Does Your Dog’s Liver Need a Detox?

Toxins can cause itchiness, excessive eye discharge, and slimy stools. These natural supplements may be able to help.

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In recent years, there’s been increased awareness about environmental toxins and ways to reduce them in our home and office environments. As humans, we have a choice to switch household cleansers, buy different foods, minimize aerosol use, give up smoking, and the like. Conversely, our pets encounter environmental toxins on a daily basis — and often, they have no choice whatsoever.

Think about it: Due to various safety laws, canines are required to get multiple vaccinations over the course of their relatively short lifespans. They’re subjected to de-wormers, flea repellents, seasonal sprays, and various antibiotics and other medications. If they drink unfiltered water, they ingest chemicals like chlorine and fluoride. If they eat commercial kibble containing ingredients like “by-products,” “BHA/BHT,” and/or “propylene glycol,” they’re consuming harmful chemicals — and quite possibly, diseased animal tissue. When they roll around on carpets and upholstery, they’re often rubbing against various flame-retardant or odor-blocking agents.

The point is, even when we carefully monitor diet, all pups have some level of toxins in their bodies. This can greatly overtax the liver, which serves as the body’s vital filtering agent. Every foreign element that enters your canine’s system is, at some point, metabolized by the liver. Unfortunately, because many chemical agents are fat-soluble, they become stored in fat tissues — for months, even years. To handle these toxins, the liver uses a sort of one-two punch. First, targeted enzymes break the toxins down. Second, liver cells render the diluted toxins more excretable by adding amino acids like glycine or cysteine.

So the liver bears a mighty burden, even in outwardly healthy pets. If your pup’s system becomes weakened due to ailment, injury, or simple advancing age, the liver can become so overwhelmed that functional efficiency is severely compromised. When that happens, the body tries eliminating toxins via alternate routes — skin, eyes, mucous membranes. Ever notice your pet struggling with itchiness, eczema, excessive eye discharge, chronically runny nose, or slimy-looking stools? This could be the reason.

That’s why helping the liver do its job more efficiently can often boost your dog’s overall energy and wellness. The first step involves giving your dog a clean, balanced, consistent level of dietary nutrients to help generate compounds that let the liver work properly. The second step involves an attempt to minimize environmental toxins your dog can safely, lawfully avoid. Thirdly, many dogs may benefit from various natural supplements that can help the liver gently cleanse itself.

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Warm-weather roving by Shutterstock.

But before you embark on any sort of detoxifying regimen, it’s always wise to consult with an experienced holistic or integrative vet (tip: the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Foundation is one good place to search). These mild cleansing programs are safe when done properly — but they sometimes involve reducing food intake for very limited intervals, to help the liver “catch up” with existing embedded toxins. During a similarly controlled span of time, you introduce supplements designed to chelate (bond with) specific toxins and help flush them out of the system.

The alphabetized list below may help you understand which natural detoxifiers could prove particularly beneficial for your pooch. Remember, though, less is always more. You should not simply mix them all up, granola-style, and serve them to your dog. Absolutely to the contrary: The idea is to discuss these supplements with a qualified animal health practitioner, who will consider your pet’s age, weight, and current physical shape. Together, you can then determine a specific combination and dosage designed to gently encourage optimized balancing.

Chlorella is a single-cell form of green algae known to help detoxify the gastrointestinal tract. In particular, it chelates excess heavy metals dogs often encounter via monthly preventive treatments and medications. Chlorella has a tough outer cell wall that helps it bind to pollutants in the gut, so they can pass from the body more readily.

Curcumin is a powerhouse antioxidant that helps enhance detoxification and control inflammation. It’s the functional ingredient in turmeric, which many people — including me — consume on a regular basis. In fact, if you love Indian food, you may actually consume turmeric more than you realize. Want to whip up a palatable paste most pups adore as a food-topper? Stir 1/4 cup powdered turmeric, 1/2 cup purified water, 40 ml liquefied coconut oil, and (if you’d like) a drop or two of honey into a smooth, spoonable consistency. My vet suggests no more than a quarter teaspoon per day, per 30 pounds of dog.

Dandelion leaf, also known as taraxacum, can help cleanse the blood as well as the liver, kidneys and gallbladder. Purifying the blood helps keep waste materials away from your dog’s vital organs and tissues. Dandelion leaf can be steeped as a tea, then incorporated into your pup’s food or water dish. Though if your canine’s allergic to dandelions, it’s not such a “dandy” (heh) option.

Glycine is the smallest of the 20 amino acids found in protein. It helps rid the body of residual heavy metals like chlorine, aluminum, mercury, lead, and nickel. It also helps remove harmful plastic residues such as BPA. Ask your vet about combining it with glutathione, a peptide molecule that healthy canine bodies synthesize from three amino acids. Again, controlled dosing is key.

Milk thistle by Shutterstock.
Milk thistle by Shutterstock.

Milk thistle has been used medicinally for more than 2,000 years — in fact, it’s a well-known home remedy for various liver and gallbladder ailments. A compound called silymarin is derived from the seeds of milk thistle, and it helps assist with liver cell regeneration and purification.

Resveratrol is a potent antioxidant. It’s found in the skin of red grapes (though your pup should never consume whole grapes or wine); and it’s the active ingredient in a plant known as Japanese knotweed. Essentially, resveratrol helps prevent free radical “swiping” of electrons from the lipids in cell membranes. This helps reduce liver enzyme elevations, which can ease toxic load.

Ever tried any of the supplements listed above to enhance your pup’s liver, digestive and/or immunity function? Ever worked with a vet to guide your pet through a gentle systemic cleansing regimen? Share your insights!

Top photo: English Bulldog by Shutterstock.

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Marybeth Bittel

Marybeth lives in the Midwest with her wonderful husband, and her rescue dogs Grant and Maizy — all of them Heinz 57 mixed-breed types. A freelance writer and marketing consultant, she’s been rehabilitating severely abused rescues for over two decades. She’s currently working toward specialized certifications in animal nutrition counseling. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her family Instagram feed.

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