Holistic medicine

The medicine of animals: How animals can heal themselves

The medicine of animals: How animals can heal themselves

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Animals, and not just people, heal themselves: they prevent infections, care for their sick, put potentially sick people in "quarantine" and use medication. They eat healing plants, wallowing in the mud to shake off ticks; the Sumatran rhinoceros eats bark that contains tannins and fights parasites; Dogs and cats swallow grass to vomit.

Pig shells and cat viagra - the medicine of animals

Bears, wapiti deer, coyotes, foxes and pumas eat plants that have healing properties. Starlings tinker plants in their nests that contain active substances against bacteria, insects and mites. In this way they strengthen the nestlings, which later have a higher body weight and live longer than those of their kind who suffered from the pests as young animals; Females prefer males who use such plants. Some monkeys eat leaves that fight harmful microbes - and they eat these plants when they're sick. Turtles eat minerals that contain calcium and strengthen their shell.

Hoofed animals bring their young into contact with other herd members early on. The children learn social behavior, but at the same time immunize themselves against germs. Big cats probably also grind their prey through the dirt before the cubs eat them to immunize their offspring.

Human healing teacher

Animals are the oldest human health teachers. Grizzlys, for example, chew the leaves of the liguster, spread the porridge on their paws and rub the fur with it. This is how they fight mites and ticks. The Navajo in the southwestern United States also use this plant against parasites and infections. In their tradition they learned the healing power of the Liguster from the bears. In many American Native cultures, bear is a mythical father of medicine.

The indigenous people of Peru recognized that pumas chewed on the bark of a certain tree whenever they were sick. We now know the extract of this bark as quinine - the remedy for malaria and fever from the Chinese bark tree.

Dirty pigs?

Pigs wallow in the mud. That is also why we call an unclean person a "dirty pig". However, wallowing is used for hygiene: First, the animals have sensitive skin and suffer from sunburn, and African cultures also rub themselves with clay or ashes to protect themselves from the sun. Second, the mud cools; Pigs cannot sweat through the skin, but pant like dogs. Thirdly, they get rid of pests: they bathe in the mud, later scrub it off on trees and with it the mosquitoes, snakes, ticks, lice, fleas and mites.

Valerian - Viagra for cats

Cats are crazy about valerian. Valerian is a genus of plants with more than 150 species. All contain essential oils and alkaloids, including the sesquiterpenes. They have a calming effect on us humans. That is why we use extracts of the real valerian (Valeriana officinalis) against stress.

Valerian looks completely different on cats. The alkaloids excite cats and hangovers like sex attractants. While pharmacies sell valerian for relaxed sleep and inner peace, the pet store offers toys filled with valerian for cats. However, this should be the exception, because like the intoxication in humans, permanent excitation means stress for the cats.

Cats purr healthy: they purr when they enjoy - that is well known. However, researchers in North Carolina found that cats purr when they're sick. Because, according to the astonishing result: injuries heal faster with noises at a frequency of 22 to 30 Hertz, than line volume.

It even helps people: for sick people, cats are not only partners to dispel the affliction, but their purring lowers their blood pressure and the brain releases serotonin. The patient feels better and can sleep better.

The saliva of the wolves

Wolves and dogs lick their wounds (humans do this in extreme situations too). They are used to treat injuries and infections. Saliva fights common bacteria like steptococci.

They encounter intestinal parasites with grass. For the meat eaters, they eat indigestible greens that stimulate the intestinal tract and excrete them again. Wolves deliberately drag prey through the dirt so that the puppies absorb the earth and thus become immunized.

Detoxification in macaws

Macaws, the largest of all parrots, can crack any nut with their beak - and they eat kernels. However, not all of these cores get them. In the Manu National Park in Peru detoxify with clay. They absorb clay from limestone rocks, which binds the toxins in the stomach and ensures that the birds excrete them without harming their bodies.

Many other animal species also eat earth to prevent diseases: colobus monkeys as well as gorillas and chimpanzees, tapirs and forest elephants. Clay absorbs bacteria and their toxins

Chimpanzee birth control

Our closest relatives practice medicine that can no longer be explained by instinct; it is a (pre-) cultural tradition that the knowledges pass on to the next generation.

Chimpanzees treat diarrhea, infections and parasites with medicinal plants that they systematically search for - it is a matter of planned behavior. They don't chew healing leaves like fodder plants, but roll them back and forth in the mouth like drops that we suck so that the oral mucosa absorbs the active ingredients.

Children watched their sick mothers and tried “medicine” themselves. The healing leaves taste bitter, and chimpanzees otherwise avoid foods with bitter substances.

Chimpanzees eat daisy, verbena and hibiscus against worms, they swallow the leaves without chewing them and excrete them intact. The plants do not kill the worms, but act as a laxative. They stimulate the intestine and thus promote digestion.

Scientists in Kyoto, Japan, studied how chimpanzees learn to use such herbs. They gave chimpanzees the scratchy herbs in captivity. Some ate them like "normal" plants; others refused. However, few swallowed the herbs whole and other monkeys copied this technique.

The chimpanzees in Bulindi in Uganda particularly often swallow the laxative herbs. In other conspecifics, "medicine" is found in about one in a hundred droppings; Bulindi chimpanzees ten times as often.

The monkeys in Bulindi live in small forests in the middle of human settlements. They often come into contact with people and their farm animals. That is why they also catch their parasites. This is probably why they have to go to nature's pharmacy.

Chimpanzees obviously even prevent them: They eat plants that the local people also consume to prevent unwanted children. When they have babies, chimpanzees eat beans that contain estrogens and are therefore preventive. If the boys get bigger, let them go.

