By. M. Fakhrul Ulum, DVM from: Drs. Foster & Smith, Inc. (Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department)
Herbal medicine has been successfully used to treat many illnesses in animals and people throughout the centuries and is basic to folk medicine in every culture. Wild animals are thought to instinctively select the proper herbs when ill. A system of cancer therapy, known as the Hoxsey Program was originated by a man who observed which herbs were eaten by animals under specific disease conditions.
Scientific research on the use of herbs is at about the same stage as vitamins were 10 years ago. Many companies, however, do not want to invest in expensive research because most herbs cannot be patented, nor are they regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, as drugs and other medications are. Articles on some of the more commonly used herbs are listed in Holistic and Alternative Therapy for Dogs and Cats.
Many of the modern pharmaceutical drugs are actually compounds considered to be the active principles in herbs. Herbalists, however, contend that the pharmaceutical derivatives and the whole plant from which they are derived are not the same due to the unique and complex properties of the original natural substance. As in many situations, the whole is more than the sum of (or one of) its parts, due to synergisms that may occur both within the plant and within the body.
It can be difficult to find fresh herbs, and fresh herbs often are not the most pleasant tasting to the animal. Herb combination products have been developed for certain syndromes and are distributed as tablets and capsules. They can be obtained from many of the herbal companies and are generally classified as Western Herbs or Chinese Herbs. Chinese herbal combinations have been around for thousands of years and have a long track record.
Always keep your veterinarian informed regarding what medications, herbs, and supplements your pet may be taking. Some of these therapies can interfere with the absorption or action of another. And, remember, just because herbs are natural, does not mean they cannot cause adverse or toxic effects if used inappropriately.