Yesterday I talked about information presented by Robert J. Silver DVM, MS, CVA at the Wild West Veterinary Conference on the topic of integrative medicine. Dr. Silver dedicated a whole session to the important topic of botanical (herbal) remedies. Here are a few of the highlights from this presentation:
The History Of Botanical Medicine
Although no direct evidence exists explaining how humans and animals initially learned which plants were safe to use as foods or for healing, there is anthropological evidence that supports the premise that plants have been used by humans for themselves and for their animals since the dawn of humanity 60,000 years ago. (1) The Roman herbalist Pliny wrote in the first century A.D. of the discovery of the medical uses of plants by animals such as swallows, dogs, and deer as having been influential in teaching humans which plants to select.
Research in the field of zoopharmacognosy (the study of animals’ recognition and utilization of wild plants) demonstrated that elephants, monkeys, bison, pigs, civets, jackals, tigers, bears, wild dogs, rhinoceros, mole rats, and desert gerbils use plants as medicines. (10)
Physicians in the U.S. studied and relied on plant "drugs" as primary medicines through the 1930s. Up until the 1930s, medical schools in the U.S. taught basic plant taxonomy, pharmacognosy [the study of medicines derived from natural sources] and medicinal plant therapeutics. Physicians routinely used plant drugs as their primary medicines. In fact, the word "drug" is derived from a word for the root of a plant. In 1870 the U.S. Pharmacopoeia listed 638 herbs in its publication. By 1990 there were only 58 listed. (2) Some of these plants fell out of use due to their weakness or toxicity. However, the majority of clinically useful plants were replaced by pharmaceuticals which could be patented, thereby capable of generating larger profits as well as supporting the increased industrialization and materialism of contemporary conventional medicine. (3)
Herbal medicine is a vibrantly alive discipline that is being used actively in many cultures throughout the world today. There is no question that botanical preparations can have a beneficial or therapeutic effect. The World Health Organization estimates that 80% of the world’s population relies on herbs for their primary health care needs. In France and Germany it has been estimated that 30-40% of all medical doctors rely on herbal preparations as their primary medicines. (4)
Dr. Silver went on to reiterate that just because herbs are natural does not mean they are safe under all circumstances. They can have powerful and sometimes deleterious effects, particularly when used in combination with other herbs or conventional medications. Herbal remedies are best utilized under the direction of an experienced veterinarian.
Owners also need to be aware of issues surrounding the safety and potency of herbal formulations and other supplements. There is little regulation over the animal supplement industry, and bad actors are out there who do not have the best interests of pets and their owners at heart. The National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) was developed to help veterinarians and owners identify quality products. Companies that are members of the NASC and can use the NASC logo on their labels allow inspectors into their facilities to ensure that they are in compliance with the organization’s standards. Look for the NASC logo on any supplement you buy for your pets.
Dr. Jennifer Coates