Comfrey isn’t good for cats

I have heard that the herb comfrey might be toxic to pets. I prefer to use herbs instead of traditional medications when possible, but I don’t want to give my cat something that can hurt her. What are your thoughts?

I’m glad you’re asking my advice before using an herb for your pet. While many people believe “natural equals safe,” that definitely is not true. Many herbs are more toxic than conventional drug counterparts. Everything can be toxic: The dose is what determines toxicity vs. safety. In Germany, herbs are not available without a prescription.

Comfrey is particularly troubling. Recently, it was recommended that oral use of comfrey be regulated closely. This herb has been reported to cause liver toxicity and liver cancer in laboratory animals. Oral comfrey has caused a few cases of serious liver failure after people have consumed it for anywhere from six months to eight years. Because there is apparently no scientific support for the traditional medicinal indications, the Association of American Feed Control Officials and the FDA are justified in targeting oral use of this ingredient.

I am an older pet owner with three beautiful cats. While I hope to live many more years, I know that at some point I will pass away. I fear what will happen to my babies if I should die before they do. Do you have any thoughts on how I can ensure they will continue to be cared for as I would like?

Many people wonder what to do with their pets upon their own deaths. Certainly, you can talk with your veterinarian about this issue, as well as the lawyer who drafted your will, although even he or she may not know how to properly address your concerns. I’m also going to recommend a new book that addresses your specific question.

“PerPETualCare: Who Will Look after Your Pets If You’re Not Around?” is written by Lisa Rogak and the book takes you through everything you need to consider so that you can answer this important question.

I was surprised to find that listing your desires for your pet in your will may not be enough. The appendices are especially helpful in supplying information regarding individual statutes, organizations that can help care for your pet after your passing, and legal experts who can help you draft trusts for your pet on an individual state basis.

— Shawn P. Messonnier is a veterinarian and pet care advocate.