Coconut Oil for Dogs and Cats

Coconut oil has become a popular fatty acid supplement for humans.  Some of my clients who supplemented their pets with fish oil have switched to coconut oil because they thought it was better.  Unfortunately, this is only true for patients with severe gastrointestinal disease or cognitive dysfunction.  Unlike fish oil, it does not help with inflammation.  Let me explain:

Dogs and cats need omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in their diets.  These long chain fatty acids are considered ‘essential’ because dogs and cats cannot manufacture them from other food sources.  These fatty acids play a vital role in many body functions including development, reproduction and the integrity of cell membranes.  The most important of these essential acids for dogs and cats are linoleic acid and alpha-linoleic acid which are both derived from plants.  Believe it or not, corn oil is a great source of linoleic acid with a smaller amount of alpha-linoleic acid while canola oil has more alpha-linoleic acid with lesser amounts of linoleic acid.  Olive oil has very little of these two substances which is why I don’t recommend it as a fatty acid supplement. 

Omega-3 fatty acids are made up of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosohexaenoic acid (DHA).  EPA and DHA are the best at reducing inflammation.  They are produced by algae and plankton and then accumulate in fish that ingest them.  Currently, the most cost effective source of EPA and DHA is fish oil.  I recommend using a product made from fish at the bottom of the food chain.  This avoids the build-up of toxins like mercury in the fish at the top of the food chain.  Coconut oil does not contain EPA or DHA.     

Coconut oil is a medium chain fatty acid and does not act like a long chain fatty acid.  It does not contain linoleic or alpha-linoleic acid.  Long chain fatty acids are compacted into chylomicrons and transported through the lymphatic system.  Medium chain fatty acids bypass the lymphatics and are absorbed directly into the portal system.  I use coconut oil as a source of calories for patients with damaged lymphatic systems or decreased absorptive capacity as in short bowel syndrome.  I am also starting to recommend it for senior dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction based on work done in people.  So far, my small sample size shows that one dog improved greatly while the other three stayed the same.    

Again, I would like to repeat that coconut oil is not a replacement for fish oil.  I only recommend it for animals with severe gastrointestinal disease or animals with cognitive dysfunction.  In my experience, it does not help with osteoarthritis, dermatitis, allergies or asthma.  Before using coconut oil, speak with a veterinarian.  Coconut oil is very high in calories leading to weight gain.  Please have a veterinarian calculate how many calories to cut out of a patient’s diet before starting this supplement.  Also, be very cautious in animals with hyperlipidemia syndrome or animals prone to pancreatitis.  Lastly, stick with fish oil for helping cats and dogs with inflammation.    

Lexox, Catherine, Small Animal Nutrition, Continuing Education through VIN, 2013.  


Aloe Vera for Animals

Aloe vera has been used to treat skin conditions in humans and animals for many years.  Although there are a lot of personal testimonies regarding its therapeutic effects, I have not found many controlled research studies to back up the claims – until now.  Dr. Mahsa Tarameshloo and colleagues conducted a study comparing aloe vera to thyroid hormone cream and silver sulfadiazine.  They compared the tensile strength of skin wounds in rats after 14 days of treatment and found that aloe vera had much better tensile strength than the other two compounds. 

Unfortunately, aloe can cause vomiting and diarrhea if ingested.  Therefore, licking must be prevented.  According to Pet Poison Control, “Aloes contain anthraquinone glycosides which are purgatives.  When ingested, these glycosides are metabolized by intestinal bacteria forming compounds that increase mucous production and water in the colon.”  Other rarely observed signs include tremors and a change in the color of urine. 

