This is a reprint of an article I did for Plant Healer Magazine some time back. I am offering it here today as I go about setting up the course and enrolling students – it speaks to the very heart of my work and why I feel that – far from a trivial indulgence of pampered pets in a privileged part of the world – a return to natural animal care is a profound step in the direction of healing for the planet and all species.
It’s a long article, but one I hope will be meaningful for my readers. <3


It’s six o’clock in the morning, and I am sleepily making the rounds while
drinking my first cup of coffee for the day. A home blended tincture of
elderflower, mullein, wild cherry, lobelia and goldenrod sits beside the kettle
to remind me, I need to give zhouzhou, our asthmatic cat, a dose in her
breakfast with a little hot water. Motherwort and dandelion for the oldest dog,
Jasmine, who at fourteen is a little slow and can use the cardiotonic and liver
support; second oldest is Tina, a rescue girl of twelve who has a low thyroid, so
she gets’ hawthorn instead. Hyperactive, sensitive and generally “hot” dog
Danny has to have a cooked meal, with a teaspoon of his own special blend;
powdered marshmallow root, burdock and a drizzle of milky oats for his
nerves. Upstairs, more cats and three rescued birds await similar
nourishment – healthy meals with herbs chosen for their species, age,
constitutional type and overall health condition. Down the road, my horse with
autoimmune disease that robbed him of his eyesight was spared a
carcinogenic ointment I needed gloves to apply when he gashed his neck on an
errant nail – flushed with yarrow and calendula, he healed gently and
thoroughly, and with nothing worrisome added to his already sensitive
This is a pretty healthy household, if I say so myself. Run on a shoestring,
comprised mostly of rescues – 90% of what I use for my animals, I grow or
wildcraft myself. Almost everything is local, sustainable and developed
specifically for the individual. Whole food diets balanced to cover the needs of
the individual form the basis of health and longevity here.
This was not always the case. I used to buy whatever trendy herb was
recommended by my holistic vet, not trusting in what was growing right here
and how accessible healing can be.
And neither is this how herbalism tends to work in veterinary medicine, not
But change is on the horizon.

Danny and four of my cats hang out in the kitchen

In their drive to conquer disease, the supporters of technological medicine have
created a great many industrial products: pharmaceuticals; personal care
products (things like sunscreens and antibiotic soaps); radiopharmaceuticals
and chemotherapy; pharmaceutical delivery and medical practice products
(things like hypodermic needles, latex gloves, thermometers). All of them end up
in the environment. All of them have significant impacts.”

Stephen Harrod Buhner


The Humane Society of the United States informs the reader of their site that
There are approximately 78.2 million dogs in the United States and 86.4
million cats, for a total of 164.6 million OWNED animals. The most reliable
information on Canada I could find states 8 million owned animals (cats and
dogs) in total. Between just these two countries, we’re looking at 172.6 million
dogs and cats. The AVMA suggests Americans alone keep around 8 million
horses for pleasure, sport and companionship, while approximately 12
million households have one or more caged birds.
These are estimates based largely on licensing and veterinary statistics, and
thus refer to animals living with people who license and/or take them to a
veterinarian at least occasionally. The farmer down the road has 5 Border
Collies and countless barncats – I suspect these, and millions more like them,
are not counted in the AVMA or Stats Canada’s estimates.
There are a lot of companion animals in North America, Europe, the world –
living with us as companions or raised for our consumption as food. And most
of them will be not only vaccinated yearly, despite innumerable studies
showing both the lack of need and deleterious effects of this practise, but fed
wholly unnatural diets designed chiefly to supply nutrient in an isolated form
– diets based on up to 70 cereal, for carnivores, and without dispute linked to
the alarming decline in canine and feline health since the 1970s.
Most will be treated at one point in their lives with steroids, antibiotics,
pesticides and more.
The above statistics do not begin to address “livestock” – the millions upon
millions of chickens, cows, pigs and sheep kept in factory farms across the
continent. These animals are also routinely vetted – receiving antibiotics
often as part of their feed, hormones to hasten growth, and drugs such as
phenylbutazone for inflammation. The relatively short lives of food animals
combined with incessant consumer demand means there is essentially a
steady stream of these drugs from the cow, pig or lamb straight into the
ground water, via urine. 20 million pounds of antibiotics alone were
administered in one year in the USA alone.


