Turmeric’s Health Benefits: What the Science Means for You and Your Dog

By Lauren Lee

As a society, we have become accustomed to seeking a magic fix. Bombarded by commercials and advertisements, many people are willing to try almost anything that promises to cure all ills. Suppose the latest product, pill, diet, or supplement promises to take off 40 pounds in 30 days, remove undereye circles, and return skin to its once youthful glow. What is there to lose (except a whole lot of money, health, and more self-esteem)?

But what if a natural treatment that could potentially fight cancer, arthritis, pain, and lengthen your life was already in your kitchen cabinet? Yes, you probably already own a bottle of what has become all the rage when it comes to preventing, treating, and curing disease in people and their pets.

Why is Turmeric a Big Deal?

Some peer-reviewed research has indicated that turmeric, an ancient Indian spice, can positively assist in preventing and healing several diseases.

Many advocates of alternative medicine have proclaimed that turmeric can treat every ailment, from breast cancer to dementia.

Some of the illnesses that turmeric can ostensibly treat or cure are:

  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Inflammatory illnesses
  • Liver disease
  • Gastrointestinal ailments
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Psoriasis

Most claims regarding the spice’s curative power have referred to humans. However, people have begun using turmeric for pets.

The turmeric root is a relative of ginger. The spice, which is made by crushing the dried root, is known for its bright yellow color. Lovers of Indian and Thai cuisine know it as the spice that gives curry its flavor.

What Gives Turmeric Medicinal Qualities?

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to infection, trauma, and toxins. The active ingredient in turmeric is a compound called curcumin, which has significant anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin also has noted antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anticoagulant properties.

People in India and China have used turmeric for thousands of years for its powerful medicinal properties. Only in the past two decades has the hype about its health benefits taken hold in the United States.

One study published in the Journal of Natural Science, Biology and Medicine indicated that turmeric is helpful in dentistry and oral health maintenance. It specifically states that the ancient herb “has a role in the treatment of periodontal diseases and oral cancers.”

Health Benefits of Turmeric

Dr. Riva Rahl, MD is a preventive medicine physician who is board certified in internal and emergency medicine. She cites the following health benefits of turmeric (curcumin):

  • It Acts as a Natural Anti-Inflammatory
    Turmeric suppresses the protein which causes inflammation. This protein complex, known as NF-KB, has been linked to chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer.

    Studies have indicated that, due to its natural anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric shows promise in reducing inflammation associated with osteoarthritis, a degenerative disease of the joints.

  • It Increases Brain Health
    Turmeric can increase levels of a molecule in the brain related to changes in learning and memory and thus may reduce dementia.

  • It Increases Heart Health
    Turmeric may improve blood vessel function in addition to counteracting inflammation and oxidation. Therefore, it may improve overall heart function.

With so much publicity about turmeric's promising health benefits, many people are now feeding it to here their canine companions. Generally, turmeric is given to dogs in either a paste form, adding drops to dog's food, or as chewable tablets or treats. And why not? We love our dogs and want them to live long, healthy lives.

However, is there any evidence to suggest we should be spicing up Fido’s food?

Turmeric and Dogs: What Research Indicates

So, does turmeric provide health benefits for dogs? It depends on what you read and what you believe.

There are several stories, many quite compelling, of people crediting turmeric with dramatic improvements in their canine companions’ health conditions. Lisa Lyle Waggoner, a certified professional dog trainer, wrote one such story in an article in Whole Dog Journal. The writer’s 4-year-old Australian Shepard suffered from lameness, fever, and severe skin issues. After seeing 12 veterinarians in two years, the dog was diagnosed with an autoimmune illness.

The owner started the dog on organic turmeric powder twice daily, and within 12 days, the dog was no longer limping. Six months later, the dog’s dose of prednisone had been cut down by half, and the owner described him as “agile, active, and limp-free.”

However, as veterinary publications have pointed out, there is very little research on the use of turmeric, and virtually no research studies on the use of turmeric in dogs.

According to the December 2020 issue of Veterinary Practice News, some laboratory animal studies in dogs and cats have suggested anti-inflammatory effects that might be beneficial. However, the publication cautions these studies are preliminary and inconsistent.

Some veterinary professionals argue that there is no evidence to support the use of turmeric for any medical condition.

Problems with Research Studies

As we mentioned, there is minimal clinical research available on the effectiveness of Turmeric. The available information is mainly anecdotal. There are a few factors that make the medical efficacy of turmeric particularly difficult to study.

Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, has poor chemical stability. This means it can easily change when stored in alkaline-based or acidic conditions. Depending on the type of solution it is in (oil, water, acid) and the storage temperature, the actual molecular structure can break down.

Curcumin has low oral bioavailability. In other words, the compounds are poorly absorbed by the body when taken orally. Therefore, very little of the curcumin ever reaches the bloodstream when taken in a pill or powder form. Assuming dogs absorbed curcumin similarly to humans, the active compound would not be effective in pill or treat form.

The compound's poor absorption makes it difficult to know if the curcumin has the desired effect or if any noticeable effect is due to some other factor.

Products containing the active ingredient curcumin differ in composition - meaning some turmeric products contain more active substances than others. Because natural supplements and spices are not regulated the way medications are, it isn't easy to compare research studies results.

Bottom Line for Fido

Although some research has been done on turmeric, its health effects remain uncertain.

The research suggests that the potential for negative side effects from turmeric products is small. However, using turmeric for medical purposes would require substantially more significant quantities. Therefore, it could be that large doses have yet to be studied on a wide range of subjects.

On the positive side, there is a good amount of in vitro (laboratory-based) research to suggest that the chemical compounds in turmeric could have promising health benefits.

Just because it is not yet proven to yield positive results does not mean this staple of Ancient Indian and Traditional Chinese Medicine lacks benefit. You should weigh the benefits and risks when considering adding turmeric products to your dog’s diet.

We always recommend you speak with your veterinarian about your dog’s condition and his other medications before beginning any new treatment or supplement.

What to Look For in a Turmeric Product

  • Check that it’s sustainable and grown using responsible practices.
  • Look for products with a specific quantity of active curcuminoids (that is used as the standard).
  • Look for 100 percent natural products when buying for your four-legged best friend. “Chews-Wisely™.”

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