By Lorraine M. Vicarelli

NOTE: The following is for informational purposes ONLY, and is not meant to replace competent veterinary care. Before using any alternative healing methods, consult a holistic veterinarian so your companion animal's specific symptoms can be taken into consideration and a full diagnosis can be made.

Before the onset of modern medicine, medicinal herbs and plants provided our ancestors with relief from maladies like gout, heart disease, indigestion and cataracts. Around the turn of the century, when the first pharmaceutical companies were formed and the American Medical Association came into existence, herbal healing in the United States fell into disfavor. Since the drug, insurance and medical industries can make money only on patented drugs, and since plants cannot be patented, these groups rushed to isolate the healing properties of plants and herbs, synthetically duplicating these natural medicines. It wasn't long before the practice of herbal healing took a backseat to what by then had become conventional, synthetic drug-based medicine.

Today, herbal healing and alternative therapies are enjoying a renaissance, and both humans and companion animals are reaping the benefits. Almost everywhere you look you'll see articles touting the amazing properties of common plants and herbs such as aloe, garlic, parsley and dandelion. Although quick action and conventional allopathic treatments certainly are necessary - particularly in emergency situations - there are effective herbal remedies for nearly any medical human or pet disease. Here are some to consider:

ALFALFA - This hearty herb is one of the most nutritious foods available, containing every vitamin and mineral known to man. Ancient civilizations considered alfalfa to be a miracle plant and used it to treat everything from arthritis to scurvy. It is high in protein and Vitamins A, E, D and K, and also contains eight essential amino acids. It benefits the digestive system, relieves arthritis pain, helps remove poisons and toxins, cleanses the blood, rebuilds decayed teeth and enhances the effectiveness of other nutrients used with it.

ALOE VERA - This plant, which resembles a cactus, but is actually a member of the lily family, has been used for thousands of years to help promote healing of wounds, burns and frostbite. It also helps relieve constipation and aids digestion and soothes pain on contact by penetrating all three layers of skin. You can grow this at home and just break open a leaf when you need it.

BEE POLLEN - This is considered to be a complete food since it contains every chemical substance necessary to maintain life. Athletes use it to provide energy and endurance; it is a great immune system builder and a rich source of protein, carbohydrates, amino acids and enzymes.

CHAMOMILE - This gentle herb not only has mild sedative properties but aids digestion and relieves indigestion as well. It has antihistaminic effects so it is particularly useful for pets with respiratory problems, asthma and allergies; use it in a vaporizer to help soothe your pet's lungs. It also helps calm animals who are upset or under stress.

HAWTHORN - The berries and flowers of this plant were used by the Greeks and Native Americans to treat heart problems. It helps reduce stress and aid circulation, is useful for pets with high blood pressure, heart disease, or valve problems. It is high in bioflavonoids and Vitamins A and C.

HORSETAIL - This herb, also known as shavegrass, contains high amounts of silica which facilitates the use of calcium and is essential for healing bones. Horsetail also helps build the immune system, strengthen hair and nails, support the glandular and nervous systems, and keep the arteries clean. It is particularly useful for muscle and tissue injuries, broken bones, arthritis, urinary and kidney infections and circulation problems.

MILK THISTLE - This amazing plant extract is on-hand in hospital emergency rooms in Europe for poisonings which affect the liver and kidneys. It is a major antioxidant which not only helps protect, strengthen and detoxify the liver, but actually helps regenerate liver cells. If your pet has been on heartworm/worming medications, chemotherapy, antibiotics, cortisone or anti-inflam-matories, or has hepatitis, jaundice, leptospirosis, parvo or seizures, you may want to consider using milk thistle to support his system.

SLIPPERY ELM - The bark of this plant is useful in treating gastrointestinal problems because it coats and soothes the internal organs and tissue with mucilage. You can apply it externally to wounds, boils, insect bites and rashes, and use it internally to control coughing, colitis and lung problems. It is high in nutrients and tastes sweet, so it is a good convalescence food for sick or weak dogs and cats.

YUCCA - The root of this desert plant was prized by Native Americans for its use in treating arthritis. Yucca contains non-toxic steroidal saponins which are similar to cortisone but have none of the side effects. It has anti-inflammatory properties and helps reduce pain associated with bone and joint diseases, hip dysplasia and arthritis. Yucca is also used to treat skin disorders and allergies.

In addition to herbal remedies, there are a variety of other natural alternatives to traditional, conventional medicine. Homeopathy, based on the principle "like cures like" and the Law of Similars, is a complicated system which takes into consideration the mental and emotional aspects of disease, as well as the physical manifestations. Homeopathic remedies, usually available in liquid or pill form, contain minute amounts of herbs, minerals or animal products. These substances are so diluted that no physical molecules of the original substance remain; only the healing energy from the material is available to the body.

While homeopathy is a valuable alternative to conventional medicine, it is often a long and frustrating process of elimination as you match personality traits and physical symptoms to possible treatments. If you're interested in pursuing this course for your animal companion's benefit, it's best to work with a veterinary homeopath until you learn the ropes and become proficient at treatments based on this fascinating two-hundred-year-old science.

Manipulative therapies such as chiropractic involve subtle, careful manipulation of the vertebrae to restore alignment and the corresponding flow of nerve energy through the spinal column. These therapies hold that a disturbance or malfunction in one area of the body affects other parts of the body, interfering with circulation, nerve impulses and energy. Once the initial disturbance is addressed and corrected, the body will work to heal itself and return to balance.

Iridology, reflexology, acupuncture, shiatsu and Oriental medicine are all variations of diagnostic or manipulative therapies which seek to pinpoint problem areas and treat them by concentrating on energy fields within the body. Once again, if you are considering these alternatives for your companion animals, find a qualified practitioner and work with him or her until you have gained experience and feel comfortable with your newfound knowledge.

Lorraine M. Vicarelli is a Natural Health Care Consultant for Companion Animals and President of Animal SuperFood, Inc., manufacturers of human-grade nutritional supplements and herbal remedies for companion animals. She can be contacted at P.O. Box 1846, Southold, NY 11971.

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