-Pet Poison Helpline, ‘Aloe Vera’, Posted on Categories NutraceuticalsLeave a comment on Aloe Vera for Animals

Ginger for Animals

When I hear the word ginger, I automatically think of gingersnaps and gingerbread houses.  But there is far more to ginger that simply using it as a spice.  Ginger may be used to treat nausea and promote digestion.  It is thought to act by reducing stimulation within the gastrointestinal tract thereby blocking nausea signals to the brain.  I recommend it for dogs who suffer from motion sickness when their owners want an alternative therapy.  I know an avian veterinarian who uses it to treat motion sickness in parrots.

Beside treating nausea, ginger extract is being studied as a treatment for gastric ulcers. In the past, the effects of ginger were limited because it transverses the stomach quickly, limiting contact time with stomach ulcers.  In a study conducted by Dr. Singh, ginger extract and probiotics were loaded into floating beads that attach to the mucosa of the stomach.  The beads stay in the stomach for approximately ten hours to increase exposure.  So far, the results look promising but more research is needed to verify this study.

Another potential use of ginger is to treat anemia.  Inadequate red blood cell production is a problem in mammals of all kinds.  The most common cause of chronic anemia I deal with is anemia secondary to kidney failure in cats.  When the kidneys fail, they stop producing an important hormone called erythropoietin.  A synthetic form of it is available but not without problems.  Erythropoietin is expensive, must be injected and the patient may develop resistance over time.  In 2012, Dr. Ferri-Langeau led a team of researchers who studied the effect of ginger in zebrafish embryos.  Ginger and the active ingredient, 10-gingerol, stimulated maturation of red blood cells,  They hope that their “results will provide the basis for future research into the effect of ginger during mammalian hematopoiesis to develop novel erythropoiesis promoting agents.”     

Before giving ginger or any other nutraceutical to your pet, please check with your veterinarian.  High doses should not be used during pregnancy or in patients on anticoagulants.   

-Ferri-Lagneau, K. F. et al, Ginger stimulates hematopoiesis via Bmp pathway in zebrafish. PLoS ONE. Jan. 2012;7(6):e39327.
-Mowrey, D. et al, Motion sickness, ginger and pyschophysics.  Lancet. 1982;1(8273):655-657.
-Orosz, S. Common Herbs and Their Use in Avian Practice (670) AAV. 2006.
– Singh, P. K., et al, Synbiotic (probiotic and ginger extract) loaded floating beads: a novel therapeutic option in an experimental paradigm of gastric ulcer.  J. Pharm Pharmacol. Feb. 2012; 64(2)207-17. 
-Warren, A. Nutraceuticals, VIN, April 4, 2007

Prebiotics for Dogs and Cats

I find the term ‘prebiotics’ to be a bit misleading.  Since the term ‘Probiotics’ refers to the beneficial bacteria that live in the intestines, it is natural to assume that the term prebiotics refers to a precursor of the bacteria.  It doesn’t.  The term prebiotics refers to a special type of fiber that can be broken down for energy by the bacteria that live in the gut.  Here is the best description I found written by Elizabeth Warren.  Probiotics “contribute to a healthy environment for gut flora, usually by providing sources of fermentable foods which bacteria can digest.  Nutrients released feed both the beneficial bacteria and cells of the colon, improving the environment and immune function of the large intestine.” 

Fiber is divided into two categories, insoluble which passes through the intestines virtually unchanged and soluble which is metabolized by bacteria for food.  The soluble fiber must pass through the acidic environment of the stomach intact.  When it reaches the intestines, the normal resident bacteria digest it for food.  Maintaining a healthy population of non-pathogenic bacteria keeps the harmful bacteria from invading the gut and causing disease.  The byproducts also decrease the pH of the colon as well as stimulate absorption of sodium and water.   

There are basically two types of insoluble fiber that work well dogs and cats, oligofructose and inulin.  Oligofrutose is found in soybeans, oats, beets and tomatoes while inulin is found in Jerusalem artichoke, jimcama and chickory root. 
-Kirk, C. Top Neutraceuticals in Pet Foods and Practice, World Small ANimal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings 2011.
-Pan, X et al., Prebiotics oligosaccharide change the concentrations of short-chain fatty acids and the microbial population of mouse bowel. J of Zhejiang Immuno Source B 2009; 10(4): 258-263.  
-Warren, E. Nutraceuticals, VIN, April 4, 2007.
-Wontinger, A. What Do Prebiotics and Probiotics Really Do? Western Veterinary Conference 2012. 

