Zoopharmacognosy or when your dog helps to heal himself

Updated: Mar 15, 2020

Zoopharmacognosy?  What on earth is that?

Zoopharmacognosy is the term used to describe animal’s innate ability to self-medicate using plants, clays and other natural remedies.  In the wild, they will search for specific plants as soon as health issues appear.  This is a capability that they are born with, it is not learned, and was first studied in the wild in the 1980s.

We can assist with this ability in a captive setting by offering concentrated plant constituents to the animal, allowing them to select based on their individual needs to assist in optimizing their health and wellness.  This encompasses not only physical ailments but behavioral issues as well.

In conjunction with veterinary care, human assisted zoopharmacognosy can allow your dog to heal himself from the inside out and maintain the highest level of wellness possible.

You may be wondering how your dog decides what to select and what to ignore?  He isn’t consciously choosing smells he likes but is being driven by signals from his neurotransmitters, which communicate between the brain and the olfactory system.  When the dog’s olfactory system detects a compound in the plant that he needs to heal, he will innately be drawn to that scent.  If his body doesn’t require it, he will ignore it.

Even if the dog has never encountered the plant before he can still select correctly as it’s not the plant itself he is selecting, but the chemical constituent, and most constituents can be found in many different plants around the world.

So how does this explain why dogs sometimes poison themselves?  Won’t they just randomly select scents that could potentially cause them harm?

There are several reasons why a dog can sometimes poison itself.  These include, but are not limited to the following:

Hunger - If the dog is so hungry that there is no other alternative available to him, he can be forced to eat something that isn’t good for him.

Inability to sequentially select - when an animal ingests a plant that is normally toxic to him in order to deal with a particular issue, he will normally also select another plant that counteracts or protects against the toxin.  If they are not able or allowed to select the protective plant immediately after ingesting the toxic one, poisoning can occur.

Artificial environment - this is very common in domestic and captive animals.  A good example is chocolate.  Chocolate can be poisonous to dogs and they would not normally ingest it voluntarily, however because most chocolate has sweeteners and other additives like vanilla added, it overrides the dog’s ability to detect the toxic compounds in the chocolate.

Grooming - An animal can inadvertently consume toxins by cleaning something off of themselves that they accidentally picked up.

What kind of issues can Zoopharmacognosy help resolve?  

It can be a wonderful form of preventative health but can also be beneficial if issues arise that have not been successfully solved by a veterinarian, or in conjunction with veterinary care such as allergies, digestive issues, hormonal problems, immune deficiencies, infections, kidney and liver support, chronic conditions, pain and inflammation, skin and coat issues, respiratory problems, tumors and growths as well as post-operative care.  It also helps with behavior issues such as abuse, aggression, anxiety, fear, separation, shock and stress.

In conclusion, Zoopharmacognosy is an amazing tool to add to your toolbox, by getting trained yourself or finding a qualified practitioner to assist you in maintaining your dog in complete health and wellness.

Zoopharmacognosy Science Papers

Ansari, A.M., Khandelwaland N., and Kabra M. (2013). A Review on Zoopharmacognosy. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF PHARMACEUTICAL AND CHEMICAL SCIENCESVol. 2 (1) Jan-Mar 2013 pp.246-253  http://ijpcsonline.com/files/35-382.pdf

Ramen, R. and Kandula, S. (2008)  Self-Medication in Wild Animals. Resonance  Vol 13 (3) Mar 2008 pp.245-253 http://www.ias.ac.in/resonance/Volumes/13/03/0245-0253.pdf

Huffman, M.A.  (2003). Animal self-medication and ethno-medicine: exploration and exploitation of the medicinal properties of plants. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society62, pp 371-381 (abstract only) http://dx.doi.org/10.1079/PNS2003257

Shurkin, J. (2014)  News Feature: Animals that self-medicate.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 111(49): 17339-17341 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4267359/