Trying to enhance pet reproduction, especially for dogs and cats, may be a bit of overkill. In the first place, animals seem to be able to reproduce and tend to their offspring quite naturally — perhaps too well and too naturally. But more importantly, our country is already overpopulated with far too many dogs and cats.
The Humane Society of the United States estimates that the 4,000 to 6,000 U.S. shelters euthanize 3 to 4 million unwanted dogs and cats every year. Note that these figures do not include the perhaps several million animals that are, for a variety of reasons, euthanized each year in veterinary hospitals. (See “Should I Let My Pet Have Puppies or Kittens?” on Page 15.)
Despite these morbid statistics, there may be some valid reasons for trying to help certain animals have more of their kind, and a number of herbs have long been used in both animals and man for all types of conditions involving reproduction.
But before we begin, a few words about the general concepts of herbal care for the reproductive system. First and most importantly: Reproductive health and capability are not limited to the gonads (testes and ovaries) or the hormones they produce; reproduction is a whole-body experience. Robust health of all body systems is necessary before the reproductive system can perform its magic. A malnourished animal might not have enough energy left over for the production of sperm in a male or for the ability to sustain a pregnancy in a female. Common conditions that can adversely affect reproduction include being overweight; diabetes; and conditions of the heart, liver and urinary systems. It is always a good idea to have a thorough vet check for any animal you plan to breed.
The Hormone Connection
All of the hormonal systems, including re- production-related hormones, are linked. For example, an animal’s adrenal glands are actively involved in reproduction — in either a positive or negative manner.
Excess production of glucocorticoids (steroids) from the adrenals — seen during prolonged stress — can shut down sex hormone production or cause abortion in pregnant females. On the other hand, the adrenals actively produce some of the precursors of sex hormones, and a healthily balanced adrenal function will enhance reproductive performance.
In addition, hormones are intercon-nected with the brain and nervous system, and oftentimes the nervous system needs to be balanced in order to create an atmosphere conducive to reproduction. Nervines and/or relaxing herbs, such as wild oats (Avena sativa) or skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) can be just the ticket for relieving anxiety and restlessness at breeding time and during the birthing process. (Be sure to check with a qualified practitioner before you administer any medication, including herbs, during pregnancy.)
Reproduction is truly a matter of balance, and proper balancing for maximal effect may be extremely complex. Male and female animals will, as we would expect, be responsive to different herbs; many herbs have multiple actions, making it difficult to predict how they will react in any patient;, and individuals may respond to specific herbs in entirely different ways.
Finally, as a rule, there is not much sci- entific information on how herbs interact with animals’ reproductive systems. In many cases, we’re extrapolating much of the information on herbs that enhance reproduction from scientific data gleaned from the human species. While we need to be somewhat careful in making these crossover assumptions, it should not surprise us too much (nor in my mind, cause us too much concern) that we do use information from other species. Remember that we also use scientific data gleaned from rats and guinea pigs to provide the information we use to dose and treat humans.
Following are some specific herbs that might be considered to help enhance the process of reproduction.
General Stimulant Herbs
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba). Because ginkgo’s primary activities are centered on the nervous system and the cardiovascular system, it is an herb that might be indicated for the animal that doesn’t seem to have the energy to reproduce normally.
Ginger (Zingiber officinalis) is another herb that enhances circulation and thus may be helpful for the animal that appears too lethargic for reproduction. Ginger has been used for some (human) female conditions related to the reproductive system. Caution should be used during pregnancy.
Cayenne (Capsicum annuum) is yet another circulatory stimulant, used as a spice, sprinkled over the pet’s food. Cayenne has the added benefit that it seems to help transport necessary biochemicals from one part of the body to another. Surprisingly, many animals seem to enjoy its taste.
While herbs designated for the reproductive tract traditionally are used for one gender or the other, many have crossover value for both males and females, and most reproductive herbs have additional activity to benefit other organ systems. Following are some examples.
Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) and blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) are both excellent herbs for the female reproductive tract. Black cohosh’s primary use is as a normalizer and relaxant for the female reproductive tract. Blue cohosh is an excellent uterine tonic that may be used in any situation where there is weakness or loss of tone, making it a good herb to use to help prevent abortion. These two herbs work well in combination with each other and with other herbs, such as dong quai (Angelica sinensis) or motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca).
Damiana (Turnera diffusa), an herb found in Mexico and Central America, has a long history of use throughout the world as an aphrodisiac, antidepressant and tonic. Although scientific studies on damiana are sparse, it supposedly acts as both a male and female sexual stimulant.
Dong quai, often referred to as “female ginseng,” is a Chinese herb that traditionally has been used as a general toning herb, with specific activity for the female reproductive tract. It also is reported to improve fertility in females.
Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a Peruvian plant with a traditional use in treating cancer and for enhancing sexual performance. It has been shown to induce heat in female dogs that were previously infertile.
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca). Motherwort has two primary uses: as a cardiac tonic and to support the female reproductive system as a uterine stimulant. In humans, motherwort is used during the first stages of pregnancy to prepare the uterus for childbirth, and it is used again in the later stages of pregnancy to ease childbirth and promote contractions.
Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) may be the most controversial of the reproductive herbs. Wild yam contains phytoestrogens — substances that, at least in theory, act as precursors to produce estrogen compounds. Whether or not there are enough of the biochemical precursors to adequately affect hormonal production as yet remains to be answered, but there are many practitioners who feel they see beneficial results in their female patients who use it.
Randy Kidd holds doctorates in veterinary med- icine and veterinary and clinical pathology. After practicing traditional veterinary medicine for 10 years, he opened Honoring the Animals, a holistic practice in Kansas City, Missouri. Visit our website, www.HerbsForHealth.com, to order Dr. Kidd’s pet-care books.
Information provided in “Pet Corner” is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified veterinarian.