Considering the Nux Vomica Horse

By Susan Beal, DVM

In trying to make sense of the myriad of remedies described in the Materia Medicae (dictionaries of remedies), I have always found it to be useful to try and understand the character of the remedy instead of trying to memorize reams of symptoms and their modifiers. To that end, I’d like to present a short study of Nux vomica – concentrating primarily on the character of the remedy rather than listing the diagnostic labels that might present in such a state.

The Nux vomica state is a common presentation in flare-ups (acute exacerbations) of pre-exisiting chronic disease. Additionally it is used in true acute diseases (symptoms that truly are the direct result of toxins, trauma or epidemics). In general, individuals who are in a Nux vomica state show an exaggerated sensitivity, which leads to extreme irritability and spasm. This sensitivity and irritability may be displayed in any and all areas and systems of the body: the mind (including sleep patterns), head, brain, special senses, digestive system from mouth to anus, nervous system and all reflexes, respiratory system, genito-urinary system, muscles, and skin.

So, one might see a hypersensitive patient with spasms or obvious twitches, jerks and cramps. The spasmodic constrictions are seen in all organs but are particularly apparent in excretory passages – urinary tract, gall-ducts, stomach, intestines and respiratory tract. The hypersensitivity is also displayed in their senses and their sensitivity to stimulus, both internal and external.

In extreme cases, the spasms may occur as convulsions of the tetanic type, with the patient remaining conscious during the episode. They may also become faint with minimal stimulus.

The “Nux patient” would be generally irritable and impatient, both from the hypersensitive, spasmodic nature of their complaints as well as from their sensitivity to such stimulus as sound, light, touch, pressure and pain as well as to cold and cold winds. They might have a history of having been exposed to excesses and abuses of medication, stimulants and rich foods, either in smaller amounts over a relatively long time or in larger doses over a shorter time period. These patients may also be addicted to stimulants, spices, drugs, wine and coffee. Diets high in sugars and refined carbohydrates may also contribute to this state. They may also have a history of a sedentary lifestyle, or conversely, have ailments caused by, or made worse with, overwork, anxiety and “sexual excesses” - i.e. breeding and teasers, certainly, also animals that have excessive sexual desire or erections in neutered animals, and masturbation. In females, their symptoms are often worse before or during menses/heat cycles. (While the physiology of menses in women most certainly differs from that of heat cycles in animals, it has served homeopathy in animals well over the years to extrapolate the “menses” rubrics to heat cycles.)

These excesses may be the primary cause of the ailments of the patient, or they may contribute to the general state of the patient. In the latter, the patient in general, and specific symptoms in particular, are worse from exposure to, or continuation of, these excesses. Patients and their symptoms are worse from exposure to noise or light, tend to be worse in the morning, in the cold and cold wind, and the patient in the Nux vomica state desires to be warm and covered, even with a fever.

Patients in the Nux vomica state are aggravated (made worse by) restrictions and heavy pressures – both of the literal and figurative kinds. These restrictions might be those of the more physical types - tight “clothing”, binding blankets and other tack or equipment, particularly around the belly area - or they might be restrictions of, or involve, the mental and emotional plane. The constipation of Nux vomica has frequent but ineffectual urgings.

In general, patients in a Nux vomica state are improved with free discharges of any type. This amelioration may result from vomiting (Even though horses are not anatomically able to vomit, other species can!), passing manure or urine, passing gas (flatus/farting, belching or even from the passing of a stomach tube). The idea of discharge even extends to verbal discharges, as is displayed by humans in the Nux vomica state.

Patients in the Nux vomica state are ambitious, driven and independent. They may be fastidious in both mental and physical nature, and are often quarrelsome and irritable, even to the point of violence. They want to achieve things, to have their own way and often find it difficult to relax. Couple that tendency to impatience and irritability with the sensitivity to all external impressions and extreme reactivity to stimulus, and one can see that oft times patients in a Nux vomica state may appear to have a very short fuse – quick to sudden anger. In studying the overall character of this state, it’s fairly easy to see that this sudden anger is a reflection of and continuation of the sensitivity and reactivity of patients in the Nux vomica state. (And in the dichotomy that one often encounters when studying homeopathic remedies, there are some individuals who, when in this state, are actually past the stage of overt anger and may be dull , disinterested and withdrawn.)

