herbal/botanical medicine



We’ve been asked several times later if garlic is toxic to dogs. The internet gives conflicting advice with recipes for dog treat which contain garlic, but posters listing garlic as a potential poison…so today our blog is an attempt at the truth about garlic!

Herb or Hazard?


Yes, it is! Garlic has a very long history of medicinal use. It is useful topically crushed in water to reduce infection in wounds (something done by Roman soldiers!). Taken internally it reduces the tendency of blood to clot and improves circulation so may be suggested for older animals. Garlic has been shown to help control internal parasites, and to improve cardiovascular health. Certain garlic compounds may even have anti-cancer properties. Garlic is a great appetite stimulant so is often added to homemade treats such as liver cake, and many holistic vets recommend making garlic a regular part of dogs diets.


Garlic is definitely toxic too, as are all members of the onion family (Alliums). These plants contain sulphur compounds which cause oxidative hemolysis if there are more of them in a red blood cell than the antioxidant metabolic pathways in the cell can cope with. Dog red blood cells have low antioxidant activity, and the haemoglobin in cat red blood cells is two to three times more susceptible to oxidative damage than the haemoglobin in other species. Certain dog breeds, especially Japanese breeds, can have genetic differences in their metabolic pathways which make them more susceptible to the toxic effects of onions and garlic. Dogs and cats with an inflamed stomach lining may also be at higher risk of toxicity.

Symptoms of Allium toxicity are initially quiet vague with vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and lethargy. After a few days gums may be pale, or even yellow due to the breakdown of the red blood cells. Anaemia will cause weakness, a high heart rate, and high respiratory rate. There is no specific treatment, but some dogs and cats recover with supportive care and anti-oxidant supplements.

Garlic should be avoided in pets on anticoagulant drugs, and should be introduced carefully to diabetic pets. Garlic should be stopped a week before planned surgery.


Consumption of  5 g/kg of onions or garlic for cats, or 15 to 30 g/kg for dogs can be toxic. An average garlic clove weighs 3-4g, so your dog or cat would need to eat quite a lot in one go to become sick. There have been cases of toxicity where pets have eaten garlic or onions at lower doses over long periods of time. These have included pets fed human foods where concentrated onion powder is often added for flavour.

If you are using herbal supplements containing garlic ensure you choose one designed for cats and dogs so that you know you are giving a safe dose, and never exceed the recommended dose.

If using fresh garlic a clove (3-4g) appears to be safe for a 20-25kg dog. I usually recommend giving garlic 5 days a week to reduce the risk of long term toxicity.

Dried garlic appears safe given at around 10mg/kg, but always consult a vet before adding any herb or supplement to your pet’s diet.



The internet is awash with stories about how coconut oil and hemp oil can cure cancer, replace pain meds, and stop epilepsy. But the Doctors and Vets won’t let you use it because of a conspiracy by Big Pharma. But what’s the real story about these miracle oils?


Coconut oil is a rich source of Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs). These are triglycerides whose fatty acids have an aliphatic tail of 6–12 carbon atoms. There has been a lot of interest in the health benefits to humans and pets of MCTs.

Epilepsy in Dogs

As a ketogenic diet has been useful in some childhood epilepsy cases vets have investigated similar diets in dogs. Unfortunately high fat, low protein, low carbohydrate diets carry a high risk of causing pancreatitis in dogs, so other ways of increasing ketones in the brain have been investigated. In a 2015 study Tsz Hong Law and colleagues found that a diet with MCTs caused a significant reduction in seizure frequency than a diet without C8, 10, or 12 MCTs, however some dogs showed no response to MCTs. Research into MCTs in canine epilepsy is ongoing at the Royal Veterinary College.

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Studies have found that 28% of dogs ages 11-12-years-old and 68% of dogs ages 15-16-years-old have one or more signs of age-related cognitive decline. Symptoms include nocturnal restlessness and barking, loss of house training, and appearing ‘depressed’. These symptoms negatively affect the quality of life of both dogs and their owners. It has been found that older brains use ketones more efficiently than glucose as fuel, so again diets which increase brain ketones have been investigated. A diet supplemented with MCTs was shown to improve attention span, trainability, decision making and overall cognitive function in as little as 30days.

Dental Pathogens

In 2015 lab tests Law et al showed that  an emulsion of MCTs showed similar efficacy on killing common dental pathogens in dogs and cats to a chlorhexidine foam.


Cures for cancers are the Holy Grail of Veterinary and Human medicine. Research has supported the use of a high fat, high protein, low carbohydrate diet to support dogs undergoing chemotherapy, but more specific trials on ketogenic diets and MCTs acorss a range of cancers are needed.

