Herbs or Drugs?

If the health problem has a rapid onset or the bird is displaying obvious symptoms, then you will need antibiotics and antifungals from the vet.

I agree with this statement about antibiotics but wonder….. living now with a highly suspected PDD bird, antibiotics are no longer an option for him. I’ve been using garlic, echinacea and such with my birds for a few years now with good results when needed.

My question is do we know for sure that synthetic antibiotics really work faster or that much faster for the most part than the natural ones, providing correct dosages are given? My limited experience has shown that a lot may have to do with the dosage. For one example…my U2 when he had aspergillosis, I insisted on giving him echinachea (also gave garlic). At that time his vet and myself were new at this, so his vet hesitantly looked up a recommended dosage in her medical text which I gave to him, but I later found out after consulting with Dr. McWatters how conservative that dose was. I never saw any change in my U2’s attitude/energy level with the vets recommended dosage. Alicia McWatters increased the echinacea dosage and he perked up, the next day….like a new bird, just like a bird who’s been given antibiotics. I now find this, every time I feel I need to give garlic, or echinacea etc. to my birds, that if I give them my standard dose, they perk right up, just as quickly as they might if given the correct synthetic antibiotics. And with herbs, if poops have been off, they look improved the next day, wonderful by the second or third day….as a general rule…..similar to antibiotic treatment.

Have there been any studies comparing natural to synthetic antibiotics, as far as response times in patients or the swiftness of killing bacteria?  Shauna

Hi Shauna, I agree with you that in most cases garlic and echinacea work…if the correct dose is used. I’ve found that people who are afraid of herbs use inadequate dosage and then say that the herbs don’t work. Of course, a dose that is too high is also a problem.

In an emergency situation, I don’t want people to risk their bird’s lives if they are hesitant. It’s best if they see a vet and use the antibiotics in such cases. Not everyone is able to make decisions based on observed changes in their bird. Some people don’t even notice.

When you get into the higher dosages, you must be competent at observation. You must know when to increase dosage, decrease dosage, switch to an alternate formula, or stop altogether.

Dosage with herbs is estimated. To my knowledge, there are no formal studies establishing strict dosage rates. If herbs aren’t standardized, there can’t be. Dosage from one lot to another can vary because the herbs are harvested from different areas, which has an effect on their potency. Therefore, usage is somewhat dependent on the ability to ‘see’ and understand what you are seeing.

We are limited in how we can help using email because we must rely on the understanding of those asking for help. People interpret things differently. If someone writes to the list and says ‘my bird is panting, what should I give him?’ There are bound to be many different answers based on what people guess is going on. Maybe the bird is hot, or frightened, or its lungs are filled with fluid, or it’s something altogether different from any of these. The person asking for help ‘sees’ panting but doesn’t understand why and then expects us to come up with an answer.

We can’t do it. We are just wasting the bird’s life-time, so then I say take it to the vet. On the other hand, if the person says ‘my cat almost got my bird and now it is sitting there panting, I think it is stressed…what can I give it?’ Now the owner is doing some observation and analysis. Now we might be able to help.

I wouldn’t risk suggesting higher dosages to anyone that wasn’t able to use some good judgement. My impression of their good judgement is based on the quality of information they give us. gloria

Drug / Herb Interactions

That’s a very good question. Yes they can….depending. You need to consider what you are doing when you are taking herbs. In Chinese medicine, for example, some illnesses are considered to result of: excess or lack of heat; excess or lack of moisture, excess or lack of cold, etc. A body is considered out of balance if there is excess of different elements.

A slow digestive tract might be from a cold dampness. In that case, you would give a warming herb. Many diseases are from a condition of hot liver. Then a cooling and dampening herb would be given.

So, if the condition requires a warming herb, you would not want to give a warming herb at one part of the day and then a cooling herb later in the day unless it was specifically indicated by the condition of the body.

You would, however, give herbs apart if they interfered with each other in other ways, and that is the same if you were treating with drugs. One instance I can think of is not to give probiotics at the same time as an antibiotic herb or drug. Give it earlier or later. Other herbs that I would give separately are the mucopolysaccharide herbs like aloe, slippery elm, mullein, marshmallow, etc. They might inhibit the absorption of some chemicals beause they coat the digestive tract.

This is very simplistic, but if you are interested, I could recommend some books for further reading and studying. There are also a couple of on-line herb courses that you might be interested in. gloria

After Antibiotics – therapy

My personal preference for liver protection and also a therapeutic for damage is Lactulose. I also like to add acidopolis (sprinkle) to the food the last few days of antibiotic treatment, and a few days after treatment. I also like to give a B complex shot after treatment.  Susanne

Don’t forget Milk thistle which is proven and safe to aid and heal the liver. Another herb that is supposed to be superior to milk thistle is andrographis. You can read a bit about this herb on the Ayurvedic herbs page under Holistic Modalities.

It is very important to help the digestive tract recover its normal floral balance after antibiotics are used. To help the digestive tract and the liver both, I would combine garlic, milk thistle, digestive enzymes, and a good probiotic containg lactobacillus and bifidophilus. There are a number of probiotics on the market. My personal preference is to use one from the refrigerated section of the heath food store even though it isn’t specific for birds. gloria

Calculating herb dosages for birds

I think there is a need to be very cautious administering herbs and other therapeutic substances to birds. When treating animals I work on a weight basis. First I assume the “average” adult human will weigh 60 kg, then give a proportion of the MINIMUM THERAPEUTIC adult human dose according to the weight of the animal. This works very well with dogs and cats, but determining the amount to give my canary for example is very difficult.