Animal waste has long been known as a source of nutrients such as nitrates that cause algae
blooms in water and can threaten human health at heavy concentrations in drinking water.
But new studies are hinting at another, possibly more serious, source of water pollution:
veterinary drugs, such as antibiotics and synthetic hormones. Mixed with feed or implanted to
make cattle, chickens and hogs grow more quickly, these pharmaceuticals are entering the
environment through animal waste, scientists are discovering.”

And that’s *just* antibiotics and growth hormones, it doesn’t take into account
tons and tons of pesticides used for flea, worm and tick control, nor the
astonishing quantity of steroidal drugs, such as prednisone, routinely
administered to companion animals, cats and dogs, for any condition from
food allergy to arthritis to cancer. It adds up to a staggering amount of
veterinary medication passing through the animal and into the water supply.

Like the use of yearly vaccinations when the manufacturer has clearly stated
each bottle is good for at least three years, this excessive and unending
transfer of drugs and hormones from animal to environment is simply, in an
overwhelming number of cases, not necessary at all. In many cases, the drugs
prescribed to companion animals merely mask symptoms, leaving the
underlying cause of dis-ease unaddressed and the owner reliant on a lifelong
supply of the drug. I am in the unique position of having seen the veterinary
industry from many angles, growing up as I did working for my veterinarian
father and indoctrinated for many years with how things should be done.
Later, my own health issues, unresolved by conventional care, led me to study
human nutrition and herbalism – opening my eyes to the myriad problems
associated with conventional medicine. Still later I trained in canine nutrition
and have been handling clinical cases since 2001. In addition I run a yahoo
discussion group of over 2000 members, where I am able to not only help
individuals with frustrating (and often readily helped) canine issues, but to
witness – daily – how common the cycle of overmedication with no real healing
truly is in the veterinary world. I can state without a moment’s hesitation that
a huge number of canine and feline health issues treated this way can be safely
and readily cleared up or managed, with appropriate application of both diet
and herbal support. In treating animals preventively and naturally, much of
the toxin and chemical poured into the water from animals can be avoided.
And veterinarians are our key method of conveying this information to the
average person.
So – where to begin? An overwhelming majority of companion animals will go
to the veterinarian for minor complaints, such as skin conditions, parasites,
gastric/digestive disorders, bladder infections, arthritis or wounds.
Increasingly over the last decade dogs and cats in particular, are undergoing
chemotherapy and radiation for cancer, which is dramatically on the rise in
both species. A comprehensive list of drugs used in veterinary medicine would
be too lengthy for this discussion, but a few of the more commonly used
categories include sedatives, heart medications, various fungicides,
insecticides, analgesics, anti-inflammatories, anti-seizure drugs and diuretics.


While the majority of these conditions are curable, they can become chronic and expensive to
treat. Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (VPI) policyholders spent more than $46 million in 2011
treating the 10 most common medical conditions afflicting their pets. VPI recently sorted its
database of more than 485,000 insured pets to determine the top 10 dog and cat medical
conditions in 2011.”

Clearly a major expense for millions of people, in monetary terms, as well as
environmentally disastrous..
Let’s have a look at the Top Ten feline and canine conditions as expressed by
the Veterinary Pet Insurance company.

