One reason for using herbs in veterinary practice is to help with conditions for which conventional medicines offer insufficient control, or high incidence of side effects. This is especially true for chronic inflammatory conditions and conditions involving aged animals.
A number of herbs can help, both for specifically targeting a disease or organ, and because they are high in antioxidants, which reduce inflammation.1
A number of herbs have promise for dermatological problems.2 For instance, aloe vera has been found to help psoriasis and wound healing when applied topically.3 A review article found it efficacious for both first- and second-degree burns in humans.4
In a randomized, controlled study comparing it to silver sulfadiazene, patients healed significantly faster when treated with aloe vera than with sulfadiazene.5 When taken internally, some evidence suggests that it can lower blood glucose and blood lipid levels, so it may also have a place treating diabetes.6
Calendula (Calendula officinalis) helps in both the prevention7 and the treatment of radiation burns when applied locally. Although one would think aloe vera could also help, a study comparing the two found no effect with aloe vera, but marked effect with calendula.8
Topical chamomile (Matricaria recutita) can help atopic dermatitis by decreasing serum IgE and serum histamine and by decreasing pruritis.9 Two studies revealed it was equal to or better than hydrocortisone cream, without its deleterious long-term effects.10–11 A double-blind study found it speeds the healing of weeping wounds.12
Because these are plants, and because atopic animals can be reactive to a large variety of plants, they should be used with some caution, especially in animals allergic to any of the Compositae. At a rate of 6.22 percent, human patients reported reactions to creams and cosmetics with herbs,13 but some question remains as to how many were actually allergic to other non-herbal ingredients in the creams themselves.14
The cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) is useful for prevention of recurrent urinary tract infections. Pets can take cranberry capsules or tablets, but a number of problems mar review studies. A comparison of cranberry tablets and capsules with cranberry juice, comparing differing dose regimens and sometimes including articles without doses, still do comment favorably.
It is difficult to agree with their conclusions, however. One review article said cranberry studies “support the potential use of cranberry products in the prophylaxis of recurrent UTIs” but that “cranberry products cannot be recommended for the prophylaxis of recurrent UTIs at this time.”15
The reasoning was that there was no standardized dose. However, good studies such as a random, crossover, double-blind study showed significant reduction in bacterial adhesiveness, regardless of medical history and regardless of their temporal place in the crossover study.16
Rather than waiting for someone else to figure out the dose, use the dose that worked in such a trial, especially considering that cranberries are a food.
Ginger (Zingiber officinalis) has passed some extensive testing in humans for its anti-emetic effect. Numerous studies attest to its beneficial effect in humans receiving high emetogenic chemotherapy27–18 as well as being effective for nausea of early pregnancy19 and after surgery.20 It can be effective for carsickness when given at least a half hour before travel and can help immediate and delay vomiting in pets undergoing emetogenic chemotherapy.
In addition, ginger has been found to help in both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.21–22 It’s also used as a Chinese herb (sheng jian or gan jiang, depending on the form of ginger), in formulas for arthritis and others where a warming herb is sought.
In case you find all this a little hard to absorb, try some gingko (Gingko biloba). It can help corticosteroid-induced and stress-induced spatial memory deficits23, as well as memory loss associated with old age.24 A gingko product improved memory in old beagles.25
Its effect may be better for acquiring new memories than for remembering old tasks,26 but in the case of cognitive dysfunction, old tasks may eventually seem new again. Improvement in humans was seen even after a single dose of 120 mg of a gingko biloba extract.27
Hawthorn (Crataegus oxycantha) is an addition to drugs used for congestive heart failure.28 In humans, an improvement was found in clinical symptoms and the patient’s sense of well-being, as well as measurable circulation improvement. There was no decrease in mortality, but often owners are looking for something that lets them keep their pets a little longer.
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum), known recently for its liver-protective effects, is a tall thistle with a reddish-purple flower found as a weed in the west. Most parts of the plant are edible.
