Normally, people believe that Ayurveda is only for humans. But the word Ayurveda has a broader meaning. Ayu means life and Veda refers to science. Therefore, anything that holds life is a subject to Ayurveda. It is the science of life, not only a medicinal system. Therefore, not only humans, but also plants, animals, birds, and even insects like honey bees are subject to Ayurveda.
Ayurvedic self-healing in animals
According to the Vedic belief, Ayurveda is cosmic wisdom, available to everyone with an open heart and egoless mind. The best thing about animals is that, with their limited brains and ego, they are in a direct connection with nature.
You might be surprised to know most animals like cats and dogs follow systematic fasting to get rid of any digestive disorders. That's the reason why most of the animals in the wild do not need any medical attention. They instinctively know the medicinal plants for their disorders. For example, if an elephant catches a fungal infection on his thick hide, he rubs his back to the bark of the banyan tree to relieve itching.
However, special Ayurvedic treatment was developed for animals living in unnatural conditions in the company of human beings.
Veterinary treatment in ancient India
The instances of an extensive medicine system for animals are strewn all across the surviving Vedic texts.
Shalihotra was an Ayurveda physician credited with the oldest written Ayurvedic Materia-medica in veterinary science called Mriga Ayurveda (Mriga - animal/beast).
A story in Panchatantra talks about the treatment procedure of burns in horses.
In the great Aryan epic – Mahabharata describes Nakul, and Sahadev, two of the five brothers (Pandavas) as experts in the Ayurvedic treatment of horses and cows respectively. They also prepared their special Ayurvedic treatise on the treatment of horses and cows.
People not only had detailed knowledge about animal medicines, but there were special hospitals for animals. One of its kind Ayurvedic veterinary hospitals was established during the reign of King Ashok in 1463 BC. There are multiple other significant mentions of systematic treatment for animals in the ancient texts.
Branches of Ayurvedic veterinary medicine
We can imagine the depth of Ayurvedic veterinarian science through its branches. Ayurvedic veterinary science was divided into major specializations like –
Gaj Ayurveda (Ayurveda for the elephants)
Ashwa Ayurveda (Ayurveda for the horses)
Aj Ayurveda (Ayurveda for goats)
and of course, Ayurveda for the holy cow (Pashu Ayurveda)
There were multiple other veterinary specializations depending on the breed and health problems of animals.
Ayurvedic principles in veterinary treatment
Ayurvedic principles applicable to the human are equally applicable to animals as well. For example, the concept of dosha, body type, preventive diet, and lifestyle is also applicable in terms of animal treatment.
Dosha based body type
Animals also have three primary types of Prakriti or body types, - Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. The structure, body, shape, strength, and immunity of an animal depend on his body type.
Special Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle for animals
All animals have distinct characteristics and therefore require a special diet and lifestyle. Not only Ayurvedic treatment but food and lifestyle for the pets were defined based on Ayurvedic principles.
For example, -
Horses were specifically fed on the roasted chickpea and molasses for better strength
Cows were fed with green peas for sweeter and thicker milk.
Body type based treatment
Just like humans, the probability of diseases in animals and their symptoms also depend on the individual body type. Body type also defines the distinct curative treatment according to the body type.
For example, a dog with Vata Prakriti is more susceptible to itching than other dogs,
Whereas a dog with a pitta dominant body type will tend to have more inflammation.
A Kapha dominant dog may have numb