Insect protection for capuchin monkeys

On the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, white-faced capuchin monkeys break open certain citrus fruits and rub the juice into their fur. They also use leaves and stems from Clematis dioica, Piper marginatum and Slonanea terniflorastems. They mix these plants with their saliva and also rub themselves in with this porridge. Local people use these plants to keep insects away and treat rashes.

Nursing the animals

Animals take care of sick members of the group. Wolves bring fleshy members of the pack meat, and mongoose in Africa also feed injured people. Elephants stay with weak fellows instead of moving on and do not leave even the dead for days. For example, a blind eagle owl lived in the wildlife care and species protection station in Sachsenhagen near Hanover. His healthy companion fed him mice and chicks.

Heal with ants

More than 200 species of songbirds clean themselves up with ants. They take ants in their beaks and let them run along the feathers. Or they roll in anthills so that the ants crawl through their feathers. The ant venom fights feather lice.

Cats, squirrels and monkeys also curl up in anthills - for the same reason. Owl monkeys rub highly toxic millipedes on their bodies during the rainy season when the monkeys suffer from mosquito bites. The millipede secretions contain effective insect repellants - benzoquinones.

Coil herbs against snake bites

Tejus in Brazil (tppinambis spp.) Eat a special root if they are bitten by a venomous snake and then continue to fight with the snake. It is Jatropha elliptica, which the locals use to heal snake bites and burns.


Animals of different species enter into symbioses, from which both benefit. Nile crocodiles, which eat adult Cape buffalo, have crocodile keepers, small waders, pecking for parasites in their mouths, cleaner fish are looking for food in their mouths and gills of large groupers.

Care instinct

In mammals, care instinct not only overcomes the species boundary, but also the boundary between hunter and prey. Dogs suckled tiger babies, cats looked after chicks and licked mice like their own cubs.

Hygiene and quarantine

Songbirds peck each other's lice and mites off their skin. Cows, sheep and horses do not eat grass near their excretions. This is how they prevent the spread of intestinal parasites.

Predators, such as cats and dogs, eat sick newborns. This indicates quarantine, because it removes potential pathogens from the group of sensitive babies.

Many species of monkeys push alien monkeys to the edge and drive them away. In addition to social factors, this also points to quarantine: the monkeys avoid physical contact and thus prevent infections by the new ones.

Animal and human

In summary, animals practice all the basic patterns of human medicine - they prevent, they treat wounds and infections with medication, they care for their sick, and they isolate potential epidemics. Animals also combine sensible methods to heal themselves with well-being: dogs shake with delight, scratch themselves behind the ears and protect themselves against fleas, lice and bugs. The cat enjoys rolling on the carpet in the mornings and letting its human scratch its fur; these are also techniques to get rid of skin parasites. Yoga exercises are rightly called animal behavior. When you position the cat, you stretch and train your muscles; similarly, the tired cat gets going. Medicine is, in the literal sense, natural. Humans developed these strategies into differentiated systems.

People developed the language. In this way, they were able to convey healing practices far more widely than animals. They also processed medication to an extent and made medical devices, which is impossible for animals: animals cannot make teas, put on a hat when the sun is burning, or light smoking fires to keep out insects. But monkeys also make ointments from chewed plants and their saliva, and orangutans use large leaves as an umbrella.

What has long been considered “superstition of savages” in western medicine, namely the healing of indigenous peoples, means above all learning from the healing powers of nature. American natives quite rightly assigned their medicine to certain animal species: bears, wolves, rattlesnakes or bison. Knowing how animals heal was vital.

Copying everything from animals would, however, be fatal: the stomach of the wolves (and dogs), for example, tolerates the germs in decayed flesh far better than the human; Berries that many birds love are poisonous to humans.

But even with us, innate are interwoven with learned skills, and many of our behaviors unconsciously serve to ward off diseases. "What the farmer does not know, he does not eat," says a German saying. Although this shows the conservative mentality of the rural population, it makes an evolutionary sense: Unknown food always carries the risk of being difficult to digest or even poisonous. For example, refugees from Syria poisoned themselves by eating tuberous mushrooms, and the first European researchers in the Amazon stood like oxen in front of the mountain in the face of an abundance of plants without knowing whether they were poisonous, inedible or edible.

Our evolutionary intuition can also be deceptive: We subconsciously reject bitter substances, presumably because many poisonous plants taste bitter, but people in the West consume sugar in excess: in nature it is as necessary as it is rare, and we associate honey and fruit with sweetness, so vitamin-rich food.

In an emergency, however, even modern humans can tell their body what is good for them, be it a craving for a roll mops or orange juice after a long night out to get the necessary vitamins and minerals, or that we scratch ourselves when it does itches - it could be a louse or a tick; be it that we blow on a wound (to cool it) or we can't stop licking an injury (to disinfect it). At this level there is hardly any difference to beef looking for a salt lick and to a dog licking our faces.

Why do animals treat themselves with medication at all instead of developing the body's own antibodies? For example, why does the pig not release mosquito repellent? Producing such substances costs the organism far more energy than “outsourcing”. This is no more true for mammals than for humans: our naked ancestors with the large brains were more helpless to nature than most animal species.

Using tools and learning for life went at the expense of physical adaptation to a specific habitat: Just as our ancestors made clothes instead of naturally having thick fur, they also needed their culture in medicine to survive. However, this culture was not outside of biology, but belongs to it, and forgetting the natural basis of our medicine makes us sick.

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


  • Manuela Lenzen: Die Tier-Ärzte, (accessed October 14, 2019), Wissenschaft.de
  • Federal Environment Agency: Eat or die - how sick animals heal themselves, Green Radio Interview with Barbara Fruth, (accessed October 14, 2019), Umweltbundesamt.de

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