Garlic for Animals

Garlic or Allium sativum is one of the most popular nutraceuticals in use today. The American Veterinary Medical Association defines nutraceuticals as “. . . micronutrients, macronutrients and other nutritional supplements used as therapeutic agents.”  Besides flavoring food, garlic is reported to have the following effects:

-cancer prevention
-prevents blood clots
-lowers lipids
-inhibits bacterial growth
-increases circulation
-improves the function of the immune system
-supports liver function 

Unfortunately, garlic is toxic to animals of all kinds, if they eat enough.  In dogs, 5 grams/kg will cause toxicity.  Cats are even more sensitive than dogs.  Even small doses of garlic will cause Heinz bodies to form on the feline red blood cell.  Heinz bodies are clumps of damaged hemoglobin.  They make the walls of the red blood cell more rigid.  The damaged cell is destroyed while trying to circulate through small capillaries.  If enough red blood cells are damaged, anemia develops.  The cat may die if enough red blood cells are damaged.  

Over the years, I have had several clients tell me they give their pets garlic to prevent parasites of all kinds.  In my experience, it does not work well for either treating or preventing parasites.  I had one client refuse heartworm prevention telling me they would use garlic instead.  One year later, the dog tested positive for heartworm disease.  The dog almost died during treatment.  In the exam room, I find a lot of fleas and ticks on dogs who are getting garlic as a flea and tick prevention.  When I pointed the infestation out to one client, they increased the dose of garlic and almost killed their pet!    

Because garlic is toxic to animals, I do not recommend using it in animals. 

-Warren, E. ‘Nutraceuticals’ The VSPN notebook, 4/4/2007.
-Bhagnalashmi, N. et al, ‘Nutraceutical applications of garlic and the interventional biotechnology’ Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2005; 45(7-8):607-21.
-Kirk, C. ‘Top Nutraceuticals in Pet Food and Practice’ World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2011.
-Latimer, K. et al, ‘Duncan and Prasse’s Veterinary Laboratory Medicine Clinical Pathology’ Fourth Edition, Iowa State Publishing, 2003. 

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.