Tag Archives: natural health for pets

Safety of herbs and natural products in Canada

Are herbal supplements safe ?

Herbal product regulations in Canada 

In 2004, the Natural Health Products Regulations came into effect in Canada.  NHP (Natural health products) are defined by Canada Health as: vitamins and minerals, herbal remedies, homeopathic medicines, traditional medicines such as traditional Chinese medicines, probiotics and other products like amino acids, facial products, shampoos, antiperspirants, mouthwashes and essential fatty acids. These products to not need a prescription and those that do would fall under Food and Drug Regulations. At this time, Health care practitioners do not have to be licensed under Health Canada to compound products on individual basis for their patients or to retailers of such products. The license requirements only applies to person or company that manufactures, packages, labels and/or imports NHPs for commercial sale in Canada.

In Canada, natural health products that have been licensed have a eight-digit Natural Product Number (NPN) or Homeopathic Medicine Number (DIN-HM) on their label. npn numberIn theory, they can’t be sold in Canada unless they have the proper product license. To get such a license, there is an application process they applicants have to go through and a series of detailed information must be provided like: medicinal ingredients, source, dose, potency, non-medicinal ingredients and recommended use(s). Now, like anything, there is always exceptions or exemptions. If a product has not yet been approved by Health Canada, it may be provided an exemption number that will be on the label as : EN-XXXXXX. The products with the EN and number have gone through some initial assessment in order to make sure safety, quality and efficacy has been met but have not fully received certification yet. It seems Canada Health has done this in order to allow continuing access to these products for the general public, kind of like if it was a probably period pending approval.  As a consumer, I was not even aware that there where regulations in regards to these products.

Health Canada also requires that claims on products be backed up by proper evidence. What is proper evidence is where some herbalists, traditional doctors and conventional doctors disagree. Health Canada considers as evidence: clinical trials, published studies, journals, and traditional resources. Depending on the claim of the products, more or less evidence is needed to support the health claim and its safety. But, because as we know, it is often hard to establish double blinded studies, clinical trials when it comes to herbals, there lies the difficulty in its regulations. To be licensed in Canada, a NHP label must include a list of things. Health Canada also requires licensing for sites where natural health products like herbs are manufactured, packed, labeled or imported. Health Canada require that these companies promote good manufacturing practices and it requires adverse reaction reporting. Health Canada also regulates the human clinical trials. Practionners have on-line access to up-to-date information on licensed NHPs by using the  Licensed Natural Health Product Database (LNHPD). Also, practionner have access to safety issues through the The MedEffectDatabase. You can also visit the Canadian Homeopathic Pharmaceutical Association for more information.


In 2012, I called the Health Canada department to inquire about animal products. They told me that they didn’t regulate products that are for us in animals, so they had me called the CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency). I talked to a veterinarian working for the CFIA. As far as he knows, he says they have regulations for veterinary drugs and veterinary biologics.  But, by definition veterinary herbals and natural supplements do not fall under those designations. According to him, natural health products labeled for use in animals (herbals, food supplements like omega 3, etc) don’t seem to be controlled directly by Canada Health nor the CFIA. After making other calls to different suppliers, the conclusion is that there are no agency regulating veterinary herbal products or natural products designed for use in animals in Canada. Animal health natural products and supplements fall into a grey zone and are currently not regulated. Only voluntary adherence by some companies guarantee their products sold to animals. I have looked into different herbal and nutraceuticals suppliers in Canada, and only a few have actual quality control protocols in effect.

In April 2014, I found out that in Januray 2012, Health Canada, the Canadian Animal Health Institute and North American Compendiums had joined to develop a notification program for low risk veterinary health products (LRVHPs) used in cats, dogs and horses that are not intended for food.  These products include botanicals, vitamins, minerals and homeopathic preparations. This is a voluntary program which means that animal supplement companies are not required by law to follow any safety or GMP (good manufacturing practices) guidelines. Natural Health Veterinary Products approved by this Program will use the initial NN instead of NPN which is reserved for human products. This type of program will help consumer know that when they buy a product with the NN number, that these companies have good Manufacturing practices and quality control systems in place. Furthermore, these products will have procedures in place in case of recalls and also will control what kind of claim can be put on their labels. Veterinary supplement companies wanting to apply for this program can visit this website http://www.lrvhp.ca

A study done by the University of Guelph published in October 2013 showed that a lot of over-the-counter human herbal products contained fillers or omitted ingredients on their labels or had the wrong ingredients listed. Something like over 60% of the products tested contained herbs not listed on the labels, 32% had product substitution and 20% contained fillers like rice, soybeans and wheat. Here is a link to the article for more in dept information about what the researchers found.

