The Work of a HERBAL VET Explained

A HERBAL VET (herbal veterinarian – herb vet) is one who uses herbs (herbal medicine – herbal treatment – plant medicine – phytotherapy – herbal veterinary medicine) for his or her patients. This may or may not involve the use of Western herbs but more often does so, in the UK. Other possible forms are Chinese herbs, Indian herbs and Ayurvedic herbs or other indigenous natural medicines from around the World. Only those regions of the World that are covered in ice would have had no ancient herbal lore.

Herbal medicine is a deep tradition. Animals have an instinct for the medicinal benefits of herbs (zoopharmacognosy) and early mankind would have been no different. Over subsequent generations and with developing cultures, man has refined the use of herbs into a strong and lasting medical tradition.

The committed way of working with phytotherapy also demands of the herb vet adherence to holistic principles, for correct application. This is a fundamental part of the traditional approach that is built into the methodology.

The first consultation with a herbal vet differs from the conventional one, in some key areas and usually takes longer. It necessitates collection of more information, by wider and deeper enquiry, in order to allow for holistic application. The herb vet needs to have a deep understanding of the patient and of the plant medicines available.

In the traditional way of thinking, herbal medicine used whole herbs, parts of herbs (e.g. root or leaf) or various extracts of herbs, in unadulterated form. Modern herbal medicine is sometimes in danger of forgetting this important fact. Nowadays, there is a ‘fashion' for extracting and purifying or refining an assumed ‘active ingredient' of a herb, for use on its own. This has more danger of side-effects, as the extracted component is not balanced by other plant ingredients, in a whole-plant holistic context. Herb vet Chris Day believes that this is a parody of traditional herbal medicine. An even further extension of this is to modify that ‘active' ingredient, to make a patent drug (modern conventional drug medicine). This is reductionism at work, usually with massive profit motivation to blur the science.

Herbal medicine is not homeopathy, although a vet using homeopathy uses many remedies that share the same names as those used by a herb vet. The method of preparation and the mode of use are different, however. In herbal medicine, material quantities of the plant are used for their pharmacological actions. In homeopathy it is more usual to use the extreme dilutions with which that method has become associated and to use them according to the reaction they can provoke in the body.

In the UK, many practices and individuals have started to use some herbs in their patient care. These practices will not all be working on holistic principles or providing essential diet work or may not be making sufficient use of herbs to merit the description ‘herbal vet' (herb vet) but it is encouraging that there is increased usage of herbs in the veterinary profession and increased recognition of their worth in support of the health and welfare of our domesticated animals.

Herbal vets may or may not use other forms of complimentary and alternative medicine. If they do, the therapies should be properly integrated, for safety and efficacy.

The Alternative Vet (AVMC) offers Herbal Medicine for animals carefully integrated with other therapies and holistic management

To illustrate the scope of herbal vet medicine, we have prepared pages discussing phytotherapy for each of the major species:


Horses Herbal Medicine – Ponies Herbal Medicine

Dogs Herbal Medicine

Cats Herbal Medicine


*Herb vets don't grow on trees but some important herbal medicines do! Take salicylic acid, for instance, harvested from willow bark to give us aspirin and the Hawthorn Berry (Crataegus) that is such an effective cardiac (heart) support. At the AVMC, however, we would give willow bark or meadow sweet (another plant that is rich in salicylate), in the raw state, in preference to the manufactured chemical extract. N.B.:  Willow and Meadowsweet herbal medicines should not be given in conjunction with conventional NSAIDs and vice versa, unless dosages are carefully controlled and monitored. The veterinary herbalist (herb vet) should know this but many conventional vets will not, hence the potential dangers.

While deeply respecting the ancient practices of Ayurvedic Herbal Medicine and Chinese Herbal Medicine, both of which have extremely long traditions (as opposed to the modern marketing and pharmaceutical strategies, which have changed them from their original holistic practice, extracting and purifying ingredients and/or labelling them for specific purposes), Herb vet Chris Day tends to use indigenous Western Herbs as first-line herbal medicine.

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