Medicinal mushrooms are becoming increasingly popular in human and veterinary medicine. As with any treatment, their use should be approached with care. We are therefore pleased to reproduce this insight into Chaga mushrooms by leading expert in myco (mushroom) medicine, Julie Anne Lee, founder of Adored Beast Apothecary.

Chaga, also known as Inonotus obliquus, is a mushroom which is typically found on birch trees in northern climates, particularly Northern and Eastern Europe, as well as Canada, the United States, Russia, and Korea. Rather than the typical mushroom shape, Chaga looks more like a piece of burnt charcoal.

For hundreds of years, Chaga was a celebrated folk remedy, but has in recent years gained international recognition for its many benefits. And we’re not just talking about humans. There are also many benefits of Chaga mushrooms for dogs and cats. 

But, and this is important, you need to be sure it’s from the correct source and extracted properly. This is because Chaga contains natural xylitol and must be processed correctly to remove it to the point of it being almost non-detectable.   

Chaga: Chock-full of vital nutrition

Chaga mushrooms are known as the “Gift from God”. This is probably because of their medicinal properties:

  • Antioxidants
  • Superoxide dismutase
  • Polyphenols
  • Triterpenes
  • Phytosterols
  • Beta-D-glucans

Fun Fact: Next to chocolate, Chaga is the second most antioxidant rich food in the world!

These beneficial medicinal mushrooms are also high in:

  • Fibre
  • B vitamins
  • Vitamin D
  • Minerals
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Managanes
  • Calcium

Together these vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals offer a wide array of health benefits… 

The benefits of Chaga mushrooms for dogs and cats

Here is what research tells us about the benefits of Chaga mushrooms.

1. May help fight cancer

We put this first because it’s arguably the most important. With the rise in cancer diagnoses in dogs, finding a viable solution to both help prevent it and assist with cancer treatment has become a top priority for so many pet parents.

Research shows that Chaga mushrooms have several anti-cancer abilities. These include selective apoptosis (cell death) in tumour cells (with no effect on healthy cells), inhibition of tumour cell proliferation, and anti-mutagenic properties. 

Numerous cancer studies suggest that, for a variety of different types of cancer, Chaga mushrooms may provide a new therapeutic option and a potential anticancer agent. 

2. Regulate the immune system

Our (and our animals’) immune systems are fascinating things. 

When your animal has a healthy, efficient immune system, it works to reduce inflammation in the body and carefully regulates the response to infection and disease. In this case, you’re good to give it a boost to help with that process.

However, when an animal is fighting a disease, arthritis for example, or when they get older age, the immune system may not perform as well, and this can lead to an exaggerated inflammatory response — allowing inappropriate access of immune cells to vulnerable tissues. In this case, we don’t want to boost the immune system or we could just be playing into that exaggerated response.

Research shows that Chaga mushrooms react according to the state of the body’s immune system to help regulate it, helping it determine when a boost is needed and when it needs to turn down that immune response. 

This is great news for those who have dogs with allergies or arthritis.

3. Improve gut health

In recent years, the study of gut health and its importance to overall health has exploded. We now know that the majority of the immune system lives in the gut. And if the gut isn’t healthy, the rest of the body is vulnerable. 

Chaga mushrooms contain biological compounds called polysaccharides, which are different types of sugars. Research shows that the ones in Chaga help induce positive changes in the gut microbiota and increase the Bacteroidetes at the phylum level, and bring the changes towards a healthy bacterial profile. 

Additionally, studies have found that those polysaccharides help to regulate gut microbiota, allowing for a healthier state of affairs in that all-important system of the body. 

4. Slow the aging process 

No matter what we feed our animals, how much care we take with how we live, or how much focus we have on reducing stress, our pets encounter harmful compounds every day.

These harmful compounds, also known as free radicals, contribute to the oxidative stress that results in accelerated aging. They cause an imbalance in the body that leads to cell and tissue damage, and they’re often at the root of many chronic diseases, including cancer, diabetes, joint disease, and heart disease.

To fight oxidative stress, our pets need antioxidants – compounds that battle free radicals. Thankfully, Chaga is one of the richest antioxidant food sources. It helps protect the cells from these harmful compounds and stops that accelerated ageing and helps reduce the risk of the development of these painful conditions. 

Fun Fact: Chaga is packed with melanin – a potent antioxidant with one of the highest oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) scores of any food. (ORAC is a method developed by scientists at the National Institutes of Health to measure the antioxidant capacity of different foods.)

