Milk Thistle is well known to many as a somewhat nasty plant with the habit of stinging you when you sit down on the grass, but it also has incredible health promoting benefits. It was one of the first natural remedies to become popular amongst dog owners looking to keep their animals fit and healthy. Here we shall look at exactly what it does and why it does it, and whether or not your dog could benefit from taking it.
Milk Thistle is primarily used to help promote healthy liver function. This is especially useful for dogs as several breeds are predisposed to liver problems. It was one of the first traditional herbs used by ancient healers, and also one of the first to become recognized by the modern scientific community as a hugely beneficial natural remedy. Science has identified the main active component as Silymarin, a powerful antioxidant, although it also offers a wealth of other benefits.
Although primarily used to help promote healthy liver function, its benefits are believed to be far more wide ranging:
- Silymarin is found in high concentrations within the bile system as it helps to prevent bile from ‘clogging’ by keeping it thin. This in turn helps to treat instances of gallstones.
- Milk Thistle can also benefit dogs that suffer from Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD). IBD can be caused through a combination of inflammation of the liver and the pancreas. By helping to prevent this, it is believed to have a soothing effect for IBD sufferers.
- Treatment/prevention of diabetes due to the stabilizing effects it has upon red blood cells.
- Aids in the prevention of nerve-degenerating diseases which affect gait.
- Promotes recovery from infections.
How does it work?
Inflammation of the liver can be caused by harmful free radicals that strip electrons away from cells. In high enough quantities this can cause severe discomfort and serious complications, which may lead dogs to retreat to their dog beds. Once this damage is done the liver will attempt to repair itself, but the scar tissue which forms is much less adept at carrying out the numerous functions that a fully functioning liver performs.
Silymarin helps to promote a healthy liver by combating the free radicals and therefore reducing inflammation. It also assists through increased protein synthesis, cell regeneration, and detoxification.
Although synthetic alternatives are available they must be processed by the liver, which in turn can cause further complications. As a natural remedy, Milk Thistle does not have this drawback.
Should I Give Milk Thistle to my Dog?
The norm is for dogs suffering from liver complaints to take milk thistle extracts in the form of either tablets, powder or solutions. These normally contain at least 80% of the active ingredient, Silymarin. There is some debate as to whether or not Milk Thistle extracts should be used as a preventative measure, with some believing that prolonged use could cause complications. If you have a breed of dog that is susceptible to liver disease then it is definitely worth considering. A quick chat with your vet or trusted holistic practitioner should help you make up your mind.
In addition to the extracts, there are new, high-end dog foods becoming available on the market that use Milk Thistle in its natural form as an ingredient. These dog foods offer an interesting alternative for those looking to provide their dog with the benefits of the plant even if the dog doesn’t suffer from a specific condition.
Editor’s Notes: Milk Thistle is also used for horses & other livestock, cats, ferrets and rodents. It should not be administered to pregnant animals. Milk thistle is classed as a medicinal herb and usually isn’t recommended as a nutritional supplement for healthy dogs.
Have you had any experience using Milk Thistle with your dog? If you have, we would love to hear about it in the comments below.
Duane Howe is a life long dog owner with an interest in natural and holistic pet therapies. He is writing on behalf of Dogscorner.co.uk.
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