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Natural Medicine v's Pharmaceuticals

"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” ― Hippocrates

Have you ever found yourself in a pet store, overwhelmed by the amount of vitamins, minerals, and herbs available?

Have you ever wondered if they will really work for your dog, or if you should just stick with pharmaceuticals?

If so then this article is especially for you. Here we will compare natural medicine and pharmaceuticals and discuss what might be the best choice for your dog.


Pharmaceutical medicines are developed for the treatment of complicated diseases and can be highly effective, but these medicines are themselves associated with a number of detrimental side effects.

Herbal Medicines

Herbal medicines are naturally produced, and many are equally as effective as their synthetic counter-parts – and without the negative side-effects.

Origins of Medicine

Did you know: Many pharmaceutical drugs are born out of herbal medicine, and even today over twenty five percent of all pharmaceutical drugs are made from herbs. Unfortunately however, the majority of drugs are still synthetically produced from a cocktail of chemicals.

As early as the ninth century the first medicinal stores were operating in Baghdad where herbs were sold as medicine. Now, in the 21st century, we have gone full circle, with the emergence of numerous herbal products crowding our modern day pharmacies.

Before we go any further it needs to be said - pharmaceutical drugs are entirely appropriate for emergency veterinary medicine, and for symptomatic relief of acute conditions in your dog. For post-operative scenarios, they are vital to prevent infection and relieve pain. They are life-saving.

Nevertheless, these drugs can be a poor choice for the treatment of long term illness / chronic diseases and for the treatment of the underlying causes of diseases in dogs.

If your dog requires long term treatment, then the best solution might be a natural medicine which not only negates damaging side effects, but is also beneficial to that all-important aspect of your dog’s health: its natural gut flora.

Herbal Medicine

Herbal Medicines are also defined as natural medicines. It pays to remember, this doesn’t mean that they are 100% safe if used incorrectly – some in the wrong amount can be fatal . It does however mean that the substances your dog is ingesting were created by nature, not artificially synthesized in a laboratory.

Scientific evidence is mounting more and more, that plants as food are vital as a source of both illness prevention, and remedial medicine.

Are there any side effects of Herbal Medicine?

Some herbal medicines do have side effects, but they are comparatively few as each herb is made up of a unique range of naturally occurring constituents, all of which have a role to play in how the plant benefits your dog.

It is now believed that many of the constituents of whole natural medicines actually buffer the effect of others, which is why the use of herbal medicines are without the severe side effects that can accompany pharmaceuticals.

Pharmaceutical Drugs

A pharmaceutical drug is defined as any drug mass produced for use in health care. Pharmaceutics drugs are synthesized by two ways:

· Isolating single active plant constituents

· Synthesizing chemicals in the lab

Either way these single or chemical constituents are not well tolerated within the body - the reason for the numerous unpleasant side effects that they create.

The effect of Pharmaceuticals on Gut health

In an age where the public has an increasing awareness of the role gut health has to play in a disease-free life, a common query by dog owners is the effect of pharmaceuticals on the natural microbiome of their dog’s gut.

Unfortunately, the answer is not good. While pharmaceuticals like antibiotics, effectively kill the bacteria that cause infection, they also drastically affect the resident & beneficial microbiome living in your dog’s intestine. This is due to their broad-spectrum activities, but it means the beneficial microbes in your dog gut are indiscriminately killed or inhibited. Antibiotics are not picky. They destroy bad gut bacteria, but they also destroy the natural flora that populates a healthy gut. This can result in an adverse effect on your dog immunity by causing inflamed and damaged intestines, increasing gut permeability and creating a risk of auto-immune responses.

Recent research has indicated that the over-use of antibiotics and the disruption of gut micro biota in puppies and adult dogs causes microbial dysbiosis - a persistent imbalance of gut's microbial community, which can lead to inflammatory bowel diseases, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, depression, diabetes, obesity, cancer, cardiovascular and central nervous system disorders.

As in humans, over-use of antibiotics can also increase the risk of the spread of antibiotic-resistant infections.

Added to this, pharmaceutical chemicals can have a profound effect on lipids, bile acids, amino acids, and amino acid-related substances in the gut.

"All disease begins in the gut" - Hippocrates

In the past when pharmaceuticals were hailed as the answer to all disease, many veterinarians largely ignored herbal medicine. However increasingly, clinical trials on their impact have inspired a whole new level of respect for their value in treating various conditions, and many vets now compliment pharmaceuticals with natural therapies, treating the primary symptoms of disease, as well as healing the underlying cause.

The best approach is a balanced one. Both pharmaceuticals and natural medicine have their place in veterinary medicine. The best person to assist you with your choice is a qualified veterinarian who has seen and been able to diagnose your dog – and who has a solid knowledge of Herbal Veterinary Medicine.

And the best way to avoid a visit to the vet is to make sure your dog has a fresh, healthy and well-rounded diet!

Some of our favourite beneficial herbs!


Oregano is high in antioxidants and flavonoids and is an antimicrobial. Oil of Oregano is used as an antifungal treatment. This non-toxic herb has been used to help with digestive problems, diarrhea, and gas.


Turmeric is an extremely important little spice that may just make a world of difference to your dog, and there are many reasons to add it to your dog's diet. Turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory which has been scientifically proven to lower the risk of brain diseases, heart disease and cancer.


Ginger is as an anti-emetic and can help with nausea, support digestion and normalize gastric function.


Your beloved dogs can safely eat celery. In fact, celery has a lot of vitamins and nutrients that can benefit your dog and give them a major health boost (all things in moderation).

Celery can offer your dog vitamin K - good for bone metabolism and blood clotting - vitamin C, which assists in growth and development of all body tissues, and vitamin B6, which is good for the creation of red blood cells.

This vegetable contains calcium, magnesium, and potassium, and many other nutrients. Because celery is very low in fat and cholesterol, it makes a good treat for dogs who might have weight issues.


This herb is rich in nutrients & antioxidants, vitamins C & K, phenolic acids and anthocyanins. It helps lower blood sugar levels.


Ashwagandha is an ancient medicinal herb. Ashwagandha boosts the immune system and is a highly effective adaptogen for dogs. It assists the body to alleviate and adapt to stress, and has significant anti-anxiety effects.


Gymnema is high in calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, copper & zinc. It reduces the absorption of sugar from the intestinal tract and boosts insulin.

Panax Ginseng

Panax Ginseng is rich in ginsenosides and gintonin. It is highly potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. It lowers and normalizes the blood sugar levels.


Fenugreek is rich in Iron, Manganese & Magnesium. It lowers blood sugar levels and improves insulin function.


Rehmannia is high in vitamins A, B & C and amino acids. It is a strong anti-inflammatory and lowers blood sugar levels.


Parsley, that most common of leafy herbs, is incredibly good for your dog. It is a rich source of flavonoids, antioxidants, and vitamins. It also contains lycopene and carotenes.

Coconut oil

One benefit of coconut oil is a sleek and glossy coat.

Coconut oil helps a variety of skin conditions, such as eczema, hot spots, dry skin, yeast and fungal infections, bites, and stings.

When applied topically it can assist with skin conditions such as itchy paws or ears.

Dandelion leaves

Considered a weed in most gardens, dandelion leaves are packed with potassium, iron, and manganese, as well as vitamins A, K, C, D, and B complex

Dandelion is a diuretic, so it's important that dogs that ingest it have plenty of water to drink.

And remember, while all of the herbs above can be added to your dog’s daily diet (and yours) to promote and maintain good health, you should always discuss your dog’s dietary regime with your vet.

Happy eating!


DVM PMAS Arid Agricultural University, Rawalpindi, Pakistan

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