Ayurveda has a variety of therapy strategies for animals and is still used by many pet owners to this day. There are special branches of this medical system that pay attention to plants (Vriksha Ayurveda), cattle (Pasu Ayurveda), horses (Ashva Ayurveda), elephants (Gaja Ayurveda) and more. In contrast to other medical texts, Ayurvedic texts mention veterinary medicine with a focus on animal welfare, therapeutic strategies, surgical methods and prophylaxis.
The Ramayana, Mahabharata, treatises from the Atharvaveda, Puranas and many other religious scriptures give an account of the use of Ayurveda for the care of animals. Atharvaveda is said to have recorded observations on the behavior of sick animals. Shalihotra, for example, was the leading veterinarian and wrote a detailed account of the therapeutic properties of substances in a book called Mriga-Ayurveda.
Shalihotra also wrote Asvayurveda Siddhanta (Ayurvedic system for horses). In addition, Nakula, a Pandava brother, wrote Asvachikitsa (horse therapy). Jayadutta, as mentioned above, was a Vedic scholar who wrote Asvavaidyaka (medicine of horses).
Other veterinarians of this age aside from Shalihotra include the Pandava twins Nakula, Sahadeva, and Palakapya. Vedic scholars such as Vyasa, Narada, Garga, Shukra, Vikrasena, Jayadatta, and King Bhoja have also contributed to veterinary science. In his book Rajamarthanda, King Bhoja provided recipes for herbal mixtures to combat many diseases. These include gastrointestinal diseases, leprosy, asthma, diarrhea, diabetes, kidney stones, gynecological problems and many more. He has also provided treatment strategies for veterinary diseases in a chapter called Pashurogadhikara.
Kautilyas Arthashastra, an old economic text, talks about the administrative machinery to protect cattle. Livestock was the kingdom’s secondary industry. It was the vets’ responsibility to look after young, old and sick cattle, that carelessness on the part of vets during this time meant a heavy fine. It was also essential for doctors to accompany armies in wars in order to treat animals that were affected during the war, while traveling, at work or in old age. King Ashoka established many well-equipped veterinary clinics that employed highly qualified doctors.
Ayurvedic veterinarians had a comprehensive and accurate knowledge of the anatomy of the animals, so a mere touch of the diseased area would tell them about the disease. Interestingly, the vets also became aware of Marma points in the body. Marma points are those areas in the body that coincide with vascular regions, joints and nerves. If any of these points are affected by an injury, it can lead to profuse bleeding, loss of movement, and paralysis.
The doshas (body type) intended to treat human ailments are also intended for animal therapeutics.
Vata-dominant animals are characterized by slender bodies with cold skin and feet, brittle nails, and scanty urine. They experience high energy in short bursts, after which they tire easily. They are full of joy and learn new things quickly.
Pitta-dominant animals have delicate physiques. They have very pronounced veins and tendons with soft and warm fur. You have a strong digestive system and a good appetite. Pitta animals are confident, aggressive, and good pack leaders.
Kapha dominant animals have strong and heavy physiques. They have the most energy but are not explosive. They have good memories and are very affectionate, loving, and compassionate.
An imbalance in your doshas leads to illness. In various texts, many herbal mixtures are mentioned that can create a balance in the doshas. Ashwagandha (Indian ginseng), which literally means “imparting the strength of a horse”, contains key elements such as withanaloids that promote physical and mental health. It is a powerful immune modulator that increases the activity of white blood cells. Other herbs are turmeric, shalaki, neem, and triphala.
For indigestion in cattle due to excessive feed intake, buttermilk with a paste of salt, mustard powder and garlic is administered over a period of 15 days. Calves are treated with a cannabis paste to treat indigestion. Once a month, the cattle are fed a mixture of dried ginger and jaggery to increase their appetite and digestion while ensuring that their gut microbiome is clean. In the summer, the cattle are fed an aloe vera mixture to combat the heat.
King Bhoja in Pashurogadhikara cites many brews to cure diseases in horses and cattle. Collyrium from Gunja seeds is used for eye diseases in horses. Sesame oil in the cow’s oral cavity can relieve disease. Lakshmana root paste is applied to the cow’s uterine region to reverse infertility. In the case of a fracture, the affected area is bandaged with a paste of black gram, butter, milk and the leaves of the Surasa for 7 weeks with restricted mobility. This not only treats the fracture, but also improves the gait pattern. Severe itching due to skin diseases causes animals to become restless. A paste made from a variety of flowers and their seeds will help control the itching.
Many Ayurvedic pharmaceutical companies focus on making veterinary medicines that target various diseases. They come in either powder or gel form. Mr BS Dileep, Partner at Respel Pharma, Bangalore, spoke about the many formulations made by the company. These include medicated topical gels for foot rot (since drugs cannot be pushed into the wound), an antiviral balm for mastitis, and much more. Mr. Dileep has been in this field for over forty years. He mentions that veterinary science awareness is zero in many small villages. He quotes many cattle owners who refuse to let their cattle walk and the grave consequences of keeping their cattle tied up. During his many visits to farmers and other livestock owners, he propagates the use of Ayurveda for better animal care.
In addition to therapies, prophylaxis (prevention of diseases) also plays an important role in Ayurveda. Maintaining general hygiene in the stalls, quality of the feed, seasonal feed variety (Ritucharya) are some of the rules that must be followed to ensure the well-being of the animal. Regular administration of rasayanas (tonics) would give the animal strength and immunity. Concepts of veterinary medicine in Ayurveda have been mentioned extensively, but somehow they have been neglected due to the influence of allopathic medicine. Extensive research over the past few decades has given these concepts strong scientific backing. Certain animal diseases are not easily treated by Western medicine and in these cases Ayurveda can definitely help. The inclusion of Ayurvedic pharmacology in the curriculum of the veterinary medicine degree will be of great benefit. Traditional knowledge may be ancient, but its many advantages make it relevant in this day and age.
About the author
Mrs. Varsha Venkataraman
Varsha Venkataraman is a graduate of Applied Microbiology and Cancer Research. She is currently Senior Researcher at the Center for Soft Power with a strong interest in Ayurveda and wants to focus on the integrative approach of Ayurveda and modern medicine to the treatment of cancer.