Probiotics for Animals

Probiotics are bacteria that are given to animals or people to establish a healthy population of microbes in the intestinal tract.  In order to be effective, these microbes must survive the acidic environment of the stomach as well as the bile secreted by the gall bladder in the intestines.  They must also survive any medication the patient might be taking including antibiotics like metronidazole.  Once in the gut, they need to adhere to the intestinal lining to establish a healthy population of microbes and prevent the adherence of pathogenic organisms including Salmonella, E. coli and Clostridium.  These ‘good’ bacteria metabolize insoluble fibers also called prebiotics into substances that are detrimental to the harmful bacteria.  They also produce energy for the cells of the colon.  Above all else, they must do no harm, i.e. not cause disease in the patient. 

The bacteria used and most studied are Lactobacillus, Bidifobacteria and Enterococcus spp. The veterinary products are Azodyl, Fortiflora and Prostora Max.    

Over the years, the use of probiotics has increased dramatically in veterinary medicine.  Here are some of the more common uses: 
1) Diarrhea 
2) Inflammatory bowel disease
3) Allergic dermatitis also called atopy
4) Recurrent urinary tract infections
5) Tear staining
6) Renal failure 
7) Patients on long-term antibiotics
8) Gut inoculation in hand-raised animals. 

Since these products contain live organisms, it is important to handle them with care.  Improper storage may kill the microbes. 

-Kirk, C. ‘Top Nutraceutical in Pet Foods and Practice’, World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2011.
-Warren, A. Nutraceuticals, VIN, April 4, 2007
-Wortinger, A. ‘What Do Prebiotics and Probiotics Really Do?’, Western Veterinary Conference, 2012

Lactoferrin for Animals

Lactoferrin is a glycoprotein found in the milk of cows.  It is thought to have the following effects:

– Promotes growth of the beneficial bacteria lactobacilli and bifidiobacteria while also creating an unfavorable environment for growth of others and inhibits adherence in the G.I. tract.
-Binds and transports iron in blood.
-Modulates immune function.
-Diminishes the damage of free radicals. 

In 1996, Dr. Sato and colleagues published a paper describing how they used lactoferrin to treat stomatitis in cats.  Topical application of lactoferrin reduced the severity and pain associated with inflammation of the gums of FIV positive as well as  FIV negative cats.  Unfortunately, the effect seems to be short lived.  It has been used to treat dogs born with a malfunctioning immune system called familial neutrophil dysfunction.  Current research is focused on using lactoferrin for treating influenza virus,  tuberculosis and hepatitis C.  

-Ammendolia, M. et al., Bovine lactoferrin-derived peptides as novel broad-spectrum inhibitors of influenza virus. Pathog Glob Health. March 2012;106(1): 9-12.
-Sato, R., et al. Oral administration of bovine lactoferrin for treatment of intractable stomatitis in feline immunodeficiency (FIV) -positive and FIV-negative cats. Am J Vet Res. Oct. 1996;57(10):1443-6.
-Sata, R., et al. Clinical effects of bovine lactoferrin on two canine cases with familial neutrophil dysfunction. J Vet Med Sci. September 2012;74(9):1177-83.
-Warren, E. ‘Nutraceuticals’ The VSPN notebook, 4/4/2007.
-WebMD, lactoferrin
-Welsh, K. et al., Influence of oral lactoferrin on Mycobacterium tuberculosis induced immunopathology.  Tuberculosis (Edinb). December 2011;91 Suppl 1(0): S105-13.

