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Animal Self Selection

The Framework to Applied Zoopharmacognosy “one of the most natural ways to help heal your animals”

Ref 1** Self Selection for Animals. Co. Uk (2021) Applied Zoopharmacognosy – Self Selection for Animals (2021)
Applied Zoopharmacognosy ( (Web Link) Cited 23/9/21

I have included some more information below on the basis of applied zoopharmacognosy – animal self selection. If you would like to learn the principles behind the method – or would like to book a one to one self selection consultation for your dog or horse. Please visit our sister site

Book a Consultation for your horse or dog within 30 miles of the TW15 area. Or discover more about the method, medicinal herbs, workshops and training.

The Origins of Zoopharmacognosy

“Created in the nineties, the term zoopharmacognosy takes its genesis in the Greek words zoo (animal), pharma (medicine) and gnosis (knowledge). The discipline is based on the natural process by which animals heal themselves using plants, soil or even insects to treat or prevent their diseases. In 1978, the American Daniel Janzen – professor of biology – was the first to discuss the ability of animals to relieve themselves of certain ailments through the ingestion of plants biologically active compounds.” Ref2**


What is Zoopharmacognosy?

“Zoopharmacognosy is the study of wild animals self-medicating, using plants and natural compounds as a preventative or direct medicinal cure to regain health in their natural habitat (Lozano, G.A. 1998) . This natural ability, which is innately engrained in the animal. Enables them to communicate and relate to plants within their environment, therefore allowing them to distinguish between a poison and a medicine. The Greek origin of the word zoopharmacognosy translates to animal, drug, knowing (Rodriguez, E. and Wrangham, R. 1993). “ Ref3.**  

This theory could be described as being the framework behind animal self-medication.  Allowing animals, the structure to work through multiple pathways, in order to potentially gain wellbeing or therapeutic effect. 

How does it work?

In a nutshell, the system is based on the evolutionary relationship between animals & medicinal plants.  It uses a type of reciprocal duality, which involves the evolution of the plant.  Together with the learnt evolutionary behaviour, in which animals have found to use the plant, as a resource in order to help bring about a general level of homeostasis, on a variety of levels.   

In her “Animals Self Medication – how animals heal themselves using essential oils, herbs and minerals” book, Caroline Ingraham, talks in detail about these mechanisms, which she says have the ability to help maintain health, & speed up healing in the body.   

In general, when the body feels an imbalance in the body, it will send out a signal, (in the form of smelling or tasting good), so that the animal is able to choose, (or self – select) the plants. This symbiosis, can make the plant particularly appealing. Which in turn will provide the necessary constituents, to ensure that the body is able to reach a level of equilibrium.

There are many plants that work on different areas, however some plants are able to help with more than one issue.  “Examples of self-medicative behaviour in domesticated animals like the dog and cat can be seen by the observation of ingesting grass. The ingested of grass can be used to induce vomiting for the removal of toxins, bacteria and parasites and also selected for nutritional reasons.” Ref4.**  

Food – Medicinal – Nutritional Differences

With this structure in mind, it might be useful to look at various plant categories. Which will hopefully allow us to shed some more light on the subject, especially in terms of what could be thought of as food, as opposed to medicinal or nutritional support. 

Primary Metabolites

Food (including carbohydrates and proteins), are the mainstay needed by the body to provide energy.  Made up, by primary metabolites “food” is able to that can aid growth & reproduction. In terms of taste, generally “food” will tend to taste good (rather than being classed as “bitter”).  The energy gained from food, can be used straight away or can also be stored by the body as fat. If it is not immediately required.    

Medicinal plants have the ability to therapeutically benefit the body.  They are made up of secondary metabolites, which will often feel as if they are bitter to the taste.  These types of plants, do not provide a metabolic benefit and they cannot be stored as fat.  Once the animals stops needing their compounds, the taste and smell of the plant, will change.

Nutritional plants are more likely to support bodily functions, which are destined to encourage the body to self-heal. These types of plants, are technically, neither a food or medicine. Generally they will only be selected until their taste or smell changes. Nutritional plants have the ability to break down some of the compounds found in secondary metabolites (see below).

Nutritional powders (such as barley grass & spirulina) often have a high amount of medicinal and nutritional compounds. However they would not normally be selected as a type of food. Nutritional powders, could be thought of as being high in vitamins & minerals. 