At one stage I wanted to give a HIGH DOSE of Vitamin E to a 397 g hawk I had in care – the dose worked out to be 2 i.u./day (based on 500 i.u. for an adult human). It was virtually impossible to give 1/250 th of a capsule, and the powder wasn’t much better to work with. In the end (because it is a fat soluble vitamin that is stored in the body AND I felt it was really important that the bird had the Vitamin E) I opted for a weekly dose of 10 i.u. on his food.

Giving herbs can be just as difficult. I prefer to use the tinctures and again give a proportion of the adult human dose according to weight. With the tinctures work on 1 mL = 20 drops. So if the adult human dose is 3 ml/day (60 drops), it would require 1 drop for a 1 kg bird. For a smaller bird (say 100 g) you would need 1/10 drop. This could be given by adding 1 drop of tincture to 9 drops of water and giving 1 drop of this solution so that the bird received 1/10 drop of the original tincture.

This is one reason why homeopathics are an excellent choice for birds. Homeopathics are energy medicines and theoretically an elephant and a mouse get the same dose (usually 5 – 10 drops of liquid) but a smaller dose will still contain the energy of the substance, so that even if the bird is given only 1 drop the remedy will still be effective (assuming it is the correct remedy of course). The trick with homeopathics is carefully matching the animal’s “symptom picture” to that of the remedy.

Of course some herbs (such as dandelion) are very safe and can be fed fresh without having to worry too much about quantities, but others are potentially toxic in overdose (remember they are medicines) and need to be used with caution.

I’m not trying to turn anyone off giving herbs to their birds – just be aware of doses and safety margins.

I would think that the other issue is… is the human dose, no matter how downscaled, still correct for all species?

This is a valid point, Pat. This is why I use the MINIMUM THERAPEUTIC DOSE (which is usually half the maximum therapeutic dose – sometimes 1/3 or 1/4). This gives me a 100% margin for error. Below the minimum therapeutic dose, the remedy may be ineffective; above the maximum therapeutic dose it could well be toxic. I have used this method for calculating dosages for dogs, cats, horses, birds, etc. for years without any problems.

Hope this helps.

Carole Bryant (Naturopath)

Administering Herbs

You can’t accurately dose a bird with medicine or anything else by putting it in the water. The reason is because you don’t know exactly how much the bird drinks. It could drink a lot and get a large dose or drink a little and get a small dose. The large dose might be too much. The small dose might not be enough to be effective.

Another reason that putting vitamins or medication in water is a bad idea is that the taste might prevent the bird from drinking as much as it should or altogether. The third reason why you shouldn’t medicate or give vitamins in water is that some components begin to degrade and lose their effectiveness once they are moistened. The water soluable vitamins, for example begin to dissipate and lose potency within 15 minutes after they have been placed in water and are exposed to light.

The best way to dose meds or herbs is directly by mouth. (beak) First establish a correct dose. Then administer by eye dropper for an adult or in the formula for a baby. Some things like vitamins or herbs, if the dosage isn’t critical, can be sprinkled on food that the bird is sure to eat entirely.

When I had wild-caught macaws with a yeast infection, I had to give them a vet prescribed drug twice a day. Aside from the fact that it drug was supposed to be dissolved in vinegar and then administered orally, they were too big and dangerous for me to handle alone. What I did with them was cut grapes in half and press the sliced side into the drug, which I had ground to a powder with my mortar and pestle. It took about three grapes (6 halves) per bird to get all of the powder pressed into the halves. Then I offered them to the birds one half at a time and watched to make sure each bird ate its half before giving them the next. It was easier both on me and on the birds. The only grapes they got were the medicated grapes. If they hadn’t liked grapes, I would have used another food that they loved.

I’ve never used Caprylic acid on my birds. What I use for yeast is garlic. The dosage that I use is one capsule per 50cc of handfeeding formula. If the bird is large enough to take all 50cc then it gets a capsule worth. If it takes 25 cc then it gets half a capsule worth. etc. This works well for babies. From that example I would estimate that a 400 gram bird would get dosed with a capsule of garlic twice a day.

Glycerine and Alcohol based extracts

I’m just curious. I’m not even sure what I am asking. But why would GSE or any other herb, etc. be in a base at all? Is it a vehicle to help absorption? Or a bacteria deterrent/preservative?

The alcohol or glycerin is used as a solvent in the manufacturing process (to extract the active ingredients from the herb). So grapefruit seed extract is grapefruit seed (probably crushed) that has been soaked in a specific strength of alcohol (this varies from about 20 – 65%) for a specific length of time to extract the maximum amount of medicinally active substance from the seed. Glycerin is used in a similar way. Most commonly glycerin extracts are used by those people who cannot or should not have alcohol (children, alcoholics, someone who is allergic to alcohol, etc.). However, glycerin is not generally as effective at extracting the active substances from most herbs so isn’t as readily available as alcohol based extracts/tinctures. The alcohol/glycerin also acts as a preservative for the medicinally active substances that have been extracted.

Carole Bryant (Naturopath)