Milk Thistle (Silymarin) for Animals

Silymarin is a nutraceutical derived from the seed of the milk thistle plant, not to be confused with blessed thistle.  It’s antioxidant properties and ability to scavange free radicals have been used to treat a variety of liver diseases in humans, dogs and cats.  Although most of the studies with silymarin were conducted in humans and then extrapolated back to animals, I did manage to find a few interesting studies performed  in animals.  In 1984, Dr. Vogel and associates found that dogs given silymarin before ingesting poisonous mushrooms had fewer clinical signs and better prognosis than those left untreated.  Another study by Dr. Avizeh and associates found that silymarin protected cats against liver damage caused by acetaminophen.  Unfortunately, silymarin showed mixed results in protecting pigeons from B1 aflatoxins.  

Recently, silymarin is being used to lesson unwanted side effects with some chemotherapy protocols.  Several years ago, I diagnosed an elderly cat with lymphoma throughout its intestines and referred her to a veterinary oncologist for treatment.  The oncologist placed the cat on milk thistle during chemotherapy which seemed to help.    

High doses of milk thistle may cause vomiting, diarrhea and/or anorexia.  Some animals may also become allergic to the plant.  Dosing milk thistle can be challenging because of the variety of formsit comes in; extract vs dried plant.  Therefore, always consult your veterinarian before using any nutraceutical.   

-Avizeh, R et al. Evaluation of prophylactic and therapeutic effects of silymarin and N-acetylcysteine in acetaminophan-induced hepatotoxicity in cats. J. Vet Pharmacol Ther. February 2010; 33(1): 95-9.
-Grizzle, J. et al. Effects of dietary milk thistle on blood paramenters liver pathology, and hepatobilliary scintigraphy in white carneaux pigeions (Collumbia livia) challenged with B1 aflatoxin. J. Avian Med Surg. June 2009; 23(2): 114-24.
-Plumb, D Plumb’s Veterinary Drug Handbook 7th Ed., John Wiley & Sons, 2011
-Twedt, D. Nutraceuticals in Liver Disease, ACVIM 2004.
-Vogel, G. et al. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology 1984; 73(3): 355.

Essential Fatty Acids for Animals

Essential fatty acids (EFA’s) play a vital role in both cell and immune function.  EFA’s are divided into two forms, omega 3 and omega 6.  Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish and other marine life decrease inflammation.  In veterinary medicine, EFA’s are often prescribed for the following animal diseases:
1) Canine cognitive dysfunction
2) Allergic dermatitis
3) Osteoarthritis
4) Chronic kidney disease
5) Heart disease to decrease weight loss
6) Cancer treatment to decrease the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. EFA’s might also decrease tumor recurrence.

Unfortunately, essential fatty acids have unwanted side effects.  Here are a few of those side effects:
1) Has been found to inhibit insulin release in humans with type II diabetes.  Therefore, as a precaution, it should likely be used with caution in any diabetic patient including animals.
2) High doses may cause bleeding problems due to interference with platelets.  This is especially true in cats.
3) High doses of omega 6 promote inflammation and thus are not used as often in therapy.
4) Can cause vitamin E deficiency which is why patients on chronic EFA therapy should also receive vitamin E supplementation.
5) May cause recurrence of pancreatitis or diarrhea in patients with a history of these problems. 

Brooks, W. Heart Failure Therapy, VIN 1/19/2011
Ogilvie, G. Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Cancer: Frontiers for Cure & Control ACVIM 2012
Plumb, D    Plumb’s Veterinary Drug Handbook 7th Ed., John Wiley & Sons, 2011
Shell, L. Cognitive Dysfunction VIN 10/26/2012
Tater, K. Ateopic Dermatitis VIN 2/14/2012
Warren, E. Nutraceuticals VIN 4/4/2007

Co-enzyme Q-10 in Animals

Co-enzyme Q-10 increases mitochondrial energy production in cells possibly through down-regulating the level of nitric oxide.  It has been touted for use in patient’s with cardiac disease to improve cell function.  I have had a few clients try this in dogs and cats with heart disease.  Unfortunately, I did not see any improvement in these patients.  Recently I came across a study that demonstrated CoQ10 might help diabetic patients with heart disease based on research in mice but the investigators recommended further investigation.   