If we are to understand more about the basic structure of zoopharmacognosy, it would be prudent to look at the compounds found in the medicinal & nutritional plants. In particular the secondary metabolites, which are a really important aspect to consider, as explained below in more detail:

Secondary Metabolites

The compounds found in secondary metabolites, are created from the extracts of nutritional or medicinal plants (rather than primary metabolites AKA food).  They are able to influence cellular communication, between neurons, hormones, and nerve pathways, as well as influencing bacterial cell death. The compounds are important for the health and survival of many animals.  Although, due to domestication, these are unfortunately often found missing, from within the lives of many farmed / captive / domesticated animals.

The following article, explains these in more detail.  “Secondary metabolites are substances manufactured by plants that make them competitive in their own environment. These small molecules exert a wide range of effects on the plant itself and on other living organisms. They induce flowering, fruit set and abscission, maintain perennial growth or signal deciduous behaviour. They act as antimicrobials and perform the role of attractants or, conversely, as repellents. Over 50,000 secondary metabolites have been discovered in the plant kingdom. Medicinal herbs and many modern medicines rely on secondary plant metabolites for their actions.” Ref5**

There are various secondary metabolite groups which can be used to define their compounds:

Terpenes – are also known as isoprene’s.  They “represent the most diverse group of secondary metabolites in the plant kingdom, with over 30 thousand known compounds”. Ref6**

Caroline Inagraham, explains this further within her book, in which she describes essential oils, as being mostly composed of terpenes. Which in turn, contain specific amounts of carbons.  She explains that “Carbon is the basic building block required to form proteins, carbohydrates and fats.. which plays a crucial role in regulating the physiology of the body.”Ref7**  

Alkaloids – could be described as forming part of the second largest group of secondary metabolites.  They are often used by the plant to deter them being used as a food source. There has been over twelve thousand identified alkaloid compounds, which make up 20% of the worlds plant species.

Phenypropanoids – these are the third largest group of secondary metabolites.  Similar to terpenes, they are largely found within the many essential oils.  Although terpenes contain a higher amount of carbons, phenylpropanoids, could be thought of as being the major class of compounds, to produce aromatic constituents, in the natural world.

 “Mother earths medicine chest is full of healing herbs of incomparable worth”

Robin Rose Bennet

Main Routes for Self – Administration

When looking at zoopharmacognosy, or animal self selection, with so much information relating to the process in one way or another, it can be easy to get bogged down with the details.

It is worth considering therefore, the ultimate goal behind the process. Which is to target the areas needed, in order to provide the highest benefit, in terms of therapeutic effect.  This can be done using various routes into the body, by different means of self-administration.  Which are shown within the four main routes below:

  • 1. Ingestion – which can also be referred to as swallowing internally.
  • 2. Sublingual – taken in, via membranes in the mouth.
  • 3. Olfaction –which is normally referred to within the means of inhalation.
  • 4. Topical – which is often presented in the form of an external application.

1. Ingestion – this route is commonly used by wild animals and could be thought as being the defining principle behind selective foraging.  Although widely used, there are various obstacles within this route, that could hinder the process.  For example, in order to deliver the active pharmacological compounds to the correct area, the plant extracts will need to journey through the gastro area of the body, before the compounds can reach the relevant parts of the system.

There is a certain risk in taking into the body, different types of compounds, it will work out. If the body does not recognise the constituents as “food” (AKA primary compounds) it will instinctively try to dispel the compounds as they will be seen as being “foreign” to the body. Which means that any ingested secondary metabolites will run the risk of being automatically dispelled by means of detoxification /excretion. 

In general, the process of ingestion can often take on an arduous route, in terms of the journey for these secondary metabolites. If there are any hopes for them to therapeutically aid the body, they will often need to pass through various obstacles. For example, once ingested, the compounds will be taken to the gut. From which the hydrochloric acid found within this area, will have the capacity to destroy some of the plants constituents.  Those that survive, can only hope to be absorbed into the lining of cells, or taken within the bloodstream, in order to be of a beneficial effect.

Although ingesting the plant can create a positive effect within the body, this will often happen at a much slower rate than other methods (such as inhalation). It might also be worth noting, that once the compounds have entered into the blood stream, they will be taken through the (one way) circulatory system.  Which means that they will then need to pass through the liver & the lining of the intestine. 

