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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!


  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?

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