Does your medicine chest look like this?

My Drug Problem (No, Not That Kind)

When it comes to medications, conventional and alternative, I’m profoundly conflicted.  I’m suspicious of the medical establishment, especially of its encouraging people to take drugs and then more drugs to counteract their side effects. But I have no problem taking over-the-counter pain meds, allergy pills and antacids, as well as prescription drugs on a temporary basis.

I’m even more suspicious of natural supplements and remedies. I remember deadly L-tryptophan in 1989 — about 1500 people disabled, and some 37 deaths — and various contaminated products from China. And even aside from taints, I don’t always believe in their effectiveness. My doctor prescribed Vitamin D, for example. I took it for a while, and then decided it was dumb since I live in the land of sunshine.

Turns out, it was being over-prescribed.

That said, although I no longer take any vitamins or other supplements, I know when I start developing joint pain, I’m going to turn to glucosamine and chondroitin before I opt for steroids.

Of Drugs and Dogs

I try to be even more careful with Frankie, whose body weight can’t absorb mistakes — and who can’t articulate the drugs’ effects very well. In some cases, it’s obvious:  Flower essences like Rescue Remedy do nothing to calm Frankie’s car fears. But would something natural have helped his back pain, obviating the need for corticosteroids, which may have hastened the onset of his diabetes? I’ll never know.

My reason for ruminating about this issue now is the Animal Cafe interview that Dr. Lorie Huston did this week with Dr. Joel Murphy, who is responsible for formulating the remedies in the Renew Life pet care line.

Some background

Dr. Murphy, whose veterinary specialty is the treatment of birds, has been interested in holistic medicine along with traditional medicine since 1983, when he went to the Amazon to see how parrots might respond to their natural diets. There he became interested in nutraceuticals — a term I had to look up.  According to Wikipedia, it refers to a food or food product that purports to provide health and medical benefits, including the prevention and treatment of disease. 

I’m afraid that, in relation to pets, the word that nutraceuticals brings to mind is neuticles. Which is distracting.

Nevertheless, I was interested to hear how Dr. Murphy came to discover flower essences from the plants that he researched in the Amazon, and that he still goes there to get ingredients for the drugs for Renew Life. The fact that the pet line has his picture on the package means that  Dr. Murphy stands by his results. “I don’t want people just to feel good that they’re using something natural,” he says. “The bottom line is that it has to work.”

The treatment I would be most likely to try on Frankie is for healthy joints. Dr. Murphy’s formula includes glucosamine, ginger, tumeric, juniper, yucca, garlic and Dragon’s Blood. That’s right, Dragon’s Blood, which, according to Dr. Murphy is very high on the ORAC scale.

I now know that Dragon’s Blood is the solidified red resin of the dragon palm, and that the ORAC scale is a method of measuring the antioxidant capacity of different foods and supplements, developed by scientists at the National Institutes of Health. It is believed that foods higher on the ORAC scale will more effectively neutralize free radicals.

I learned a lot from this interview. And it opened my mind a bit.

“There’s always a treatment for everything”

In general, I liked Dr. Murphy’s willingness to combine traditional and nontraditional treatments.  He says of the use of his healthy joint formula: “We tend to reach for these remedies when a dog is already old and arthritic. By this time, I use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories for the pain.” Instead, Dr. Murphy suggests using them before any problems manifest, especially in breeds like Golden Retrievers, known to be predisposed to joint pain.

He also says that his natural drugs are designed to supplement traditional medications, and that they are harmless. “If a 10-pound dog consumes an entire bottle, he won’t get sick.”

This all seems very reasonable to me, and I was tickled by Dr. Murphy’s contention that “there’s always a treatment for everything.”

I’m curious to know: What’s your attitude towards traditional and nontraditional medicines? Do you use both on your pets? One to the exclusion of the other? How did you decide on your course of action?

22 thoughts on “Herbal Remedies for Pets: First, Do No Harm”

  1. What the interview highlights for me is the importance of having a smart and open-minded vet to help you navigate the choices for your dog.

    Although not a scientific experiment, I had the chance to compare conventional and alternative treatments when first Christie and then Agatha was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease. I went the conventional route with Christie and never felt she thrived. When she passed, I took Agatha to a homeopath.

    I’m skeptical about homeopathy but the advice the vet gave me about nutrition and supplements seemed to work well. Agatha lived to 16 and was strong and healthy to very near the end of her life.

    My current vet is conventional but she is open-minded and refers me to alternative practitioners when I have questions she can’t answer.

    Aside from the issue of medicine, however, excellent nutrition probably has a greater effect on our dogs’ health than anything.

