometimes, even licensed veterinarians are unaware of what substances can be fatal to birds. For your bird’s health, please seek a qualified AVIAN veterinarian for advice. For safety’s sake, do not use any of the following herbs in this lesson, unless they are specifically noted as safe for birds.

This lesson is meant to supplement knowledge you have already obtained through other appropriate studies. It is not meant to in any way be a complete guide to a subject as complex as herbology for animals, so it will definitely be necessary for you to do your own research as well.

Please also be aware that even though the following herbs are mentioned in this lesson as having been used in animals with therapeutic effect, natural does not necessarily mean “safe.” It is important to purchase your herbs from reputable sources with standardized strength. It is also necessary to understand that animals, like humans, can have unforeseen allergic reactions. Whenever you administer medications of any sort to your pet, it is necessary to watch them carefully afterwards for any symptoms.

Herbs That Should NOT Be Given To Pets

Certain herbs should never be given to your pets, as they are toxic. These include:

White Willow Bark (Salix alba) – Similar to asprin, toxic to cats.


One of the most common uses for herbal supplements in both animals and humans is to stimulate the immune system. Keep in mind that in certain cases, such as auto immune disorders in which the body essentially attacks itself, immune system stimulation is exactly the opposite of what you want to be doing. It is important to be certain of what the problem truly is before treating it.

If, after a proper diagnosis, you wish to assist the immune system of your pet, there are several supplements that can be used:

Shark Cartilage: Shark cartilage is a traditional Chinese remedy that contains mucopolysaccharides and carbohydrates that stimulate the immune system. It can also be used as an anti inflammatory that helps with issues such as arthritis or other types of joint injuries.

Echinacea: The purple coneflower, echinacea augustifolia, and echinacea purpurea are the species of echinacea most often used as a herbal remedy. Echinacea stimulates the immune system via several different methods, and is a highly useful herb that can be used in cats, dogs, and birds. It should generally be used in conjunction with drugs prescribed by a veterinarian. Be certain to inform the veterinarian if you are using echinacea for your pet, since it could be a concern during anesthesia and recovery. Echinacea should NOT be used if your pet is suffering from lupus, tuberculosis, connective tissue disorder, FeLV, FIV or FIP. Do not continue use beyond 6 to 8 weeks, as the immune stimulation actions fade over time. You can restart therapy after a “rest” of approximately 4 weeks.

Alfalfa: Alfalfa sprouts contain many vitamins and minerals, and is generally a nutritional herb, but is also said to stimulate the immune system. Alfalfa may be used in birds.

Brewer’s Yeast: Also said to stimulate the immune system.

Seaweeds: Certain types of seaweed, such as Kelp, Kombu, Nori, and Undaria protect against some bacterial agents, as they stimulate the immune system. They have been used in birds. Be aware that Kelp should not be used in animals with autoimmune thyroid disorders.


As always, serious injuries should be seen by your veterinarian. For minor wounds, you can use the following herbs:

Lavender Oil: After thoroughly cleaning the wound, one drop of lavender essential oil will assist in healing. Lavender oil can also help burns heal.

Tea Tree Oil: Tea tree oil can be used after thorough cleaning as an anti microbial agent. It can also be used to bring a cyst to a head. One drop is all that is necessary. After the cyst is brought up and drained, use a drop of lavender oil to aid healing.

Aloe: Fresh Aloe gel is very useful for all animals including parrots. An additional bonus is that Aloe gel can be used as an effective pain reliever for the owners of parrots who may occasionally receive a “love bit” that is overly enthusiastic.

Epsom salts: Soaking itchy paws and abscessed nail beds in 1/2 cup epsom salts per gallon of water for 10 minutes, 2x per day will help draw out infection and relieve itchy feet.


Peppermint: Digestive difficulties in dogs can be treated with peppermint (mentha piperita). It is necessary to make sure that there is no underlying problem such as accidental poisoning or eating something they shouldn’t have.

Catnip and Catmint: Getting peppermint down a cat might be a challenge, since they generally don’t like mint taste. Catnip and catmint are both useful for nausea in cats. Again, make sure that your cat hasn’t gotten into something she shouldn’t have.

Ginger: Ginger works in animals the same way it does in humans. It can be used to help with gas, diarrhea, and car sickness. It can also be used as an anti-inflammatory. Ginger can be used with parrots.

Slippery Elm: Slippery Elm bark is a digestive aid for pets with nausea and constipation. It can also be used as a cough suppressant. Slippery Elm can be used with birds for coughing and vomiting, and in animals including birds externally for bites, boils, or abscesses. If a parrot is bitten or scratched by a mammal, even if it looks superficial, bring it to a veterinarian immediately, as a course of antibiotics will likely be necessary due to the parrot’s lack of natural defenses to pasturella bacteria.

Acidophilus: When antibiotics are used to treat your pet, they can kill “good bacteria” living in the gut, allowing “bad bacteria” to build up and cause problems such as gas or diarrhea. These good bacteria can also be killed by stress and illness. Acidophilus is a powdered form of the useful bacteria, lactobacillus.


