A Myriad of Mushrooms for Dogs, Benefits to Bark About

Close up of dog in grass sniffing mushroom caps
As part of the nutritional landscape, mushrooms are unique in that they are neither plant nor animal: even though often thought of as a vegetable, they are actually a fungus. And with over ten thousand known types, you’re sure to find even more unique features when digging into the offerings of individual mushrooms [1]. If your dog is prone to foraging, you may be more apt to view mushrooms with suspicion than as a potential dietary supplement. Though it is wise to keep mystery mushrooms out of your dog’s diet, there is growing evidence that certain varieties do offer powerful benefits.

Mushrooms have been used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years, primarily in Asia - where over one hundred species are used for medicinal purposes [2]. While mushrooms have become increasingly popular worldwide in holistic circles as both medicine and dietary supplement [3], enough modern research supports their use that over thirty years ago they were approved officially in China and Japan as an adjunct therapy to support standard cancer treatments for humans. Whether used in this support role or alone, medicinal mushrooms boast an “extensive clinical history of safe use” [2]. And humans are not alone in reaping the benefits of mushrooms. Vets are on the lookout for more studies that focus on how mushrooms can benefit dogs specifically, but many veterinarians are recommending mushroom supplements for dogs now based on the strength of current research [4,5]. We’ll take a look at a few of the most recommended varieties here.

            Reishi mushrooms are among the most recommended and most researched varieties. Reishi contains both polysaccharides and triterpenes, two components that are known to be effective at combating cancerous tumors. Studies have shown that this mushroom can inhibit tumor growth by 88% or, in some cases, even reverse tumor growth [6]. Reishi is also a powerful complement to traditional cancer therapies, as it may help to “reduce side effects such as fatigue, loss of appetite, bone marrow suppression, and risk of infection” [7]. Canines not battling cancer can benefit from reishi as well. Studies have shown that reishi is able to regulate the immune system (strengthening the immune system when weak, and conversely evening out an overactive immune system). It also has anti-inflammatory properties, can help combat allergies, and may be a powerful tool in diabetes treatment [6]. Reishi is known to be hepatoprotective (preventing damage to the liver), likely due in part to its antioxidant properties [8]. Furthermore, clinical trials have shown that reishi is tolerated well by most [2].

            Turkey tail mushrooms are another variety recommended for their cancer-fighting properties. The Veterinary School at the University of Penn State conducted a study in 2012 wherein dogs diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma were treated with the polysaccharopeptide (PSP) compound derived from turkey tail mushrooms. The dogs in the study did not undergo the standard surgery or chemotherapy, instead receiving only PSP as treatment. Dogs receiving the standalone PSP treatment had the longest survival times ever recorded for dogs facing the swift-acting hemangiosarcoma, without the adverse side effects associated with standard treatments [9]. Like reishi, turkey tail mushrooms do not stop at fighting cancer - PSP has also been studied for its apparent prebiotic abilities, with studies showing that it may regulate the balance of bacteria in both the gut and intestines [10].

            We might be looking at yet another promising cancer fighter in the Maitake mushroom. Initial research suggests that the D-fraction component of maitake could make it even more effective at the same things that other mushrooms accomplish [11]. The D-fraction component is a more active form of beta-glucan than is found in other medicinal mushrooms and “has demonstrated strong tumor-suppressant abilities in clinical studies, and also boosts immunity to fight infections more effectively.” And why would maitake stop at cancer-fighting when its counterparts don’t stop there? If you are looking for a supplement to help lower your dog’s cholesterol or manage his blood sugar, maitake might be your ticket [7].

Chaga mushroom is a fungus that has grown significantly in popularity. Its inner core has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. Ground into a fine powder and prepared as a tea, it helps boost immunity and overall health. For canines, researchers are finding that Chaga Mushrooms can help stabilize the immune system, fight inflammation, prevent and aid in the fight against cancer, lower blood sugar, and so much more. 

         Lion’s Mane mushrooms are most well-known for their benefits to the brain and nervous system [11]. This variety has been shown to improve brain function and memory, and can even help regenerate damaged nerves. Initial studies suggest that lion’s mane might aid in treating the human disease multiple sclerosis (MS) - and holistic vets are hopeful that the mushroom could also help canines suffering from a similar malady known as degenerative myelopathy (DM). While most pet parents probably turn to lion’s mane for its well-known brain boosting benefits, there is evidence that this variety could one day join the ranks of cancer-crushing mushrooms [12]. Because why would any mushroom be satisfied with being good at just one thing?


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