Milk Thistle for Pets

Milk Thistle with a butterflyMilk thistle, also known by its Latin name, Silybum marianum, offers a variety of therapeutic possibilities that can improve the quality of life for pets.  Milk thistle has been recognized as an herbal remedy for a variety of health concerns for nearly 2000 years.

Piny the Elder was the first to start prescribing the extract of milk thistle for medical issues such as plague, reptile bites, depression, and encouraging milk production. Since then, a plethora of research has been conducted on this powerful herbal remedy, which has been used for practically every type of liver condition, and has resulted in seemingly miraculous results in conditions which could have been fatal. .

Silymarin – Milk Thistle Active Ingredient

Silymarin is the active ingredient, an extract derivative that comes from the dried seeds of the milk thistle plant. This bioflavanoid (super-antioxidant and anti-inflammatory) complex extract is known mostly for its liver regenerating and detoxifying abilities. It has also more recently been used for protecting the organs of the body from the destructive effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

In dogs, the antioxidant characteristics of milk thistle were proven in a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Pharmacology and Therapeutics to reduce nephrotoxicity (kidney damage) caused by gentamicin (an aminoglycoside antibiotic).

How Does Milk Thistle Work?

To understand how milk thistle works, it is necessary to be aware of how the liver functions. The main function of the liver is to break down and eliminate the majority of substances which are toxic in the body. Toxic substances that the liver is responsible for destroying and getting rid of can include: chemicals in the environment, drugs, household cleaners, plants that are poisonous, cigarette smoke, toxins in tap water, flea shampoos, dips and sprays, and many more.

Milk thistle aids the liver in breaking down toxic substances, and has also been known to encourage bile to flow from the gall bladder. The elements of silymarin marianum gather in the liver after they are absorbed into the body, and then perform in several ways.

One way that the herbal remedy performs is by stimulating protein synthesis (regeneration and replacement of the cells) in the liver. This amazing herb also blocks toxin absorption in the cells of the liver, therefore defending the liver against potential poisoning (some of which can be fatal). Finally, milk thistle inhibits the development of free radicals – substances that cause inflammation and contribute to degeneration of the liver.

Milk Thistle – Studies

In 1984, a study was conducted wherein canines were fed a poisonous mushroom compound. Silymarin was administered by IV to the canines. In the control group, 30% of the canines died, while all of the dogs who were administered the silymarin IV lived. Additionally, the study revealed that there was not any damage in the livers of the canines who received the silymarin. There have been few other studies with canines and milk thistle (salymarin). Most studies regarding milk thistle have been conducted on humans and rats, rather than canines.

Milk Thistle Has Been Used to Treat:

  • Liver problems
  • Chronic hepatitis
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Toxin-induced liver damage
  • Disorders of the gall bladder
  • Bowel disorders
  • Poison antidote

Safety for Pets

Animals seem to tolerate milk thistle quite well, and safety does not appear to be an issue. There may be side effects such as mild digestive upsets and loose stools. There is a standing warning that milk thistle should not be used by a woman who is pregnant; therefore this should also be a precaution for pregnant pets.

The use of milk thistle is supported by scientific studies and many holistic veterinarians for the treatment of disorders of the liver. This herbal remedy may also be recommended for treatment of inflammation of internal organs and diabetes mellitus that has shown resistance to insulin. Just like any other nutritional supplement, consult with your veterinarian before administering milk thistle to your pet.