In veterinary medicine practice, toxin exposure in pets is a common challenge. For the most part, toxic exposure is addressed acutely, but handling toxin stress from chronic exposures is increasingly a top concern. Both animal caretakers and veterinarians can mitigate chronic exposure to toxins and aid the body in eliminating toxins through simple irrigation of the body and foundational whole food supplementation of a species-appropriate diet.
Detoxification is often defined as having three distinct phases: bioactivation, conjugation, and transport. During bioactivation, enzymes primarily from the cytochrome P450 family catalyze certain reactions converting toxin molecules to reactive intermediate substances. Next, enzymes in the conjugation phase convert these toxic intermediates into non-toxic, water soluble molecules. Lastly, during transport (also called elimination), energy-dependent proteins transport the products of conjugation out of the cell for elimination from the body.
The term “foundational” describes supporting the body by providing nutrients for multiple body systems: working cohesively towards overall health. For example, some practitioners may focus solely on isolated nutrients when addressing a detox, although multiple body systems are involved in the process. This has recently become more popular as more veterinarians turn to products that support detoxification in the liver, such as milk thistle and S-Adenosyl methionine (SAMe). This is most commonly used in an attempt to reduce elevated liver enzymes when no other pathologies have been found. In many cases, success is witnessed, and as a result of the patient’s response, the veterinarian assumes that the patient must have had an issue with detoxification.
But what about the cases where the patient does not respond? Could some of them still be related to the need for detoxification due to chronic toxin exposure? Many integrative veterinarians utilizing foundational support through whole foods – not just isolates – produce results where standalone liver nutrient isolates have not. Veterinarians can achieve greater health in pets by considering the additional defenses that the body can utilize to achieve cleansing of toxins and by providing nutrients in their whole food form that support the endocrine system, lymphatics, and bowel function. Lastly, considering how to reduce toxin exposure can reduce toxin load, enhancing success.
Toxic Exposure Pathways to Consider in Pets
Many common toxins for animals and humans come from common pesticides, herbicides, and fuel emissions, which are common air pollutants. In general, toxins come in many forms:
- Household toxins
- Overdose/inappropriate consumption of medications or foods
- Environmental toxins (both manmade and natural)
Pesticides (and other lawn applications) specifically have been well-researched as toxins, particularly in humans. They are associated with neurological damage, delayed development, cancer, reproductive dysfunction, and dysregulation of hormones and the immune system.
Educating clients on the proper and judicious use of these lawn applications and other chemical usage (such as flea and tick products) can help reduce exposure at the source. A great resource for veterinarians and the public to learn more about their proper use of everyday chemicals is the Veterinary Compliance Assistance (VetCa). VetCa can also suggest integrated pest management techniques to reduce pesticide use in the first place.
Another consideration is the size variance between humans and many animals, which increases pets’ risk of exposure. Veterinarians are keenly aware of the problem with size variance of companion animals associated with variations in toxic exposure outcomes. An example would be comparing a chihuahua versus a Great Dane eating the same toxin amount: the two cases may have two totally different outcomes because of the difference in the dogs’ sizes.
But many veterinarians do not think of how animal behaviors or a cumulative toxin effect increase toxic exposures as well. For example, on one walk on a typical suburban street, a dog will have increased toxin exposure compared to a human on the same walk for the following reasons:
- Many small dogs and cats are close to the ground and usually do not have footwear, allowing particulate debris to contact skin and become entrapped in hair
- Dogs and cats interact with their environment by smelling extensively, inhaling more toxins such as areas lawns sprayed with pesticides and herbicides or hydrocarbons from traffic
- When pets arrive home, many proceed to groom themselves clean and ingest the toxins that may not have already been absorbed topically
This is compared to human behaviors which reduce toxin exposure:
- Humans normally walk with shoes (providing a foot covering)
- Humans observe the world largely by sight, and not through smell
- Humans tend to bathe daily and wash their clothes after one or two uses
Daily Irrigation Tips to Reduce Toxin Exposures in Pets
Simple irrigation with water can be the first step to reducing a high toxin absorption rate, best done after returning from an outdoor walk when toxins are recently present. It can be as simple as having caretakers wipe paws and undercoat with a cold wet rag, but if the animal’s whole body can be washed, that decreases the risk of toxin absorption even more.
