Ayurveda has a multitude of therapeutic strategies for animals and they are employed by many animal owners to this day. There are specific branches of this medical system that pays attention to plants (Vriksha Ayurveda), cattle (Pasu Ayurveda), horses (Ashva Ayurveda), elephants (Gaja Ayurveda), and more. Unlike other medical texts, Ayurvedic texts mention veterinary medicine with a focus on animal welfare, therapeutic strategies, surgical methods, and prophylaxis.
The Ramayana, Mahabharata, treatises from the Atharvaveda, Puranas and many other religious scriptures give an account of the use of Ayurveda for animal care. Atharvaveda is said to have recorded observations of the behaviour of sick animals. For instance, Shalihotra was the foremost veterinarian and has written a detailed account of therapeutic properties of substances in a book called Mriga-Ayurveda.
Shalihotra also wrote Asvayurveda Siddhanta (Ayurvedic system for horses). Apart from this, Nakula, a Pandava brother, wrote Asvachikitsa (therapeutics of horses). Jayadutta, as mentioned above was a Vedic scholar who wrote Asvavaidyaka (medicine of horses).
Apart from Shalihotra, other veterinary scholars of that age include Pandava twins Nakula, Sahadeva, and Palakapya. Vedic scholars such as Vyasa, Narada, Garga, Shukra, Vikrasena, Jayadatta, and King Bhoja have also contributed to veterinary science. King Bhoja, in his book Rajamarthanda, provided recipes for herbal concoctions for the control of many diseases. These include gastrointestinal disorders, leprosy, asthma, diarrhoea, diabetes, kidney stones, gynaecological issues and many more. He has also provided treatment strategies for veterinary disorders in a chapter called Pashurogadhikara.
Kautilya’s Arthashastra, an ancient text on economy, speaks about the administrative machinery for the protection of cattle. Cattle rearing was the secondary sector of the kingdom’s economy. It was the responsibility of veterinarians to care for young, old, and diseased cattle that an act of carelessness from veterinary doctors during that period meant a heavy fine. It was also essential for doctors to accompany armies to wars to treat animals that were affected during the war, travel, work, or due to old age. King Ashoka set up many well-equipped veterinary hospitals that staffed highly trained doctors.
Ayurvedic veterinarians had an extensive and precise knowledge of animal anatomy that a mere touch of the diseased area would tell them of the ailment. Interestingly, marma points in the body were also made known to veterinarians. Marma points are those areas in the body that coincide with vascular regions, joints, and nerves. If any of these points were afflicted with an injury, it could lead to severe bleeding, loss of movement, and paralysis.
The doshas (body type) that are determined to treat human ailments are also determined for animal therapeutics.
Vata-dominant animals are characterised by slender bodies, with cold skin and feet, brittle nails, and scanty urine. They experience high energy in short bursts following which they tire easily. They are full of joy, and quick to learn new things.
Pitta-dominant animals have a delicate body frame. They have very prominent veins and tendons, with soft and warm fur. They have a strong digestive system and a good appetite. Pitta animals are confident, aggressive, and are good pack leaders.
Kapha-dominant animals have a strong and heavy build. They have the most energy, yet they are not explosive. They possess good memories and are very affectionate, loving and compassionate.
An imbalance in their doshas leads to disease. Many herbal concoctions are mentioned in various texts that can establish equilibrium in the doshas. Ashwagandha (Indian ginseng) which literally means “to impart the strength of a horse” has key elements such as withanaloids that promote physical and mental health. It is a potent immune-modulator, enhancing the activity of white blood cells. Other herbs include turmeric, shallaki, neem, and triphala.
In the case of indigestion in cattle due to excess intake of fodder, buttermilk with a paste of salt, mustard powder and garlic is administered for a period of fifteen days. Calves are treated with a paste of Cannabis to cure indigestion. Once a month, cattle are fed a mixture of dry ginger and jaggery to enhance their appetite and digestion, while also making sure their gut microbiome is clean. In summer, a mixture containing aloe vera is fed to cattle to beat the heat.
King Bhoja in Pashurogadhikara cites many concoctions to cure diseases in horses and cattle. Collyrium made from Gunja seed is used in the case of eye diseases in horses. Sesame oil to the oral cavity of the cow can mitigate diseases. Lakshmana root paste is applied to the uterine region of the cow to reverse infertility. In cases of fracture, the affected area is bandaged with a paste of black gram, butter, milk and the leaves of Surasa for a period of 7 weeks along with restricted movement. This not only treats the fracture but also improves the gait. Severe itching due to skin diseases causes animals to become restless. A paste of a variety of flowers and their seeds helps control the itch.
Many Ayurvedic pharma companies focus on manufacturing veterinary medicines that target various ailments. They are either in the powder or gel form. Mr B S Dileep, partner at Respel Pharma, Bangalore, spoke about the many formulations manufactured in the company. These include medicated topical gels for foot rot (as medicine cannot be pushed into the wound), an antiviral balm to counteract mastitis and many more. Mr Dileep has worked in this field for over forty years. He mentions how awareness of veterinary science in many small villages is next to nil. He cites many cattle owners refusing to let their cattle walk and the serious implications of keeping their cattle tied up. During his many visits to farmers and other farm-animal owners, he propagates the use of Ayurveda for better animal care.
In addition to therapies, prophylaxis (prevention of disease) also holds an important role in Ayurveda. Maintenance of general hygiene in the stalls, quality of feed, variety of food according to the season (Ritucharya) are some of the rules that have to be maintained to ensure the animal’s well-being. Administering rasayanas (tonics) on a regular basis would impart strength and immunity to the animal. Concepts of veterinary medicine in Ayurveda have been mentioned in detail, but somehow along the way, it has been neglected, due to the influence of Allopathic medicine . Extensive research over the past few decades have provided these concepts with a strong scientific backing. Certain diseases in animals are not easily treatable by western medicine and in those cases, Ayurveda can definitely help. Adding Ayurveda pharmacology in the curriculum of veterinary medicine studies will be of great advantage. Traditional knowledge may be ancient but its many benefits make it relevant in the present age.
About the Author
Ms Varsha Venkataraman
Varsha Venkataraman is a graduate in Applied Microbiology and Cancer Studies. Currently she is the Senior Researcher for the Centre for Soft Power with an avid interest in Ayurveda and wishes to focus on the integrative approach of Ayurveda and modern medicine in the treatment of cancer.