With so many different mushroom products on the market it can get confusing and overwhelming when it comes to choosing the right one for your dog.
Not all mushrooms are inherently beneficial, but the great news is that each of the medicinal mushrooms listed below are readily available and provide a wide range of potent health benefits for our dogs. They also each have their own unique differences that make some of them better for treating certain health conditions over others.
Key benefits of mushrooms
Here's just a few examples of the benefits of medicinal mushrooms for dogs:
✔ Kidney and liver protective
My top mushroom recommendations
As a clinical Naturopath, Nutritionist and Herbalist, there are certain ingredients that I just couldn’t be without in my clinical practice in order to get the best health outcomes for my patients. When it comes to mushrooms, below are my top picks.
Cordyceps is highly valued in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat a wide range of disorders. Cordyceps is highly effective as a tonic to promote energy, reduce fatigue, and strengthen the body after serious illness. It’s utilised as an immune and nervine adaptogen that is specific for pathogen-induced inflammation and immune dysregulation.
Cordyceps has a particular affinity for the kidneys and is highly beneficial for dogs suffering kidney disease, including chronic renal failure. Cordyceps also has an affinity for the lungs where it may improve pulmonary function in canine respiratory illnesses.
Lion's mane for dogs has become increasingly popular as of late. While most of the medicinal mushroom species are exceptionally potent for immunity and liver protection, Lion’s Mane’s unique properties work primarily to protect the nervous system, brain and gut.
Lion’s Mane enhances myelination of nerve fibres and is highly indicated for nervous system health due to its ability to heal and restore nervous system function, including neurodegeneration – making it especially beneficial for senior dogs and dogs with spinal injuries.
Maitake is prized in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a medicinal mushroom to enhance Qi, fortify the immune system and improve vitality. Maitake was also treasured for its longevity properties and was thought to bring vigour to the body.
This medicinal mushroom is a profound immunomodulating phytomedicine that helps to fortify bodily defences against disease-causing pathogens and is specifically indicated in cases of cancer and cancer prevention, as well as liver and endocrine disturbances.
Traditionally, Reishi was employed religiously by Taoist monks to attain a long and healthy life. There are over 400 bioactive compounds in this powerhouse mushroom which are responsible for its adaptogenic, immunomodulating and anti-inflammatory actions.
It’s often prescribed for patients with autoimmune conditions, chronic bacterial and viral infections, inflammatory disorders, for cancer prevention and as an adjunct to chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Reishi has an affinity for the liver, protecting against hepatotoxicity.
Clinical studies demonstrate that one of the main active constituents in Reishi (ganodermic acid) has an inhibitory action on the release of histamine in mast cells, making Reishi beneficial for dogs prone to allergies.
Shiitake is one of the most used medicinal mushrooms in the Orient due to its powerful effects in reducing the risk of chronic disease development and progression, and to prevent premature ageing.
Shiitake is considered a nutritive functional food and is highly regarded for its production of the beta-glucan lentinan, which is responsible for some of the mushroom’s anticancer activity and bioactive effects upon the immune system. Shiitake is an immune strengthening tonic with extensive organ-protective activity, making it especially beneficial in cases involving chronic or recurring illness.
Turkey Tail has been used as a traditional medicine for thousands of years for improving liver and spleen function, removing toxins, increasing energy and spirit and enhancing the immune response.
Due to its ability to help cancer patients and illnesses related to immune deficiency, Turkey Tail is considered one of the best researched mushrooms in the scientific field today. As a key cancer therapy adjunct, Turkey Tail can be utilised to reduce side effects of conventional cancer treatments.
The benefits of liquid extracts
Herbal treatments for our dogs can come in several different forms, but what’s important to keep in mind is that the success of any herbal medicine as a healing agent is dependent upon the amount of the active constituents present when your dog ingests them. So for maximum therapeutic benefits, it’s important that we give them the form that best captures and preserves these powerful active constituents.
When it comes to mushrooms, you’ll most often encounter powdered, capsule, tablet and liquid forms.
Powders, capsules and tablets
The mushrooms found in capsule or tablet form are often ground months prior to being added to the final product and sold.
Capsule and tablet forms are therefore more prone to losing many of their active constituents both when they are ground and while they are in storage.
Herbal tablets also contain fillers, binders, and other materials necessary to hold the tablet together. If you do purchase mushroom supplements in these forms, ensure that you only buy from high quality, reputable sources to help minimise some of these quality issues.
Tablets must also be dissolved by the body's digestive system before the contents can be assimilated. Capsules tend to be better than tablets in this regard because they don’t contain the extra manufacturing materials and they dissolve more easily in the stomach.
But if a dog is suffering from poor digestion or is on antacid medication, the potential therapeutic benefits of mushrooms in capsule and tablet form diminishes. Additionally, the active constituents in capsule and tablet form will start to lose potency once the bottle is opened and they are exposed to oxygen. This is even more of an issue with powdered forms of mushrooms.
I don’t know about you, but I give my dogs a lot of supplements to ensure they live their best and longest lives (occupational hazard!), and I find that there are only so many powders that you can add to a bowl of food before you start wondering where the actual food is! This is one reason why I prefer concentrated liquid extracts over powders. With liquids I only need to give a very small number of drops at any one time, while still providing maximum health benefits.
