Ayurveda in veterinary medicine
Ayurveda has been in use for thousands of years and has a proven track record of safety and efficacy. Here’s how to incorporate it into your practice.
Originating in India, Ayurveda is perhaps the oldest system of holistic medicine, dating back to 6000 BC. Ayurvedic medical textbooks were written in Sanskrit, one of the oldest recorded languages of the world. Ayurveda literally means “science (ved) of life (ayur)”.
According to the texts, Ayurveda in veterinary medicine has traditionally focused on animal welfare, treatment therapies, management and surgery. In the Rigvata (2000 to 4000 BC), physicians described treatments for both animals and humans. Salihotra was the first to be credited as an animal healer when he wrote Ayurveda Materia Medica in Veterinary Medicine and Mrig [animal] and Hasti [elephant] Ayurveda. The first recorded veterinary hospital, opened by King Ashoka in 1463 BC, used Ayurvedic botanicals.
Ayurvedic herbs and modalities have been in use for thousands of years and have a proven track record of safety and efficacy. The majority of Ayurvedic herbs are well researched and backed by clinical trials. Combinations of herbal products stabilize the energetics of other ingredients, leading to a balanced product. The combination herbs can be easily prescribed to treat many problems, even before the clinician studies the basic theory, philosophy and principles of Ayurveda to allow deeper healing.
Determining your Prakriti (body type)
Body typing in Ayurvedic medicine is based on the five elements theory and is expressed as the Tridosha. The Tridosha are the three humors, or metabolic forces, that make up the mind and body. They’re called Vata, Pitta and Kapha. At the time of conception, permutations of Vata, Pitta and Kapha determine the constitution of the new individual, controlling all biological, psychological and physio-pathological functions of the body (including anabolism (Kapha), catabolism (Vata) and metabolism (Pitta)), as well as the mind and consciousness. Each one has subtle properties, and together they determine personality traits and physiological structure. Maintaining balance within the dosha is necessary for optimal health.
Characteristics of Vata in animals
Vata is considered the leader of the three Ayurvedic principles in the body. Vata governs all movement in the mind and body.
- Vata types are the most slender of the three body types, and are taller or shorter than normal.
- Chests are flat, with veins and muscle tendons visible.
- They have a tendency toward cold paws, and discomfort in cold climates.
- Nails are dry and brittle.
- Skin is cool, rough, dry and prone to cracking.
- They have variable appetites and digestive efficiency.
- Urine is scanty, and feces are dry, hard and small in quantity.
- Sleep is short and restless.
- They experience high energy in short bursts; they tire easily and overexert energy.
- Respond to stress with fear and worry when out of balance
- Quick to learn and grasp new knowledge, but also quick to forget.
- Changeable moods are likely.
- Full of joy, excitable, lively, fun and enthusiastic when in balance
Characteristics of Pitta in animals
Pitta is a force created by the dynamic interplay of water and fire. These forces represent transformation.
- Medium to slender physique, and the body frame may be delicate. The Pitta animal shows a medium prominence of veins and muscle tendons. The bones are not as prominent as in the Vata pet.
- Fur is soft and warm.
- Claws are softer.
- They display a medium prominence of eyes.
- Sleep is of medium duration but uninterrupted.
- Paws are warm, bothered by hot weather – it makes them tired, and skin feels warm.
- They pass a large amount of urine.
- Strong metabolism, good digestion with resulting strong appetite and thirst, are typical.
- May display irritability if they have to wait for their food, or are stressed.
- They have sharp minds and good powers of concentration
- They are assertive, self-confident, aggressive, demanding, even pushy when out of balance.
- Competitive and enjoy challenges, so Pittas make good pack leaders.
Characteristics of Kapha in animals
Kapha is the combination of water and earth. It provides both structure and lubrication. One can visualize Kapha as the stirring force that keeps the water and earth from separating.
- Kaphas are physically strong with a sturdy, heavier build.
- They are aversive to cold, damp weather and may have asthma, allergies.
- Have the most energy of all constitutions, but this energy is steady and enduring, not explosive.
- Are slow-moving and graceful
- Have soft fur and tendency for large “soft” eyes and a soft temperament.
- Often overweight though they may eat little; may also suffer from sluggish digestion.