They list the following for dogs:

Ear infections
Skin allergies
Skin infection
Non-cancerous skin growth
Upset stomach
Intestinal upset/diarrhea
Bladder infection
Bruise or contusion
Underactive thyroid

And this list refers to feline disorders:

Bladder infection
Chronic kidney disease
Overactive thyroid
Upset stomach
Periodontitis/dental disease
Intestinal upset/diarrhea
Ear infection
Skin Allergies

Without a doubt, eight of the listed canine conditions and nine of the feline
are preventable with proper diet and herbal medicine. The two thyroid
conditions are best handled through ethical breeding practise (eg not mating
any individual who has proven thyroid disease,) and the condition itself is well
managed with oral hormones. “Non cancerous skin growth” is too vague a term
to comment upon, but in the case of fatty tumours, for example,diet and liver
support can indeed be preventive. The typical veterinary approach to canine
ear infection, skin allergy and subsequent infection for raw abraded open
sores, is – antibiotics and prednisone. In the hundreds of cases I have dealt
with that present with one or more (often three together) of these symptoms,
dogs have often been on repeated rounds of one or more antibiotics, been fed
an expensive and notoriously poor quality prescription food designed to
minimize food intolerance, and are now spiralling into secondary health
issues related both to the drugs and the diet. In 95% of these cases the dog
experiences an astounding turn around with a balanced whole food diet, and
herbal protocol designed to reduce inflammation, rebuild immunity and
intestinal health, and address the whole system gently and constitutionally_.
In 10 years I have two cases, both German Shepherd Dogs with severely
damaged intestinal tracts, who could not be stabilized with diet, supplements
and herbs. I have turned around cases so severe the owners called me as “a
last hope before euthanasia”. No drugs, no expensive treatments – just a
correct therapeutic diet (as distinct from the popular ‘species appropriate”
approach) and a carefully selected and monitored herbal protocol.
Digestive problems most definitely form a large part of my own case load, and
have been rising steadily since the 1970s in all dogs. Colitis is an umbrella
term that includes straightforward bacterial infection all the way up to IBD,
which can be so severe as to greatly reduce the dog’s quality of life and place
enormous stress on the owner, emotionally and financially. The standard
approach from conventional veterinarians: steroids. Much of what is termed
“colitis” is food intolerance, arising from multiple factors including feeding the
same highly processed foods over and over, vaccinations and overuse of

Arthritis is treated with painkillers (Rimadyl, Metacam) so notorious for
damaging the liver and even causing sudden death there are groups and
forums set up all over the Internet to inform and warn unsuspecting owners.
Even of the animal is not as severely affected as this, all these drugs will do is
mask symptoms, so the owner feels their friend is “better”, when in fact he’s
now simply overdoing exercise without the natural inflammation/pain
curbing his enthusiasm. My own arthritic dog (severe; early onset secondary
to double cruciate injury, and spondylosis from age seven) was managed
entirely with diet, supplements, physiotherapy and herbs, almost to the end of
her fourteen years. Arthritis is not the inevitability in dogs it is now claimed
to be, nor are drugs like Rimadyl by any means the only option.
Likewise bladder infections; dogs are prone to UTI and to the development of
various forms of uroliths, related to breed, diet, assorted factors. While these
can be very serious and should always be assessed by a veterinarian, simple
UTIs can be cleared up gently with adjustments in diet, and an herbal protocol
developed for the individual dog. Martin Goldstein DVM, internationally
renowned “father of holistic veterinary medicine” states categorically he has
never failed to clear up feline UTI within 48 hours – naturally.

