Maybe you’ve heard about turmeric? It’s all the rage, you know. I’ve recently been exploring the 4,000-year-old history of human use of this plant product and what it can do for you and your dog. Though I’ve had turmeric sitting in my spice cabinet for longer than I can remember, it wasn’t until February of last year that I found out just how beneficial this plant-based substance can be for people and for dogs.
My annual physical last year happened to coincide with a raging bout of tendonitis in my elbows. I could barely lift a pen, much less anything heavier. Thankfully my doctor practices integrative medicine. In discussing a variety of traditional and natural options to treat the tendonitis, she recommended that I add turmeric to my diet. “Turmeric?” I asked. She went on to explain how turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties would likely benefit my arms. She was right. In less than two weeks my tendonitis had disappeared. And those niggly aches and pains of getting older? Yep, they seemed to disappear, too.
My success with turmeric got me thinking about the journey we began in 2012 to help Cody, our then-4-year-old Australian Shepherd, with his chronic lameness. In addition to his lameness, which seemed to move from limb to limb, Cody had pretty severe skin issues, and several bouts of fever of unknown origin – all seemingly unrelated. In an attempt to get to the root of what was happening, we visited 12 veterinarians and veterinary specialists in two years. After Cody was finally diagnosed with autoimmune disease, we began treating him with both conventional and holistic veterinary medicine.
Cody had been on a daily low dose of prednisone for several months; it had initially caused his limp to disappear, but to our dismay, it had recently returned. We were considering giving Cody an increased dosage of the steroid when the mention of turmeric by my own doctor caused me to remember that at least one of Cody’s 12 vets had suggested adding turmeric to his diet.
I keep a behavior and health journal of Cody’s treatments and results, so I know the exact date: we began giving Cody a half-teaspoon of organic powered turmeric twice a day on May 5, 2014. Twelve days later, on May 17, my notes show “Cody’s not limping at all today.”
Today, six months later, we’ve been able to cut his prednisone dosage in half and Cody remains agile, active, and limp-free. Because of the other health benefits of turmeric, especially its antioxidant properties, we began adding it to our other dog’s diet, too.
Turmeric as Medicine
Turmeric is derived from the root of the turmeric plant, Curcumin longa. It’s a perennial in the ginger family, native to south Asia, and has quite a long history of medicinal use. Curcumin is the most active component of turmeric. According to Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects (Taylor and Francis Group, 2011), the use of turmeric dates back nearly 4,000 years to the Vedic culture in India, where it was used as a culinary spice. “In 1280, Marco Polo described this spice, marveling at a vegetable that exhibited qualities so similar to that of saffron.” It was also used as a dye. The bright color of the powder was traditionally used to color the robes of Buddhist monks.
Turmeric is a yellow-orange powder that has a slightly bitter, but also sweet taste. It’s oftentimes referred to as “Indian saffron” and is an ingredient in curry powder. It is also used in manufactured food products, such as mustard, pickles, yellow cakes, ice cream, cake icing, and cereals, among other foods. I frequently use turmeric in rice dishes, sauces, and marinades.
Human Health Benefits of Turmeric
Though anecdotal, my own experience with the use of turmeric certainly made me a believer in turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties. It has been used for treating a wide range of health issues because of its qualities as an antibacterial agent, anticoagulant, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticarcinogen, and neuroprotector.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, tumeric can be used for indigestion (dyspepsia or upset stomach), ulcerative colitis, heart disease (keeps the LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, from building up in the blood vessels), bacterial and viral infections, and uveitis (inflammation of the iris).
Researchers are looking at tumeric for both the prevention and treatment of cancer. The American Cancer Society has information about some of those studies on its website. Some studies have shown that turmeric can reduce the harmful effects of chemotherapy. Curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) has been shown to kill cancer cells in laboratory dishes and slows the growth of the surviving cells. A UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center Study by Marilene Wang, MD, and Eri Srivatsan, PhD, showed that curcumin can be used to treat human patients with head and neck malignancies and reduce activities that promote cancer growth.
