One of the most interesting of all the herbs for your senior dog is milk thistle. Called Silybum marianum or blessed milkthistle or Mary thistle or Scotch thistle or any variety of things, this annual or biennial plant is found throughout the world and has been researched for several medicinal applications.
It is also used in traditional Chinese medicine to clear toxins and to soothe the liver, plus it’s a favorite in dubious Internet circles for its apparent ability to “slow cancer.”
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Milk thistle is safe to use and it yields a number of potential benefits. Some swear by it as a multi-purpose supplement, while its use as a liver detoxifier has been widely noted in natural health circles.As usual, sifting through the anecdotal evidence can be tricky. What works for one dog won’t necessarily work for another. In terms of milk thistle, we do know that the flavonoid silymarin is the important piece of the puzzle because Silymarin releases toxins that can gather in the liver and is assists in cell regeneration, which suggests that it can also help boost your old dog’s immune system.
The safety of milk thistle is worth mentioning here because it underlines how good an option this herb can be for your dog. Apart from cost and time, there’s no associated risk with using milk thistle. You can initiate a “try it out” approach to this treatment option, but other possibilities should also be considered if milk thistle isn’t effective.
- The most common application for milk thistle seems to be in the world of liver disease, which is more common in dogs than you might think. The silymarin helps release toxins in the liver and prevents oxidation, which is the increase of free radicals in the body. Because of its function as an antioxidant, many pet parents wear by milk thistle as a supplement for treating their dog’s liver disease.
- Some pet owners have turned to milk thistle to treat what’s known as medication-induced liver damage. If your pet has been taking medications for a long period, it’s possible that long-term damage could result. Milk thistle supplements can help repair organ damage and can flush out residual chemicals left behind by extensive medicinal regimens.
- There are a number of reports online about the use of milk thistle in dogs with inflammatory bowel disease, although most of the evidence is anecdotal. Due to IBD’s tendency to attack and inflame the liver and bile system in the pancreas, milk thistle can help alleviate symptoms by flushing toxins and reducing inflammation. This suggests a usage in dogs with pancreatitis as well.
- Milk thistle can be used to support the immune system. Because it scavenges for free radicals and works as a powerful antioxidant, milk thistle has been popularized to help stave off the effects of aging as well. Its capacity for preserving the antioxidant glutathione has made it a popular choice for those dog parents with aging family members.
As mentioned, milk thistle is a relatively safe option for your dog. There are no known side effects for moderate use of milk thistle.
There is, however, some evidence to suggest that long-term heavy use of this herbal treatment can lead to a suppression of liver function. This suggests that moderation is key, which is a good rule of thumb to follow in all herbal treatments.
Reasons to Use
If it sounds like I’m not jumping up and down about milk thistle, it’s because the efficacy of the herbal supplement isn’t overwhelmingly reported. There’s good evidence that milk thistle can work in conjunction with other treatment options to assist in the reduction of inflammation, but there simply are more attractive possibilities out there – like marshmallow root.
That said, milk thistle has a solid track record as a safe option and that can go a long way. My recommendation would be try milk thistle if your dog has liver issues. Using it on a healthy dog is not recommended, as there are no discernible supplementary benefits to speak of.
References: Herbs for Pets by M.L. Wulff-Tilford and G.L. Tilford, Natural Remedies for Dogs and Cats by CJ Puotinen