THE USE OF HERBS

By Dr Colin Walker  BSc, BVSc, MRCVS, MACVSc (Avian health)

The use, actions and therapeutics of regulated medications prescribed by veterinarians is beyond doubt. The same cannot be said of all products made available to the aviculturalist.

Some herbal preparations in particular make fairly amazing claims that at best could be described as doubtful. Recently, however, evidence has started appearing in the veterinary literature that supplementation with certain herbs can be of benefit to birds. For example, chlorophyll has been shown to improve crop emptying time in hand raised cockatoos, dandelion and milk thistle have been shown to decrease cholesterol levels and help prevent fatty liver (a degenerative condition associated with primary liver disease and a high fat diet) in lorikeets and Echinacea has been shown to be an immune stimulant. Much of this evidence is still anecdotal and we still have a lot to learn.

Some herbs contain high levels of important nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. These minerals are in a proteinated (or organic) form which enhances their uptake from the bowel. The vitamins are often in their precursor form. As the precursors are only converted to the active form and absorbed if the body actually needs them, there is little risk of an overdose. Dandelions are a good example here containing high levels of vitamin A precursors and calcium.

The active ingredients of these selected herbs tend to be fairly fragile. Most herb extracts are dissolved into either alcohol or vinegar (an acid) and the resulting liquid is then offered for sale. It is indeed doubtful that the ingredients would still be active after any length of time. Lactulose is a good base for herb extracts. Lactulose is a complex carbohydrate which does not react even with prolonged storage with the ingredients in the extracts. Lactulose is not absorbed from the bowel but when acted on by the body’s digestive enzymes is turned into acetic acid. This lowers the pH (i.e. increases acidity) of the bowel and stomach which is beneficial in itself. As fanciers we often deliberately give acids such as apple cidar vinegar (another form of acetic acid) for this purpose. Acidifying the bowel helps control bacterial (eg E.coli) and yeast (e.g. thrush) infection.

At the clinic we have blended some dried, concentrated herb extracts including dandelion, milk thistle, Echinacea and grapefruit seed into a lactulose base in the concentrations suggested in the veterinary literature. The resultant liquid is water soluble and readily drunk by the birds. To date the birds look extremely well and their droppings are excellent. A small volume is available, and if any fanciers would like to try some it can be obtained in a 125ml bottle by phoning The Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic on (03) 9764 9000. The blended product contains:
1. Grapefruit seed extract - 12mg/ml
2. Dandelion extract - 12mg/ml
3. Milk Thistle extract - 12mg/ml
4. Echinacea extract - 24mg/ml
in a Lactulose base.

The suggested dose rate is 2ml/L. Bottles of 125ml are available for $19.80 GST inclusive.