The liver itself contains drug metabolizing enzymes (AKA first pass metabolism).  Which has been especially designed as a means to stop constituents, not deemed as being primary metabolites, into the bloodstream.  Which could then mean, that if the compounds are able to get to this point, rather than reaching their destination, they could then be re-directed to other areas.

Although the method of ingestion, may seem to be very hit and miss, the body has evolved to produce another system, to help process therapeutic compounds.  Once again, in Caroline’s amazing book, she refers to this effect as the CYP450 enzyme. Which can trigger a chemical to enable the constituents to achieve the bring about a desired effect.  Although the enzyme, has been found to vary between species, it can allow specific constituents (rather than all of the compounds) to metabolize, the “foreign molecules”.  Which in turn can allow the body to bypass the road blocks, shown above. So that the body is able to ingest the secondary metabolites, to help the imbalance, to create a beneficial effect.

2. Sublingual – this can be generally thought of as licking or chewing.  The main benefit of this route, is that it can allow the  plant compounds to directly enter into the bloodstream (without needing to enter the gastro intestinal tract – which can therefore avoid the first pass metabolism). 

This system of self administration, draws upon the rich vascular networks, found within the mouth. That can enable the animal to bring the constituents directly into the body. The process is mainly used, in terms of the animal licking. From either the top or the bottom of the tongue (or could even be processed as being alternated between the two) to control the speed, in which the compounds are able to enter into the blood stream. 

3.Olfactory system – we should not forget, that for many animals this is of course, their primary sense. Used to guide them to food as well as many other important aspects. Such as finding their young. Locating potential threats or enemies. as well as enabling them to locate products, to help them on a medicinal basis. 

The olfactory system is vital to their survival, and could be deemed as being the most powerful route, in terms of zoopharmacognosy.  For once an animal is able to take on board, the compounds via the method of inhalation, the chances of the constituents reaching the right place, can be dramatically heightened.

Rather than just being directed into the nose, once inhaled, the compounds are able to be taken in, via the respiratory system into the lungs. As well as via taken on board, via smell, to the olfactory or vomeronasal organ. 

If the constituents are drawn directly into the lungs, they have the ability to be quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. Before being transported into the heart and pumped around the body.  In doing so, this route avoids the need for ingestion and therefore provides a much quicker method of interaction within the body. 

Inhalation can also be thought of in terms of smell. In the case of “sniffing” (which is often noted when the animals nostrils flare) the compounds are able to enter be taken into the bloodstream, into the nervous system and brain. which can directly affect the limbic system. (Which is connected to the central nervous system as well as controlling the areas that deal with the emotional part of the brain.

For many animals, the basic ability to smell, does not work independently, but rather happens at the same time as they are inhaling oxygen.  In doing so, the act itself, allows the aromatic molecules to enter into the olfactory system. From which trace amounts of the compounds will find themselves entering into the blood stream.

Upon entering into the body, once the compounds have been “smelt”, the molecules will be directed into the cavities, in order to bind to receptors within the olfactory epithelium.  Once they have found the receptors, the inhaled “smells” will form a different type of nerve impulse, directed at the olfactory bulb.  Which in turn, will be changed into messages, that are then sent to various parts of the brain.

Each species has a different number of coding genes which relate directly to the aromatic “smells” that can be detected.  The genes relate to the olfactory receptors, which are used to detect the different smells. The more olfactory receptors, the more sensitive the animal will be to the amount of odours detected. 

As part of the process, the constituents are also able to move directly into the olfactory epithelium.  Which as a result, can directly influence the limbic system. Which in turn can trigger responses within the parasympathetic / sympathetic nervous systems.

In doing so, the inhaled compounds have the capacity to directly influence psychological / hormonal and behavioural changes. Which can have even been known to affect past and present behaviours. Which happens, as a consequence of the way that the brain stores information. Such as the emotions and memories found within our subconscious programming.  In being able to take the constituents on board in this way, the compounds are able to help “clear” negative memories, as well as replacing these with positive associations instead.  Time and time again, the effects of zoopharmacognosy (animal self selection), have been shown to facilitate the changes, to a dramatic effect.

To understand this a little bit more, it might be worth taking into account the way that the nerve signal communicates. When the body is able to send information, in this way, the speed in which this is done, happens much quicker than elsewhere, as it is done via electrical nerve impulses that travel throughout the body (rather than by the slower passage used within blood flow.)