Randy J. Horwitz, PhD, MD, medical director for the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, and assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine calls turmeric “one of the most potent natural anti-inflammatories available.”
Turmeric’s Effect on Dogs
With all these amazing health benefits for humans, people were bound to try giving it to their dogs to see if might be equally beneficial for that species. There is abundant positive anecdotal information from pet guardians and veterinarians who give turmeric to dogs for a variety of conditions, but so far, few clinical studies on its use in canines. Those I’ve found have very small sample sizes, though one study worth noting does discuss an oral bioavailability problem – meaning that turmeric isn’t well metabolized when given orally.
According to Demian Dressler, DVM, co-author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide (Maui Media, 2011) and dogcancerblog.com, the absorption issue can be overcome by mixing turmeric with lecithin and water and making a slurry. Lecithin is very gooey. Dr. Dressler recommends mixing four parts water to one part lecithin to the turmeric; some low sodium bullion can be added to improve the flavor.
Other turmeric advocates suggest mixing the turmeric with coconut oil or olive oil. However, my husband and I don’t do anything other than mix the turmeric powder into our dogs’ food – and our dogs have definitely reaped the intended benefits.
I’m already on the turmeric bandwagon – for my own benefit as well as my dogs’. I know other pet guardians who have used it at the recommendation of their veterinarians for its anti-inflammatory properties. Todd Czarnecki, DVM and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist at Hanging Rock Animal Hospital in Roanoke, Virginia, says he recommends turmeric for a variety of situations, but especially for dogs who have inflammation and stiffness that worsens in cold weather, and as an aid to circulation in general. Dr. Czarnecki says these dogs respond very well to the addition of powdered turmeric to their diet. He recommends mixing the turmeric powder into a home-cooked diet. If you feed dry dog food, he suggests softening the kibble with water before mixing in the turmeric powder.
As with any other dietary supplement, it is always wise to check with your veterinarian, especially if your pet has any pre-existing conditions or receives medication daily, but if your dog suffers from an ailment that causes chronic pain or inflammation, turmeric could be beneficial. The recommended dosage for dogs is 15 to 20 mg per pound of body weight.
Our own dogs don’t mind the powder mixed into their home-cooked diet, but some people tell me their dogs dislike its taste. If that’s the case, look for turmeric in tablet form or capsules, which can easily be disguised in a bit of peanut butter or cream cheese.
With healing herbs, we always suggest looking for organic sources. My husband and I use Organic Turmeric Root Powder from Starwest Botanicals. You can find organic powdered turmeric for $9 to $15 per pound. Light and heat affects the potency of the powder, so be sure to keep it in a cool, dry, dark location.
Contraindications of Turmeric for Dogs
Some studies suggest that turmeric may aggravate existing liver issues, so consult your veterinarian before giving the supplement if your dog has liver disease. Because turmeric is a binding agent – useful, in fact, for treating loose stools or diarrhea – be sure your dog always has plenty of fresh water available. We add a bit more water to our dogs’ meals to counteract any potential constipation. Turmeric is also an anti-coagulant, so it makes sense to discontinue the use before any surgery. And remember how turmeric was used to color the robes of Buddhist monks? Well, it will color nearly anything it comes into contact with, so be cautious and mix it well into your dog’s food or he will likely be sporting a bright yellow doggie moustache.
From 250 BC to 2014, this brilliant yellow spice has been helping people and animals. It certainly has spiced up the life of our guy, Cody. Seeing him once again streak across our pasture at full speed brings tears of joy to my eyes. Perhaps it’s time for you or your dog to give it a try!
Curious about how other popular spices work for dogs? Here is a great list from Dogster.com!
A passionate advocate for humane, science-based dog training, Lisa Lyle Waggoner is a CPDT-KA, a Pat Miller Certified Trainer Level 2, a Pat Miller Level 1 Canine Behavior & Training Academy instructor, and a dog*tec Dog Walking Academy Instructor. The founder of Cold Nose College in Murphy, North Carolina, Lisa provides behavior consulting and training solutions to clients in the tri-state area of North Carolina.