What’s the big deal with turmeric?

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.

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8 comments

  1. Very good article. I have been trying to tell people that all these raw feeding communities, holistic vets that keep not only recommending Tumeric, but other supplements, herbs, etc, have not been researched on animals. They are all researched on humans and to top it off, they are not bioavailable to our pets, nor are they eaten in the wild by their ancestors, the wolf & African Wild cat(or any wild or feral cat or dog). So for holistic vets to say all these herbs & supplements are good for our pets is just another sales pitch “if” they are selling supplements. If they are just advising items such as tumeric are good for our dogs & cats, it is all just an “opinion” because there have been no studies done on animals. Not saying it has to be done, but I’m just tired of everybody believing these vets or DNM saying all these ingredients are great for our pets, do great healing capabilities for our pets, yet it has never even been tested on pets so how in God’s name would they even know?

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    1. Health Canada has put together a program 3 years ago called LRVHP ( Low Risk Veterinary Health Program) listing almost every ingredient you could imagine might be used for cats, dogs and horses with cautions and contraindications. For turmeric it states “Not to be used in high doses with anticoagulant drugs or in animals with stomach ulcers” https://www.lrvhp.ca/substances/list
      Anyone can log into the substances list and search any ingredient to find out if it is allowed and if there are any limitations, which there often is. If a brand wants to sell a supplement for use in any of these species they must apply with Health Canada to sell them in Canada.

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    2. I have actually been hearing a lot about this lately too, working in the pet food industry at a holistic pet supply shop. I am glad to find an honest article rather than an article that just boasts the good things. I’ve been wondering myself, about the other side of it and what our pets actually benefit and get from Tumeric. It seems to be the hot word right now. Thanks for you article!

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  2. been using the golden paste recipe with my dogs for about 3 weeks now. My 10 year old lab had very significant arthritis and difficulty getting up from a laying position and likewise difficulty laying down on the wood floors. in the past 3 weeks since I have been using the golden paste recipe she has made a huge improvement in her mobility. my question on your article is what is considered high doses that could be a problem with her liver and or iron deficiency issues?

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  3. I appreciate your writing on this. While turmeric may be beneficial for some dogs, I’m dismayed at the increasing number of posts I see online recommending it for every dog. I’m especially dismayed that there is rarely talk about the importance of formulating – except from herbalists. From an herbalist’s perspective, turmeric should always be part of a formula or food recommendation to balance it’s profile as a hot and drying herb. These characteristics are also why it’s not appropriate for every dog (or human). Because most of our dogs are not living in an ideal “natural” world I strongly encourage the use of plants for nutrition and medicine for dogs, but I also strongly encourage working with an herbalist or using products formulated by herbalists for exactly this reason.

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  4. Just found this, thank you, I wish to god I’d found it months ago!

    Here is a précis of what has been happening to my two labs over the last week or so, since writing this the eldest girl has gone downhill again, some days are better than others. I’m praying that they can get over this but I’m honestly, now, not sure that they will 😥

    ‘I’ve been giving golden paste to my older dogs for 8 months, both choc labs.
    A week ago my 10 year old suddenly started vomiting and went off her food, which isn’t her at all. She was also crying and very lethargic and had a runny tum. I took her to the vet and they ran blood tests which showed she had high liver enzyme values and a problem with her red blood cells indicating internal bleeding, she was also dehydrated but had no fever. They put a drip in and she had an overnight stay. I told them she’d had some acid reflux recently, so they prescribed Ranitidine.

    Back home she really didn’t improve much so she was booked in for sedation so they could scan and X-ray her to see if there was some sort of obstruction. Nothing was found. They changed her meds to Omeprazole as Ranitidine can cause nausea and said they thought she had a stomach ulcer. A week later he redid the bloods and found exactly the same problem with the results. She was booked in for 3 weeks time to check them again, our vet said if they were no better she’d have to have an exploratory operation to see if there was a tumour on her liver.

    Two days after this our other choc lab boy started vomiting too, exactly the same symptoms as our girl. I was confused, worried…well more than worried, was this some weird viral thing that presented without a fever? Unlikely! I was thinking about what was happening whilst cooking our dinner and my eyes were drawn to the turmeric powder. We’d used a new supplier and it was a much deeper shade, more of an orange than the last mustard colour powder we’d used before. I decided to google dangers of turmeric on dogs and came up with this about humans, I’ve only copied what applied to us but there were several other warnings:

    ‘2. Gallbladder Problems

    Research suggest that normal turmeric is helpful for the normal functioning of gallbladder by stimulating the release of different digestive mediators that stabilize the functioning of gall bladder ducts; however, high turmeric intake is also associated with aggravation of liver and gall bladder conditions. This includes inflammatory conditions of gallbladder (acute Cholecystitis) and gall bladder stones or duct obstruction. It is advisable to seek the help of a healthcare provider before using turmeric (even in recommended dosages) in all such cases to prevent pain and discomfort.
    3. Stomach and Gastrointestinal Problems

