Turmeric is a plant whose root has been used for centuries in Ayurveda and traditional Chinese and Indian medicine. The most significant part of turmeric is curcumin, which gives turmeric root its yellow color, as well as most of its health benefits. Turmeric is mostly sold either as a fresh root or a powder, but you can also purchase it as a paste. While it has a long history of being used as a spice and a dietary supplement for people, the word of its advantages has reached the ears of dog lovers. Now we are all eager to learn if there truly is something to this yellow jewel, or is not all that glitters actually gold?
The Benefits of Turmeric for Dogs
In recent years, turmeric and its component curcumin have been researched and cited in countless studies, so the information pool is vast. Curcumin has shown promising results in treating illnesses such as cancer, inflammatory diseases (including arthritis), skin diseases, metabolic diseases, and many, many more. The two canine conditions that have perhaps been researched in correlation with turmeric the most are cancer and arthritis.
One of the reasons why curcumin has so many health benefits is that it's anti-inflammatory. Not only does it prevent inflammation in the system, but it can also suppress pre-existing inflammation. Many diseases, including cancer and arthritis, are inflammatory by nature, which is why turmeric is an obvious natural choice for reducing the symptoms of these (and other) inflammatory diseases in dogs.
Various human clinical trials have confirmed curcumin as a helpful substance against different types of cancer. A study dating back to 1987 showed that topical application of curcumin alleviated external cancer symptoms, such as itching and pain. Cancerous tumors cause 20-30% of dogs in the United States, with elderly dogs having a mortality rate of 50%. These statistics are worrisome and show that too many owners have a personal experience with canine cancer.
Currently, the only options for treating cancer remain chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, if a malignant tumor can be removed. One study that specifically focused on canine neoplasia and dietary ingredients found out that turmeric extract has great benefits for cancer treatment, as it prevented the spread of cancerous cells. The study found potential in turmeric extract, especially when paired with rosemary extract. It also worked very well alongside chemotherapy and did not have any adverse effects on it.
In human clinical studies, curcumin's effectiveness to help with the symptoms of arthritis was as successful as the prescription drug phenylbutazone, a strong anti-inflammatory medicine. Patients on curcumin showed no side effects, and they experienced an improvement in walking, less joint swelling, and decreased morning stiffness. Curcumin also proved to be a great help for postoperative inflammation.
In dogs, there was one large study that looked at curcumin as a possible treatment for osteoarthritis. 61 dogs participated in the study, 25 of which were given curcumin orally, twice daily, for eight weeks. As these were client-owned dogs, they weren't only checked and monitored by the researchers (through clinical assessment), but also by their owners. The owners' assessment failed to reach statistical significance (meaning not enough people reported an improvement for it to be considered more than chance). Still, the researchers' assessment leaned into the favor of curcumin.
Another (smaller) study on dogs was in alignment with the study done on humans, showing that curcumin decreased inflammation in canine osteoarthritis patients more than prescribed medication. The dogs in this particular study received curcumin orally as well, but its bioavailability was chemically increased.
Is Turmeric Always Safe for Dogs?
Research has shown that turmeric is mostly safe, even in higher doses. It's been observed to be tolerated very well by people and animals and is thus considered non-toxic. Beginning the supplementation with turmeric may initially affect your dog's body odor, but it generally passes after a while. With that said, there are still some safety precautions you should be aware of. If your dog is on ANY kind of medication, you have to consult your holistic veterinarian before supplementing with turmeric! In some cases, turmeric can prevent the drug from being properly metabolized, leading to medical complications. The most common two examples of that are anti-inflammatory and diabetic medication.
Turmeric may also not be the best option for:
- Dogs with gastrointestinal issues. It has been clinically observed their digestion can be further disrupted by turmeric, leading to nausea and diarrhea.
- Dogs predisposed to kidney stones.
- Dogs with pre-existing gallbladder stones, as turmeric can cause gallbladder contraction. However, one study did show that breeds that are predisposed to gallstones (Poodles, Schnauzers) can benefit from curcumin as a preventive measure, so long as there are no pre-existing gallbladder issues.
The Question of Research and Dosage
A great number of turmeric and curcumin studies were done in vitro, which means they were done in a test tube rather than within the living organism (in vivo). Many great results found in in vitro studies cannot be easily replicated in practical everyday life, because curcumin has very low bioavailability when taken orally, meaning a very small percent of it actually reaches the bloodstream. Studies have shown that less than 10% of curcumin gets absorbed. One way to increase the bioavailability of curcumin is to dissolve it in oil.
Perhaps the biggest issue with turmeric is the fact that there is no recommended dosage for dogs, based on research. You can find some recommendations based on personal experience, but given the number of breeds and dogs in the world, it's hard to generalize any of it. In humans, no adverse side effects were observed even in higher doses, and studies performed in vitro contained higher doses as well. The general recommended dose for dogs ranges from 50 to 250mg three times daily, which is a very broad frame.
If your dog doesn't have any medical issues that could be compromised by turmeric (as noted above), it's best to start with a small dose and slowly increase it over the span of weeks. If you're using turmeric to help with long-term diseases such as cancer and arthritis, make sure to supplement consistently, even after some of the symptoms are gone. If you're giving turmeric to your dog as a preventive measure, it's harder to figure out what the appropriate dosage would be. However, turmeric products specifically manufactured for dogs usually have a dosage guide on the package.
Final Thoughts on Turmeric for Dogs
There is enough scientific evidence to support the claim that turmeric is very beneficial good for dogs, not just as a preventive dietary supplement, but also as a medicinal aid. It especially shows massive potential in the treatment of canine inflammatory diseases. Long-term supplementation can prevent and alleviate the symptoms of several illnesses, especially in dogs that don't respond well to traditional medication.
At the moment, dog owners don't have a lot of guidance on exactly how much turmeric to give their dog, or which type of turmeric product would be the most appropriate for their dog's condition, which means the use of turmeric is still in experimental stages. But with minimal side effects and the majority of all research leaning in favor of turmeric for dogs, it's undoubtedly a shot worth taking.
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Dejonckheere, Veerle. “Turmeric for Osteoarthritis in Veterinary Medicine: A Review.” Herbal Vets, 2016.
Levine, Corri. Bayle, Julie. Biourge, Vincent. Wakshlag, Joseph. “Effects and synergy of feed ingredients on canine neoplastic cell proliferation.” PMC, 02/08/2016.
Comblain, F. Serisier, S. Barthelemy, N. Balligand, M. Henrotin, Y. “Review of Dietary Supplements for the Management of Osteoarthritis in Dogs in Studies From 2004 to 2014.” Wiley Online Library, 23/07/2015.
Luna’s passion for learning about canine psychology and behavior began when she adopted a severely reactive puppy from a local shelter. She is now a big advocate for positive reinforcement and compassionate training. As a writer, she strives to spotlight the topics that fly under the radar and be the voice for all who cannot speak for themselves.