Echinacea for Animals

Echinacea is a common nutraceutical used to enhance immune function.  Also known as the purple coneflower, this plant is native to eastern North America.  E. purpurea is the most widely cultivated of the nine different species of echinacea.  Even though the plant contains three types of photochemicals, it is the alkamides that are thought to enhance the patient’s immune system by increasing phagocytosis. 

In veterinary medicine, Echinacea is given prior to stressful situations such as agility trials, flyball competitions or dog shows.  Another use is prior to situations where the patient is exposed to infections such as boarding to prevent infectious tracheobronchitis a.k.a. kennel cough.  It is important to remember that echinacea is not a substitute for antibiotics.  Antibiotics have a direct effect on the bacteria while echinacea works to enhance the patient’s immune system. 

Be very careful with Echinacea in animals that are prone to allergies.  I have seen several dogs react to echinacea.  Most had generalized inflammation of the skin but one developed full blown anaphylaxis.  Because of this risk, I rarely recommend this relative of the daisy for animals.

-Orosz, S. ‘Common Herbs and Their Use in Avian Practice’ A.A.V. 2006.
-Warren, E. ‘Nutraceuticals’ The VSPN notebook, 4/4/2007.


Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.