Herbs for Animals
HERBS FOR ANIMALS
Plants have been used for food and medication by humans for themselves and their animals for centuries and the refinement of their use into the conventional medicine that we know today is relatively recent. Many commonly used drugs have evolved from plant-derived compounds however the pharmaceutical industry, whilst keen to promote the use of its products, is far less keen to acknowledge their humble origins!
There is widespread scepticism regarding herbal medicine amongst the medical community with proof of effectiveness deemed to be anecdotal rather than evidence-based using scientific methods. Many medical professionals consider herbalism to be at best a waste of money and at worst downright dangerous but, as with most things in life, there is a happy medium and herbal medicine does have its place in the 21st century.
In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the use of herbal supplements for horses and companion animals as their owners become more and more conscious of some of the side-effects of conventional medication. These same horse and pet owners are making efforts to improve their own diet and health and see no reason why the benefits of these lifestyle changes should not be extended to their animals as well.
However there are some considerations to take into account before using an herbal product to ‘treat’ a particular problem. Any horse or pet owner should in the first instance consult a vet if they believe their animal is unwell as only the vet is qualified to make a diagnosis and propose treatment. There are many instances where conventional medication is the only way to maintain an animal’s quality of life however on these occasions it may still be possible for herbal products to be used to support allopathic treatment.
Some situations where herbal feed supplements can be used effectively are for mobility support, age-related conditions, to reduce stress and anxiety, to provide digestive support, with coat and skin issues, and to support an efficient respiratory system. Before opting to use a herbal supplement it’s important to realise that these products are not a ‘quick fix’ and complete absorption of the herbal ingredients can take days or even weeks. With this in mind its worth remembering that herbs are often better used preventatively, particularly with mobility or age-related issues.
It’s important also to realise that natural products don’t come with a guarantee of success as what works for one horse or pet may not work for another, so be guided by advice from the manufacturer rather than your neighbour or yard owner. Be careful about combining different supplements as it may then be impossible to tell exactly which supplement is working and doubling up of some ingredients may in some cases cause an adverse reaction. Most herbal supplements can be safely used in conjunction with conventional medication but if in doubt consult your vet.
Most herbal supplements come in either dry (powder or dried herbs) or liquid (herbal tincture) form and in general a liquid supplement will be absorbed more rapidly than dry one. Supplements are intended to be added to the animal’s normal food, or in the case of liquid herbal supplements they can be orally syringed. There are a myriad of herbal products on the market and so selecting what’s best for your horse or pet can seem like a bit of a minefield, which is why it’s important to buy from a manufacturer with a long-standing presence and sound reputation in the market-place. Websites, catalogues, and packaging should be totally transparent with all ingredients clearly marked and instructions for use clearly indicated. A reputable manufacturer or supplier should also be able to give you objective advice over the phone or by email and not pressurise you to buy. The daily feeding cost should also be available and this is the only way to make a price comparison between different products with similar ingredients as packaging size varies enormously.
Remember to introduce new supplements gradually building up to the recommended dose over a period of days. If your horse or pet is a fussy eater then use something the animal loves as a ‘carrier’ for the herbs initially until the animal becomes accustomed to the smell and taste. Liquid herbal products have the advantage of being able to be orally syringed with particularly picky eaters. Follow the manufacturer’s suggested instructions for use carefully and remember to give the product time to work! Heather Giles