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Milk Thistle for Dogs: The Best Natural Treatment for Liver Disease?

Milk Thistle for Dogs: The Best Natural Treatment for Liver Disease?

Milk thistle for dogs is becoming a popular choice for pet owners wanting a natural treatment for liver diseases. In this article we are going to cover the causes of liver disease in dogs and why milk thistle for dogs is a viable and effective treatment for liver disease.

Certain breeds of dog are at a higher risk of developing liver disease, to find out which breeds see: “9 Dog Breeds at Greater Risk of Developing Liver Disease

Whilst breed can play a factor in the development of liver disease, there are also a number of other factors that can play a role in the development of canine liver diseases.

What Causes Liver Disease

The liver is a complex organ performing over 500 functions in the body! As such, there are a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong.

The main reasons as to why liver disease can occur are:

  • Viruses – Some viruses can damage liver cells
  • Bacteria – Like viruses, bacterial infections can cause damage to liver cells, resulting in inflammation
  • Drugs and Toxins – The liver is a major processing unit of compounds that enter the body. Drugs and toxins are broken down by the liver, but this can sometimes leave toxic chemicals that are able to damage liver cells
  • Free Radicals – Reactive compounds that can damage liver cells. Antioxidants work by neutralising these dangerous molecules
  • Inflammation – Inflammation usually occurs as a result of one of the above, but physical damage or injury can also lead to inflammation of the liver. As inflammation progresses, it can cause disease. Often, this is simply referred to as ‘chronic hepatitis’.

How is Milk Thistle for Dogs Helpful?

People are starting to use milk thistle for dogs to treat liver disease. But why? Milk thistle extract contains a compound called silybin, which is regarded as a powerful tool in the treatment of canine liver disease. Silybin is amongst other things, a powerful free radical scavenger that can neutralise damaging free radicals.

Milk thistle is sold as an extract, usually in tablet form. When given to your dog, silybin, the active component of milk thistle extract, gets to work hunting free radicals.

Silybin has also been shown to stimulate the regeneration of damaged liver cells and increase the level of beneficial liver enzymes.

Why Is Stopping Free Radicals Important?

The most important reason for using milk thistle for dogs is that, as we’ve mentioned, it acts as a powerful liver antioxidant, removing free radicals. But why is it so important to get rid of these free radicals?

Free radicals damage liver cells by tearing away electrons from healthy cells. This leads to inflammation.

Continual inflammation of the liver leads to scarring and as such the liver tries to repair itself, leaving behind scar tissue. This scar tissue reduces the function of the liver, meaning it can’t perform all of its 500+ jobs as well!

Over time, the damage to the liver can be that great that a large percentage of liver has been replaced with scar tissue. This is known as cirrhosis and is a major health problem.

So, is Milk Thistle for Dogs Beneficial?

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that milk thistle for dogs is indeed beneficial, and we think that if your dog is at risk, due to their breed or lifestyle, a little extra help for the liver can go a long way. Of course, if your dog has been diagnosed with liver disease (chronic hepatitis), then it is essential you refer to th advice given to you by your veterinarian.

So vets will however recommend the use of milk thistle-containing compounds known as ‘nutraceuticals’, which are able to help the liver recover, reduce inflammation and prevent further damage. Nutraceuticals have the advantage over pharmaceuticals here, as drugs need to be processed by the liver, which as we mentioned earlier, can put excess strain on the liver and cause even more damage!

Your Thoughts

Have you ever tried using milk thistle for dogs? Did you notice any improvements? Would you prefer to use traditional drugs in this instance? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

About James Watts

BSc Bioveterinary Science. Editor of PetSci. When I'm not writing, learning, discussing, or reading about animals, you know it's the weekend!

14 comments

  1. do you have any ideas for a Westie with liver disease caused by poison mushrooms? He is 8 yrs old and ate them 3 rimes when he was 3 and 4 yrs old. He now has a yeast infection and just had a biopsy and was diagnosed with Hepatocutaneous which what I have been reading is fatal. He’s been taking milk thistle, Vit D and SamE for over 6 months. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

  2. Hi. My labrador has advanced liver disease. I am already giving milk thistle but heard sam-e can also help. Where (other than vet) can I buy this in uk which is reputable?

  3. I may have given my dog liver damage by putting tea tree oil on her paw injury. Vets have given her charcoal and have her on an iv drip for 24 hours. Your article said that milk thistle can help. What’s the best form to administer this: sprinkling capsules in her food? Liquid tinctures? Any other forms?

    Could you please recommend a reputable brand and anything else she might need?

    • Hi Deena, there are a few products you can try, such as Samylin. These products are available in tablets or sachets form and also contain other ingredients to help support liver health.

  4. Thank you so much! I’ll get some today.

  5. Hi James,

    I posted something on another page just to keep the information attached to the subject so others could find it but feel free to answers in one go if it’s easier for you. Also now that it’s not an emergency please feel free to answer when it’s convenient for you.

    Thanks very much for your advice about the liver support supplements. I’ll get some immediately but your article brought up other questions for me.

    It’s getting time for me to give my dog her first flea treatment of the year. I typically only treat her from May to. October or November as I don’t want her to come in contact with a lot of nasty chemicals. Usually we use the pipette treatment- at first it was frontline but we switched to Bob Martin because a pet store in London told us it was gentler. However now I am reading that. Bob Martin’s Spot On treat meant is just as toxic.

