Chinese herbs have been used for centuries in the treatment of people and animals. Basically herbs are food but they have very specific actions. To achieve these actions they are fed in a higher amount than what we would normally eat. They can be used alone or in conjunction with acupuncture. Many can also be used with conventional medications but caution must be taken to make sure there will be no interactions between the two. They should never be used without the instruction of a veterinarian trained in Chinese herbs.
The most common side effects of herbs are stomach upset and/or diarrhea. Oftentimes taking the pet off the herbs for a day or two allows the stomach and intestine to get back to normal. Many times the herbs can be restarted at a lower dosage and gradually increased back to the therapeutic dose. For this reason sometimes the herbs will be started at a low dose and increased after 3-5 days to allow the digestive system to get used to the herb. If your pet experiences any stomach discomfort or soft stool, stop the herb and contact the veterinary office. You will probably be asked to keep your pet off the herb for a few days and then start again at a lower dose. If your pet cannot tolerate a specific herbal formula the beauty of Chinese herbs is that often another formula can be found to treat the problem.
Sometimes there are different side effects such as panting or restless behavior that can occur with certain very strong formulas. These are not commonly used and the veterinarian will instruct you if one of these formulas has been prescribed for your pet.
The use of Chinese herbs is specific to the condition being treated and the individual patient. Hence, the herb that is sent home with your pet may not be helpful for a friend’s pet with the same problem and could actually cause harm. If you have a friend or neighbor interested in using Chinese herbs you should advise them to seek a consult with a trained veterinarian.