5. Support organ health

Just as it’s important to support the health of the gut, it’s also important to support the organs. And Chaga is a good way to do just that!

For example, research on the effects of Chaga on the liver suggest that it may prevent or slow the progression of certain liver problems and alleviate the inflammation and oxidative stress that helps fuel chronic liver problems.

Additionally, thanks to trace amounts of naturally occurring iodine, as well as its rich supply of polysaccharides like beta-glucans and polyphenols, Chaga can help support healthy blood sugar levels, which in turn can improve pancreatic function.

How to find Chaga mushrooms for dogs and cats

Now, here’s where it gets important as far as finding the right Chaga mushrooms for dogs and cats. 

Firstly, make sure you pay attention to (or at the very least research) how your chosen Chaga is grown. Look for organic Chaga that is harvested ethically and sustainably. For a Chaga mushroom to reach its full potential it needs a long growth life. And, to allow for future use, it needs to be harvested in a way that does not disturb the inner part of the tree by digging into the tree. You want to make sure the harvesting process does not harm the Xylem or the Pith of the tree so that the Chaga will continue to grow as long as the tree lives. 

Most of the Chaga out there has not been ethically harvested!

In fact, many Chaga buyers find buckshot in their Chaga from people shooting it off the tree or machine oil where they have carved it out with a chain saw! These methods not only kill the tree, but make the Chaga toxic! Many buyers purchase by pound so the more weight, the more money the harvesters make. Our Chaga is harvested by our own pickers that have been meticulously trained and use precise tools to be extraordinarily careful and respectful of the forest and tree

Secondly, go for a liquid extract versus a powder. You will find many Chaga powders available out there, but dried Chaga isn’t easily absorbed by the body. In order to get all the medicinal benefits, the Chaga has to be extracted in hot water or alcohol (or both). Compared to most powders, double liquid extracts contain a range of full-spectrum compounds featuring both water-soluble (ie. polysaccharides) and alcohol-soluble compounds (ie. antioxidants).

Chaga mushrooms for dogs and cats offer an impressive list of benefits, and adding them to your pet’s daily supplement regimen is a great way to up the health factor. 

Useful links

Turkey mushrooms are also beneficial for our animals – see the Adored Beast Apothecary’s blog

Medicinal mushroom blogs

Other Julie Anne Lee blogs and mentions

Julie Anne Lee, DCH, RcsHOM, is a qualified veterinary practitioner and graduate of the Vancouver Academy of Homeopathy. She has studied with some of the world’s leading homeopaths, including UK vets Sue Armstrong, Mark Elliot, Peter Gregory and John Saxton. She is an Associate Member of the British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons, BAHVS. Julie Anne is the founder and owner of the Adored beast Apothecary, where she formulates holistic pet care products and is currently working with a university on a canine cancer research project. She has also been the owner and practitioner of some of the busiest and long-standing holistic veterinary hospitals and clinics in North America, and regularly teaches on veterinary courses. 

Growing up helping in her mother’s animal rescue shelter planted seeds early on of what would rapidly and passionately grow into Julie Anne’s life purpose; a deep caring and protection for animals and their health, while educating the public and veterinarians at large to empower them to make the best choices for the ethical treatment and naturally holistic approaches to their healthcare. 

Julie Anne is also a pioneer in studying the dog’s microbiome and developing protocols for optimising gut health – all part of a rapidly expanding picture and understanding of the crucial role the microbiome plays in the health of all our animals and ourselves. In furthering a truly holistic approach to pet care, Julie Anne works with vets and practitioners from all over the world.

In June 2020, Julie Anne was inspired to organise The Science of Nature event which brought together some of the world’s best holistic vets, practitioners and healers to discuss solutions to the stress experienced by our animals and ourselves during times of lockdown. A follow on magazine, The Science of Nature, was also produced. See here for more details, watch the videos and read the magazine. 

Disclaimer – Where blogs have been created by a guest author, CAM4Animals has reproduced this in good faith but cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracies of information in it or any use you make of this information

This blog may also contain an element of consumer opinionWhilst CAM4animals welcomes positive recommendations for holistic healthcare products, we don’t necessarily endorse the product or the author’s opinion. We acknowledge that each animal is an individual and may react differently to the highlighted product/s. There may also be other products available that produce similarly positive results.

The veterinary Surgeon’s Act 1966 restricts the treatment of animals (usually other than your own*) by anyone other than a qualified vet. Always consult a veterinary surgeon if you are concerned about your animal’s health. *For full details visit the RCVS website