cows in field

Difficult respiratory cases in the bovine and their treatment with western herbal medicines

Herbal medicines provide such a multi-pronged approach to disease that in difficult to treat diseases, such as Bovine Respiratory diseases, herbal medicine shines as a therapeutic modality.

Bovine Respiratory disease initially presents as an acute viral invasion. Energetically, this can present as an invading ‘Cold’ pathogen that creates severe stagnation. If the animal has an underlying immune deficiency, a stressed animal from shipping, or a calf with minimal colostrum, this can rapidly develop into significant phlegm and more stagnation with then secondary heat (translated as an initial viral infection, leading to a bacterial infection). The lung tissue can develop areas of abscessed tissue, which have a very poor response to conventional drug therapy. If this heat is too severe, it can congeal the tissue, creating a syndrome classified as “Hepatization of the Lung”, where the lung tissue becomes solid. Conventionally, this is recognized as a Mycoplasma infection and carries a very grave prognosis.

A case about the use and specific indications of these herbs is that of Spirit, a three month old Holstein calf. Spirit had a history of 1½ months of antibiotic treatment, including Penicillin, Naxel, Baytril, and Darxin. On February 6, 2014, Spirit was in severe respiratory distress; she held her neck stretched, with a very rapid respiratory rate. No air flow was auscultable in Spirit’s lungs. There was no compressibility in her chest. Her temperature was sub-normal at 97 degrees F. Her tongue was purple; pulse was fast and very thin but deep.

Her Western diagnosis was Hepatization of Lung tissue due to a presumed Mycoplasma infection concurrent with viral/bacterial pneumonia. She was in need of bronchodilation with blood moving herbs that could break down the stagnation in her lungs with an antiseptic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory effect. With her subnormal temperature, she was in need of internal warming herbs.
Her Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) diagnosis was severe Cold Invasion with Blood Stagnation. She was started initially on two Chinese Formulas: Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang, a formula to move blood stagnation in the chest and Wei Ji Tang, a formula for pulmonary abscesses. She was also started on tinctures of Usnea and Thyme for added antiseptic, antimicrobial effects. The following day, she was still is distress with a rattling death sounding cough. Her formula was changed to include equal parts of Usnea, Bloodroot, and Thyme in a tincture given at the rate of 20 drops three times a day. Additionally, equal parts dried ground Eucalyptus leaves, Thyme, Mullein root, and White Horehound was given at one tablespoon three to four times a day.
On February 14, she no longer was in respiratory distress; she had good airflow in the dorsal fourth of her lung field but there was still no air flow in the ventral areas. She had a high degree of musical rales in the middle third. Schisandra was added into the formula for a perceived allergic component. By February 28, she had air flow in almost all of her lung quadrants but a significant wheeze when she was breathing, with a spastic cough. Her Chinese herbs had been stopped. In addition to her current western herbs, Andrographis and Echinacea was added for her wheeze and Khella seed and Lobelia for her cough.

By the end of March, except for a slight heaviness in the most anterior ventral aspect of her lungs, Spirit was normal. She was continued only on Echinacea and Andrographis. By the end of April, she was clinically normal and is currently a healthy replacement heifer.

One of the greatest significances of this case is that after 33 years of being a veterinarian, I have never seen a calf completely recover from such extreme lung pathology to become a normal healthy animal. Often, the only goal for the farmer is to keep them alive long enough past the antibiotic withholding times, to be shipped for veal. Spirit had made such a remarkable recovery that once we were past meat with-holding times, her owner decided to see how far she could heal. She is a remarkable heifer.

Following are some of the important Western medicinal herbs that can strongly influence cases of bovine pneumonia and that were used to achieve Spirit’s recovery.

Bloodroot (Sanguninaria canadensis) is an expectorant, antispasmodic, cardiotonic, diuretic, febrifuge, sedative, anticatarrhal, circulatory stimulant, and is a cholagogue, bitter hepatobiliary tonic. Specific indication for this herb is Hepatization of the lung. Bloodroot promotes expectoration, resolves viscous phlegm, and relieves coughing. It is indicated in subacute or chronic bronchitis with phlegmy cough, with or without mild cardiac disease, with poor peripheral circulation, and for asthma with bronchial catarrh. The use of Bloodroot in cases of severe Bovine respiratory disease with Hepatization of the lung can drastically improve these cases. The dose commonly used is only 5-6 drops of a tincture twice a day in an adult cow; 3 drops twice a day in a calf.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is an antitussive, antispasmodic, antimicrobial, expectorant herb with antiallergic, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Traditional uses include bronchitis, contagious bronchitis, upper respiratory catarrh, respiratory inflammation, lower respiratory disease, asthma, and productive cough. Thyme can stimulate the thymus gland. Traditional Ethnoveterinarian use is for the treatment of parasites. In the chest, it has a bronchodilator/antiasthmatic effect in addition to secretolytic and stimulant expectorant action. It ranks as one of the finest remedies for the lungs. Research has shown it to have activity in killing mycobacterium. In cases where the animal still has respiratory pathogenic organisms but is exhausted from the chronic course of the disease, Thyme is strongly indicated. Spirit is a good example of this type of situation. Dose for a calf: ¼-½ tsp dried leaves: twice a day; cow: ½ tsp twice a day,

Usnea (Usnea spp.) is antibacterial, antibiotic, and antiseptic. It opens the chest, transforms phlegm, removes damp heat, invigorates blood, clears heat and toxins, and is indicated for tuberculosis. It is an immunity boost for common cold, pleurisy, pneumonia, and absorbs heavy metals and pollutants. Usnea, in my experience, works synergistically with Thyme. Dose: calf 4 grams twice a day, 2 ml three times a day of a tincture; double dosage for an adult cow.

