Search Menu

Does your dog have mushrooms in their diet? These fungi may not be magic, but there’s a reason that ancient and modern health practitioners use them in medicine.

Mushrooms have historically been one of the largest groups of herbal remedies. In ancient times, physicians in the Far East, Egypt, Algeria, and Mesoamerica used mushrooms to combat a host of human illnesses, including gastrointestinal issues, cancer, asthma, and night sweats. But just because they’ve been used for centuries doesn’t mean they work. So what are medicinal mushrooms in dogs used for, and how do they work?

Are Medicinal Mushrooms Safe?

Veterinarians don’t advise letting your dog eat random mushrooms for the same reason you shouldn’t snack off the fungi you find: they could be toxic. Luckily, mushrooms for medicine are carefully cultivated, harvested, and prepared.

“Many of the mushrooms that are used for medicinal purposes are among some of the most prized edible species such as shiitake, button, cremini, portobello, and oyster, maitake, Lion’s Mane, and cordyceps,” says Dr. Rob Silver, DVM, MS, a holistic veterinarian and medicinal mushroom expert. “They have been edible for thousands of years and have stood the test of time.”

Beagle sniffing in the woods on a scent.
igorr1/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Are Medicinal Mushrooms Effective?

Although they never went away as a medicinal aid, in recent years, mushrooms have been making a comeback in terms of popularity and research. Dr. Silver calls mushrooms “superfoods” and says that dogs can benefit from being added on a consistent and regular basis to their daily programs, but he calls for more research. “We have a few studies, not nearly enough, that show some level of efficacy for the types of cancer that were studied,” he says. And he’s quick to point out they’re not just for cancer.

Many studies have been done on mushroom’s medicinal functions. One study at the Claremont Graduate University found that mushrooms and fungi possess as many as 130 medicinal functions. Another from the National Library of Medicine concluded, “medicinal mushrooms have important health benefits and exhibit a broad spectrum of pharmacological activities, including anti-allergic, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, antiviral, cytotoxic, immunomodulating, anti-depressive, anti-hyperlipidemic, anti-diabetic, digestive, hepatoprotective, neuroprotective, nephroprotective, osteoprotective, and hypotensive activities.”

These researchers advocated for a stronger commitment to expand clinical trials of mushrooms in humans. But as with most supplements and herbal medicines, little research exists for humans, and even less so for dogs. The exception? The turkey tail mushroom.

Turkey Tail Mushroom and Cancer

Turkey tail mushrooms (Trametes versicolor) can help strengthen the immune system, help treat various cancers, and decrease inflammation of the urinary and digestive tracts. Studies in humans have shown turkey tail increases survival time for people with some cancers when given alongside traditional therapies. Turkey tail contains two polysaccharides that are credited with slowing the growth of cancer cells — polysaccharopeptide (PSP) and polysaccharide-K (PSK).

Golden Retriever getting comforted while lying on a table at the vet.
alexsokolov via Getty Images

But what about dogs? In a study from the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) focused on hemangiosarcoma, a malignant cancer of the blood vessels. Researchers gave dogs with this cancer a compound derived from the turkey-tail mushroom. These dogs had the longest survival time ever reported for dogs with hemangiosarcoma.

However, a larger National Institute of Health (NIH) study found no benefit of PSP for the survival time of dogs with hemangiosarcoma compared to those treated with the standard chemotherapy drug, “doxorubicin.” Even though the NIH study’s results weren’t as strong as the UPenn study’s findings, Silver considers it a success. “What it did show is that chemo is still stronger than mushrooms, but when you combine mushrooms with chemo, you will get a better response,” he says. Silver says that the responses may not have been statistically significant, but had a numerican advantage that parallels what doctors tend to see in practice when they combine these mushrooms with conventional treatment options.

“The study also gave us a better understanding of how to prognosticate to our clients what the status and survivability would be for the cancer that they are dealing with,” Silver adds. Some dogs will have higher success regardless. If their hematocrit level (the percentage of red blood cells in blood) when treatment starts is higher than 30%, they’ll have better chances. Male patients will have better chances. Patients with Stage One cancer, where it hasn’t progressed to the lymph nodes, will also have higher success, Silver says. “These factors can help the [owner] decide if treatment is going to provide a better outcome than no treatment.”

Other Medicinal Mushrooms

Turkey tails aren’t the only mushrooms commonly used in medicine. They just happen to be the ones studied most within dogs. Other popular medicinal mushrooms include Chaga, Cordyceps, Maitake, Reishi, and Shiitake mushrooms, but these have less research around them in canine health.

“Mushrooms are definitely in the preventative category,” asserts Silver, explaining that they contain many active ingredients that have effectiveness for many aspects of life, “such as unique and powerful antioxidants, immune modulating components, and terpenes that modify mood and improve mentation and cognition.”