What does the Nux vomica state look like on paper? How do these types of symptoms translate to rubrics? In what rubrics is this remedy well represented? While it might seem easier to memorize a list of symptoms and conditions, and another list of aggravations and ameliorations, doing so does not get you into the repertory, reading and exploring, looking at how the symptoms are listed and arranged. And memorization fails with time, age and the anxiety that prevails when one is presented with a real life situation for which you are hunting a remedy. Far better it is for the first aid prescriber, as well as the serious student of homeopathy, to gain familiarity and understanding about the arrangement and contents of the repertory.

The repertory begins with citations regarding the Mind. Nux vomica’s “Mind” section reveals the sensitivity of the senses, for example: “MIND; SENSITIVE, oversensitive; external impressions, to all”.

The next repertory section is “Head”.
While it might be felt by some that the assumption that horses have headaches is pure speculation, many times it appears by their expressions and behaviours that horses do experience head pain.

In conversations over the years with friend and colleague, Sandy Lagno, a professional horsewoman and interspecies translator, it’s remarkable how many times horses will say that they have a headache after an injection (a “liquid sting”, as they term it), particularly after being sedated or after a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) such as Bute or Banamine. Often the headache is worse on the side into which the drug was injected.

Certainly Nux vomica is a remedy worthy of consideration in these circumstances. The situation encompasses the causation as well as the responses of a Nux vomica state. Consider the rubric: HEAD PAIN; GENERAL; drugs, after abuse of - in which Nux vomica is the only remedy cited.
In addition to the citations in the mind section which involve the sensitivity of the senses, consider also HEARING; ACUTE. SMELL; ACUTE.

While some of these rubrics involve description of sensations which may be speculative in our interactions with animals, other of the following rubrics can be applied without any need for speculation, such as these rubrics (subheadings describing symptoms in the stomach section):
ST: OBSTRUCTION; pylorus, of; sensation.

The same is true of rubrics in the abdomen section of the repertory. While some of these rubrics might be considered speculative, many times these descriptions are easily confirmed through simple observation. For example: ABDOMEN; CLOTHING, sensitive to. ABDOMEN; SPASMS of muscles. RECTUM; CONSTIPATION; alternating with diarrhea.

Symptoms involving the back, back pain and injury, lameness, intolerance of tack and blankets are also represented in the Nux vomica picture.

Interestingly, Nux vomica is represented in the rubric MIND; SIT; inclination to - as well as in the general rubric GENERALITIES; SIT, SITTING; ameliorates. ABDOMEN; PAIN; General; sitting; while; ameliorates.

Many times horses in a Nux vomica colic will be observed leaning back onto ledges, saddle racks, food troughs, and fence rails. One of my colleagues, Scott Hosket, a veterinarian with a homeopathic practice in Yellow Springs, OH, describes a colicky colt he attended who found relief when he was backed up against a table in the barn alley, essentially sitting down on the edge of the table. Several doses of Nux vomica resolved that situation.

Once I started looking for it, I’ve also seen this symptom in horses needing Nux vomica. Sometimes they present with a colic, and other times I simply see them trying to sit on things. These latter horses usually have some history of belly pain, digestive upset or poor doing.

A small but useful rubric contains Nux vomica in bold type: VISION; LOSS of vision, blindness; vanishing of sight. Again, this rubric would encompass situations in which the causation and modalities suited those of Nux vomica – blindness after exposure to toxins, for example. Ed Kondrot, an MD homeopath and a Board Certified Ophthalmologist, prescribed Nux vomica for a patient of his who became suddenly blind after drinking home distilled alcohol. As well as regaining his sight after treatment with Nux vomica, the man also showed significant changes and improvements in other aspects of his health and well being.

Some types of asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, “heaves”) present in the Nux vomica state. Oft times, as is the case with other clinical presentations of this state, one will see the acute flares of the disease respond to Nux vomica, with patient needing further treatment with another remedy to fully address the underlying chronic disease.