Skin problems

Is coconut oil the way to go for skin problems? Whilst there is some evidence that topically applied coconut oil is better than mineral oil for atopic dermatitis, there is far more evidence for using Omega 3 oils in the diet for atopy. Coconut oil has been shown to speed up wound healing compared to nothing being applied.

Anti-inflammatory properties

Coconut oil has shown moderate anti-inflammatory and antipyretic effects in lab animal studies, but again, there has so far been little research in chronic pain in dogs or cats.


Maybe. There is good evidence for MCTs in improving quality of life in canine epilepsy and cognitive dysfunction. Other uses of MCTs are less well supported. But coconut oils is only 60% MCTs and the other fats in it can increase the risk of dogs developing pancreatitis. When researching coconut oil/MCT for a given health condition check what was actually used as virgin coconut oil will contain compound which refined MCT oils do not. 

Whether you choose coconut oil or MCT oil consult your vet first to agree on a safe dose to aim for, and introduce the oil over a week or so to reduce the risk of gastrointestinal side effects. You might also consider a diet specifically designed to support normal neurological function in dogs: https://www.proplanveterinarydiets.com/products/nc-neurocare-dog/


Our bodies, and those of our pets, contain endocannabinoid receptors which are involved in many physiological pathways including mood, appetite stimulation, pain sensation, memory, and response to stress. Hemp oils contain phytocannabinoids which can interact with these receptors (particularly CB1 and CB2). Hemp oils may also contain a range of other components including fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, flavanoids, terpenes, ketones, and chlorophyll. Commercially sold hemp oils contain only trace amounts of the psychotropic chemical THC and will not get you or your pet ‘high’. Interestingly, CB2 receptors have not yet been found in cats.

Hemp oils can only be sold in the UK as food supplements and can not make any medical claims. Doses of 20-200mg of CBD per day for an adult human are considered a wellness supplement. This should be borne in mind when looking at research on Cannabis sativa extracts, as well as whether whole plant oils or refined constituents have been used. There is a lot of research on Cannabis sativa derived compounds, and new medicines based on them are very likely to be developed.

At medicinal doses CBD has been shown to have anti-epileptic, neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, and anti-anxiety effects and appears to be relatively safe; however at high (medicinal) doses it may interact with other drugs which are metabolised by the same enzyme pathway leading to faster or slower clearance of CBD. CBD may not be as well absorbed orally by dogs as it is by people which must be considered when choosing a dose to use. The terpene content of hemp oil products should be considered when using them in cats as they are less well tolerated in this species.

Many companies are jumping on the CBD oil trend and producing oils, capsules, treats, and more for pets and people. Some offer a range of different strength products, products blended with other herbs, and oils made by different extraction techniques to give varying levels of active compounds. So far very few suppliers are ensuring consistency of active compounds through testing and blending of each batch of oils.


Help oils and CBD oils may be useful in maintaining wellness in dogs and cats, in much the same way as we might give a fish body oil supplement. Research into medicinal uses of extracts from Cannabis sativa will continue, and new drugs for epilepsy, anxiety, and pain are likely to result. Although no medical claims can be made for commercially available hemp/CBD oils some owners find they help to improve their pet’s quality of life. Care must be taken to avoid considering testimonials or single case studies as evidence that the supplement helped; even in conventional drug research a proportion of test subjects show an improvement on the placebo! This is especially true in epilepsy trials where even untreated animals or people can show great variability in seizure frequency.

Consultation with a vet with an understanding of herbal medicine, and of hemp extracts in particular, is likely to give the best results and ensure there are no adverse drug interactions. Consulting a vet is essential if you wish to try higher doses for medicinal effect.

For more information on MCT/coconut oil or hemp oil supplements, or a holistic assessment and treatment plan for your pet’s health, please contact us on health@holisticvetsussex for a referral form.




Many happy years offering clinics at Goudhurst Vets and Equine Clinic in Goudhurst are coming to an end. 

Vicky will be concentrating on home visits for Acupuncture and Behaviour problems, and will continue to offer Holistic and Herbal medicine consultations at Companion Care Vets in Eastbourne (01323 649315).

Existing acupuncture clients at Goudhurst will be transferred to vet Caroline Borer, who has recently undertaken acupuncture training. Repeat prescriptions of herbs can be delivered to Goudhurst by arrangement.

Vicky’s final clinic at Goudhurst will be on Thursday 4th January.



The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has released a statement in which it appears to threaten Vets who use ‘alternative’ therapies. It focuses on Homeopathy, but could lead to problems for Vets who prescribe herbs or use acupuncture too. https://www.rcvs.org.uk/news-and-views/news/college-publishes-complementary-medicines-statement/


At the moment we are not concerned that the RCVS statement will affect our work at Four Seasons Holistic Veterinary Care because we use herbal medicine, diet, lifestyle changes, acupuncture, and physical therapies to complement conventional diagnosis and treatment, or where no conventional medication is available or suitable. We only work on referral from your First Opinion practice and choose therapies which are supported by laboratory studies and clinical trials as well as case studies. 

