How is herbal veterinary medicine different than conventional medicine? Is it better or just different?
Conventional veterinary medicine is based on diagnosing what is wrong with a patient and then prescribing whatever medications might be necessary to treat the symptoms.
Conventional pet medicines often overlap with human medicines, and many pharmacies across the country have filled prescriptions for Fido Smith. This overlap has allowed veterinary medicine to offer a more varied yet specialized approach to treating diseases.
Pharmacological approaches rarely treat the underlying condition, but the advantage of conventional medications is that they have been tested and evaluated for minimal efficacy and probable side effects. Conventional medications have two disadvantages: First, sometimes there is no relief of the problem even with medication. You treat the symptoms but still have the problem.
An example might be a cat with recurrent urinary infections. The cat might be treated for the symptoms of the manifest infection, but the reason for the recurrence is never identified. Perhaps the cat’s diet should be evaluated, as dry commercial cat foods have been identified as one possible source.
Second, there are a number of dangerous side effects with conventional medications. Some such medications, especially parasite and worm control drugs, are chemically based pesticides. For example, traditional heart worm medications that are based in Ivermectin may prove dangerous for certain kinds of dogs like Collies, who are sensitive to the drug. Holistic veterinary medicine is based on getting to the root of the problem and treating the underlying conditions, not just the symptoms.
Western Herbal Medicine originated in Europe and was the primary healing system for thousands of years. Today the World Health Organization estimates that about 80% of the world human population relies on herbal medicine for their primary health care.
The philosophy of herbal medicine for humans and animals alike is centered in the use of herbs to activate the body’s own natural healing ability. Herbalism is about connecting with nature and living in harmony with the Earth.
Sandy Arora, in her book titled Whole Health for Happy Cats, identifies several beneficial herbs. Here are a few of them:
Ginger for nausea
Goldenseal for an antibacterial
Valerian for appetite stimulation
Fennel for digestive upset
Cinnamon for lowering blood glucose levels
Milk Thistle for liver problems
She also identifies a few herbs that have been generally recognized as safe in a supportive role for cats:
Slippery Elm Bark
The Veterinary Botanical Medicine Association is an excellent resource on the use of herbal supplements in holistic medicine. They are a co-operative of veterinarians and herbalists who have joined forces to empower conventional medicine with traditional herbal healing. VBMA represents holistic medicine and is representative of many integrative and alternative medical approaches.
Conventional veterinary medicine is slowly beginning to embrace the integrative approach, and more veterinary schools are awakening to the wisdom of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurvedic Medicine, whose origins date back nearly 5000 years. Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine is one of the foremost veterinary schools to recognize the need for exploration into herbal medicine.
The best approach is one of balance. Both conventional medicine and holistic medicine have positive aspects for pet owners. As always, before beginning any new medical regimen, pet owners should seek the advice of a qualified medical practitioner, whether herbal or conventional.
Arora, Sandy. 2006. Whole Health for Happy Cats. Gloucester, Massachusetts: Quarry Books, pg. 119