Supporting balanced behavior and overall well-being for your patients with a centuries-old botanical: ashwagandha.
Herbs have been part of animal care for millennia. Humans have observed wild animals using various types of botanicals to maintain health, and domesticated animals will do the same when they have access to such plants. For example, dogs will eat grass to vomit, wolves do the same to expel worms, and chimpanzees eat bitter pith to get rid of parasites. Other animals seek botanicals of various kinds
depending on the season and their needs. Bears change the types of vegetation they eat prior to hibernation, while Costa Rican howler monkeys rely on fig leaf sap as a vermifuge. An entire field of herbal veterinary medicine dates back to antiquity, and pioneers like Juliette de Bairacli Levy have articulated entire systems of animal care utilizing herbs of all kinds. Many herders, farmers and breeders possess knowledge of herbal care for animals, gained by generations of observation and use. In short, the use of herbs with animals isn’t new, but is rather a broad and well-developed field reaching back to the beginning of recorded human history. This article focuses on a centuries-old herb named ashwagandha, and how it can reduce stress in animals.
Ashwagandha for stress
One of the main aims of animal care is stress reduction. For this purpose, the botanical ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) demonstrates efficacy both traditionally and in modern published studies. The root of the plant, utilized for several thousand years to enhance human health, has also been traditionally employed to calm animals during times of stress. In animals, stress can be caused by a number of factors, including changes in location, separation from the family, transport, alterations in exercise, climate and more. Recent veterinary studies show that dogs, cats and horses all experienced reduced stress after consuming extracts of ashwagandha.
How does ashwagandha work?
Hormones tell a clear story in these types of studies. With all the animals studied, researchers saw a reduction in the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine, and an increase in the neurotransmitter serotonin, which promotes a general sense of well-being. In a study conducted on horses, ashwagandha root supplementation demonstrated a significant reduction in Interleukin-6, which indicates decreased inflammation and enhanced immune function. The markers of oxidative stress, including reduced GSH concentration and enhanced SOD production, show the cellular protective activity of ashwagandha root extract. Various markers of blood health including total erythrocytes, total leukocytes, hemoglobin concentration and lymphocyte percentage also increased in the animal studies, while alanine aminotransferase, aspartate aminotransferase, blood urea, serum creatinine, globulin, glucose, total protein, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides remained at healthy levels.1
Studies conducted on dogs (under peer review),2 cats, and horses supplemented with ashwagandha root extract showed that ashwagandha is effective in scavenging free radicals released during stress, and acts as an adaptogen in regulating the hormones and cytokines also released during stress. Reduced levels of IL-6 concentration indicate the anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects of ashwagandha. No adverse events were observed during these studies.
The results suggest that ashwagandha root extract has potent hematopoietic, antioxidant, adaptogenic, and immune-stimulating properties and is safe for consumption. As a result of these studies, it is clear that ashwagandha deserves a place in veterinary care, and that animals respond positively to supplementation with ashwagandha root extract.
1 Priyanka G, Anil Kumar B, Lakshman M, Manvitha V, Kala Kumar B. Adaptogenic and Immunomodulatory Activity of Ashwagandha Root Extract: An Experimental Study in an Equine Model. Front Vet Sci. 2020;7:541112. Published 2020 Sep 29. doi:10.3389/ fvets.2020.541112.
2 Under peer review – Adaptogenic Effects of Ashwagandha Root Extract on Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Dogs: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial.