Milk Thistle Details
Medication type: Herbal Supplement
Form: Capsules, powders, and extracts
FDA approved? No
Life stage: Adult, Senior
Popular Brands: Vita Pet Life, Pet Wellbeing, Herbal Vet, Herbsmith
Common names: Silymarin, Silymarin Marianum
Available dosages: 200 mg for 10 lbs of body weight daily (dogs with advanced liver disease); 60-100 mg for 10 lbs of body weight weekly or monthly (healthy dogs)
Expiration range: 4-5 years
👉 Always talk to your vet before introducing a new supplement into your dog’s diet
What is Milk Thistle?
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a purple-flowering herb native to the Mediterranean and North Africa (although it is now commonly grown in North America). The main component of milk thistle, Silymarin, is believed to have significant benefits to liver health for both humans and animals. According to the Tufts Clinical Nutrition Service, “Many veterinarians recommend supplementing dogs suffering from liver disease with compounds such as…milk thistle.”
Some veterinarians believe that even dogs without liver disease can still benefit from milk thistle. Veterinarian Karen Becker says that pets live in environments that can already be toxic to their liver. Many of these toxins come from, “topical mosquito and pest repellents, visits from pest control companies, fertilizers and chemically-treated yards, flame-retardant pet beds, preservatives, dyes, and additives in commercial pet foods.” A milk thistle supplement can help detoxify a dog’s liver and decrease the risk of liver failure.
According to The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Help, “Silymarin is the most commonly used herbal supplement in the United States for liver problems.”
The health benefits of milk thistle
Although there are no conclusive studies comprehensively proving the health benefits of milk thistle, most doctors and veterinarians agree that it can be incredibly helpful to dogs suffering from liver problems. According to our vets, milk thistle is generally used for treating, chronic hepatitis, liver cirrhosis, toxin-induced liver damage, and gallbladder disorders.
In addition, milk thistle can be used in the treatment of hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease), cholangitis (inflammation of the bile ducts), and pericholangitis (inflammation of the tissue around the bile ducts). Further, Milk thistle thins the bile which can help prevent gallstones.
Milk thistle is considered an antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties. It works by regenerating liver cells and protecting them from damage caused by free radicals. It can also help dogs that are healing from drug therapy, or infections. In some cases, it can even act as a treatment for cancer.
Side effects of Milk Thistle for dogs
Milk thistle can detoxify the liver so much that other medications can become less effective. If your dog is consistently taking medication to manage another condition, then, Karen Becker says, “that therapy can become less effective.” Still, VCA Hospitals says, “Side effects are usually mild and often involve the gastrointestinal tract, such as loose stools or mild digestive upsets.”
It’s always best to check with your vet before starting your dog on milk thistle. Additionally, it should not be given to pregnant dogs
How to give your dog Milk Thistle
You should talk to your veterinarian before introducing a milk thistle supplement into your dog’s diet. (However, you do not need a prescription for a milk thistle supplement). Milk thistle is available in capsule, extract, or tincture.
The form you choose will affect the dosage, and each brand will provide specific dosage guidelines. The dosage should also be discussed with your veterinarian, as it will depend on your dog’s health and weight. Generally speaking, it’s sometimes easier to split a daily dose into three or four different portions over the course of the day.
Buy the supplement from a well known and reliable brand, as supplements are not always highly regulated and may not contain the advertised ingredients. Our vets recommend Herbsmith and Nutramax Labs’ Denamarin and Marin Plus. Besides being one of our favorite brands, the Silybin in those two Nutramax products is made from milk thistle.