Herbal medicine is an ancient treatment modality, and has existed in various traditions around the world since antiquity. Herbal medicine practices were originally developed mostly for human medicine, but as animals were domesticated, herbs began to be applied to animal needs as well. Actually, until just a few decades ago, mainstream veterinary medicine was primarily herbal medicine. Today, while herbal medicine is not nearly as common as it once was, it still has a place, particularly when newer pharmaceuticals are unable to help.
Herbal medicine sometimes suffers from the perception that it is nothing more than a weak version of current pharmaceuticals at best (and a dressed-up placebo effect at worst). Actually, though, many medicinal plants have accumulated quite a strong basis of evidence in the last decade or so, as research in this area has exploded. (If you’re interested, take a look at how many studies have so far been published on the humble Echinacea flower, pictured here). In addition, some medicinal plants have properties that seem to elude modern medicine, providing expanded treatment options for patients who struggle with the allopathic approach.
As with other complementary forms of medicine, herbal medicine is based on the idea of enhancing wellness through enhancing the body’s own vitality and ability to heal. Thus, while some herbs are prescribed to reduce symptoms or discomfort, much as pharmaceuticals might be, medicinal plants as a whole are used with a different goal in mind: that of strengthening and balancing the body, allowing it to heal itself and settle into a greater degrees of wellness. To do this most effectively, medicinal herbs are best used as part of a larger, holistic medical plan, taking into account the full underlying cause of the problem.
It takes a little time to see results with the herbal approach, but these results will be much more sustainable than those seen with a “quick-fix” approach, particularly for pets with a history of chronic or recurrent conditions.
A quick caution: while medicinal plants can be quite helpful, and generally quite safe, some products on the market today have serious quality-control issues, which can result in either serious side effects or the absence of any effect at all. For that reason, it is important to buy only from companies that are both reputable and transparent (qualities that can be tough to assess if you’re not familiar with the industry). If your pet is on an herbal product and you have a question about it, feel free to contact us.