At Four Seasons Holistic Veterinary Care we don’t call our therapies ‘alternative’ because Vicky is first and foremost a qualified, experienced Vet. If she feels a pet needs conventional diagnostic tests such as a blood test or radiographs your pet will be referred back to your First Opinion practice, or these may be performed at Companion Care Vets Eastbourne if you are visiting the clinic there. Some cases may need conventional pain relief before starting acupuncture or physical therapy at home. The welfare of your pet is our primary concern at all times.


At Four Seasons Holistic Veterinary Care we choose to use treatments which are backed by laboratory research, clinical trials, and case studies.

Herbal medicines contain complex combinations of active ingredients, many of which have been extensively studied. We often use herbs with active ingredients which act on the same receptors as conventional drugs. Valerian, for example, contains valerenic acid which modulates GABA receptor function and reduces the breakdown of GABA, leading to sedation.

Sometimes we have data from clinical trials in animals, other studies may only have been done on cell cultures, so we interpret the results with great care. We don’t promise miracle cures, but we try to choose therapies which will improve your pet’s quality of life.



When our Holistic Vet Vicky goes on holiday she can’t help but look around for medicinal plants and she found lots of Neem trees in Kenya. The latin name for Neem is Azadirachta Indica.


Neem is a popular remedy with indigenous peoples for a large range of parasitic problems on both animals and plants. Published research shows that extracts from neem seeds and leaves can be effective on animals against mites, ticks, fleas, and fungal infections. Neem can have various effects on parasites including repelling them, reducing their feeding on an animal, disturbing the growth of larval stages, and reducing the parasite’s ability to breed or lay viable eggs.


The main downside to neem is that it has a smell most people find unpleasant. Commercial neem based products will attempt to disguise this, or will use extracts with less smell. Neem extracts degrade fairly quickly after application so need to be applied every 4-8days. 


Aqeuous preparations of neem are reported to be well tolerated, neem oils may be less well tolerated. Short term overdose, or long term use, may be associated with reduced fertility. Fertility returns once treatment is stopped. Ingestion of pure neem seed oil is dangerous and can cause vomiting, metabolic acidosis, drowsiness, a rapid rate of breathing, and even seizures. The best advice would be to use commercially available products which have been tested as safe for use on animals, and to use and store neem products in a way which minimises the risk of your pet ingesting them. Be sure to choose cat safe products for cats, who are especially at risk from ingesting essential oils.

Neem also appears to be relatively safe to non-target insects and spiders, but may be toxic to fish so take care around your fish tanks and ponds.




The main reasons pet owners use turmeric are for arthritis and for cancer prevention.

Although there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that turmeric helps pets with arthritis, there have been relatively few clinical studies. In Vitro (lab studies in isolated tissues) studies have shown that turmeric extracts can reduce inflammatory cytokines, and reduce cartilage degradation. Turmeric appears to work like some of the more modern anti-inflammatory drugs by inhibiting COX2 enzymes which cause inflammation in preference to COX 1 enzymes which are needed for many normal processes in the body. Studies in live animals have in some cases shown little effect from giving turmeric, but in others have shown improvement in arthritis symptoms. Larger scale studies are needed to draw more accurate conclusions.

The role of turmeric in cancer cases is more complex. In lab tests turmeric extracts can actually cause DNA damage, which could increase the risk of cancer. However, the low risk of stomach cancer in people in India has been attributed to turmeric in the diet. Several studies have shown that turmeric extracts can inhibit cancer cell growth in the lab, but again, studies in live animals are lacking.


Turmeric is a relatively safe herb to use, but one reason for this is that the active compounds aren’t very well absorbed. Dissolving turmeric in oil may increase its bioavailabity, as may adding in black pepper, however studies have focuses on rats and result may not be the same for dogs and cats.

Turmeric should be used with caution in pets who are receiving medications. Turmeric can inhibit an enzyme pathway which is important in breaking down some commonly used drugs including digoxin, anticoagulants, cyclosporin, and some anti-inflammatories. This could lead to toxicity over time. Turmeric has also been shown to reduce the absorption of iron from the diet.

In some animals turmeric is associated  with irritation of the gut. If this cause vomiting or diarrhoea be aware that turmeric really stains! It should also not be used in animals with gallstones, or those with a tendency to produce oxalate crystals or stones.