    Turmeric (also known as Indian saffron) usually does not cause any gastric irritation or inflammatory reaction when consumed as part of cooked curry (suggesting a small dose); however, individuals who consume turmeric for management of chronic inflammatory systemic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and aching joints can develop turmeric induced gastric issues. Turmeric is slightly acidic in nature and is widely considered as a stimulant of gastric acid secretion. If you have a current history of dyspepsia or hyperacidity, it is strongly suggested to avoid turmeric in high doses. Individuals who smoke or use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are especially vulnerable to the side effects of turmeric (leading to dyspepsia, heartburn, indigestion, gastro esophageal reflux disease and peptic ulcers). It is indicated to consume a lot of water to minimize the accumulation of turmeric in high doses within the gastric lining. For best results, consume with food only.
    4. Bleeding

    Turmeric may inhibit platelet aggregation, and thus, theoretically, may increase the risk of bleeding. It also affects the production of clotting factors from the liver and therefore must be avoided in patients who have a bleeding tendency or inborn error of clotting.
    5. Liver Problems

    High turmeric intake is associated with liver dysfunction that may present with indigestion and jaundice. Research studies in animals have confirmed the toxic effects of turmeric on animal hepatocytes and although no human study is currently available to suggest the possible mechanism of development of complications, it is recommended by healthcare provider to limit the intake under recommended dosages only. If you are suffering from a current medical illness that involves liver, it is better to avoid or totally eliminate turmeric from your diet.’

    My husband had just got home, I told him what I’d found and I googled some more during the evening whilst mopping up vomited water on a regular basis. Our boy, at 11.30 at night, suddenly vomited more water (another sign seems to be excessive drinking) but this time there was blood in it!

    Terrified I rang the vet, explained that my boy had the same symptoms as our girl and that I’d seen online that turmeric could be the problem (they know me and our dogs well lol) and we rushed to the out of hours surgery. Once there the vet said she’d been searching on her vet sites and this was a known problem and was getting more common. She gave him an anti sickness injection in order to start giving him omeprazole straight away, declared him well hydrated and we came home at 1.00am, apparently the bleeding wasn’t too much of an issue, it was caused by the stomach ulcer, she also asked me how long I’d been giving it, 8 months, but asked if I’d changed supplier at all, I said yes a month ago!

    So it seems both my dogs have a stomach ulcer directly due to me giving them turmeric!

    Part of me is cross with myself for not checking for dangers earlier, this stuff is actively being pushed as a cure for all despite no studies having been done. Luckily neither dogs were taking NSAIDS as well, the vet told me things would have been much worse if they had been. I stupidly got caught up in the hype, on no site pushing this stuff did I ever see a warning about its toxicity!

    Another part of me is extremely thankful that I googled it and realised what was going on, if my boy hadn’t shown his symptoms when he did my girl could have had to suffer going through an exploratory operation for no reason, not good at any age but at ten there could have been serious complications.

    Another part of me is hopelessly sad because I’ve had to see them suffer so much over the last week or so! I love my dogs, they are a part of my family and I, like anyone else who does so, hate seeing them so poorly! I feel guilty that I’ve made them so sick, how could I have been so stupid??
    My boy is not eating much at all but I understand that he feels sick, even my girl, although much improved, is still occasionally vomiting up her food, she did so this morning. They both have weeks of meds to allow their ulcers to heal, it will be a slow progress, with more vet visits to check on bloods.

    The last part is annoyance that I’ve been lumbered with almost £1,000 of vets bills so far, if my girl had had the exploratory operation it would have been much more!

    Basically turmeric seems to work well as an anti-inflammatory, but those that give it to their dogs, in order to prevent the liver problems associated with NSAIDS, should be made aware that because it works *it too* can cause the same problems! At least you know the tablets have a specified strength, with golden paste you have no such assurance! I was giving one teaspoon twice a day with their food, and my dogs are big labs, not fat but big, show types; my boy is 50.9kg and the vet says he isn’t overweight, he’s like a brown bear with an enormous head. Goodness knows what would have happened if I’d given it to my 7 month old pup!

    I’m copying and pasting this reply on as many turmeric sites as I can find; if I only stop one dog going through what mine have been through then it will be well worth my time!

    Oh and the turmeric is now in the bin!’

    Thank you for trying to inform on this, as I say I just wish I’d seen it earlier!

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    1. Thank you for sharing this story, it must’ve been scary to go through that. I hope folks read it and learn from your experience. Too many folks are carried away by the numerous anecdotes about turmeric – totally understandable. Herbalists always want to step in a bring up the importance of balance, timing, etc. When traditions like Ayurveda use these they are not used like we have grown to use pharmaceuticals – the Rx mentality is not appropriate for long term herbal care. The other concern that came up for me in your story is the possibility of adulteration. As turmeric as gotten popular it has become even more important to know your supplier. As with all things, adulteration becomes more common when ingredients get trendy (especially when purchased as a powder).

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    2. a whole teaspoon seems like a lot to use if you’re using a powdered form.. it’s probably equivalent of a, well, very thick chunk of the root. so the pups have been taking way too much in the first place. those side effects are very important to consider, like any kind of medicinal substance. like ibuprofen or tylenol is a risk to the kidneys. be careful with any kind of treatment out there.

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