Integrating herbal and plant-based medicine into veterinary practice - Veterinary Practice
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Integrating herbal and plant-based medicine into veterinary practice

The green revolution in veterinary medicine: why UK veterinarians should embrace plant-based and herbal medicine and how we can integrate it into our practices

As the field of veterinary medicine in the UK continues to advance, there is a growing recognition of the importance of holistic, integrative or complementary approaches to animal healthcare and environmental sustainability. Integrating herbal and plant-based medicine into veterinary practice is an emerging, exciting and valuable avenue for providing more sustainable care to animals.

This article explores the benefits of incorporating herbal and plant-based remedies into modern veterinary practice in the UK while promoting a greener and more sustainable environment.

Why herbal and plant-based veterinary medicine?

The practice of veterinary medicine in the United Kingdom has a rich history of providing gold-standard care to animals. These standards are evidence-based, proven therapies. As the world evolves and pet owners seek more holistic solutions for their pets, these standards can still be maintained and, in many ways, enhanced. The use of herbal medicine in veterinary practice presents a unique opportunity to incorporate plant-based and herbal medicine into modern practices.

As the world evolves and pet owners seek more holistic solutions for their pets, [gold-standard care] can still be maintained and, in many ways, enhanced

In this article, we explore the compelling reasons why UK vets should consider integrating these therapies into their repertoire. Why should you consider herbal medicine in your practice? Herbal medicine can complement conventional veterinary treatments, leading to enhanced overall patient care and well-being.

Optimising patient health

Herbal and plant-based treatments offer a holistic approach to animal healthcare, focusing on the root causes of health issues rather than just alleviating symptoms. This encourages the development of individualised treatment plans that integrate herbal remedies with conventional veterinary care.

Reducing adverse effects

Conventional medications often come with a list of possible adverse effects, some of which can be severe. By incorporating herbs, veterinarians can help support various organ systems, like the liver, kidneys and gastrointestinal tract. In some instances, they may also be able to reduce the dosage of pharmaceuticals required, leading to fewer side effects and a lower risk of adverse reactions in animals.

Herbal therapies do not serve as substitutes for conventional treatments; however, they can contribute to the reduction of potential side effects

Herbal therapies do not serve as substitutes for conventional treatments; however, they can contribute to the reduction of potential side effects – a concern shared by many pet owners and veterinarians when using pharmaceutical drugs.

Reducing antibiotic use

An example of where this approach can be particularly beneficial is the veterinary industry’s drive to reduce antibiotic use. Herbal remedies can reduce the reliance on antibiotics for certain conditions, promoting a more sustainable and judicious use of these medications. Instead of immediately resorting to antibiotics for mild bacterial infections, veterinarians can consider using herbal remedies with antimicrobial properties that can be employed as part of the treatment plan.

When antibiotics are necessary, certain herbs can be used as adjuncts to enhance their effectiveness and minimise side effects. For instance, probiotics and digestive herbs can help maintain gastrointestinal health during and following antibiotic treatment. Integrating prebiotics derived from plants can help maintain a healthy gut microbiome, which plays a crucial role in preventing gastrointestinal infections and is a key component of the overall immune system.

And more…

This integrative approach does not stop with the prescribing of herbal options; it encourages collaboration between veterinarians of multiple disciplines as well as other pet healthcare providers. This interdisciplinary approach can lead to innovative solutions and a richer understanding of animal health.

While the word holistic can evoke strong feelings, the true definition of the word is about treating the patient as a whole. This includes the whole body, mental health and the whole team approach to treatment plans.

The growing demand for herbal and plant-based medicine

Today’s pet owners are becoming more interested in plant-based treatments, increasingly seeking holistic and natural approaches to their animal’s healthcare and creating a demand for veterinarians who can provide these services. They are also turning to herbal medicine, often without the knowledge of their vet, and purchasing over-the-counter (unregulated) products and combining these with prescribed treatments.

