Herbs for Respiratory Problems

Learn how you can treat your pet's breathing problems.

| September/October 2002


Far too often we limit our approach to disease and health to strictly Western medical ways of thinking. In Western medical terms, lung diseases are evident when the patient has difficulty with breathing (asthma, for example) or when he coughs, wheezes, and hacks.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), using a more holistic approach, believes there is a connection between the lungs and the skin. In addition, according to TCM, the lungs are the “officials” in charge of controlling the vital energy of the whole body, extracting qi from the air during respiration and transferring it into the blood. Lungs are also the “upper lid” of the body, opening to the outside, and they are therefore our gateway to outside “pernicious” factors that contribute to disease.

When viewed this way, any disease of the lungs will thus affect the entire body and its energetics. Furthermore, any time the lungs are affected, the skin is also susceptible; and conversely, when skin diseases occur, consideration should be given to correcting any problem that might exist in the lungs. Finally, a holistic approach to health will include ways to help maintain healthy lungs, so that all those pernicious buggers out there have a more difficult time invading our pets’ bodies.

The holistic approach

From a practical standpoint then, the truly holistic herbalist first selects herbs that will alleviate the ongoing symptoms, but she also looks beyond those to herbs that will support qi and help cure possible underlying causes. I’ve found herbal medicines are often more helpful for specific lung diseases than Western drugs. For one thing, many of the infectious lung diseases in animals are caused by viruses. Whereas many herbs are active against viruses, no antibiotics are. In addition, there are several herbs that enhance qi as well as having broad-spectrum antibiotic activity. Finally, there are a few herbs that are effective for skin problems as well as lung conditions.

A cautionary note: What appears to be a chronic respiratory problem in pets may not be; it may be a heart condition instead, or something else entirely. Congestive heart problems and severe heartworm infestations often cause pets to cough, and without a good physical exam, neither you nor I can tell the difference. There are also some metabolic problems that may lead to respiratory congestion, and these need to be ruled out before treatment begins.

The best respiratory herbs

Whenever I am presented with a true case of respiratory disease, the first herbs I recommend are mullein and licorice root.

elderberry, echinacea, bee hive


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