Donna Easto, C.H., H.C, M.H., Certified Herbal Educator
Who hasn’t seen a pet dog or cat eating grass to rid their digestive system of fur balls or other troublesome substances? Animals, both in the wild and in our homes have always used plants for food and medicine. In fact, there’s a whole discipline, Zoopharmacognosy, dedicated to studying how animals use plants to prevent or treat illness, and in some cases alter consciousness with herbs such as Catnip and Valerian.
Human knowledge of many herbs came about by watching animals use them in nature, on the farm, and in the home. Indigenous people have a rich materia medica developed by observing the ways creatures such as bears used plants to strengthen and heal. We’ve been using herbs for thousands of years to treat ourselves, working animals and house pets.
Animals are living longer and suffer from many of the chronic conditions that ail ageing humans. Adaptogens can make a difference in a number of conditions such as arthritis, skin and coat problems, anxiety, stress, lack of energy, immune system dysfunction, and poor digestion. Many of the adaptogens used for people can be used for animals; however, if you’re unfamiliar with their use it’s best to consult an herbal veterinarian or herbalist who specializes in animal medicine to assure the best results. Adaptogenic herbs are safe and usually would not cause any harm, even if the wrong herb is chosen. The following is an overview of three of the most popular adaptogens used with animals, and a list of herbs used for specific issues.
Ashwagandha: helpful with nervous, overexcited or fearful animals. It’s often mixed with holy basil or reishi. A combination of ashwagandha and boswellia anti-inflammatory herbs, have proven effective in animals with osteoarthritis and hip dysplasia. Used singly or in combination with bacopa, it helps dogs and cats suffering from advanced age that may wander or bark aimlessly or appear confused.
Eleuthero: increases energy, endurance, longevity, immunity, skin and muscle tone, and bone strength. An excellent mild tonic it’s safe for use with older, elderly, convalescing or chronically ill pets.
Holy Basil: improves digestion, reduces flatulence and allergic response. Holy basil can protect against radiation-induced damage in pets undergoing radiation therapy. In combination with dang shen (codonopsis), jiaogulan, and licorice it is used in the treatment of animals with diabetes.
Skin problems, eleuthero, holy basil and shatavari can be useful for some skin problems.
Elderly or weakened pets, all adaptogens can be used to promote immune competence including ashwagandha, codonopsis, eleuthero, rhaponticum, rhodiola, and schisandra.
Digestive problems, codonopsis, guduchi, holy basil, and licorice are used to improve digestion and relieve gastric upset and inflammation.
Remember, if you wish to use your own herbs, converting dosages from human to animal is essential, and it can be complicated. There are a number of products containing adaptogens made specifically for animals on the market. Check with your veterinarian or trusted animal supply shop for suggestions.
Next: Pest control