Dr. Martin Goldstein and friends

There has been a movement for change over the past 15 years, gaining
momentum especially since the widespread and well-publicized petfood
recalls that began with the melamine-contaminated foods in 2007, and
continue to this day with new “ultra premium” foods. Dogs all over North
America and Europe are going for massage therapy, seeing acupuncturists and
of course the ubiquitous Holistic Vet. One leading proponent of better health
for companion animals is Dr. Jean Dodds, who has led the way for a growing
acceptance in veterinary circles that yearly vaccinations are not only not
needed, they are linked to myriad avoidable health issues. Martin Goldstein,
Susan Wynn, Steve Marsden, Richard Pitcairn – all have become household
words for many, with the publication of their books on veterinary herbal
medicine and natural healing for all species of domestic animals. Change has
started to come -initially I can only say I was jubilant. The new breed of
holistic vet and natural pet store could only be cause for celebration – let’s
spread the word! However, as time has passed and I have watched this
movement grow, there are some core criticisms I cannot but make. The
movement that started with intense concern for our companion animals and
environment has become – and remarkably rapidly – big business, and out of
reach for many who need it the most.
The new brand of so-called holistic vet represents an improvement, and I
would not want to overlook the real strides made in the field. In my
experience, most tend to vaccinate much more conservatively than
conventional vets do; most will limit reliance on medication and use an
approach that makes more sense to my mind – start with gentle support and
use the drugs as a needed, instead of simply dispensing the usual arsenal right
off the bat. Every holistic vet I know of considers good nutrition to be of
utmost importance both proactively and therapeutically. And many – most –
are at least open to working with herbs. Most definitely these are steps in the
right direction!
Dr. Ronit Aboutboul of Tel Aviv, gives eyedrops to a camel, in the nude

However. The new foods, while still not as desirable as a home made fresh
diet, are vast improvements from the cereal based and 4-D meats that
characterized cat and dog food of old– and so much more expensive only the
financially very well- off can afford them. The price of seeing a holistic vet is
sky-high – just to walk into a local clinic for a consultation here in Ottawa runs
about $300.00. These costs mean the average income earner cannot possibly
afford the good food and the “enlightened” practitioner so they remain stuck
in a cycle of poor quality food, endless drugs and deteriorating health. The
cost of having healthy animals appears to be prohibitive.
My bottom line is simple. Keeping animals healthy should not require
expensive appointments, designer food and endless supplementation. Keeping
animals healthy and managing simple conditions is feasible with informed use
of both diet and herbs.

The use of herbs in holistic veterinary practise is somewhat contentious for
me as well. For many years I believed in using herbs this way – the same ones,
all the time, for every individual, as “gentle replacements for drugs”. And yes,
some can work that way – the ubiquitous Slippery Elm, for example, works
wonders for the all too common canine bowel issues – and so just about every
holistic vet I know suggests it on a regular basis. Devil’s Claw, Boswellia,
Artemisinin, milk thistle, turmeric and a wide array of Chinese formulas are
standard recommendations and can be deep healers for dogs and cats. But
there are problems with this approach; many of these plants are not local
(Devil’s Claw, turmeric) endangered ( elm, boswellia) or simply not optimal for
the condition (Rehmannia for every single kidney case I’ve ever seen from a
holistic vet; milk thistle alone when a combination with burdock, artichoke,
dandelion, and/or fringe tree bark would have been far more helpful). Almost
to the person, every client who has been working with a vet in this way thinks
of herbs as “crude drugs” to replace the ones “with more side effects”. The use
of herbs is trendy in veterinary circles, but it is reliant on generic application,
on endangered and non-local species, and it has a very long way to go.
For this article I’ve selected several of the most commonly recommended
herbs, why I might NOT suggest them – and what options I might suggest the
client use instead. This is of course by no means exhaustive and cannot replace
a comprehensive evaluation of the individual. But it does highlight the three
elements I would like to see more of in veterinary herbal medicine; that is,
plants that are local, abundant and chosen/formulated for the individual.

A lovely tangle of backyard medicine;Borage, Calendula, Marshmallow, Motherwort, Hyssop, Plantain, Mugwort, Feverfew, and Wild Lettuce

1) Milk thistle ( Silybum marianum) : while no one can dispute the great
value of this lovely plant, and it is thankfully abundant, it’s also
consistently prescribed as a do-all for “liver disease”. We might look at a
range of other herbs, including Burdock, Blessed Thistle, Oregon grape,
and dandelion, to name a few. A formula for liver disease will depend on
the cause, type and nutritional status of the individual. While milk
thistle is wonderful, it is also most often sold as isolated Silymarin – the
whole seed is almost never used in veterinary herbal medicine.