    I appreciate your openness to the issues. So many of the discussions involving conventional vs. alternative treatments feature true believers on each side flinging jibes.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Pamela. Although I’m not short of opinions in general, there’s too much complexity to this topic and too much I don’t know for me to rule out either side of the divide — which, as this vet demonstrated, doesn’t have to be a divide.

  2. I shared this on FB as a good online friend of mine tries to be as holistic as possible – humanly and with her dogs. I am doing the same with my personal young dogs, Justus and Margie; want them to have a very good start and live to ripe old ages (Justus is Dobie mix and Margie is Border Terrier mix).

    1. I wish I had started Frankie off with a better diet, though I used high-quality kibble. I’m still on the fence about supplements!

      Hope that Justus and Margie thrive!

  3. I do think everyone’s body is different and reacts differently to what we put into it. The few prescriptions I’ve ever taken had a bad effect on me. I decided long ago that if I have to die of something I didn’t want it to be a “side effect” of some drug.

    That said i am somewhat of a supplements junkie and as long as I stay healthy, I am reluctant to change. I take a multi vitamin, calcium and vitamin D, a B complex, glucosamine and chondroitin. If I miss two days without the later, my fingers get stiff. I also give it to my dogs who are over the age of 7.

    I don’t think there are right answers for all people or all dogs, just as some people should avoid certain foods and for others, vitamins may just make great urine . 🙂

    1. You make a good point about people’s bodies being different, and responding differently to both herbals and pharmaceuticals. I remember being upset that I didn’t enjoy pot as much as my friends did until someone pointed out that, um, it’s a drug. Everyone’s body chemistry is different. There were some pills on the other hand…

  4. My philosophy is to try the natural herbal route first and resort to pharmaceuticals last. My personal belief is that the large pharmaceutical companies have used their$$ to discredit more natural remedies and instill in us the belief that pills solve all of our problems. Just like I don’t trust large dog food companies (like those owned by P&G), I have little trust in a drug corporation dictating my own or my dog’s course of treatment. I think the largest obstacle to holistic remedies is getting veterinarians to use them, in conjunction with traditional western medicine – mostly because sales reps aren’t in there touting their benefits like the drug companies are.

    In my own personal experience (beliefs aside), we had Maggie on a pill a day for her incontinence for years. Then I found out that the pill was none other than Dexatrim, which bothered me greatly that my vet had never discussed the origins of the drug she was prescribing. As I read more on this drug and its side effects, I was tempted to explore herbal remedies. The kicker came when my new puppy accidentally ate Maggie’s pill and we almost had to rush him to the emergency vet. I started Maggie on the herbal remedy for incontinence the very next day and it’s worked like a charm for her. I do believe in the efficacy of homeopathy and herbal remedies but it’s difficult for the average pet owner to navigate through all of the (mostly anecdotal) information and educate themselves. We need more veterinarians willing to explore this for their patients before we will see widespread effective use of herbs instead of drugs. And I do believe traditional medications and treatments have very valid uses and should be combined with holistic treatments to achieve wellness for us all; I just don’t like how one-sided and controlled by corporations the current environment is.

    1. I agree with you about the pharmaceutical companies but herbal companies are in it for the money too. It’s hard to trust safety controls in either case.

      But yes, assuming they are not tainted, herbals have less potential to do harm. What an awful story about Dexatrim!

      Good herbal remedies at full strength seem to be a reasonable first course to me — except in case of an emergency. There is nothing anyone can do to convince me that homeopathy makes sense though. Sorry.

  5. I try to stay as neutral as possible to both. When holistic works I prefer it. Like with
    Viva’s spondylosis – a form of osteoarthritis – which is held at bay with glucosamine and acupuncture. But sometimes it is not possible, like her Cushing’s disease which can only be treated with success by quite aggressive medicine that might give side-effects.

    It is almost impossible to get good advice from a vet that is either holistic or conventional and we therefore have to use two vets to get the best out of both worlds. It lead to some hurt feelings with the conventional vet as well when we opted for the “other” treatment, but I am sure one day she will feel enlightened by Viva 🙂

    I really like the developments where vets like Dr. Murphy emerge with an interest in both worlds, with health in mind and not religion.

    1. Great quote: “With health in mind, not religion.” People do become evangelical about one approach over another.

      When Frankie was first diagnosed with diabetes I went to a holistic vet who didn’t question that he needed insulin but tried another, supplementary treatment that was so goofy… well, I think it deserves its own post.

      Luckily my conventional vet is extremely nice and pretty open minded. I think “do no harm” is his general attitude.