The washing helps remove the toxins, and by using cold water versus warm, further absorption is reduced as blood vessels constrict rather than dilate. For those pets already suffering from allergies or with curlier coats, a foot bath is recommended, or even a weekly full-body bath. This simple measure can reduce toxins dramatically, both topically and those excreted by the skin directly: “dilution is the solution to pollution.”
Foundational Nutrition Enhancing Detoxification
First and foremost, the best way for any nutritional supplement protocol to work effectively is when it is combined with a species appropriate diet and adequate hydration. No volume of supplements can overcome a poor diet. Healthy access to clean drinking water and a species appropriate diet is always the foundation for supplements to perform their best.
Many veterinarians have seen dramatic differences in their patients just from switching patients to clean filtered water, changed daily. Microfilms from bacteria in uncleaned bowls and contaminated and/or heavily chlorinated water supplies add to a patient’s stressors. Additionally, many veterinarians may recommend a moist diet of appropriate species-related ingredients as required to see any significant benefit from supplementation.
A simple review of dietary habits between a caretaker and a veterinarian can provide a clinician ample data to manipulate what otherwise might be forgotten. Whether it is the owner feeding puppy food to an adult or high fat food to a dog with tendencies toward pancreatitis, it is worth discussing.
Healthy additions can enhance any diet. Adding water to a kibble and allowing it to soak will enhance digestion by making the food easier to break down. Upgrading from kibble to canned at least a few times a week may also provide digestive benefits. This also helps hydration and – indirectly – circulation: especially in domestic cats, some origins of which have been traced to Chinese desert cats and who assimilate their water best with their meal. When instructing clients in this technique, a veterinarian may instruct the client to be sure not to turn their pet’s bowl into soup. This will be counterproductive as it can dilute the digestive enzymes.
Adding canine-approved finely chopped or steamed greens/veggies to a kibble diet is another easy way to increase both quantity and quality of nutrients, as many of the nutrients in vegetables, particularly cruciferous, support liver detoxification and other organ systems. A 2015 Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism study has a thorough description of how whole foods support detoxification, utilizing some of the more well-known super foods.1
For those veterinarians inexperienced with using some popular herbs, starting with well-rounded whole foods that support the whole system in detox gently can be both easier to apply broadly and cause significantly less unexpected changes in the patient (i.e. diarrhea as they release toxins). Below are easy additions that can be made to any diet with either the whole food itself or supplements.
Nutritional Supplements to Support Pet Detox
Where supplements are concerned, milk thistle is just one of many nutritional components to support detox. One needs to consider not only liver detoxification, phase l and phase ll, but also other avenues of toxin elimination and supporting systems for best results. Optimal function of the gastrointestinal tract, the endocrine system, and the kidneys will positively affect outcomes. Many common whole foods and supplements can additionally support these systems. The patient, as a whole, must be considered.
The following are powerhouse supplements derived from whole foods that pack a tremendous amount of nutrients in a small package with a focus on supporting elimination through fiber and individual phytochemicals and vitamins.
Radishes for Pet Detox
Studies have shown that cruciferous vegetables such as radishes may be beneficial to health by aiding in detoxification of the liver. Radishes as a general group have excellent qualities, but veterinarians are particularly drawn to Spanish black radish because of the plant’s glucosinolates. This radish variety has four times the amount of glucosinolates as other radishes and cruciferous vegetables. Glucosinolates are bioactive components of all radishes that support plant defense against pests, a benefit that transfers to mammals that consume radishes as well.2 Spanish black radish also is high in potassium which benefits circulation and fluid balance.
