Pamela Bouchard, DVM, CVA
VCA Tender Care Animal Hospital, San Rafael, CA
Milk thistle has been used for more than 2,000 years to treat liver and gallbladder diseases. It is a thoroughly researched herbal preparations available to help treat various types of liver problems.
Milk thistle is also a powerful antioxidant that can be useful for canine hepatitis, gallbladder disease and liver toxicity.
It can be a powerful aid in treatment for acute liver toxicity that occurs when dogs eat something poisonous, including plants, wild mushrooms, chocolate or any other toxic substance.
Milk thistle is also very useful as a hepatoprotectant — it helps to protect the liver against side effects from medications. If your dog is taking an anti-inflammatory such as Rimadyl or steroids, milk thistle can help protect the liver against side effects from these drugs.
If used properly, milk thistle is very safe and has no known side effects or contraindications, except rare reports of a mild laxative effect.
It is available as a whole herb tincture, a standardized extract, or a dry extract that comes in capsule form. The extract of milk thistle is called Silybum marianum. Herbalists believe that the whole tincture is much more effective than an extract due to the synergy of various components within the plant.
Keep in mind that over-the-counter herbal preparations are not regulated, and are not held to specific standards of efficacy and safety. It is important to use a product from a reputable manufacturer and to follow the recommendations of a veterinarian trained in herbal medicine. As long as you follow these guidelines, milk thistle can be a valuable, safe supplement for your dog.