- Soft stools, pale in color, and slow evacuation are typical.
- Kaphas sleep sound and long.
- They have excellent health, good stamina, and resistance to disease.
- Are easy-going, relaxed, slow-paced, happy.
- May be slower to learn, but they never forget so they can be possessive; good long-term memory.
- Kapha animals are affectionate and loving, forgiving, compassionate, non-judgmental, stable, reliable, faithful, and are peacemakers.
1. Ashwagandha (Wilhania somnifera)
Ashwagandha, or Indian ginseng, is indicated as a daily rasayana, or anti-aging therapy. It is one of the most highly regarded and widely used Ayurvedic herbs, believed to increase energy and overall health as well as longevity. Ashwagandha literally means “to impart the strength of a horse”. The key constituents of Ashwagandha are called withanaloids, and play an important role in the herb’s ability to promote physical and mental health. Ashwagandha can be used on a long-term daily basis without the risk of side effects. Benefits include:
- Acts as an adaptogen and immunomodulator; supports the activity of lymphocyte and macrophages.1
- Is neuro-protective, so helps with nervous tissue injury and inflammation.
- Offers potent anti-inflammatory properties – beneficial for osteoarthritis and other inflammatory conditions.
- Has anti-carcinogenic activity and is supportive during chemotherapy and radiation.
- Possesses high iron content and steroidal lactone which affects bone marrow – helpful for anemia.
- Supports cognitive and brain function in geriatric patients.
- Is an adjunct therapy to seizure disorders.
- Helpful for thyroid problems.2
- I have successfully used Ashwagandha liquid for chronic renal failure in cats and for inappropriate urination (behavioral) in cats. I have also used it for stress-related issues such as travel, addition of a new pet or family member, etc.
Case study — Cassie
A ten-year-old German shepherd named Cassie came to my clinic with severe non-regenerative anemia and myelofibrosis. A biopsy revealed hemosiderosis of the bone marrow. Her condition was considered irreversible by veterinary pathologists. Initial blood work showed the PCV at 12.7% (normal 37 to 55). I prescribed Ashwagandha and Boswellia, and the blood count gradually increased from 13.1 to 28.1, at which point the improvement stopped. I quadrupled the dosage of the herbs, and saw a remarkable response. Cassie’s blood count increased to 39.8%, and has remained at 40.3% for the last two years. Originally, this dog had been given very little time to live, but with Ayurvedic supplementation, her diseased condition was reversed and Cassie was able to enjoy a high quality of life.
2. Boswellia Serrata (Salai, shallaki)
This is one of Ayurvedic medicine’s most potent anti-inflammatory herbs. Boswellia is a promising alternative to conventional NSAIDS, with the added advantage of sparing the GI lining. It is therefore useful for inflammatory disorders of the intestines, respiratory tract and skin.3 Boswellia significantly reduces the production of prostaglandins E2, cycloonxgenase-2 and prevents collagen degradation.4 The most common use is for osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease and any inflammatory condition of bones, joints and spine.4 It is also neuroprotective, analgesic and antifungal.
3. Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Turmeric is a perennial herb-rhizome commonly used as a cooking spice. Curcumin is the yellow pigment extracted from turmeric. In Ayurvedic tradition, turmeric is a general tonic and blood pacifier. A potent anti-inflammatory agent with analgesic properties, curcumin’s essential oil has shown anti-microbial activity against gram positive and gram negative bacteria in vitro studies.5 Curcumin also possesses anti-asthmatic, antioxidant, hepatoprotective and anti-cancer activity. It is also known to have strong anti-ulcer activity due to its strong immune modulation and immune-stimulant properties, thus making it very effective in IBD cases.6 Curcumin maintains healthy cyclooxygenase-2 (Ld4) activity while supporting prostaglandins, leukocytes and thromboxane metabolism. Like Boswellia, it has neuroprotective properties, so our local neurologists use it for spinal injury and inflammation.
