By: Petra Lovere
Many animal species, from birds, bees and lizards to elephants and chimpanzees, have turned to nature as their own personal kind of pharmacy. They self-medicate using the environment’s own ingredients to prevent disease, kill parasites, bacteria and viruses, or to simply aid in digestion.
For instance, seeing a dog munch on grass is nothing you haven’t seen before, and an owner’s first instinct may be to snatch away these greens to prevent their dog from getting sick. But according to Shurkin, that’s exactly the point. Supposedly domestic dogs, and even cats, seek out the plant in order to relieve a stomach ache and expel whatever it is that’s bothering them.
“Dogs do not have the means to digest grass, as they lack the enzymes needed to break down the fibers,” Vancouver-based vet Dr. Michael Goldberg explained in the magazine Modern Dog. “Thus, there is little nutritional value in it for them. One reason for eating grass may be due to a feeling of nausea.”
Elsewhere, chimpanzees have been observed swallowing leaves whole, using their rough sandpaper-like texture to remove parasites. More than 200 species of birds have also been seen rubbing themselves with ants to kill feather lice, a behavior known as anting. Ants that spray formic acid can kill off feather lice and protect the birds from infection.
Animals Turn to Nature for Self-Medication
It’s not uncommon for humans who just visited the doctor to want to seek out a second opinion, some of them turning to self-medication for the answer. But now new research shows that this may apply to animals like dogs, elephants and chimps as well, who seek out drugs on their own to relieve certain ailments.