Many dogs are receiving at least one herb or supplement these days. Some supplements are meant to promote joint health (glucosamine), while others are given with the hope that they will help prevent or slow a patient's cancer (turmeric).
Supplements can be a great compliment to a standard medication regimen, but others might have a negative interaction with current medications, so it's important to do a bit of homework if your dog is receiving herbs or supplements.
Unfortunately, there is a paucity of published veterinary literature regarding the correct dosing for most herbs and supplements given to dogs, just as there is a paucity of evidence for their efficacy.
If you choose to give your dog an herb or supplement, I recommend taking the following steps prior to initiating a new treatment to ensure that they are given as safely as possible.
(1) Perform a Pubmed Search
Pubmed is a database that includes publications from most of the major peer-reviewed journals in veterinary and human literature. This database will tell you if there is published evidence regarding the supplement you are planning to give your dog.
If you want to determine which articles have been published on turmeric in dogs (for example), go to Pubmed and type "canine turmeric" in the search bar. You will then be able to view the abstract (brief summary) of all related articles. Certainly, not all journals are created equal, and there might be a published study where the evidence is "weak", but it's a place to start.
You'll notice that many studies are done on cell lines or in vitro (not in an actual animal). If there is preliminary evidence that an herb might demonstrate anti-cancer efficacy against a particular cell line, the next questions are: (1) What dose might have the same effect in a dog? (2) Could a high enough concentration of the herb actually be given to a living dog and have the same effect? - In many cases the answer is 'no'. (3) Is this study repeatable?
In most cases, access to the entire article is limited to journal subscribers and those that pay for the entire article.
(2) Search The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Integrative Medicine |About Herbs, Botanicals & Other Products Database
The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is a renowned human cancer center located in Manhattan, NY. They have the most comprehensive online database for herbs and supplements that I've been able to find. It's a great resource for anyone giving their dog herbs or botanicals.
Step 1: Go to the MSKCC | About Herbs, Botanicals & Other Products Database
Step 2: Scroll to the bottom of the page, where you can search for products by name using their A-Z guide, which looks like this:
Select the herb or supplement you are interested in learning about, then you will be directed to that product.
For each product, information is broken down into information "For Patients and Caregivers" and "For Health Professionals".
The most important sections to read include:
(1) Do Not Take If (Herb-Drug Interactions)
(2) Side Effects (Adverse Reactions)
(3) Purported Uses (Clinical Summary)
Your veterinarian/oncologist/integrative medicine specialist is unlikely to be aware of all of the possible herb-drug interactions that exist for all of the herbs/medications that your dog is taking, so having a thorough look at these lists should be extremely helpful. There is a wealth of information located on this website.
What we can't control
Unfortunately, the supplement industry is still largely unregulated. This means that when you purchase a supplement or herb, you might not be getting what the label claims you are. This is unsettling but true.
If you have an integrative medicine (holistic) veterinarian, ask them which brands they recommend and if the lab routinely has their products tested by third-party labs. It's worth looking into.
There are many natural products that can be a nice compliment to standard (Western) veterinary care. We just want to make sure that these supplements are added and used in the safest way possible.
Dr. Lori Cesario
Board Certified Veterinary Oncologist
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