Spanish black radish is also high in fiber, which further aids elimination and supports the microbiome, which scientists know indirectly enhances mood by producing serotonin, further supporting the neuroendocrine system. The better mood a patient is in, the better they heal – animals or people. And lastly, Spanish black radish has antifungal properties, which could aid those cats and dogs prone to yeast.3,4
Spanish black radish and other radishes can be added to pet food either cooked or finely chopped (excluding the leaves as they can be gastric irritants), or as a supplement. Veterinarians often choose radishes to support detox when patients have obvious chemical sensitivities or mild to moderate inconsistent stools not responding to food allergy trials.
Fenugreek for Pet Detox
Fenugreek (Trigonella) is known for its numerous medicinal properties. Properties studied on both animal and human models have found the following benefits: carminative, gastric stimulant, antidiabetic and galactogogue (lactation-inducer) effects, hypocholesterolemic, antilipidemia, antioxidant, hepatoprotective, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, antiulcer, antilithigenic, and anticarcinogenic.5
Integrative veterinarians think of fenugreek as the “garbage person” who supports what detox pathways have dumped from hepatic or other cells. The “garbage” is pulled out, and the fenugreek keeps it moving out, so it doesn’t simply settle in a lower part of the intestinal tract. The cleansing action of fenugreek makes it a valuable plant as it helps purify blood, clean the lymphatic system, and detoxify the body. Common uses of fenugreek include supporting the systems affected by hay fever and sinusitis. Fenugreek can be used when the patient has several comorbidities like diabetes, hypertension, or edema.
Popular options for fenugreek are:
- Fenugreek seed: a simple, easy, broad spectrum option to start with
- Fenugreek and garlic: the diosgenin in fenugreek combined with the anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and antibiotic effects of garlic make a powerful combination for inflamed joints or inflammatory bowel disease
- Fenugreek and digestive enzymes: for gentle lower bowel cleansing with soothing enzymes for upper gastrointestinal concerns
- Fenugreek and thyme: aid in supporting respiratory system health by thinning mucus and soothing irritated tissues
Liver for Pet Detox
Liver is high in vitamin A, folic acid, iron, and zinc. Liver is the most nutrient-dense organ meat, and it also has molybdenum. Molybdenum is a trace essential mineral found in high amounts in organ meats, especially liver. It is a coenzyme supporting the conversion of sulfites to sulfates and supporting the metabolism of toxins. The buildup of sulfites is toxic to the body and too much can be dangerous.6
Integrative veterinarians often use liver in very ill older dogs that are unable to take any supplements or present only eating a bland diet of meat and rice. It is an easy way of supplying additional nutrients while supporting detox in the liver directly by providing the building blocks for the organ. It is also very palatable and easy to find.
Popular options for supplementing with liver are:
- Liver organ meat: easily found and prepared from grocery stores or butchers (often a preferred form for very ill and acutely sick dogs and cats)
- Powdered glandular formulas: often have other organs as well mixed in like kidney or heart, but caution is warranted as these are often designed to round out homemade diets and may be excessive for patients already on a complete and balanced diet
- Liver extract in the form known as Yakriton: works well with patients that need extra sinus support or joint support as it has both an anti-histamine effect and blood filtering effects
Caretakers are encouraged to make easy changes at first, where they can consider harder changes gradually – like enhancing or upgrading the diet or regular bathing – so it becomes a sustainable habit. Additionally, adding supplements or foods of choice and reassessing the patient in a few months’ time can be helpful. If no improvement is seen, adding or swapping another nutrient may help.
It is important to be aware that sometimes the patient may experience an initial release of toxins and see loose stools or a flare-up of the very system in need of support. This is called a “healing crisis” in the world of Eastern medicine. Veterinarians may recommend to simply reduce the dose or temporarily stop and restart at a lower dose. This may not be uncommon, especially when a veterinarian is working to move the bowels and eliminate toxins. In the end, the patient will be better off for the time the veterinarian took to educate their owners and support the animal’s whole body.