Consider her ways

Self-medication in wild and domestic animals

source: Cindy Engel
New Scientist February 23 2002
starts p42, 4 pages long

Zoopharmacognosy is the scence of animal self-medication, that has developed since 1944, when scientists interesting in this area began to co-operate. Rats may eat clay to rid themselves of toxins, and observers may not be able to ascertain whether a rat is seeking to cure, or to prevent illness. Self-medication may be unconscious in humans and other animals. Colobus monkeys may learn to eat charcoal to neutralise plant toxins, with their mothers as teachers. Apes, bears and geese use rough-leaved plants to scour themselves of parasites. Domestic animals may self-medicate, for example, cattle may ingest clay, which helps them to combat diarrhhoea.

Non-nutrients may be important for human health. Some herbs can act as anti-oxidants. There are lessons that pharmaceutical companies could learn, though many animal remedies are mechanical, and cannot easily be patented.

There is work being carried out in a number of fields on how animals can self-medicate. Some studies focus on domestic animals and their ability to self-medicate for pain, while other work focuses on cultural and evolutionary aspects of self-medication in primates. It is worth drawing together the research in this area.

A surprising finding is that sheep have been observed to eat meat, on the Isle of Foula, Shetlands, where the chicks of Arctic terns are targeted. This supplies sheep with minerals that they cannot otherwise obtain.