• Nayana Morag

What is Zoopharmacognosy?

“Zoopharmacognosy refers to the behaviour in which non-human animals apparently self-medicate by selecting and ingesting or topically applying, plants, soils, insects and psychoactive drugs to treat and prevent disease”.


Excerpt from the online self paced course - "Introduction to Essential Oils for Animals" by Nayana Morag.

Animals are considered to be self-medicating when they eat plants not normally included in their diet. Often these are plants considered to be poisonous, but many substances that contain toxins are also antibacterial, anti-tumour, anti-inflammatory or otherwise medicinal. For example, senecio plants (like ragwort) can cause liver damage, but eaten in small amounts, over a short time senecio reduces cancerous tumours.

The hedonic response

Animals have an innate ability to self-medicate. In a natural environment, they pick and choose the herbs they need to maintain health, balancing their diet to provide the nutrients they need. In an experiment, rats presented with food ‘buffet style’ selected a nutritionally balanced diet.

This ability to pick out what is needed is an instinct rather than acquired knowledge and is believed to be based on the ‘hedonic’ response. This means animals seek out that which makes them feel good, or brings them pleasure and will take measures to remove feelings of discomfort. Hedonic feedback assumes that the animal perceives food as tasty (good) according to bodily requirements, so they seek out those plants. Your dog’s desire to eat grass (or sheep poo) depends on this same mechanism.

You can find out more about Zoopharmacognosy by clicking here.

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