The entire patient can be described, as well as modalities to general and specific symptoms, for example:
GENERALITIES; ANXIETY, general physical
GENERALITIES; WEATHER; wind; aggravates
GENERALITIES; WEATHER; cold, dry; aggravates
GENERALITIES; WEATHER; dry; aggravates
GENERALITIES; AIR; open; aggravates
GENERALITIES; AIR; open; aversion to

Having said all that, what might a horse in a Nux vomica state look like?

I hesitate to provide a list of diagnoses, with the “this for that” attitude for prescribing.

Look instead at how the individual displays the symptoms, what makes the situation better or worse, and what instigated the situation.

More often than not there will be clues in the history. There will be excesses, be they medication, the use of drugs, pesticides, some types of supplements and herbs, a history of debauchery and overindulgence and over-feeding/over-nutrition. This may be a one time exposure, such as the horse who gets into the grain bin or the fresh cornfield, or who is given a medicine, insecticide or worming product. It may involve the less dramatic, but no less significant, situations we so commonly see in horses (and other animals) who are fed excessive concentrate and processed feeds or who are continually exposed to feed-through wormers, pour-on/spot-on/spray-on insecticides, pesticides and other toxins. Managing these individuals such that they are confined/ stalled other than when they are working typically exacerbates this state.

Specific situations that might warrant the use of Nux vomica might include – if the symptoms agree:
Any debauchery (“I can’t believe I ate the whole thing”). While these excesses often translate to colics or laminitis in horses, please realize that the symptoms may be more subtle and slow moving, appearing perhaps as low grade digestive upsets and dyspepsia (which may be diagnosed as gastric ulceration), or performance issues (rooted in pain or temperament or anxiety).
Iritis and uveitis (moon blindness (especially if it occurs or flares after a worming or medicine), any sudden blindness after exposure to toxins;
Seizures and convulsions (ditto);
Ailments before and during heat cycles and during pregnancy;
Both constipation and loose stools, particularly with straining, maybe empty/ineffectual, spasmodic, better with passing manure;
Episodes of asthma or COPD;
Back pains, spinal irritation, spasms, and lameness.

Many early presentations of urinary tract disease/obstruction present in the Nux vomica state – complete with cramping and straining. While not common in the horse, these episodes are more frequent in other species, cats for example.

One can see a violent Nux vomica state as well as a more “grumpy, irritable, bloated and toxic” Nux vomica state. In the latter case, the symptoms do not appear as aggressively as in the violent, faster-paced Nux state. These individuals do not present an immediate crisis, but it may be their day-to-day way of being that leads one to this remedy.

This “type A personality” may describe an individual horse – a hard worker, eager and ready to go, taking his job seriously, perhaps even with a bit of a vendetta, though he may not enjoy working early in the day. Other individuals appear angrier, more difficult to manage, more volatile and easily provoked. These are not typically the stoic and resigned old campaigners. Add to that a management situation with medications, continuous wormers, additions of a lot of concentrate and grains in the diet, and this will serve to enhance a horse who is already disposed in that Nux vomica direction.

Hering writes in his materia medica: Sometimes these individuals appear as confused cases, either by allopathic or homeopathic treatment, with few symptoms other than marked irritability.

Individuals who present with symptoms of any nature – and who have a history of these sorts of causations - are prime candidates for Nux vomica. In working in situations that have you “hunting a remedy”, first look at the causation of the situation, if known, as well as the modalities of the symptoms that the individual is displaying (regardless of the actual diagnosis or symptoms presented), then go to the actual symptoms.hoofprint\


About the author:

Dr Beal is responsible for Big Run Healing Arts, a non-speciated practice dedicated to providing care based on the philosophy and practice of homeopathy. Her practice of homeopathy is augmented with the use of Craniosacral Therapy, clinical nutrition, and chiropractic care.
In addition to her clinical practice, Dr Beal studies and writes, and is involved with actively mentoring veterinarians who are studying homeopathy. Dr Beal enjoys teaching, especially homeopathy and craniosacral therapy and is available for short lectures as well as longer, more intensive workshops.
Dr Beal has been using homeopathy in her practice of veterinary medicine for over fifteen years.