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Paws and Polypores
Paws and Polypores
Medicinal mushrooms for animal well-being
Plenty of animals have close relationships with fungi – monkeys that get drunk on fermented fruit, boars snuffling truffles, ants being eaten by Cordyceps. Of course all living (and most non-living) things have these interactions over the course of our journey through life, but some of us have more specialised connections. From Tuber magnatum to Penicillium rubens, to the ubiquitous Saccharomyces cerevisiae we have been enhancing and altering our lives with fungi for thousands of years.
For not quite as long, but certainly for many millennia, we have been enhancing and altering our lives by inviting, accepting, and absorbing non-human animals into them. Through domestication, breeding and training we have horses that can do dressage, dogs that can smell degenerative conditions, sheep as soft as rabbits, and rabbits the size of small dogs. We have also employed animals in our pursuit of fungi. The animals which are central to our way of life are often not treated with the respect they deserve, but there is one class which gets a lot of love – our pets. So, as we advance in our ability to access the health benefits of mushrooms and fungi we’ve been keen to share them with our beloved non-human friends.
When Dorthe Øfeldt’s dog Ditte developed tumors and cysts on her spleen and ovaries following issues with her liver and a mammary gland, the vet advised putting her painlessly to sleep. Dorthe, like any devoted pet owner, was resistant to the idea, feeling that all avenues for treatment hadn’t been exhausted. After extensive research she came across a paper authored by Dr. Dorothy Cimeno Brown at University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, observing the effects of Trametes versicolor in dogs with splenic hemangiosarcoma. The results of this randomised double-blind study were convincing enough for Dorthe to start giving Ditte hot-water extract of T. versicolor in 2017. A year later the tumors had shrunk. Today she’s still going strong at 13 years old, and the cancer has not returned. Dorthe still gives her half a capsule a day; is still diving into research on benefits of medicinal mushrooms for pets; and constantly advocates further study and research of just how and why it was possible for her dog to recover in this way.
“AS WE ADVANCE IN OUR ABILITY TO ACCESS THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF MUSHROOMS AND FUNGI, WE’VE BEEN KEEN TO SHARE THEM WITH OUR BELOVED NON-HUMAN FRIENDS.”
“THERE IS VERY LITTLE RESEARCH INTO THE USE OF MEDICINAL MUSHROOMS IN ANIMALS, SO MOST OF MY USE HAS BEEN EXTR APOLATED FROM HUMAN STUDIES”
Dorthe is not alone in her interest. Dr Vicky Simon, graduate of the Royal Veterinary College, and member of the British Association of Veterinary Herbalists, has been aware of mushroom treatment options since studying. “I use mushrooms in a huge variety of different circumstances. I only treat referral cases now, so mostly chronic disease, with my most commonly seen cases being cancer, atopic skin disease, chronic gut problems, and behaviour cases. I use mushrooms the most for cancer, skin disease, recurrent infections and in geriatrics for overall system support. In my previous job I worked in an integrated practice. We saw such good results with them that my former boss now uses them a lot himself in his patients, when he’d had no previous experience with herbal medicine before I worked there.”
“As I learn more about them, especially the uses of individual mushrooms, the broader the range of cases I now use them in becomes, like lion’s mane for chronic degenerative nerve conditions, for example…There is very little research into the use of medicinal mushrooms in animals, so most of my use has been extrapolated from human studies and research. Sometimes these studies originally started with experiments on rats or mice, which fit as animal studies, but often the way different pets metabolise different substances can make the dosing and effects slightly different. I would love for there to be some studies into the use of medicinal mushrooms for a huge range of different cases, but I would say cancer and atopic skin disease in pets would benefit from research the most. These are becoming increasingly common amongst pets worldwide, and they often don’t respond well to conventional treatment.”
“I have seen some great effects with medicinal mushrooms, as I know fellow vets have too. The majority of herbal vets will use at least some medicinal mushrooms in their cases, there just aren’t a huge number of us! That’s where more research into herbs and mushrooms in veterinary medicine would be hugely helpful in encouraging conventional vets to step into the world of integrated medicine.”
Another vet using mushrooms on a regular basis is Dr Yaro A. Cletus in Budapest. As well as using mushrooms for small animals with cancer, allergies and inflammation he has pioneered the use of honey mushroom (Armillaria mellea) to treat dogs and cats with epilepsy (combined with lecithin in severe cases) and now receives regular referrals from other vets as a result of his success.
Dog gazing at mushroom by Rita Kochmarjova.
“IT WILL BE INTERESTING TO SEE WHAT ROLE, IF ANY, MUSHROOMS AND FUNGI CAN PLAY IN MANAGING THE TR ANSITION TO SUSTAINABLE ETHICAL AGRICULTURE AND ANIMAL HUSBANDRY.”
In addition to managing the chronic conditions of smaller animals, more and more equine therapists are also recommending mushrooms for horses with a range of conditions including recurrent airway obstruction (RAO), sarcoids and chronic inflammation. For Irene Llewellyn of Forest Farmacy they are becoming an increasing part of her practice with lion’s mane proving particularly good for treating a range of digestive disorders and fermented reishi showing excellent calming properties. She also reports that her French bulldog’s fits have reduced dramatically since taking honey mushroom.
As with smaller animals more research is needed but holistic horse therapists have often been at the forefront of innovations in complementary pet medicine, pushing things like acupressure, medical diets, and aromatherapy, which are now utilised more generally. It remains to be seen how sound their instincts are when it comes to mushroom supplementation, but the growing anecdotal reports are encouraging and if the practice becomes more widespread it could provide data for some illuminating studies on the impact of these products in a large, dynamic, physiologically and psychologically complex animal.
As we also begin to approach farming and food-production with a greater concern for ethics and environmental impact, the interest in keeping livestock happy and healthy is also increasing and it appears that mushrooms may have a role to play in helping the transition to more sustainable animal husbandry too. In particular a number of studies have demonstrated the potential for the inclusion of mushrooms in the feed of animals such as chickens and pigs to improve immune parameters and lessen the risk of infection thus potentially helping reduce our worrying over-reliance on antibiotics, something Dr Simon is also hopeful about.
With growing interest in mushrooms and increasing knowledge of their potential benefits it appears that we can continue to look forward to a future where these benefits are also shared with our animal companions and the worlds they inhabit.
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