By incorporating herbal and plant-based therapies into their practice, UK veterinarians can meet the rising demand for holistic care […] in a safe and evidence-based manner

By incorporating herbal and plant-based therapies into their practice, UK veterinarians can meet the rising demand for holistic care and provide pet owners with a broader range of treatment options in a safe and evidence-based manner.

Safety

Owners are using herbal medicine based on Google searches and forum discussions. The overriding view of plant-based medicine is that it is safe because it is natural. While, in general, using herbal medicine is less likely to have side effects, it is by no means 100 percent safe, and neglecting veterinary advice for a condition and delaying treatment can be harmful.

There are also potential drug interactions, unknowns (effects in conjunction with general anaesthetics) and herb-specific side effects that must be considered. For example, milk thistle (a well-known liver support herb) can have effects on insulin and glucose levels. So, for a diabetic patient, milk thistle may be beneficial, but these patients should be closely monitored for alterations in insulin requirements.

Having knowledge of drug interactions and potential side effects, or at least where to find the information, is crucial for vets these days. It is important to have the ability to discuss the use of herbs safely with owners, whether you are prescribing them or simply advising on what they have read online.

Expanding knowledge and expertise of herbal and plant-based medicine

Incorporating plant-based and herbal medicine into your veterinary practice will require additional training and education. This expansion of knowledge not only benefits you as a veterinarian but also enhances your practice’s reputation. Vets who offer a wide range of treatment options become more attractive to pet owners seeking comprehensive care.

Integrating herbal and plant-based medicine can create new revenue streams for veterinary practices. This is because offering a holistic approach to animal healthcare can attract a broader client base and lead to increased demand for these services.

It is essential to highlight that while herbs can offer valuable complementary support, they should not be used as a replacement for conventional veterinary care

However, it is essential to highlight that while herbs can offer valuable complementary support, they should not be used as a replacement for conventional veterinary care –  integrating herbs into veterinary practice requires a collaborative approach under the guidance of a qualified veterinarian. Dosage, safety and potential interactions with other medications need to be carefully considered.

Additionally, not all herbal remedies are suitable for all animals or conditions, so individualised treatment plans should be developed based on the specific needs of each animal. By working closely with pet owners, treatment plans can be designed that offer the best of both worlds – the benefits of conventional medicine and the holistic advantages of herbal remedies.

Final thoughts 

Integrating herbal and plant-based medicine into general veterinary practice in the UK offers new avenues for providing comprehensive and environmentally sustainable care to animals. While embracing these complementary treatments, veterinarians can meet the growing demand for holistic care, reduce the risk of side effects and offer effective solutions for chronic conditions.

By combining traditional veterinary medicine with herbal and plant-based therapies, veterinarians can offer pet owners a broader range of treatment options, reduce the environmental impact of healthcare and contribute to the overall health of their patients while diversifying their practice.

Watch this space for future articles expanding on the science behind herbal and plant-based medicine, as well as more specifics about treatments and incorporating herbal medicine into practice. For further information, please visit Veterinary Herbal Training.

Anna Rodriguez

Anna Rodriguez is a small animal veterinary practitioner based in Norfolk, UK. She graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in 2003 and practised as a general practitioner until 2022. After completing a certificate in veterinary herbal medicine in 2015, she began incorporating plants and herbs into her practice. Determined to normalise and promote the use of herbs within veterinary practice, Anna started Veterinary Herbal Training in 2019 with Chelsea Dawson to teach other veterinary professionals. Anna now works as a referral vet at Green Balance as a holistic, integrative vet.


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Chelsea Dawson

Chelsea Dawson worked in small animal first opinion practice before opening her pain management and integrated medicine referral service in the north of England. She did this for five years before moving her family and business back to Canada. Chelsea teaches acupuncture with Longview CPD and is a co-founder and lecturer for Veterinary Herbal Training. She is passionate about what she does and strongly believes that integrated medicine is essential in optimising patient care and treatments.


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