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Animals That Self-Medicate to Stay Healthy


While self-medication among humans is generally frowned upon (probably due to the fact that it never has anything to do with staying healthy), the animal world is full of examples of creatures using Mother Nature’s natural resources to keep healthy. Let’s take a look at some of the most impressive ones.

House Sparrows

While most animals will use plants and the like to self-medicate, the house sparrows have some pretty ingenious ways to boost their health. They’ve discovered that cigarette buds have nicotine in it, which is a perfect deterrent for mites. By putting these in their nests, they can keep them mite-free relatively easy.

Woolly Bear Caterpillar

Even the smallest creatures on this planet will find ways to boost their health when needed. The woolly bear caterpillar actually singles out plants that have certain toxins in them that would kill parasitic tachinid flies. By eating these plants specifically, they can reduce their chances of infection and increase their own health.


This species is known for carrying their babies around through the jungle. The mothers have developed a method of chewing medicinal plants into a paste and then rubbing it over their arms, which works like a pain-easing balm would. 


The time when an elephant really starts self-medicating is during pregnancy. Much like how pregnant women would take medication to keep their health up, elephants will use specific plants. Near the end of their pregnancy they’ll even eat some labor-inducing plants to move things along more smoothly.


Usually not the sharpest tools in the shed, sheep are at least clever enough to keep their own health up by any means possible. If they are left to choose for themselves, they’ll always pick food that keeps them healthy. An example of this is that a sheep infected by parasites will eat more tannin-containing foods as that helps kill the parasites.

Wood Ants

That ants are smart creatures will surprise no one, but them living so closely together does come with the added dangers of diseases spreading quickly. In order to reduce the amount of harmful pathogens in their nests, they use a form of resin in them. Doing that actually increases the health of the entire colony, which is pretty insane.

Monarch Butterfly

The monarch butterfly is one of many types of small creatures that eats plants to boost their chemical resistance to a specific form of parasite. In this case they’ll eat milkweed to combat Ophryocystis elektroscirrha. That sounds like I made that up, but I didn’t. I promise.