There is a story about how I became interested in the chemical constituents of plants. One of our children ate a leaf from a tree in our back yard. Poison control and the doctor couldn’t help much because (at the time) I didn’t know what kind of tree it was. I took a sample to a local nursery and was gravely told that it wouldn’t kill a horse.
This was not particularly helpful. The story is only mildly amusing because the leaf wasn’t toxic for humans, either. It did make me interested in whether or not human remedies were safe for pets. That’s a topic I’ve been studying. Unsurprisingly the answer is yes and no. It depends on the species and the choice of alternative medicine.
Acupuncture: I have seen a vet trained in this field use it successfully on a horse that had suffered colic. This was after the primary treatment, and it really helped the horse. It is possible that the acupuncture saved the horse’s life. It’s definite that the vet did.
Herbs: There are herbs that should never be given to a pet. Garlic and willow bark are two good examples. Garlic is especially bad for cats and dogs because it is a member of the lily family. Willow contains the same compounds found in aspirin.
Some herbs can be helpful. The primary treatment for the horse mentioned above included a tube down the throat. This gave the horse a sore throat and made it hard for her to eat. With the vet’s permission we gave her ground DGL, which is a tablet form of licorice root. Despite the fact that the stuff tastes horrible, the horse was *very* glad to eat it.
Aromatherapy: We’ve used this successfully on two occasions, one for the horse and one for a dog. Lavender flowers and the essential oil are soothing scents. As you might imagine, having colic is stressful. So is having a puppy. For these we used the flowers and leaves, bruised by rubbing them between the hands and then placed around the animal.
Human Doses: Most pets are nowhere near the same size as a human. A human dose could kill a small animal and wouldn’t be near enough for large animals like a horse. It’s very important to make sure any remedy you use is appropriate to the weight of the animal as well as to the species.
Talk to the Vet: This is important. Even though I’m a master herbalist most of my training has been human oriented. I don’t use remedies on our pets until I’ve talked to the vet to make sure it’s safe and to find out how much to use. There are vets trained in alternative medicine including veterinary herbal medicine. This will keep your pet safe.