Beside heart disease, Co-enzyme Q-10 has been reported to improve gingivitis in humans although I haven’t had any experience with this.  I know that some veterinarians are recommending this nutraceutical for canine cognitive dysfunction although there are no scientific studies yet to back up this use.  I did find one study that showed Co-enzyme Q-10 protected against cognitive impairments and hippocampal neuronal degeneration caused by organophosphates.  

-Binukumar, B.K., et. al., “Protective efficacy of co-enzyme Q-10 against DDVP-induced cognitive impairments and neurodegeneration in rats.” Neutox Res. May 2012;21(4): 345-57.
-Huymh,K. et. al., “Coenzyme Q10 attenuates diastolic dysfunction, cardiomyocyte hypertrophy and cardiac fibrosis in the db/db mouse model of type 2 diabetes” Diabetologica May 2012;55(5):1544-53.
-Jung, Hynn-Joo, et. al., “Evaluation of anti-angiogenic, anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive activity of coenzyme Q(10) in experimental animals.” J. Pharm Pharmocol. October 2009;61(10):1391-5.
-Warren, E. ‘Nutraceuticals’ The VSPN notebook, 4/4/2007.

L-Lysine for Animals

L-lysine is an amino acid that is used in humans and animals for controlling herpes viral infections.  Lysine interferes with the virus uptake of arginine.  This amino acid is required for replication.  With inadequate amounts of arginine, the virus can’t reproduce decreasing the number of organisms in the patient.  Many people use it to decrease the occurrence of cold sores.  In veterinary medicine, it is primarily used for treating chronic herpes viral infections in cats.   My own cat Tigre, is chronically infected with the herpes virus.  The number and duration of outbreaks decreased dramatically when I placed him on a low dose of lysine.  Some equine veterinarians prescribe lysine for a condition called ‘pastern dermatitis.’  Horses with this condition develop a vasculitis in the skin of their pasterns.  The condition improves when the horses are treated with lysine or a mixture of lysine and flaxseed oil. 

Unfortunately, lysine can cause problems if not used properly.  Besides depleting arginine in a virus, it can theoretically do the same thing in animals.  I recently read about a cat who was started on a moderate dose of lysine as a kitten for a herpes infection.  At ten years of age, the cat started having episodes of strange behavior that included dizziness, vocalization, drooling and vomiting.  During the episode, the cat walked around like it was drunk.  The clinical signs started after the cat received its dose of lysine and lasted for about four hours.  The episodes stopped when the lysine was discontinued.  A clinical study by Dr. Fascetti and colleagues was not able to replicate these signs when challenging cats with excess dietary lysine.  Until more is learned about lysine-arginine antagonism I recommend giving a low dose of lysine no more than twice a day instead of placing it in the food.

L-lysine comes in a variety of forms and from many different sources.  Although the lysine is the same, other ingredients are often added to make it more palatable.  Please be careful with these added ingredients.  I have read reports of some companies using artificial sweeteners and/or propylene glycol to their products which are harmful to animals.  If a label states that other ingredients are added to improve taste, find out what they are before giving them to your pet.  If the company refuses to give all the ingredients, find a new product.  If the ingredients are not classified as ‘Generally Recognized as Safe’ (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration I would avoid the product.  More information including a list of GRAS ingredients can be found at


-Fascetti, A.J., et al., Excess dietary lysine does not cause lysine-arginine antagonism in adult cats. J. Nutr. August 2004; 134(8 Suppl): 2042S-2045S.
-Warren, E. ‘Nutraceuticals’ The VSPN notebook, 4/4/2007.