Veterinary Herbal Medicine: Adaptogens for Pets & Animals

Pet insurance? Pet daycare? Pet walking? Pet sitting? Why not “pet herbal medicine?” If humans can benefit from plant remedies, can they? The short answer is "Yes!"

There is growing interest in holistic animal care and even veterinary herbal medicine, which is interesting as humans likely first learned about plant medicine by observing how animals used nature for healing.

How Animals Instinctively use Herbs

“Researchers have found that many animals - including monkeys, bears, elephants, chimpanzees, birds, horses and deer - use various herbs to purge parasites, heal wounds, prevent or treat skin mites and fleas, treat itching, and reliever stress,” says David Winston, adaptogen expert and clinical herbalist.

If you’ve ever watched your dog or cat outside when they have an upset stomach, you’ve seen them sniff around grassy areas until they find just the right grass to eat (you can grow wheatgrass indoors in containers if your pet has limited access to outside grasses). Veterinarians widely suggest that they do this to settle their stomachs.

How Animals Instinctively use Herbs

Revived use of Herbs in Modern Veterinary Practice

While rural people have and still do use plants and natural remedies around them to treat their animals, more mainstream herbal medicine for veterinarian practice was likely first inspired (or revived) in North America (aside from traditional healers) by herbalist Juliette de Biracli Levy.

Levy developed some of the first herbal products for animals in the 1930s and inspired the practice through her books The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable and The Complete Herbal Book for the Dog and Cat.

Examples of Using Adaptogenic Herbs for Animals

Examples of Using Adaptogenic Herbs for Animals
When it comes to adaptogens, these herbs can be used to treat many of the same ailments humans experience, like:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Low energy
  • Digestive issues
  • Arthritis

For example, just as we might use herbs (like chamomile, lavender, and lemon balm) combined with adaptogens (schisandra, eluthero, or rhodiola) for stress, these can also be found in animal formulations (please research the cautions for rhodiola in humans with bi-polar disorder).

Not all herbs are adaptogens, but there are several that are widely accepted as definitively adaptogenic. There is also a list of those that are possibly and probably adaptogenic but need more research. You can learn about how that classification works in our recent blog, What are Adaptogens?"

Only Use Safe & Proper Herbal Formulas

It’s worth noting that just as in humans, animals benefit from herbal formulas more than single herbs, and often in adaptogen-and-non-adaptogen combinations. So, it’s best to work with a veterinarian who understands herbal actions and how to use them appropriately in ways that are species and size specific.

Important: Animal size matters. Understanding proper dosage and usage for your lizard or rabbit versus your horse or cow is critical to safety and efficacy.

  • Veterinarians use Adaptogens & Herbs Differently
  • Only Use Safe & Proper Herbal Formulas

Veterinarians use Adaptogens & Herbs Differently
It’s also important to note that many veterinarians using herbs are practicing “integrative” holistic veterinary medicine which means they likely take a holistic approach to animals and the modalities that might be best employed for their care.

According to the College of Integrative Veterinary Therapies, “By bridging cutting edge science and tradition, we can help you to expand your treatment options to tackle your most challenging cases.”

This is important when choosing a veterinarian because you may wish to work with someone who understands and uses both conventional and holistic medicine for animals together.

Getting Started with Veterinary Applications

Adaptogens and other medicinal herbs are now found in many pet supplements and are used clinically around the world.

But how do you begin to explore this option? Consult a veterinarian who practices holistic therapies. Make sure you understand that some plants that are safe for humans are toxic to animals.

Remember that it’s the same approach as exploring herbal remedies for humans—read, learn, and consult a professional to help guide your pursuit of natural, holistic care for your animals.