Lately, I have been seeing more and more articles on the health benefits of turmeric for dogs. So, I thought I should weigh in: what’s the big deal with turmeric?

Turmeric is a root native to Asia and parts of Africa that is most commonly used as a spice and an herbal medicine. You might recognize it as the main spice in curry. (Yum!)

There is a very long list of claimed benefits… according to many online sources, it can cure anything from arthritis, ringworm, depression, leprosy, Alzheimer’s disease, and of course, cancer. There is a Facebook group, created by an Australian veterinarian, with over 70,000 members dedicated to using turmeric for its health benefits, and it contains tons of success stories, as well as an extensive files section on all there is to know about turmeric’s potential health benefits. Many popular websites, such as Dogs Naturally, have also been claiming the tremendous benefits of turmeric in their articles.

Curcumin is the “active ingredient” of turmeric, and the source of these health benefits. Curcumin is claimed to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, and anticancerous effects, and it does look hopeful in the tests and studies that have been done thus far.

However, most of these studies have been in vitro tests, rather than clinical studies, which do not prove a clinical benefit for patients. As for clinical research, not much has been done yet, however the in vitro research absolutely can suggest a number of potential medical uses for turmeric.

But these studies have been conducted mostly on humans, and if there is a lack of research in humans, there is even more of a lack of research when it comes to the benefits it may offer dogs. This study, the only clinical study involving dogs rather than humans, compared turmeric to a placebo in dogs with arthritis and concluded that “there was no statistically significant difference” between the placebo group and the group that was given the turmeric compound, though there was a small difference according to the subjective assessment of investigators.

Turmeric seems to have few side effects, but they are definitely worth mentioning.

  • Gastrointestinal upset
  • Possible increase in the risk for some kinds of bladder and kidney stones
  • High levels of curcumin can cause liver and DNA damage in humans if taken in large doses over extended periods of time
  • Curcumin may alter iron metabolism, potentially causing iron deficiency.
  • Taking turmeric supplements while pregnant might promote a menstrual period or stimulate the uterus, putting the pregnancy at risk of a miscarriage.
  • Turmeric is a blood thinner, so using it alongside other herbs or medications that also thin the blood (such as ginger or garlic) may become problematic for some dogs and increase the risk of bleeding.
  • In animals, high doses of turmeric have caused liver problems.
  • Animals may develop a “cat pee”-like smell while being supplemented with turmeric.

These risks are small, however, according to the studies that have been done thus far in humans that suggest curcumin has quite a large safety threshold.

Curcumin has low bioavailability, so it is typically recommended to be enhanced with other agents such as black pepper extract in order to increase absorption and maximize benefits. Turmeric paste, or “golden paste”, is recommended by many for dogs and humans, rather than just turmeric powder, to increase bioavailability. Turmeric pastes typically contain turmeric powder, olive or coconut oil, and black pepper.

Speaking of bioavailability, considering that dogs are carnivores, it seems that turmeric paste wouldn’t be the most “species appropriate” supplement, and the conclusion could be drawn that if it isn’t very bioavailable for humans, it would be much less so for dogs.

In conclusion, there is not very much evidence to support the use of turmeric for any health condition, especially in dogs, simply because so few clinical trials have been conducted. But that doesn’t mean you should completely write it off. The results of the tests and studies that have been conducted so far imply that there are only a few potential risks or side effects, and there is sufficient research to imply that there may be clinical benefits. And when you consider the overwhelming number of positive reviews online from dog owners that have given turmeric a try, even if most of them might just be experiencing a placebo effect, the concept that turmeric could have therapeutic value is very plausible. If you are interested in adding turmeric to your dog’s diet, we recommend discussing this option with your vet.