Liquid herbal extracts are herbs that have been processed in such a way that their active constituents are suspended in a liquid medium, usually alcohol and water. Using alcohol for processing the raw materials works to extract the greatest number of active constituents, which is why you only need to give a very small dose of a herbal tincture created this way.
To give an example, Goldenseal is a powerful herb for supporting both gut and immune health. Just boiling Goldenseal roots for hours in water will extract most of its water-soluble constituents, but will fail to extract hydrastine, Goldenseal’s main anti-inflammatory compound. Only alcohol will extract this valuable constituent properly.
In addition to alcohol-based tinctures, you might also come across glycerine-based tinctures.
In this case, once the active constituents have been extracted using alcohol, the alcohol is removed using a heat-free process and the resulting liquid is then suspended in glycerine to make a non-alcohol extract. Glycerine tinctures are still highly potent because the active constituents were first extracted using alcohol.
The benefit of glycerine-based tinctures is that they tend to taste sweet, so dogs love them. The main downsides are that they tend to be a lot more expensive due to the extra processing steps involved and they have a much shorter shelf-life without the alcohol to preserve them.
Why herbalists prefer liquid extracts over other forms
Herbalists tend to prefer liquid extracts for the following three reasons:
- Liquid herbal extracts retain their freshness over a longer period of time.
- Liquid herbal extracts deliver more bioavailable constituents than any other form of herbal supplements.
- Liquid herbal extracts bypass the digestive process and enter the bloodstream rapidly, making them the most effective way for the body to absorb the medicinal principles from herbs.
Some pet owners may be concerned about the presence of alcohol in alcohol-containing liquid herbal extracts, but there’s little cause for worry.
On average, 30 drops of an extract containing 70 percent alcohol (note - most tonics have a significantly lower alcohol percentage than this) has the same amount of alcohol as one ripe banana that occurs as a result of the natural fermentation process.
So for the average herbal tonic, it would be more like giving half of a very ripe banana to a medium to large sized dog.
Things to be aware of
Who you're purchasing from
Meal toppers and supplements for animals are poorly regulated in Australia (and the situation is even worse in the US), which means that many of the products out there aren’t tested for quality, potency, or contamination. Some may also include fillers that make production cheaper for manufacturers.
Recent studies of herbal supplements around the world found that up to 79 percent of herbal products sold had contamination issues in terms of different herbs being used than what was claimed on the label (cheaper versions substituted) and the presence of heavy metals, pesticides, mould toxins, pollens and parasites.
That’s why it’s so important to only buy herbal products from a reputable, qualified source to ensure that your dog is only getting the highest quality and most pure product, without the addition of undeclared ingredients that will likely be detrimental to their health in the long run.
The quality of ingredients
Something else I see online with many products – especially those that advertise the use of more expensive ingredients such as medicinal mushrooms, is that the actual mushroom content is significantly diluted with other ingredients.
Unfortunately, it’s often hard for pet parents to see beyond the marketing hype, which is why it’s so important that pet parents learn how to read and understand the ingredients list on whichever products they buy (food or supplements).
To give you an example, one of my French Bulldogs has a spinal injury, so a key part of her treatment regime to get her walking again has been the use of Lion’s Mane to enhance myelination of nerve fibres, reduce nerve degeneration and promote the overall functioning of her nervous system.
Given the severity of her situation, I have been giving her a separate 100% pure Lion’s Mane liquid tonic in addition to her other regular supplements. Unfortunately, when looking at the ingredient lists of other so-called Lion’s Mane products on the market, there are some popular brands that are mainly all hempseed oil with some Lion’s Mane flavouring – which certainly isn’t going to provide your dog with the health benefits that you’re after.
Each of the mushrooms described in this article have been consumed safely for hundreds of years and have very strong safety profiles. However, because of their powerful immune-boosting properties, you should always use any mushroom product with caution in dogs taking immunosuppressant and anti-platelet/anticoagulant medications.
And because safety in pregnancy and lactation has not been established, the recommendation is not to administer during these times unless under direct professional supervision from your veterinarian.
There’s a reason that medicinal mushrooms have been used as both food and medicine and classified as ‘elixirs’ for centuries.
As you have now learnt, mushrooms are powerful healers that have an enormous array of health benefits for our dogs due to the presence of various bioactive compounds. The extraction of these bioactive constituents is a key factor in the therapeutic benefits that mushrooms have, and is the reason why high quality, unadulterated liquid tonics are one of the best forms to use with our pets due to their higher potency and easy administration.
So if you’re not sure where to start with choosing a mushroom product for your dog, I highly recommend that you begin with a blended tonic that provides the broadest range of health benefits.
Then, if your dog has specific health challenges - such as my French Bulldog with her spinal injury - you can add in a more targeted product, such as the pure Lion’s Mane or pure Turkey Tail. Refer to the table below for an easy reference guide.
If you are interested in purchasing Lion's Mane for your own dog, why not consider trying CanineCeuticals Pure Lion's Mane.