Why do dogs eat grass…

… and other animal medicine stories!

Just today a man phoned me from Canada. He wanted to let me know how good he thought Napiers Joint Ability Herbal Remedy was. His sister-in-law had taken it after a knee operation. She also had digestive problems and wasn’t tolerating drugs very well so took Joint Ability instead. He said that not only did she have pain relief and a swift recovery, but her digestive troubles cleared up as well.

IMG_0048He then went on to add, that her neighbour had a cat with an injured leg and the vet had scheduled it for an amputation. She was very distressed and decided it might be worth giving the cat some of the medicine as a last resort, as it had helped the sister in-law recover so well from her operation. So she gave the cat some Joint Ability and it made a full recovery much to the amazement of the vet! We were certainly surprised to hear the story.

I’m not advocating that anyone use herbal medicines on their pets as it is illegal in the UK for herbalists to treat animals, although it is not illegal for their owners to treat them. There are specialist companies like Dorwest Herbs that supply herbal medicines specifically for animals. But nevertheless, it was an interesting anecdote that livened up the day in the office.

It is fascinating how animals also use plant medicines (zoopharmacognosy). Most pet owners will have seen their dog or cat eat grass if they have a stomach upset.

Geophagy is the term given to when animals eat dirt. They may well do this when they are short of vital minerals or nutrients. This can also help to soothe stomachs if they have diarrhoea and absorb any toxins that they have eaten. Bonnet macaques in Southern India eat dirt from termite mounds with a particularly high kaolin content – just like a human might take a Kaopectate-type anti-diarrhetic kaolin medicine!

Anting behaviours is when animals use insects to self-medicate. Birds in particular will rub insects over them as chemicals, such as formic acid from ants, can act as insecticides, fungicides and bactericides.

Then there are the chemotherapeutic benefits of eating plants for their medicinal benefits. Apes and monkeys use a wide range of plants for diarrhoea, worms and to modulate their fertility. Some plants are swallowed whole and have more of a mechanical than a chemotherapeutic effect, such as tamarins which swallow large seeds to dislodge and eliminate worms in their intestinal tract – a practice that significantly decreases their parasitic load.

There are also fur rubbing behaviours. Bears chew and spit out osha root to make an insect repellent paste that they smear on their fur. Monkey spend a lot of time engaging in fur rubbing behaviour, making quite a social event out of it!

Elephants are quite incredible. In East Africa, in the the final week of pregnancy, a female will make a special journey to seek out a tree that they never eat at any other time. She’ll strip the leaves and eat them all before going into labour later. This is the same plant that local African women also use to help contractions and have an easy birth!

What do you think?