Mullein root (Verbascum thapsus)--one of its other names is cow’s lungwort. This is a relaxing expectorant and mild diuretic. It is valuable for all lung problems because it nourishes as well as strengthens. It enriches the lung’s antioxidative ability, moistens dryness, relieves coughing and benefits the throat. It promotes expectoration and resolves viscous lung phlegm. It opens the chest, relieves wheezing, and can reduce allergy. Ethnoveterinarian use is reported for cattle against the ‘cough of the lungs’. In deep respiratory cases, it helps remove the phlegm deep in the airways while reducing allergic reactions and allowing the deeper airways to open. In both COPD and pneumonia, this is a very much needed action. Dose: Calf dried root: 2 grams twice a day; cow: 4 grams twice a day.

Eucalyptus leaves (Eucalyptus globulus) is an antitussive, anticatarrhal, antimicrobial, antispasmodic and a sedative with antibacterial, bronchodilatant, expectorant, and immune stimulant effects. In Chinese terminology it 1) treats lung infections with/dryness and lung weaknesses; promotes expectoration, resolves viscous phlegm,relieves coughing, and soothes the bronchi. It disperses lung heaviness and clears retained pathogens; 2) treats heavy infections with pus, external wind heat, promotes sweating, dispels wind heat, reduces fever, promotes eruptions, opens the sinuses and relieves pain; 3) treats that achy flu feeling, stimulates immune system, clears toxins, benefits the skin, expels parasites, and repels insects; 4) acts as an adrenal tonic, supports the pancreas and lowers blood sugar; 5) can be used as a topical for tissue repair and insect repellent. The Indication for using Eucalyptus leaves are bronchitis, emphysema, pneumonia, allergic asthma, wheezing, cough, fever, skin eruptions, and as a topical for burns, injuries, ulcers, and abscesses. Calf: 1 gram dried herb twice a day; cow: 2 grams twice a day.

White Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) Its Western actions include: expectorant, diuretic, diaphoretic, antispasmodic, bitter tonic, choleretic. TCM Functions: 1) Clears lung phlegm/thick mucus and pus-expectorant and spasmolytic, 2) Relaxes the heart; 3) Promotes urination, resolves Toxicosis, 4) Tonifies and improves digestion. White Horehound helps symptom relief of the cough while strengthening digestion. Dose: calf 2 grams twice a day; cow: 4 grams twice a day.

Khella seeds (Ammi visnaga) is an ancient Egyptian medicinal plant. It is a strong antibacterial, anti-fungal, antispasmodic herb with smooth muscle relaxing action which acts as a non-stimulating bronchial dilator and vasodilator. It also relieves spasms around the heart muscles and improves circulation, Dose: Calf: tincture: 0.5-1 ml three times a day; cow: tincture: 2-3 ml three times a day.

Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis) is a hepatoprotective, adaptogenic, antitussive, nervine tonic, with antioxidant abilities. Many animals treated come with a long history of multi-drug usage; Schisandra is strongly indicated in these cases. Dose: Calf 2-8 grams per day; Cow: 15-30 grams per day

Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata) has an immunomodulating effect; both immune stimulant and immune suppressive. Its western actions include: anticancer, antimicrobial, an abortifacient/antifertility, anthelmintic, hepatoprotective/antihepatotoxin, digestive stimulant, antibacterial, antipyretic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effect. It is indicated in respiratory tract infections, liver disease, skin sores, snake bite, and Leptospirosis. The herb is traditionally given as a restorative and tonic in convalescence and used as a choleretic to stimulate bile production and flow, which improves appetite and digestion/ fertility control. It is a non-specific immune stimulant, hepatoprotectant, with bone protective effect. Dose: Calves can be given up to 20-60 grams per day; Cow: 60-120 grams per day.

Lobelia inflata, L. Indian tobacco circulates the Lung Qi, opens the chest and relieves wheezing. It is a respiratory stimulant, and depending on dose, a stimulant or sedative expectorant, emetic, diaphoretic, anti-spasmodic, counterirritant, and analgesic. It has nervine qualities (anxiolytic and antidepressant), It is a sialogogue (small amounts are stimulating while large amounts are relaxing and emetic), anti-pyretic, and expectorant. It is also a uterine tonic, resuscitrant, anticonvulsant; and laxative.

Veterinary usage: historically used to treat bronchial spasm of asthma in the dog, chronic bronchitis, and asthma, acute fever, with bronchitis, pneumonia, pleurisy, atonic bronchial function with accumulation of phlegm, abdominal pain, constipation, and delayed labor. Lobelia is very helpful in relaxing the spasms of bronchial smooth muscle in the lower airway. As a tincture, the dose is 4 ml twice a day for calves; horses and cows: 30 ml twice a day. High doses are emetic and are to be avoided.

References available from author upon request.