It is natural to get discouraged when your pet is in pain, and to attempt to use your own remedies, however, it is important to let your veterinarian know of your concerns, and let them know you are treating with natural remedies.

Dandelion: Useful in treatment of arthritis. Can be used with birds.

Perna Mussels: These muscles contain glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) that assist in building cartilage and bringing down inflammation. The mussels also contain glucosamine, which is a precursor to GAG. The perna mussel also includes a type of Omega-3 fatty acid that reduce pain and help anti inflammatory action.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin: These products are useful for both humans and animals, however, it is necessary to be very careful with figuring the appropriate dosage for pets. They can take human grade pharmaceutical glucosamine and chondroitin, however not in the same quantities as humans do. Animal supplements often are augmented with absorbic acid to help with its uptake in dogs. Special animal dosages are available through your veterinarian, or over the Internet. These compounds help to heal cartilage and reduce pain in hip dysplasia. They also assist with the pain and joint damage of arthritis in both dogs and cats. If the dosage is too high, dogs may vomit or get diarrhea. It then becomes necessary to reduce the dosage. Glucosamine and chondroitin are safe for long term use, and can be used with other drugs and vitamins.

Yucca: The yucca plant can be used to reduce pain and soft tissue swelling with minimal gastric side effects. It works by increasing the circulation in the damaged tissue, so that waste build up is reduced.


Chamomile: Because its sedative power is mild, it is useful for birds in stressful situations.

St. John’s Wort: Yes, animals can suffer from the same types of nervous disorders as humans, including obsessive/compulsive behaviors, depression, and mood swings. St. John’s Wort (hypericum perforatum) has been used to treat compulsive licking in dogs, aggression, separation anxiety, feather plucking in parrots, and neural disorders. Do not use St. John’s Wort with other antidepressant drugs. Also, do not use St. John’s Wort with animals who spend a lot of time in the sun, as large doses can cause photosensitivity.

Bach Rescue Remedy: Rescue Remedy is a combination of flower essences that can effectively be used to treat temporary anxiety, such as going to the vet. Be sure to let the vet know you’ve given this to your pet.

Ginkgo: Ginkgo is said to increase the blood flow to the brain. Humans have reported increased memory and brain function from use of Ginkgo. Animal herbalists have been using it to treat cognitive dysfunction in older animals.


Eyebright: As its name implies, eyebright tea can be used as a wash for eye irritation in all pets including birds.


Warm about one tablespoon of olive oil, and add two drops of tea tree, one drop of lavender, and one drop of chamomile. Drip into and around the ear. Do not use with parrots.


Cayenne: Cayenne is the active ingredient in capsaicin. It is useful in all animals as a treatment for sinus congestion. Recommended for use in parrots as they love its taste.


Animals, like humans, can build up toxins in the colon and filtration organs. A mild course of detoxifying agents, such as those listed below, can be useful in treatment of other disorders.

Garlic: The anti-oxidant, antifungal and anti-parasitic properties of garlic are useful detoxifiers in all animals including birds. Garlic given to parrots should be fresh garlic, not powder. Do not use for long periods of time, as it could cause anemia.

Cinnamon: Cinnamon is a mild antifungal and anti-bacterial. It can be used on parrots.

Aloe Detox: Aloe Detox is a commercial product that is made by a company called Naturade. It has been credited with saving many parrots through detoxifying the liver.

Milk Thistle: Milk thistle seeds contain silymarin, an antioxidant that protects and is said to regenerate the liver. Very large dosages can cause loose stools.


Ginseng: Both Panax ginseng and Panax quinquefolius have been used to treat animals with extreme weight loss from chronic conditions such as cancer and leukemia, chronic infections, nerve disorders, and anorexia. It is said to enhance the release of insulin, so that the glucose levels in the blood decrease. Ginseng CAN cause increased blood pressure, may contribute to low blood sugar, and may pose a concern during anesthesia and recovery.

Essiac Tea: Essiac tea is said to be a natural cancer treatment, consisting of various herbs including burdock root, sheep sorrel, Turkish rhubarb root, red clover, slippery elm, and sometimes other herbs. There are several manufacturers of the product. It has been used for cats and dogs.


Use of non-stick cookware can be fatal to parrots. If the cookware is overheated, it can release polytetrafluoroethlyene (PTFE) gas that is rapid working and lethal. All species of birds can be affected. The only clinical sign of this poisoning generally occurs when the bird drops off its perch. Although this is not a herbal issue, it is an important safety consideration if you keep birds.

Herbal products to avoid use of with birds include:

Ma Huang
Life Root


We have a special obligation to our animal friends, to take as good care of them as is humanly possible. This includes proper veterinary care, as well as alternative medical care when warranted, in conjunction with medical professionals. Herbal remedies can be very useful, but you must do your homework. If in doubt, ask a professional.

Written by:
Rev. Mikki Barry
Master Herbalist
Global Institute For Alternative Medicine

No comments: