Guide to herbalism


01 September 2014

What is Herbalism? 

The use of plants and plant extracts to treat and prevent diseases. Herbalism is a holistic treatment which considers each dog as an individual, addressing the underlying cause of a condition.

Whole plant parts are administered as tablets or liquids.

They can also be applied externally as ointments. An individual plant preparation may be prescribed or a herbal mix.

Pharmaceutical drugs generally contain a single, refined chemical, whereas herbal remedies contain lots of different compounds, which means they can treat different symptoms all at once.

Content continues after advertisements

What are the benefits of herbal medicine? 

Herbal remedies can be helpful in cases where conventional medicine does not provide satisfactory relief from illness or symptoms.

It offers a natural form of treatment for common ailments and is a more gentle way to treat animals. Herbal remedies can also help conventional medications work better, and reduce the side effects of conventional drugs.

Herbal treatments are usually most effective when used in the very early stages of a condition, or in cases where there is no conventional veterinary treatment option available.

What diseases can herbal medicine help treat? 

Absolutely everything.

Herbs can be used to treat a wide range of conditions, from irritable bowels, incontinence, and cystitis, to skin allergies and cancer.

Herbs are often used supportingly and alongside conventional drugs to make them more effective.

There are thousands of herbs and more are being discovered all the time.

Herbs commonly used for dogs include valerian, which is used for stress; milk thistle, used for liver problems; garlic; and echinacea.

Who can administer herbal medicine? 

Herbal medicine can only be prescribed for animals by a vet. A vet may have done additional training in this area.

There are a few licensed over-the-counter herbal remedies available, but otherwise vet Vicky Payne advised dog owners to be wary of buying herbal medicine online as there was no guarantee of the quality.

"It is more effective if a vet makes up a blend of herbs for that particular animal," she said. "It is also important for owners to remember that natural does not always mean safe. Some herbs, including common ones, are toxic in excess, and others cannot be given with certain medications. Self-diagnosis and treatment of your dog with herbs can be risky."

How much does a consultation cost? 

A consultation will be more expensive than buying a herbal remedy, because the vet will look at the animal holistically.

Consultations will range from between £40 and £80 and last 30 to 60 minutes. As herbal medicine is a veterinary treatment it should be covered under most insurance policies.

How can I find a herbal vet?  

There aren't many herbal vets in the UK. A list is available on the British Association of Veterinary Herbalists' website at

Alternatively, owners can contact their veterinary practice to see if they know of a local vet, or one at the surgery, with an interest in herbal medicine.