Once the vomeronasal organ receptors are triggered, it is able to send out electrical signals from the olfactory bulb, straight into the limbic system.  In doing so, the V.O. provides a shortcut to the hypothalamus (which can promptly activate the parasympathetic nervous system).  Which will instantly calm the physical body, and make changes within a psychological capacity.

Whilst this in itself is nothing short of extraordinary, the speed in which these changes are able to happen can only be described as phenomenal.  If we bear in mind, that it can take barely a second for the olfactory tract to take in the constituents via the inhalation route.  Inhalation is often a really powerful method of self administration.

Which Caroline notes, within the same book, as are often thought to take more than a minute. In which the volatiles (found within essential oils) are able to move through the circulatory system and travel around the body.

The methods of inhalation, in terms of self administration is obviously a compelling force. However it does not stop there. The body has an alternative smelling system in place, which is otherwise known as the vomeronasal organ, or Jacobson’s organ.  It can be found within most mammals, & is generally used to detect large molecules such as pheromones.  (Whereas the olfactory epithelium is more likely to detect small volatiles).

4. Topical Application  – this route can be used to help underlying issues such as muscles / joint pain as well as infections or skin conditions. If an animal selects this route, they could be doing so, with the hope of addressing either issue.  It is also a good way to gain entry, using a system of acupressure points, as well as being able to enter the blood via the femoral artery. Which can help to boost a rich blood supply, that can also allow for a rapid means of absorption, via the skin.

Animal Self Selection – Zoopharmacognosy

Session Information

The following quote, will hopefully help to sum up the sessions themselves:

“During consultations, the quantity and the product that the animal needs varies from one subject to another … for the same ailment, two animals can choose remedies different. According to specialists in zoopharmacognosy, a treatment session will produce more or less results fast depending on the individual. For some, the gains will be immediate while others will require several consultations. The effects depend on the sensitivity of the animal… to the treatment… and characteristics of the disorder to be resolved… whether it is recent, old, mild or chronic. Zoopharmacognosy does not provide veterinary care, warn experts of this therapy gentle, it complements them.” Ref 8**   Taking this into account, I hope that you agree that this wonderful innate ability, is something that should generally be taken into account. For when we are able to work holistically, taking into account not just our own evolution, but that of the planet (and the natural environment around us), we might be able to realise how abundant our natural resources are. For when we are able to work in congruence, with that which has gone before us, I hope you are able to join me in seeing this wonderful modality as as nothing short of miraculous, in its very essence!!

I hope you have enjoyed this article. I put this together as part of my level 4 diploma, based on one particular client that had lots of questions .. (a bit like me lol)… I am pleased to say that I am now able to offer one to one sessions, as well as group workshops that will enable owners to learn the benefits of Zoopharmacognosy, AKA Animal Self Selection for themselves.

Please do contact me for more information, to book a session. Please contact or call 07925 609717 for more details.


Ref 1** Self Selection for Animals. Co. Uk (2021) Applied Zoopharmacognosy – Self Selection for Animals (2021)

Applied Zoopharmacognosy ( (Web Link) Cited 23/9/21

Ref 2** Zoopharmacognosy in dogs: Explanations- Newslax (2020)

Zoopharmacognosy in dogs: explanations – World News, Business, Lifestyle, Entertainment Site ( Cited 23/9/21

Ref 3**. Beth Chamberlin – (2021) – What is Zoopharmacognosy. 

(PDF) What is Zoopharmacognosy | Beth Chamberlin – (Web Link) Cited 23/9/21

Ref 4** Ref 3**. Beth Chamberlin – (2021) – What is Zoopharmacognosy. 

(PDF) What is Zoopharmacognosy | Beth Chamberlin – (Web Link) Cited 23/9/21

Ref 5** Article PMC7123774 (2021) Secondary Metabolites of Plants – NCBI

Ref 5** Secondary Metabolites of Plants ( (Web Link) Cited 23/9/21

Ref 6** Caroline Ingraham (2018) Animals Self Medication – “How animals heal themselves using essential oils, herbs and minerals” – P61

Ref 7** Healthy Living AZ Central. Com (2021) – What Does Carbon Do For Human Bodies? – Healthy Living

What Does Carbon Do for Human Bodies? ( (Web Link) Cited 23/9/21

Ref 8** – Zoopharmacognosy in Dogs: Explanations – Newslax

Zoopharmacognosy in dogs: explanations – World News, Business, Lifestyle, Entertainment Site ( Cited 23/9/21