4. Neem (Azadirachta indica)
Neem has attracted worldwide attention in the medical community due to its wide range of medicinal, insecticidal and fungicidal properties. Practically all parts of the Neem tree are used in Ayurvedic medicine. Fresh new leaves are used in concoctions for a variety of skin and other inflammatory disorders. Oil extracts from the leaves and seeds are potent antiseptics and insect repellants.7 Neem has immuno-modalities, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. It is also considered anti-hyperglycemic.8 Since it is considered a valuable insecticidal, it can be used for external parasites. All parts of the Neem plant – leaves, bark and oil-based products – are used for this purpose.
This is a combination of three herbs – Terminalia chebula (Haritaki), Terminalia belerica (Bahera), and Emblica ofﬁcinalis (Amla). This long-revered herbal blend has been used for thousands of years and is referred to in almost every Ayurvedic textbook. This mixture is considered adaptogenic. It has synergistic action as well as digestive properties. It is also considered a powerful antioxidant.9 Terminalia chebula is rich in tannins, amino acids, succinic acid and beta-sitosterol. Terminalia belerica is rich in tannins. Emblica ofﬁcinalis supports the immune system and is one of the best available sources of vitamin C. Trifla has bowel-regulating and mild laxative properties and aids both digestion and elimination (constipation/diarrhea, IBD, pancreatitis). It is useful for respiratory and allergic illnesses as well as heavy metal toxicity. It is anti-ulcer, anti-cancer, anti-mutogenic, and promotes healthy eyes.10
Don’t forget yourself!
Determining and working with your own body type, as well as that of your patients, allows you to achieve balance in your mind, body and spirit, thus maintaining optimal health. Maximizing our own well-being is very important as we push ourselves to heal our patients. You will find that when you are functioning at optimal levels, you benefit not only yourself, but also the world around you.
While fewer of your clients may ask for Ayurvedic medicines than for Western herbs or acupuncture, carrying a variety of Ayurvedic combinations for specific problems will offer gentle and powerful alternatives to your patients.
1Archana R, Namasivayam A. “Antistressor eff ect of Withania somnifera”. J. Ethnopharmacol, 1999, 64:91-93.
2Jatwa R, Kar A. “Amelioration of metformin-induced hypothyroidism by Withania somnifera and Bauhinia purpurea extracts in type 2 diabetic mice”. Phytother Rs., Aug. 2009, 23(8):11140-1145.
3Madisch A, Miehlke S, Eichele O, Mrwa J, Bethke B, Kuhlishc E, Basteline E, Wilhelms C, Morgner A, Wigginghaus B, Stolte M. “Boswellia serrata extract for the treatment of collagenous colitis: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, multicenter trial”. Int J Colorectal Dis., Dec 2007, 22(12):1445-1451.
4Umar S, Umar K, Sarwar AH, Khan, A, Ahmad N, Ahmad S, Katiyar CK, Husain SA, Khan, HA. “Boswellia serrata extract attenuates infl ammatory mediators and oxidative stress in collagen induced arthritis”. Phytomedicine, May 2015, 21 (6): 847-56.
5Ammon HPT, Wahl MA. “Pharmacology of Curcuma longa”. Planta Medica, 1991, 57(1):1.
6Nishida M, Nishiumi S, Mizushina Y, Fujishima Y, Yamamoto K, Masuda A, Fujita T, Morita Y, Katsumi H, Yoshida H, Azuma T,Y oshida M. “Monoacetylcurcumin strongly regulates infl ammatory responses through inhibition of NF-kappaB activation”. Int J Mol Med., May 2010, 25(5): 761-767.
7International Institute of Rural Reconstruction, Ethnoveterinary Medicine in Asia. An Information Kit on Traditional Animal Health Care Practices, Part 1, General Information (Silang, Phillippines: IIRR, 1994).
8Khosla P, Bhanwra S, Singh J, Seth S, Srivastava RK. “A study of hypoglycaemic eff ects of Azadirachta indica (Neem) in normal and alloxandiabetic rabbits”. Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 2000, 44(1):69.
9Vani T, Rajani M, Sarkar S, Shishoo CJ, “Anti-oxidant properties of the Ayurvedic formulation Triphala and its constituents”. International Journal of Pharmacognosy, 1997, 35(5):313.
10Sudrik UV. “Management of Anjananamika in amavastha with Swedana and Sookshma Triphala”. Med. Aromat. Plant Abs., 1995, 18(5):514.