  6. Here’s an issue near and dear to my heart! In fact, in January, I’m headed back to school to becoming a Board Certified Small Animal Natural Health Practitioner. (it’s the same course as a Veterinary Naturopath, but I don’t have my DVM). our Felix has horrible allergies (aggravated by vaccinosis. He was one sick, scratchy, hot spot covered pup when we adopted him. After two years of treating the allergies with traditional medicine (steroids, anti-inflammatories, and custom injection vials to the tune of almost $300/ month) we turned to our local holistic vet for another way. I’m ecstatic to say that now Felix is entirely off the meds. We treat a number of illnesses using herbs and common sense at our house, including mild kennel cough, eye infections, minor cuts/infections – and not just the dog’s, the humans use mostly natural medicine too. Like prescription drugs, jot all herbs work for all dogs and like Dr. Murphy noted, the right remedy is not always used (ie. Giving anti-inflammatories long after they can be effective.) we are big believers at our house, but we also don’t hesitate to use traditional medicine when the situation calls for it.

    1. That’s so exciting — best of luck in your new career! It sounds like you had a lot of evidence leading you to this path, finding successful alternative solutions to problems that traditional medicine couldn’t resolve, but not throwing it out entirely when required.

      I hope you’ll be blogging about what you learn — if you have time. I’ll be very interested in your first hand experiences.

  7. I have very definite opinions about natural/holistic medicines and treatments. They Don’t work!

    As I quote in your above post –
    “He also says that his natural drugs are designed to supplement traditional medications, and that they are harmless. “If a 10-pound dog consumes an entire bottle, he won’t get sick.”

    So if an animal, or person, can consume an ENTIRE bottle of a “natural” drug and suffer zero side effects, it must not have any active ingredient to treat the targeted illness/disease. Do that with a prescription med and it’s off to the hospital.

    Natural medicines have ZERO quality control and only ancedotal evidence to prove that they work to treat illnesses/diseases. Supplementing natural “drugs” with pharmaceutical drugs is a BS treatment protocol. The only thing that gets better is the Vets bottom line.

    Exercise caution and do your research when deciding to use natural medicines to treat illness in pets or people. There are a lot of scam artists out there who have no problems taking your money.

  8. I am open to either. I tend to lean towards “alternative”. There are some things conventional medicine offers that I trust and believe in. For Jasmine we are using a mix of both. It’s been working for her.

    For example, if I can use physical therapy, nutrition, nutraceuticals or like with good confidence, then that will be my first choice. When I know antibiotics will do the job handsomely, then that will be my first choice.

    I like to go with what convinces me as safer and effective. When there is no time-pressure, I’m willing to try something I consider safe before resorting to drugs. I’m happy to try things with which the worst that can happen is that it won’t work.

    So for me it is a balance of things, after a lot of home work, what I am convinced is best for my dogs.

    1. Very sensible, Jana — balance is a principle that’s good to observe in all aspects of life. If only it were easier to achieve!

  9. I always prefer alternative route to pharmaceutical but that’s just me. Probably, a bit of both does the trick.

    Lily thrived on acupuncture from the holistic/conventional vet while her former conventional vet said NSAIDs were the answer. I dumped him.

    As Painter aged he started peeing in the house every night. His then holistic/conventional vet recommended some Chinese herbs for dogs and within 2 weeks, the peeing stopped.

  10. I got my whippet about 2 years ago. I have never known that there is a natural remedy for dogs. After I read your article. I am very interested in searching about dog natural remedies.
    I totally agree with Dr. Murphy. I believe prevention is very important and can be done in natural way.

  11. Hi Edie,
    I agree with anyone wanting to “do no harm” first and get their favorite 4 -legged friend back on their paws soonest! And the holistic approach seems the best approach – on the surface anyway – to try first.
    However, in today’s “world of make anything for a buck” types of attitudes and marketing ploys; its tough to get to the truth when researching for your pets best interest in mind.
    It seems that many of you above reached similar conclusions in “finding the right balance” and going with that – while also remembering that “Prevention” is the key!

  12. Hello Eddie,
    I went through similar experience with my dog. I found that alternatives exists to brushing of dog teeth , but a lot products utilizes variety of the chemicals which are not safe even for human. It took me a while to research all ingredients of these products, until I found a winner – Leba III dog dental spray. Leba 3 is natutal and holisctic product. I wrote review of this product in my blog to share my experience with a hope that it will help somebody to avoid brushing dog teeth and clean dog teeth plaque. To my surpise it came with bonus and helpedd to getting rid of dog breath. Just thought it would be a useful tip for you too.

  13. I am reluctant to change. I take a multi vitamin, calcium and vitamin D, a B complex, glucosamine and chondroitin. If I miss two days without the later, my fingers get stiff. I also give it to my dogs who are over the age of 7.

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