Saturday, June 19, 2010

Milk Thistle in Veterinary Medicine

A Liver Healing Herb

What's the best-researched herb in the world? From the standpoint of known active constituents, proven pharmacological mechanisms of action, proven clinical effectiveness through dozens of controlled clinical studies and decades of experience, and an excellent safety record, there is only one herb that can fit all of those criteria. It is milk thistle.

Milk thistle, Sylibum marianum, can be given to dogs, cats, horses and birds and is a wonderful healing herb for the liver. In animals (people too) it has been shown to protect the liver and regenerate liver cells. Its active ingredients are found in the fruiting bodies, the seeds and the entire plant. Birds will readily eat the tasty millet-size seeds, making milk thistle an excellent addition to the diet for any pet bird with liver problems.

There is a nutraceutical extract of milk thistle called silymarian, which is a flavonoid that has an affinity for the liver. It is used quite commonly in Japan and Europe for acute liver toxicosis. It's primarily used to regenerate hepatocytes, where it improves the flow of bile and fat to and from the liver.

Milk thistle, or silymarin, is one of the best herbs for liver cirrhosis, hepatitis, acute toxicosis of the liver and fatty liver disease. It is also beneficial for bile duct inflammation and is a potent anti-oxidant.

Clinical Applications

1. Regeneration
Milk thistle helps the liver regenerate healthy cells and repair old damage.

2. Skin Disease
According to Chinese medicine, inflammations of the skin are basically caused by a weak liver. Milk thistle is helpful in the treatment of skin diseases because of its positive impact on liver health.

3. Toxic Liver
While removal of the liver disease-causing substance is important in management of toxic liver situations, silymarin is the best documented drug for treatment of liver intoxication.

4. Mushroom Poisoning

Milk thistle has also been used as a preventive and/or antidote to poisoning by Amanita phalloides, the deadly deathcap mushroom. Animal research has found that milk thistle extract completely negates the toxic effects of the mushroom when given within 10 minutes of ingestion. If given within 24 hours of eating the deathcap, the herb significantly reduces the risk of liver damage and death.

5. Antioxidant
Milk thistle is many times more potent than vitamin E.

6. Cancer
Laboratory studies also suggest that active substances in milk thistle may have anti-cancer effects. Silymarin has strong antioxidant properties and has been shown to inhibit the growth of prostate, breast, and cervical cancer cells in test tubes.

7. Detoxification
Milk thistle has been shown to increase the glutathione (GSH) content of the liver by as much as 35 percent. Glutathione is one of the most important hepatic detoxification pathways of the body. More GSH, helps the liver more successfully process environmental toxins such as heavy metals and pesticides. It also improves protection against carbon tetrachloride, galactosamine, and praseodymium nitrate.

Where does milk thistle come from: Milk thistle preparations are from the seeds of Silybum marianum, a member of the sunflower family, grown for centuries throughout Europe and naturalized on that continent. It is also grown in the United States, and can be found as a common weed in California.

Toxicity and cautions:
1. Milk thistle has no known toxicity.
2. Extremely large doses can cause loose stools as a result of excessive bile production.

Human Applications

Alcohol Abuse
If you have been a "drinker" for several years, it looks hopeful that you can repair your liver by taking milk thistle seed.

Scientific studies suggest that active substances in milk thistle (particularly silymarin) protect the liver from damage caused by viruses, toxins, alcohol, and certain drugs such as acetaminophen (a common over the counter medication used for pain; acetaminophen, can cause liver and kidney damage especially if taken by people who drink alcohol regularly.

High cholesterol

One animal study found that silymarin (an active compound in milk thistle) worked as effectively as the cholesterol-lowering drug probucol, with the additional benefit of substantially increasing HDL ("good") cholesterol.

Common Herbal Dosages for Animals

Carnivores *

Extract or powder capsule (100mg)

Cats: 1
Dogs (25 LB): 1

Extract Tablet (250 mg)

Cats: 0.5
Dogs (25 LB): 1


Cats: 5 to 10 drops
Dogs (25 LB): 5-10 drops

* Carnivores require more per pound on the basis of human dosage. These doses are given two times daily mixed into food or given at mealtime.

Herbivores *


Extract or powder capsule

Goat (250 LB) 1 tsp
Cow (1500 LB) 2 T
Horse (1000) 2 T

Extract Tablet

Goat (250 LB) 3 to 5
Cow (1500 LB) 10 to 15
Horse (1000)

10 to 15


Goat (250 LB) 1 tsp
Cow (1500 LB) 2 T
Horse (1000) 2T

* Herbivores require less per pound on the basis of human or carnivore dosage. These doses are given two times daily, preferably given at feed time.

Horses undergoing high performance routines would benefit from receiving Milk thistle, especially if the horse has been given drugs and synthetic vitamin supplements.

Herbal Dosages for Pets
No standard, scientifically validated method of dosing animals exists. Typically the herbalist or veterinarian starts with conservative dosages and carefully gauges the animal's reaction before increasing medication. It is a good idea to start out with a lower dose and increase the amount slowly until you reach the suggested amount. This will allow the patient to get used to the substance gently and you will have fewer problems, if any.

Note: Herbs should be given on a 6 day on, 1 day off cycle (the 7th day no herbs are given). The one day off allows the body to clear and work on its own.

To learn more about holistic treatments and natural healing strategies for dogs, cats, horses and birds, be sure to visit Pet Remedy Charts the companion animal guide to using herbs, homeopathy, flower remedies and acupressure at home.