Animals Turn to Nature for Self-Medication

Scientists still aren’t sure if this theory, known as zoopharmacognosy, is correct, but believers in the practice are convinced that humans can learn a thing or two from these animals – specifically, in terms of finding new medications.

“Much of folk medicine, particularly in the undeveloped world, likely came from medicine men watching animals self-medicate,” lead author Joel Shurkin wrote in the journal PNAS.

Mother Nature’s Pharmacy

Many animal species, from birds, bees and lizards to elephants and chimpanzees, have turned to nature as their own personal kind of pharmacy. They self-medicate using the environment’s own ingredients to prevent disease, kill parasites, bacteria and viruses, or to simply aid in digestion.

For instance, seeing a dog munch on grass is nothing you haven’t seen before, and an owner’s first instinct may be to snatch away these greens to prevent their dog from getting sick. But according to Shurkin, that’s exactly the point. Supposedly domestic dogs, and even cats, seek out the plant in order to relieve a stomach ache and expel whatever it is that’s bothering them.

“Dogs do not have the means to digest grass, as they lack the enzymes needed to break down the fibers,” Vancouver-based vet Dr. Michael Goldberg explained in the magazine Modern Dog. “Thus, there is little nutritional value in it for them. One reason for eating grass may be due to a feeling of nausea.”

Elsewhere, chimpanzees have been observed swallowing leaves whole, using their rough sandpaper-like texture to remove parasites. More than 200 species of birds have also been seen rubbing themselves with ants to kill feather lice, a behavior known as anting. Ants that spray formic acid can kill off feather lice and protect the birds from infection.

Animals Turn to Nature for Self-Medication

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By Jenna Iacurci Dec 11, 2014 02:48 PM EST dog It seems that animals, such as dogs, elephants and chimps, are turning to Mother Nature for means of self-medication by seeking out drugs to treat their own ailments, new research suggests. (Photo : Flickr: smerikal)

It’s not uncommon for humans who just visited the doctor to want to seek out a second opinion, some of them turning to self-medication for the answer. But now new research shows that this may apply to animals like dogs, elephants and chimps as well, who seek out drugs on their own to relieve certain ailments.

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Scientists still aren’t sure if this theory, known as zoopharmacognosy, is correct, but believers in the practice are convinced that humans can learn a thing or two from these animals – specifically, in terms of finding new medications.

“Much of folk medicine, particularly in the undeveloped world, likely came from medicine men watching animals self-medicate,” lead author Joel Shurkin wrote in the journal PNAS.