Kava, a member of the pepper family, is well known for
its use as a sedating herb due to its kavalactone and
other chemicals. One of the most active of these is
dihydrokavain, which has been found to produce a sedative,
painkilling, and anticonvulsant effect. Other kavalactones
include kavain, methysticin, and dihydromethysticin.
Therapeutic Uses of Lava in Pets
Kava can be used in place of chemical tranquilizers and
may be helpful for pets with epilepsy. The effects appear
to occur by action on the limbic center of the brain or the
amygdala, different from the actions of enzodiazepenes
(such as diazepam), opioids, and nonsteroidal medications.
Suggested actions include modulating of neurotransmitters
including GABA, MAO, dopamine, and 5-HT. Unlike other
sedatives, kava does not appear to interfere with motor
function or cause a depression of mental function.
Kava also exhibits analgesic properties in a manner
unlike other traditional pain-relieving medications. Kava,
unlike other sedatives, does not lose effectiveness with time
(a condition called tolerance that can be seen with some
sedating medications). Kava also shows muscle-relaxing
properties that are superior to the benzodiazepenes.
Finally, kava may prove useful during the recovery period
following brain injury (similar to the proposed use in stroke
Kava kava can be toxic to the liver in excess. Do not use in
pets with liver disease. Do not use in pregnant animals.
Little is known about its safety in pets, although it
appears to be safe when used as directed by veterinarians.
It is not recommended for long-term use. Typical products
are standardized to 29 to 31 percent kavalactones. Excess
use can cause liver disease. Use of kava may potentiate
anesthetics and other sedatives. In people, excessive use
of high doses of kava beverages causes kava dermatitis. For
people, the Commission E monograph recommends using
kava for no more the three months.
When used appropriately, kava appears to be safe.
Animal studies have shown dosages of up to four times that
of normal cause no problems at all, and 13 times the normal
dosage causes only mild problems in rats. A study of 4049
people who took a low dose of kava (70 mg of kavalactones
daily) for seven weeks found side effects in 1.5 percent of
cases. These were mostly mild gastrointestinal complaints
and allergic rashes. A four-week study of 3029 individuals
given 240 mg of kavalactones daily showed a 2.3 percent
incidence of basically the same side effects. However, long-term
use (months to years) of kava in excess of 400 mg
kavalactones per day can create a distinctive generalized
dry, scaly rash. It disappears promptly when the kava use
The German Commission E monograph warns against
the use of kava during pregnancy and nursing. Kava
should not be taken along with prescription tranquilizers
or sedatives, or other depressant drugs as there have been
reports of coma caused by such combinations. Kava can
also cause severe drowsiness when combined with hypnotic
drugs. Kava might increase blood-clotting time. Safety in
young children and those with severe liver or kidney disease
has not been established. Similar precautions in pets are
If your pet is taking drugs in the benzodiazepine family,
switching to kava will be very hard. You must seek a doctor's
supervision, because in people, withdrawal symptoms can
be severe and even life threatening. It's easier to make the
switch from milder anti-anxiety drugs, such as BuSpar and
antidepressants. Nonetheless, a doctor's supervision is
still strongly advised.