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Mushrooms for your dog’s immune system

As published in Canadian Dogs Annual
Mushrooms for your dog’s immune system

My dog, Cardiff, is a neutered Welsh terrier who has suffered three bouts of typically fatal  Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA) during his seven years of life. Part of the treatment for IMHA involves suppressing the immune system from destroying the body’s own red blood cells.

Immunosuppressive drugs are used to achieve this effect, yet Cardiff was then left susceptible to opportunistic infectious organisms.  While immunosuppressed, Cardiff developed multiple warts caused by the canine papilloma virus, which his compromised immune system was having a hard time fighting off. Two weeks after starting Cardiff on a Reishi and green tea product, his warts began to regress. Within another two weeks, they were completely resolved. I believe what did the trick was the combination of antioxidant effects from the decaffeinated green tea, along with immune system support from the Reishi mushrooms.

The medicinal use of mushrooms in people, dogs and other animals has its origins in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and dates as far back as 100AD. Research on the use of mushrooms in medicine has been ongoing since the 1960s, yet scientifically proving their recognized health claims can be challenging.

What do the studies say?

Laboratory testing often yields positive results in vitro (in a test tube), but creating a beneficial response in vivo (in an organism) is less predictable. Human and animal bodies are complex structures requiring an intricate interconnection of multiple systems in order to function. This means the direct cause and effect relationship associated with a treatment (drug, mushroom extract, other) in an organism is difficult to create.

For example, Maitake PET fraction (a mushroom extract) was used in a 2007 study at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.  The study aimed at evaluating the product’s effectiveness as a single agent treatment for canine lymphoma. Unfortunately, it did not yield the positive effect hoped for, but it was reportedly well tolerated by the dogs involved in the trial and had no adverse effects. On the plus side, Maitake D fraction showed anti-cancer effects in dogs.

Potential preventive benefits

• If you have a dog prone to infection and inflammation, or diagnosed with cancer, a nutraceutical containing extracts of Maitake, Reishi or Shiitake mushrooms (see sidebar for more information on each) may be beneficial.

• Situations of increased stress or exposure to infectious organisms certainly leave a dog prone to illness. Dogs that travel with their people, spend time in kennels or boarding facilities, or visit breed-specific shows and dog parks, may benefit from general immune system support.

• Additional candidates for medicinal mushrooms include juvenile animals, which have incompletely competent immune systems and may be susceptible to bacteria, viruses, parasites and other organisms encountered in day-to-day life.

Always seek the guidance of a veterinarian experienced in using mushrooms and other nutraceuticals before dosing your dog. Choosing a product Mushrooms can be purchased in human health food and other stores in a variety of forms. Fresh or dried mushrooms can be cooked and included in foods, or steeped as a tea (to be cooled and added to a dog’s food or water). Mushroom extracts can also be found in liquid, powder or compressed tablet form.

The concentration of desired mushroom-derived compounds can vary depending on the fungal source, the volume consumed, and the preparatory process.

When using a product not specifically prepared by a manufacturer, you face the potential of a wide variability in the quantity and efficacy of the mushrooms’ health-yielding substances. Therefore, I suggest choosing forms created with a guarantee of quality, dose concentration and purity instead of loose natural forms. It’s even better if you can use a product created specifically for your canine companion.

Safety issues

According to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, “99% of mushrooms have little or no toxicity. The 1% that are highly toxic can cause life-threatening problems in pets.”

• Medicinal mushrooms and their extracts are generally safe, but there are some potential side effects. In humans, Shiitake mushrooms have been reported to cause localized irritation or allergic reactions affecting the nose, throat, trachea (windpipe), lungs and skin. Gastrointestinal side effects can include inappetence, vomiting or diarrhea.

• Also, consider the fact that mushrooms grow on nutrient rich environmental surfaces, such as feces, mulch and soil. Bacteria or other illness-inducing substances may be found
in mushrooms, so I recommend cooking them before adding them to your dog’s food.

• Choose products that come from the United States or Canada – not imported from other countries that may lack the same regulatory oversight as to the cleanliness of water and soil supplies.

• Determining which backyard mushrooms are toxic or not is very difficult, so stay away from them and prevent your dog from foraging.

Three years later, Cardiff continues to receive daily supplementation from the Reishi and green tea product. He has had no clinically diagnosable infections, nor a recurrence of his IMHA.

From a nutritional standpoint, mushrooms are high in fiber and moisture, and low in calories. They can be used in weight loss or maintenance plans to reduce a dog’s need to consume calories.

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Dr. Patrick Mahaney graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. He is a certified veterinary acupuncturist from the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society. Dr. Mahaney writes a veterinary blog for patrickmahaney.com and is working on his first book, The Uncomfortable Vet.