Silymarin, an extract from milk thistle seeds, has the hepatoprotective effect. Silymarin has essentially no side effects in dogs.29
Prostate problems are less difficult for dogs than humans, but they do exist in some older dogs. Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) has been valuable in humans for benign prostatic hypertrophy.33 It has anti-inflammatory and anti-proliferative effects, and both factors appear to help prostate problems.34
The mucilaginous properties of slippery elm bark (Ulmus fulva), like other soluble fibers, can help diarrhea. Mucilaginous compounds can also help burns, wounds, ulcers, and external and internal inflammation.35
In humans, they are viewed as the first option for IBS.36 Other properties that many people are unaware of are its anti-angiogenic37 and anti-inflammatory actions.38 It also enhances immune modulation in mice.39
These properties are an additional way it can help with diarrhea, making it superior to other over-the-counter antidiarrheals. In addition, because of the lack of salicylates, it is safe for cats.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa ) is used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for a number of properties. Study of its main constituent, curcumin, have shown it to have anti-inflammatory, anti-angiogenic, anti-oxidant, wound healing and anti-cancer effects. Because40 Curcumin is rapidly metabolized, blood levels are not consistent. Recently, curcumin has been complexed with phosphatidyl choline, resulting in better absorption, steadier blood levels and even better results in its action.41
Finally, Yucca (Yucca schidigera), another herb with strong antioxidant activity,42 has been found to help arthritis. It inhibits key enzymes in arachidonate metabolism43, which helps decrease inflammation in joints.
1. Wu J. Anti-inflammatory ingredients. J Drugs Dermatol. 2008 Jul;7(7 Suppl):s13-6.
2. Grimme H, Augustin M. [Phytotherapy in chronic dermatoses and wounds: what is the evidence?] Forsch Komplementarmed. 1999 Apr;6 Suppl 2:5-8.
3. Vogler BK, Ernst E. Aloe vera: a systematic review of its clinical effectiveness. Br J Gen Pract. 1999 Oct;49(447):823-8.
4. Maenthaisong R, et al. The efficacy of aloe vera used for burn wound healing: a systematic review. Burns. 2007 Sep;33(6):713-8. Epub 2007 May 17.
5. Khorasani G, et al. Aloe versus silver sulfadiazine creams for second-degree burns: a randomized controlled study. Surg Today. 2009;39(7):587-91. Epub 2009 Jun 28.
6. Maenthaisong R, et al. op cit
7. Pommier P, et al. Phase III randomized trial of Calendula officinalis compared with trolamine for the prevention of acute dermatitis during irradiation for breast cancer. Clin Oncol. 2004 Apr 15;22(8):1447-53.
8. Chargari C, et al. [Importance of local skin treatments during radiotherapy for prevention and treatment of radio-induced epithelitis]Cancer Radiother. 2009 Jul;13(4):259-66. Epub 2009 Jun 12.
9. Lee SH et al. Effect of German chamomile oil application on alleviating atopic dermatitis-like immune alterations in mice. J Vet Sci. 2010 Mar;11(1):35-41.
10. Ross SM. An integrative approach to eczema (atopic dermatitis). Holist Nurs Pract. 2003 Jan-Feb;17(1):56-62.
11. Patzelt-Wenczler R, Ponce-Pöschl E. Proof of efficacy of Kamillosan(R) cream in atopic eczema. Eur J Med 11 Res. 2000 Apr 19;5(4):171-5. 12. Glowania HJ, et al. [Effect of chamomile on wound healing–a clinical double-blind study] Z Hautkr. 1987 Sep 1;62(17):1262, 1267-71.
12. Corazza M, Use of topical herbal remedies and cosmetics: a questionnaire-based investigation in dermatology out-patients. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2009 Nov;23(11):1298-303. Epub 2009 May 21.
13. Paulsen E, et al. Cosmetics and herbal remedies with Compositae plant extracts – are they tolerated by Compositae-allergic patients? Contact Dermatitis. 2008 Jan;58(1):15-23.
14. Guay DR. Cranberry and urinary tract infections. Drugs. 2009;69(7):775-807.
16. Tempera G. Inhibitory activity of cranberry extract on the bacterial adhesiveness in the urine of women: an ex-vivo study. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2010 Apr-Jun;23(2):611-8.
17. Pillai AK, et al. Anti-emetic effect of ginger powder versus placebo as an add-on therapy in children and young adults receiving high emetogenic chemotherapy. Pediatr Blood Cancer. 2010 Sep 14. [Epub ahead of print]
18. Levine ME, et al. Protein and ginger for the treatment of chemotherapy-induced delayed nausea. J Altern Complement Med. 2008 Jun;14(5):545-51.
19. Smith C. Ginger reduces severity of nausea in early pregnancy compared with vitamin B6, and the two treatments are similarly effective for reducing number of vomiting episodes. Evid Based Nurs. 2010 Apr;13(2):40.