The moral of the story is: check your suppliers and check your own human products. Are you buying products that have NPN (for people) or NN numbers (for pets) ? Are you sure that the vitamins you are giving to your family are safe and quality controlled? I have found an improvement in the amount of NPN/NN products now available in the pharmacies but more work needs to be done. In regards to animal vitamins and over-the-counter products, I have yet to see much improvement in that department. I only buy products  from suppliers that I have researched, trust and that have established quality and security controls in place (GMP measures). In the event of a recall, I am contacted directly by my suppliers and I can contact my clients directly to prevent issues.

Written by Dr Cindy Lizotte, DVM, MBA, CVFT (CHI institute), CVA (IVAS), Grad Dip Vet Western Herb Med (CIVT) Cert CVHM (IVAS)


Chinese Herbal Medicine for pets!

Chinese Herbal medicine’s goal is to try and restore balance of energy (Qi), body and spirit to your pet in order to maintain its health. Unlike conventional medicine who’s goal is to treat a specific problem or disease, Chinese Herbal medicine tries to approach diseases in a more holistic way.


Herbs, unlike conventional drugs, have different modes of actions. For example, antibiotics usually have one specific goal, to kill bacteria. Herbs may have different types of actions at the same time. So, an herb, unlike a conventional drug is made up of different constituents so it could have an antibacterial effect to kill bacteria. But, at the same time, it may have an adaptogen affect in order to allow the body to adapt to stress. Most often your veterinarian will pick an herbal formula that fits your pet’s presenting Chinese Medical Pattern which he or she will assess after making an exam, taking an history, assessing the symptoms and using tongue and pulse analysis.

Herbs like conventional drugs may have side-effects and some may be toxic. Therefore it is always important to consult with a veterinarian trained in herbs. Side-effects like diarrhea, vomiting, anorexia are uncommon but can happen. Usually, these side-effects are self-limiting and calling your veterinarian if any of these or other side-effects happen is suggested. Your veterinarian may have you lower the dosage, discontinue administration of the herbs for a short time or change the herbal formula completely. Always consult your veterinarian before making any changes to the dose prescribed. Sometimes, the initial dosage given to your pet will be lower then the normal recommended dose, but this is done in order to make sure that your pet tolerates it in order to avoid possible digestive side-effects. Our recommendation is to always follow the directions written on the prescription labels by your veterinarians.

There are different type of herbal preparations, some come in liquid form like tinctures, some can be given as teas, some come in tea pill form and capsules or even pill form like conventional drugs. Because there have been issues with contamination of herbal products in the past and  because there is a lack of safety regulations in Canada, we advise you to use only products bought from a veterinarian professional. Be wary of on-line cheap products, because quality and safety are not assured.

Dr Cindy Lizotte is a member of the Veterinary Botanical Medical Association (VBMA). As a member of the VBMA, she shares their views and believes that in the interests of safety that any herbs should always be prescribed by a qualified practitioner. Furthermore, we at Integrative Veterinary Care, try to always source our herbs and natural products from companies listed on the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) website in order to insure quality control and the safety of the products we sell. It is not a requirement by Canadian laws, but as we care for the safety of the clients and pets we serve, we try to adhere to highest possible standards of quality for the product lines we carry.

To administer the herbs, you can try to hide them in your pet’s favorite treat or mix them in with soft food. Some people hide the pills in cheese, peanut butter (tiny amount), sweet potatoes and other types foods.  In some cases, adding some water or heating up the food may help mask any herbal smell. Some clients prefer to simply open the pet’s mouth and insert the pills in the back of their throat. In case of liquid tinctures, you can buy empty capsules and fill them up with the liquid and administer the capsule hidden in food. Each pet is different and different tricks maybe tried to see which one works best for you.

We should see an improvement in your pet’s health within two weeks of starting the herbs. Some herbs are more for long term use and may take longer to promote health. For long standing problems, expect it to take more time to improve health. For acute problems, expect faster relief for your pet. Re-establishing your pet’s health in a case of a chronic problem will require patience and it may take adjustments in dosage or formulation of the herbs. Rome was not built overnight and in chronic situation, it will take time, so patience is required.

Usually, your veterinarian will suggest a recheck with your animal in two weeks after starting the herbs. If as a client you have any questions, feel free to email-us and we will do our best to assist you.

Written by Dr Cindy Lizotte, DVM, MBA, CVFT (CHI institute), CVA (IVAS), Grad Dip Vet Western Herb Med (CIVT) Cert CVHM (IVAS)