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What is Zoopharmacognosy?

Despite its lengthy name, zoopharmacognosy is simply the process whereby animals self-medicate. In other words, some animals instinctually know what plants and substances can help them with certain health problems. This zoological phenomenon is not only fascinating, but it could be quite advantageous to human beings as well.

This area of science at least begs a few questions. Could we self-medicate using the same herbs and remedies that the animals do? Can we use this zoological "sixth sense" to guide us in our own pharmaceutical practices? Yes, potentially.

Some, such as researchers at the Ingraham Academy of Zoopharmacognosy, have already used this instinctual behavior to improve veterinary practices. Domestic animals know what helps; we just have to provide it for them.

In general, scientific research in this field of zoology has only recently begun to mature, and zoopharmacognosy could prove to be very beneficial to both animals and humans in the future.

Case Examples


According to Miami University, several of the African great apes (including chimpanzees, lowland gorillas, and bonobos) self-medicate by chewing the bitter pith of plants and swallowing leaves. These practices may help with fending off parasites and relieving gastrointestinal problems.

Fur Rubbing

Some species of mammals directly apply certain types of leaves to their fur. They will either use the raw leaf (or other organic matter) or chew up the leave(s) to mix it with saliva and then rub it vigorously in their fur. This instinctive habit is said to have anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and insecticidal benefits among others.

What's more, in the case of bears in North America, chewing helps release the plant's medicinal compounds. As Miami University put it, "Chewing of the root presumably releases its active compounds and mixes them with saliva for easy application into the fur or skin below." These animals obviously know what they are doing, so to speak.

One of the same plants used by the bears in North America, Osha root, was also used by the Navaho Indians, whose legends claim that the bear taught them the use of the plant. That may very well be true.

Species that practice fur rubbing include the wild Kodiak bear, the brown bear, Capuchin monkey, and spider monkey. (Source: Miami University)

Dogs / Cats Eating Grass

Have you ever soon your dog or cat chewing on some grass? Why do they do this?

No, they don't think they have become cows. It turns out that eating grass can induce vomiting or diarrhea, which naturally expels worms from the body. In other words, this just might be our pets taking the initiative and de-worming themselves! (Source: Colorado State University)

Looking Forward

There is plenty left to be explored in the field of zoopharmacognosy. If chimps and dogs have learned to treat their illnesses (whether consciously or not), surely other animals have this characteristic as well. Furthermore, human beings could have a thing or two to learn from these animals' habits.

Scott Buchanan at Colorado State University states, "The study of animal self-medication and ethno-medicinal practices may provide important leads to future sources of medicine."

Helpful Links

Smithsonian Zoogoer - "Really Wild Remedies-Medicinal Plant Use By Animals"

Ingraham Academy of Zoopharmacognosy (applied zoopharmacognosy)



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