Southern Cross Veterinary Clinic in Port Elizabeth
Spotlight…on Herbal Medicine

What is Herbal Medicine?

Herbal medicine employs herbs as therapeutic tools. Herbs are used for medicinal purposes according to two schools of thought or philosophies: western herbal medicine and eastern herbal medicine. Both offer natural treatments that can be used to benefit our pets, either alongside conventional medical treatments or as alternatives.

These philosophies, the western and the eastern, are both ancient, but they differ from one another in important ways. The major difference lies in their approach to treatment. Western herbal medicine treats symptoms. In this way it corresponds to how pharmaceuticals are used in western medicine. It also tends to use simple treatments which make use of just one or two herbs. In contrast to this approach, eastern herbal medicine, or Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as it is also known, takes a whole body approach. It uses complex and multi-herb formulations to treat the disease and its underlying causes. These synergistic formulations may contain 50 or more herbs, and can be specifically tailored for the patient.

The different approach of TCM, and now, Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM), to that of western herbal medicine is reflected in its categorisation of herbs.  Whereas western herbal medicine categorises herbs in relation to medicinal properties, functions, and actions, so as to facilitate the treatment of physical symptoms, in TCVM herbs are categorised according to temperature, taste, direction, function, action, and the affected organ channels. This more specific herbal categorisation enables the TCVM practitioner to target both symptoms and underlying imbalances as part of their treatment.

How can Herbal Medicine benefit my pet?

Herbal medicine, in both its western and eastern forms, offers a natural way to treat our pets which can be used instead of or alongside pharmaceuticals. In the latter case herbs may be used to enhance the effectiveness of the pharmaceuticals. Another reason for using herbal medicine is that they exhibit few side effects and yet in the hands of a trained veterinarian they can be versatile therapeutic tools. So, whether used to enhance the effectiveness of pharmaceuticals, or used instead of them, herbal medicine can help improve your pet's health.

Why opt for a Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine approach?

Given that herbal medicine, both western and eastern, provide natural treatments for your pet, why should you opt for a Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine approach? The key to answering this question lies in whether you just want to treat the symptoms or you'd rather address the underlying causes as well. If you want a holistic 'whole body' approach to treatment, TCVM is the way to go! It recognises that no two pets are alike, and offers treatment based on the unique and individual treatment specific to the patient to fight disease and to maintain harmony in the body.

TCVM herbal formulations have few side effects, can be used alongside western pharmaceuticals to enhance their effects, or to replace them in order to avoid undesirable side effects. For example, if your old dog that suffers from arthritis has elevated liver enzymes he may not be able to take a NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) to relieve his pain. In such cases TCVM herbal formulations offer a way for us to enhance the quality of life of our four legged friends whilst avoiding unwanted side effects associated with pharmaceutical treatments.

The TCVM practitioner will assess your pet as a whole and not focus on the symptoms alone, recognising that whilst two dogs might share the same disease, the imbalances causing this disease in each individual may be quite different. Treatment is determined by the individuals needs, and may see herbal medicine combined with other aspects of TCVM (e.g. acupuncture and food therapy). In China, herbal medicine actually makes up about 70% of the treatment and acupuncture only 30%.

The most common side effect when starting a herbal medicine is an upset tummy. Our vet will stop the treatment for a short period and then start again at a lower dose. If your pet’s tummy continues to be upset, then a different herbal formula may be chosen. Depending on the condition, the herbal medicine may only be used for a few weeks or for many months. Herbal medicines can take up to 1 month to have an effect so it is important to follow the instructions so that the benefits will be seen.

Read more about acupuncture

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