    So I am wondering what you can recommend that us both gentle yet effective. I’ve of used shampoos before but only because I wasn’t aware of them.

    Finally, given that I have probably stressed out my dog’s liver with this whole tea tree incident (8 or 9 drops on the hot spot over the course of 12 hours) how long should I wait before trying to apply a flea treatment?

    Many thanks again,
    Deena

    • Hi Deena

      Did your vet suggest the cause of the hot spots? Perhaps it was the result of a food allergy, which can be more common in dogs than you might think. This article might have some useful information for you.

      As for the flea treatment, there are natural remedies and supplements that you can use (containing garlic extract), but how effective they are is debatable. You may be better off going ahead with one of the more potent pipette treatments, as you can be sure this will remove the fleas quickly. The gentler treatments may take longer to have an effect, which could be responsible for additional irritation of the skin – not what you want at this point in time I imagine! A few days, or a week should be enough time before applying a flea treatment.

      You can find us on facebook here.

  6. Hi James,

    We have a fourteen year old Yorkshire terrier that we adopted 3 years ago. He has always checked out healthy with the exception of periodontal disease (had 18 teeth removed). He has recently started wetting the bed in his sleep so we had a blood panel run. There were elevated liver enzymes (299 normal but his was 1400). He had been on Metcam for 9 months so we stopped giving him that and rechecked blood in 2 weeks. It went slightly up rather than down. They then ran a test for Cushing’s which was negative.Next step, we are told, is to have an ultra sound. Should I try milk thistle and if so where do I get it from? Other recommendations that I can talk over with the vet!

    I did start acupuncture for his back pain since I discontinued Metaca,.

    Thanks.

  7. Hi James
    First of all you did read it correctly, my name is also James Watts.
    We have a Nine month old dog who the vet thought had a liver shunt as his bile acid reading was 176. No sign of a shunt was found in a CAT scan. N ow, two months later his bile acid level is 73, still quite high but going in the right direction, he is due to have another test in three months to see if the levels are continuing to drop. We are now wondering if he may have eaten something that has caused damage to his liver that is very gradually repairing itself. After reading about Milk Thistle we wondered if it may be beneficial to him. We do not want to cause him further harm.

    Kind regards

    James

    • Hi James, I was slightly confused when I saw who this comment had come from!

      I must admit I am not too familiar with bile acid tests, but perhaps next time you are with your vet, you might want to discuss liver enzyme tests and whether or not going down this route would reveal anything of use.

      Nutrition plays an important role in liver health, and particular additives or substances can, as you mentioned cause damage to the liver.

      Unfortunately there is no miracle cure for liver damage, and the onset of liver disease/ healing of liver damage is a slow process. Norm mentions below having had some success with Hills Prescription Diet L/D which you might be interested to try. I was also definitely recommend using a milk thistle product, which can be picked up fairly cheaply online. These products are hepatoprotective, meaning they protect the liver as opposed to repairing it directly. Although with the help of these products, strain on the liver can be reduced allowing it to heal itself faster and more effectively.

      Please let us know how you get on!

  8. Does Milk Thistle work on liver damaged dogs? Yes, absolutely yes!! But it’s the active ingredients of milk thistle which are Silybin A+B that regenerate liver tissue (found in the product “Marin for dogs” found on eBay, in combination with Lactulose (which stops the transfer of ammonium from the gut to the blood stream), that are the liver saving heroes. Also stop using cheaper commercial dog foods that have toxic preservatives in them. We used an original “Spots Stew” recipe that we found on the web. Certain meats are hard on the liver but chicken and fish are easier. The most complete proteins that don’t have a high ammonium content when digested are in dairy products (yogourt and cottage cheese) as well as in eggs (the whites and the yolk).
    Our dog’s story (very shortened version) – Our dog developed liver problems when he went through the dog food crisis years ago where many dog foods had toxic substances (such as melamine) imported from the third world. Our vet diagnosed him and said he had “end stage liver disease”. Having heard on CNN that milk thistle was shown to have liver regenerative abilities, we asked our vet to order some. He did the research online and the next couple days he phoned and said that milk thistle extract (silybin A+B) had gone “mainstream”. We ordered it, and made up home-made dog food based on Spots Stew (found on the internet). Our dog got slowly better over the next few weeks and continued to improve over the next few months to the point of near perfect health. About 5 years later after great health, he started going downhill again. The vet did an ultrasound and saw there was very little liver left. He prescribed a liver enzyme, “Ursodiol” as well as “Prescription LD” canned dog food and our dog was back to his old bouncy self in 2 days. It has been a year now and our vet calls him a “miracle dog”. Along with the Prescription LD, we give him a heaping tablespoon of yogourt and 1/4 hard boiled egg with each meal for the high quality protein.
    This process has worked for us, and I highly recommend giving it a try. You too may have a “Miracle Dog” that you snatch away from end stage liver disease.

    Good luck,

    Norm

  9. My 6 year old English Terrier was diagnosed with enlarged liver and faulty heart valves. Left her at the vet for a week and I was told to bring her home cos nothing could be done for her anymore. She was brought home vomiting several times a day, black tarry pooh and just kept to herself. Luckily she was willing to eat. I researched the Internet and found that I should try milk thistle. I gave her milk thistle/dandelion tablets every day for 2 months and now she has fully recovered.

    I guess the Internet and the people who posted their experiences saved her.

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