The Spice of Life

Cutting-edge nutritional supplements now appearing in the market hold remarkable promise for pets and retailers alike.


There are two new and popular supplements that have recently made their way from the human world into the pet industry that show incredible promise in helping to keep animals healthy. While mostly found in products for dogs, cats and horses, hopefully manufacturers will soon be making these herbal products available for smaller pets as well. In the meantime, retailers can tell their customers about the products that are now available, and report the interest they see to suppliers.

Turmeric, one of these exciting new supplements, is the spice that gives curry dishes their familiar flavor and color. The compound in turmeric that has been studied the most is curcumin, and it has been shown to have a number of health benefits. It has been proven in human scientific studies to have anti-inflammatory effects in the body, therefore it can help with chronic painful problems such as arthritis, stomach irritation, inflammatory bowel disease and chronic skin problems. 

Curcumin can also help prevent blood vessel problems that can result in cardiovascular disease, and it acts as an antioxidant, helping to protect tissues from free radicals that can cause damage. It improves glucose levels in the blood, so it can be used in the treatment of diabetes, but it must be used with caution along with drugs. It can help protect the liver against certain toxins, and many studies also suggest that curcumin may help prevent cancer. It helps boost brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps the brain make new connections. Further studies are needed, but the idea now is that this can help prevent old-age brain changes and may even help boost intelligence and memory.

One effect of curcumin that can be either positive or negative is that it makes blood clotting less likely. This can help prevent strokes and heart disease caused by blood clots, but it might be detrimental for individuals who already have poor clotting. Another compound found in turmeric is aromatic turmerone or ar-turmerone. While it hasn’t been as well studied as curcumin, in a recent study in rats, researchers found that it promotes repair to damaged stem cells in the brain. Turmeric also contains a substance known as lipopolysaccharide, which helps stimulate the body’s immune system.

Because turmeric contains more beneficial compounds than just curcumin, it is probably best to give turmeric itself rather than using a concentrated curcumin extract, even though turmeric only contains around three percent curcumin. So, how much should an animal get? In the studies I found, the amounts of curcumin given to rats ranged from 15 to 450 mg/lb each day. However, curcumin is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream on its own, and in the studies that gave the higher amounts, the text explained they did so specifically because it is so poorly absorbed. However, a substance called bioperine (also called piperine) can enhance the absorption of curcumin by 2,000 percent, and bromelain, found in pineapple-based digestive products, also enhances the absorption of curcumin. Giving one of these at the same time can reduce the amount of curcumin needed.

The second new supplement that is rising in popularity comes from the cannabis plant. When the plant contains THC, which is the compound with mind-altering properties, it is known as marijuana. Another variety of the plant, which contains almost no THC, is hemp, which is grown to produce fiber and oil. The cannabis plant includes many other cannabinoid compounds other than THC that have been found to have health benefits in a number of scientific studies. Studies on rats have shown that cannabinoids can help prevent cancer, decrease inflammation, relieve anxiety, control nausea, stimulate appetite and reduce pain. Studies in humans have resulted in similar findings, as well as reduced depression. Much more research needs to be done to know the full range of benefits that can be found in these plant-based compounds, but it has been suggested that they could help with problems such as asthma, glaucoma and epilepsy.

Not only do the cannabinoids appear to help prevent cancer, but they can also be used to treat cancer. I know of a case of cancer in a rat that has been successfully controlled for seven months with oral dosing and topical application of a salve made with both cannabis and oregano oil. I have seen pictures of the tumor taken before and during the course of treatment that show the tumor shrank to about a quarter of its original size. Before the treatment started, the veterinarian who diagnosed the cancer gave the rat only three to four weeks to live. The treatment has not only caused the tumor to shrink, it has relieved the pain the rat was experiencing. The science of cannabinoids is only in its infancy, but no doubt in the future more products for pets will be available.  

Debbie Ducommun has a B.A. in animal behavior and has worked in the animal field since 1982. She is the author of the book Rats!, the booklet Rat Health Care and, her most recent book, The Complete Guide to Rat Training: Tricks and Games for Rat Fun and Fitness.



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