20. Nanthakomon T, Pongrojpaw D. The efficacy of ginger in prevention of postoperative nausea and vomiting after major gynecologic surgery. J Med Assoc Thai. 2006 Oct;89 Suppl 4:S130-6.
21. Funk JL, et al. Comparative effects of two gingerol-containing Zingiber officinale extracts on experimental rheumatoid arthritis. J Nat Prod. 2009 Mar 27;72(3):403-7.
22. Fouda AM, Berika MY. Evaluation of the effect of hydroalcoholic extract of Zingiber officinale rhizomes in rat collagen-induced arthritis. Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2009 Mar;104(3):262-71. Epub 2009 Jan 20.
23. Walesiuk A, Braszko JJ. Gingkoselect alleviates chronic corticosterone-induced spatial memory deficits in rats. Fitoterapia. 2010 Jan;81(1):25-9. Epub 2009 Jul 17.
24. Blecharz-Klin K, et al. Pharmacological and biochemical effects of Ginkgo biloba extract on learning, memory consolidation and motor activity in old rats. Acta Neurobiol Exp (Wars). 2009;69(2):217-31.
25. Araujo JA, et al. Improvement of short-term memory performance in aged beagles by a nutraceutical supplement containing phosphatidylserine, Ginkgo biloba, vitamin E, and pyridoxine. Can Vet J. 2008 Apr;49(4):379-85.
26. Satvat E, Mallet PE. Chronic administration of a Ginkgo biloba leaf extract facilitates acquisition but not performance of a working memory task. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2009 Jan;202(1-3):173-85. Epub 2008 Jul 2.
27. Kennedy DO, et al. Modulation of cognitive performance following single doses of 120 mg Ginkgo biloba extract administered to healthy young volunteers. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2007 Dec;22(8):559-66.
28. Dahmer S, Scott E. Health effects of hawthorn. Am Fam Physician. 2010 Feb 15;81(4):465-8.
29. Minton Milk Thistle J. Compend Contin Educ Vet Pract 2004;26:631-632.
30. Enjalbert F, et al. Treatment of amatoxin poisoning: 20-year retrospective analysis. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol. 2002;40(6):715-57.
31. Parish RC, Doering P Treatment of Amanita mushroom poisoning: a review. Vet Hum Toxicol. 1986 Aug;28(4):318-22.
32. Paulová J, et al. [Verification of the hepatoprotective and therapeutic effect of silymarin in experimental liver injury with tetrachloromethane in dogs] Vet Med (Praha). 1990 Oct;35(10):629-35.
33. Mantovani F. Serenoa repens in benign prostatic hypertrophy: analysis of 2 Italian studies. Minerva Urol Nefrol. 2010 Dec;62(4):335-40.
34. Magri V, et al. Activity of Serenoa repens, lycopene and selenium on prostatic disease: evidences and hypotheses. Arch Ital Urol Androl. 2008 Jun;80(2):65-78.
35. Morton JF. Mucilaginous plants and their uses in medicine. J Ethnopharmacol. 1990 Jul;29(3):245-66.
36. Astegiano M, 2008 Clinical approach to irritable bowel syndrome. Minerva Gastroenterol Dietol. 2008 Sep;54(3):251-7.
37. Jung HJ, et al. Anti-angiogenic activity of the methanol extract and its fractions of Ulmus davidiana var. japonica. J Ethnopharmacol. 2007 Jun 13;112(2):406-9. Epub 2007 Mar 12.
38. Yoo HJ, J Anti-angiogenic, antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory activities of Lonicera japonica extract. Pharm Pharmacol. 2008 Jun;60(6):779-86.
39. Lee Y, Effects of elm bark (Ulmus davidiana var. japonica) extracts on the modulation of immunocompetence in mice. J Med Food. 2007 Mar;10(1):118-25.
40. Maheshwari RK, Multiple biological activities of curcumin: a short review. Life Sci. 2006 Mar 27;78(18):2081-7. Epub 2006 Jan 18.
41. Jurenka J Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Curcumin, a Major Constitutent of Curcuma longs: A Review of Preclinical and Clinical Research Alternative Medicine Review 2009 14(2): 141-153 42. Piacente S, et al. Yucca schidigera bark: phenolic constituents and antioxidant activity. J Nat Prod. 2004 May;67(5):882-5.
43. Wenzig EM, Influence of phenolic constituents from Yucca schidigera bark on arachidonate metabolism in vitro. J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Oct 8;56(19):8885-90. Epub 2008 Sep 9.