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Zoopharmacognosy refers to the behaviour in which non-human animals self-medicate by selecting and using plants, soils, insects and psychoactive drugs to treat and prevent disease. Coined by Dr. Eloy Rodriguez, a biochemist and professor at Cornell University, the word is derived from roots zoo ("animal"), pharma ("drug"), and gnosy ("knowing").[1] The term gained familiarity in the public due to press attention from Cindy Engel in Wild Health: How Animals Keep Themselves Well and What We Can Learn from Them.[2] A well-known example of zoopharmacognosy is when dogs eat grass to induce vomiting, however, the behaviour is much more diverse than this. Observers have noted that some species ingest non-foods such as clay, charcoal, and even toxic plants, apparently to ward off parasitic infestation or poisoning.[3]


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Jane Goodall witnessed chimpanzees eating particular bushes, apparently to make themselves vomit.[citation needed]. There are reports that chimpanzees swallow whole leaves of particular rough-leaved plants such as Aneilema aequinoctiale; these remove parasitic worms from their intestines.[4] Illustrating the medicinal knowledge of some species, apes have been observed selecting a particular part of a medicinal plant by taking off leaves then breaking the stem to suck out the juice.[5]

A female capuchin monkey in captivity was observed using tools covered in a sugar-based syrup to groom her wounds and those of her infant.[6][7]

Elephants in Africa will self-medicate by chewing on the leaves of a tree from the family Boraginaceae, which induces birth. Kenyans also use this tree for the same purpose.[8]

Cats and dogs often select and ingest plant material to induce vomiting.[9]

Laboratory miceEdit

Standard laboratory cages prevent mice from performing several natural behaviours for which they are highly motivated. As a consequence, laboratory mice sometimes develop abnormal behaviours indicative of emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety. To improve welfare, these cages are sometimes enriched with items such as nesting material, shelters and running wheels. Sherwin and Ollson[10] tested whether such enrichment inluenced the consumption of Midazolam, a drug widely used to treat anxiety in humans. Mice in standard cages, standard cages but with unpredictable husbandry, or enriched cages, were given a choice of drinking either non-drugged water or a solution of the Midazolam. Mice in the standard and unpredictable cages drank a greater proportion of the anxiolytic solution than mice from enriched cages, indicating that mice from the standard and unpredictable laboratory caging may have been experiencing greater anxiety than mice from the enriched cages.


Many parrot species in the Americas, Africa, and Papua New Guinea consume kaolin or clay which both releases minerals and absorbs toxic compounds from the gut.[11]

Value to humansEdit

In an interview with Neil Campbell, Rodriguez describes the importance of biodiversity to medicine:

Some of the compounds we've identified by zoopharmacognosy kill parasitic worms, and some of these chemicals may be useful against tumors. There is no question that the templates for most drugs are in the natural world.[5]

See alsoEdit


  1. includeonly>Gerber, Suzanne. "Not just monkeying around.", Vegetarian Times.
  2. Engel, Cindy (2002). Wild Health: How Animals Keep Themselves Well and What We Can Learn from Them, Harcourt Mifflin Harcourt, New York.
  3. Biser, Jennifer A. (1998). Really wild remedies — medicinal plant use by animals. National Zoological Park. URL accessed on 2005-01-13.
  4. Reynolds, Vernon (2005). The chimpanzees of the Budongo Forest: ecology, behaviour, and conservation, 41–43, Oxford University Press.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Campbell, N.A. (1996). An interview with Eloy Rodriguez, 23, Benjamin Cummings, NY.
  6. (1987) Self-treatment of wounds by a capuchin monkey (Cebus apella), 557-56.
  7. (1988). Capuchin monkey (Cebus apella) grooms her infant's wound with tools.. American Journal of Primatology 16 (4): 345–348.
  8. Linden, Eugene (2002). The Octopus and the Orangutan: More Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence and Ingenuity, 16–17, 104–105, 191, New York City: Plume.
  9. Orzeck, R. (2007). Pondering the mysteries of our universe: Why do dogs eat grass?. URL accessed on October 28, 2013.
  10. (2004). Housing conditions affect self-administration of anxiolytic by laboratory mice.. Animal Welfare 13: 33–38.
  11. (1999). Evolutionary biology: Dirty eating for healthy living. Nature 400 (6740): 120–121.
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