Turmeric powder sold for cooking can have variable amounts of active compounds, and the volatile oils will be lost during drying and processing. Fresh roots contain more oils, but the growing conditions can still affect the levels of active compounds. Over the counter supplements don’t always contain sufficient quantity or quality of active compounds.


We like turmeric, and recommend it to many of our clients. But it won’t be suitable for all pets. We strongly recommend contacting a vet trained in herbal medicine to suggest if turmeric will be useful and safe.








This week six batches of St John’s Wort products have been recalled because they have been found to contain  high levels of a toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloid (PA). As PAs are not found in St John’s Wort it is thought that the products have been contaminated with weeds collected during harvest. Certain PAs can lead to liver damage if taken over a period of time and anyone using the affected products should stop using them for themselves or their pets straight away.

Whilst it is good news that these products have been tested, and a problem detected, it is concerning that the manufacturers do not appear to be taking the quality of their raw ingredients seriously enough. We have previously discussed herbal remedies which don’t contain any of the active chemicals, but accidental contamination and deliberate substitution of herbs are also risks.

The herbs that we supply come from companies which only supply trained herbal practitioners. They produce herbs to the same standard as pharmaceutical drugs, and check the chemical profiles of their products to ensure quality and safety.

For safe, effective herbal medicines for your pet always consult a trained Veterinary Herbalist!

For information on the recalled products:


To find a Veterinary herbalist near you:





It’s frustrating, as a vet who has undertaken extensive training in physiology, conventional pharmacology, and then studied herbal pharmacology on top, to read the advice of all the ‘experts’ on the internet. Today, a post popped up on my Facebook feed all about the benefits of turmeric which included this gem, “I take it three times a day. It’s natural, what harm can it do?”

The answer is that if there are chemicals present in a herb that can do good, there is also the potential for harm.

Obviously, some herbs are well known for their toxicity. Although foxgloves and lily of the valley contain chemicals that can be used to treat heart disease, we don’t use them because the risk of poisoning and death is too high. But there are many herbs that we do use that can be therapeutic at one dose, but poisonous at a higher dose. A good example would be garlic; small doses can be very useful, but even moderate doses over the long term can cause blood disorders in some animals, especially cats. Some herbs can irritate the nose, mouth, or gut if given in large quantities, or if not mixed well into food.

Whilst we’re on cats, they are very tricky creatures! There are differences in how cats metabolise drugs…and herbs…which make them far more toxic than they are to humans or dogs. Worryingly several herbal preparations are sold over the counter for arthritis in dogs and cats which contain willow bark. Willow bark contains compounds similar to aspirin which can be toxic to cats if given in even moderate doses over a period of time. And although nobody is suggesting lilies as a botanical medicine, these pretty plants can prove fatal to cats if they ingest even a small amount of pollen.

Next comes the problem of giving herbal medicines without your vet’s knowledge when your pet is on medication. Almost everything taken into the body, drug, food, or herb, will be metabolised. Much of this metabolism happens in the liver, where a limited number of enzymes get to work on a huge variety of natural and artificial compounds. Some compounds compete for the same enzyme which slows down their metabolism. Other compounds may slow down or speed up the activity of an enzyme which metabolises another drug. Turmeric has many of its anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects through inhibiting enzyme reactions…but this also means it could slow down the metabolism of other drugs. This may be a benefit, leading to a greater effect, but could also lead to toxicity. St John’s Wort is well known for increasing the activity of certain enzymes, meaning other drugs are cleared more quickly from the body. In humans progesterone in contraceptive pills is a concern, but in animals clearing antibiotics too quickly would be a concern. St John’s Wort also works to reduce the reuptake of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, hence its usefulness for depression in humans. But if given with other medications (especially antidepressants) which also block neurotransmitter reuptake there is a high risk of side effects, including the sometimes fatal serotonin syndrome. And it’s not just herbal medicines; broccoli and sprouts can increase specific enzyme activity, and grapefruit can inhibit enzymes.

Finally, I am always concerned about the quality and safety of herbal medicines. Even where a particular herb is safe, and should be effective, buying the right tablet or tincture is essential. Very few companies make herbal medicines with the attention to detail that they should and this can lead to ineffective, or unsafe products. Research done by the BBC last year found that most over the counter herbal products contained little active ingredient. Some contained no active ingredients, and some…unknown compounds. Herbs may be incorrectly identified before processing, poorly stored, or have grown in poor conditions meaning they contain less active compounds. With dried ground herbs, such as turmeric, the method of drying and grinding can significantly affect quality, and where a herb contains essential oils, drying can remove many of these.

At Four Seasons Holistic Veterinary Care we love herbal medicines. But we strongly believe they should only be used after consultation with a vet who is trained in their use. In addition we only use herbs from companies which perform sufficient quality control.