2) Boswellia serrata; a standard recommendation for all kinds of
inflammatory-related illness, boswellia is both endangered and distant.
In my experience it is also very harsh on many sensitive canine and
feline stomachs. I see boswellia suggested for_ cancer, arthritis, mostly;
while cancer is too general a term to make recommendations, for
arthritis I often use nettle, evening primrose, populous – the
importance of diet and fatty acids cannot be understated in arthritis,
and simply adding Devil’s Claw (or any herb) as one would a drug, to a
poor diet, is not likely to produce the effects of even dietary adjustment

3) Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) : This beautiful plant from
South Africa, without question a powerful pain reliever, Devil’s Claw is
used chiefly for arthritic pain, often with older animals. Many older
dogs, in particular are on a variety of heart medications, contraindicated
with Devil’s Claw. There is a huge range of anti-inflammatory and
analgesic herbs to use with arthritis, as mentioned above.

4) Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) : used in veterinary practise for anything
related to gastric or digestive distress. Some alternatives I use include
marshmallow root , alone or with astringents such as rose, raspberry
leaf, tormentil or blackberry root; chamomile or calendula for upper
gastric ulcers and gastritis; antimicrobials/anthelmintics as indicated;
with idiopathic diarrhea (Irritable Bowel) I always use a nervine
formula; peppermint and or lemon balm for nausea. It’s good to note
that other elms, such as the Siberian, are not endangered and possess
similar Actions as Ulmus rubra. The overuse of this lovely species is
completely unnecessary – especially when the underlying causes are
dietary or emotional.

5) Rehmannia glutinosa: Current Herb of choice for dogs with kidney
disease, Rehmannia has some studies behind it, but is also from China
and prescribed generically. I have often used mallow, nettle seed,
hawthorn, couch grass, horsetail and plantain in conjunction with a
“kidney-friendly” diet, with positive results equal to that of Rehmannia.

6) Assorted TCM formulas – issues with TCm formulas for animals are
threefold. One, they are used by Western vets with often little more than
a casual acquaintance with Chinese medicine so administered, again,
like a drug replacement; two, by definition the herbs used in veterinary
TCM formulas are of course, non-local, and three, many of them are in
fact, endangered. Alternatives can only be recommended via an
assessment of the case, but they abound.

7) Artemisinin – as both canine and feline cancer has increased
dramatically, so have herbs and dietary strategies for cats and dogs
emerged, become trendy, and then often faded from the spotlight.
“Artemisinin” is one such product – derivative of artemisia spp,
veterinarians often prescribe the expensive isolate in the absence of
appropriate dietary adjustment. While research has shown promise for
the use of Artemisia, as part of an overall strategy, it is not a “wonder
drug” nor is the isolate likely to be as effective as the whole plant. Many,
many other plants can address the specifics of cancer – by type, stage
and grade, treatment used and the whole dog overall.

Other veterinary standards include kava kava, astragalus, Yunnan Baiao and
valerian – imported, generic, endangered.

While this is a very cursory set of examples, it illustrates how the use of plant
medicine in veterinary practise appears to be limited to standardized
products with some kind of research that vets can support. It would be
powerful indeed to see see veterinary herbal medicine expand dramatically,
with the goal of reducing use of medication, prolonging and improving quality
of life for patients, and encouraging owners to learn about and use local
plants proactively. I would hope to see more vets referring to experienced
herbalists, more herbalists deciding to specialize in the unique needs of nonhumans,
and hope too that more grassroots and accessible literature
pertaining to animal herbalism will start to appear, in order to interest and
engage the general public.
Much of what we need to address our companion’s needs – and help minimize
environmental distress – is right in our own backyard.

Originally printed in Plant Healer Magazine