Zoopharmacognosy in cats: explanations!


It is well known that many animals are capable of self-medication, and the cat is one of them. This is called zoopharmacognosy. This at least astonishing provision deserves to be approached in more detail, and we will not deprive ourselves of it! Is it innate or simply the fruit of an observation of the members of a social group? The domestic cat adopts certain surprising behaviors to relieve its digestive problems. However, can we consider that an animal instinctively possesses knowledge capable of enabling it to select natural therapeutic substances? Let’s do a check in.

What is zoopharmacognosy?

Composed of three Greek words (animal, medicine and knowledge), this term designates a behavior adopted by certain animals to heal themselves without the help of a human in selecting a substance very specific in nature and by adapting the mode ofingestion as well as dosage.

In some animals, this ability to self-medicate involves:

  • A more or less radical modification of the diet,
  • The use of the essential oil of certain plants to relieve a number of ailments, to deworm or to fight a pathogen,
  • The consumption of an herb in particular for its vomiting power after the ingestion of an unsuitable food …

These are just a few examples. Self-medicating behavior in wild animals has been studied by researchers who have also observed that adults know how to self-care for their young by ingesting or using substances of plant, microbial, fungal as well as mineral origin.

This phenomenon has also made it possible, after numerous observations, to learn more about a number of medicinal plants, the benefits of which we use today for our own health. This does not date from yesterday since Aristotle had already widely discussed this subject. Zoopharmacognosy is nowadays a scientific discipline at the heart of many questions.

Zoopharmacognosy, an innate ancestral practice or not?

Take for example the surprising attitude of chimpanzees. It has inspired specialists who have attempted to verify whether it is iyear or due to an apprenticeship. Scientists (including Michael Huffmann, biologist, Sabrina Krief, primatologist) have looked into this subject. Self-medication in animals was also the thesis subject in veterinary doctorate of Gaelle Fortin (2012).

After extensive observations, it would seem that ancestral practices allowing many primates to heal themselves on their own are the result of a transmission of certain capacities by a social group, the apes in particular showing great proof of mimicry. It is even believed today that chimpanzees and others great apes as baboons, for example, learn to self-medicate on the one hand by observing their congeners, on the other hand following their own mistakes.

But when it comes to animals not concerned with social learning, and whose cognitive capacities are inferior to those of primates, we can consider that zoopharmacognosy is innate, which is for example the case with manyinsects.

Primates aren’t the only ones with this ability. Elephants, wolves, tapirs, but also horses and dogs know how to heal themselves thanks to carefully chosen natural substances. We do not forget to also mention the pregnant females at the lemurs who, to promote lactation, consume the fruit of Tamarindus indica (tamarind) or the consumption of clay by macaws in order to protect against certain toxins. Note that animals are just as capable of refuse a remedy given to them by humans or to select only part of the proposed substances.

The cat, a domestic animal capable of self-medicating

The zoopharmacognosia can also be practiced by the cat. We all have in mind this little feline that pounces on Nepeta cataria (catnip) or certain garden herbs such as Agropyron repens (quackgrass) to purge itself and meet its need for plants. By consuming this type of plant, this little carnivore is not at risk of poisoning. This is also a frequent behavior in cats who spend most of their time at home, very exposed to the risk of being poisoned by green house plants that are particularly toxic to these animals. The cat therefore does not eat just any plants!

Finally, cats do not act very differently from chimpanzees which are known to be accustomed to zoopharmacognosy, even if in small felines this phenomenon seems to be limited to the ingestion of specific herbs in order to induce vomiting. in order to expel the hairballs ingested on a daily basis.

Zoopharmacognosy, a medical potential for humans

Theultra-domestication of the cat (like the dog for that matter) has a negative impact on his instinct. We can be worried about kittens brought up with a bottle by their master and who will therefore not benefit, in the absence of their mother, from the necessary training. transmission of self-medication behaviors. Like what, the captivity is not necessarily an asset for the animal if we do not preserve its ability to adapt to an environment.

We can also understand, by looking at the phenomenon of zoopharmacognosy, how much Man owes respect his little companions and more generally all ecosystems by reviving, among other things, more reasoned agriculture, especially since the behavior of animals in the face of benefits of plants and minerals can advance the medical research… We still have a lot to learn from the cat and all other animals.