Attractive girl walking the dog. Having fun playing in outdoors. Lovely woman training German Shorthaired Pointer on sandy beach on background of greenery. Concepts of friendship, pets, togetherness
Vagengeym_Elena/Getty Images Plus

Dr. Silver points out that many mushrooms are recognized historically for their general effectiveness for many types of cancer, and that “some mushrooms help to regulate the adrenal glands’ response to stressors, some mushrooms can help with cholesterol levels, provide safe levels of vitamin D, and have analgesic properties as well, to name a few of the more important actions that have been scientifically determined.”

Chaga Mushrooms in Medicine

Known for their high antioxidant content, Chaga mushrooms (Inonotus obliquus) are considered to strengthen the immune system, reduce inflammation (and thus reduce allergies and arthritis), and neutralize harmful free radicals and reduce oxidative stress, both of which can contribute to cancer.

Cordyceps Mushrooms in Medicine

Two types of Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis, Cordyceps unilateralis) are said to have antifungal and antibacterial properties and to help with liver disorders, kidney failure, and asthma. Though it’s also widely considered to boost athletic performance in humans by increasing maximum oxygen intake, but some recent studies haven’t supported this.

Maitake Mushrooms in Medicine

Maitake mushrooms (Grifola frondosa) are said to stimulate T-cells, inhibit tumor growth, and lower cholesterol. They’re typically used to prevent cancer, help during chemotherapy, control diabetes, and reduce liver problems. They’re rich in antioxidants, beta-glucans, vitamins B and C, copper, and potassium. Maitake mushrooms have been shown to kill human breast cancer cells and suppress tumor growth in mice.

Reishi Mushrooms in Medicine

Known as “Ling Zhi” in Chinese medicine, Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum) are used to prevent aging, increase energy, and strengthen the immune system of cancer patients (especially lung cancer patients) receiving immunotherapy. So far, there’s insufficient evidence to support these claims in humans and even less in dogs. Some test tube studies do suggest that reishi mushrooms could fight cancer cells, however.

Yellow Labrador Retriever hiking across a stream in the woods with a man and woman.
©Gorilla -

Shiitake Mushrooms in Medicine

Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes) aren’t just delicious. They’re said to stimulate white blood cells, improve circulation, inhibit tumor growth, and lower cholesterol. They’re typically used to treat Cushing’s disease, reduce allergic reactions, regulate urinary incontinence, soothe bronchial irritation, and reduce the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. They even contain many of the same amino acids found in meat. In humans, they can help reduce cholesterol, but high cholesterol doesn’t tend to be a problem for dogs. Shiitake mushrooms contain high levels of copper, which supports healthy blood vessels, bones, and the immune system.

Mushroom Species

That’s six species of mushrooms. The problem is that there are over 38,000 known species of mushrooms, with more than 750 species of Cordyceps alone. That’s a big backlog of fungus to study. Supposedly, at least 270 of these mushrooms are known to have medicinal properties. Some of these other less-known and less-studied mushrooms include:

  • Mesima (Phellinus linteus) are said to have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and antibacterial properties
  • Lion’s Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) are said to have antitumor and hypoglycemic properties, and possibly help with anti-aging and cognitive improvement
  • Agaricus mushroom (Agaricus blazei) are said to have antitumor, anti-inflammatory, and immune system-modulating functions
  • Poria (Wolfiporia extensa) are said to have antioxidant, antitumor, and kidney protective abilities, as well as possibly combatting Alzheimer’s disease in people
  • Tremella (Tremella fuciformis) are said to protect the nervous system, fight aging, prevent skin damage, lower blood sugar, and lower cholesterol
  • Agarikon (Laricifomes officinalis) are said to have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antitumor properties

While claims abound for each of these species, adequate research does not. Researchers have only scraped the surface of the medicinal mushroom magic mountain. While most interest focuses on their ability to treat various disease conditions, they could be equally important in preventing problems.

Bulldog puppy getting a check-up at the vet.
©mutluproject -

Mushrooms vs. Mushroom Supplements

Your dog shouldn’t eat any raw or whole mushrooms. As much as we like to think our dogs have an innate ability to forage, these are the same dogs that will eat just about everything in your house they can reach. Because of this, you don’t want your dog to get in the habit of eating mushrooms of any type. If you give your dog medicinal mushrooms, don’t feed whole or raw mushrooms. They may be hard to digest or may contain ingredients that are toxic when raw. In fact, in its raw form (but not cooked form), chaga mushrooms contain xylitol, a chemical that can be deadly to dogs. Don’t feed mushrooms you’ve found in the wild. Instead, use grocery store mushrooms or better, mushroom extracts from trusted sources that you can either make into a broth or just sprinkle on your dog’s food.

Not all mushroom products are created equal. Products with high levels of beta-glycans are desirable because they carry the compounds and nutrients important for health. The top of the mushroom (the cap and stem) contains about 500 times the level of beta-glycans than the underground part, the mycelium.

Unfortunately, some mushroom supplements are made mostly of mycelium, which will contain far less of the nutrients that are supposed to help your dog. In fact, mycelium is usually grown on a grain substrate, and that substrate is often mixed right in with the mycelium when it’s harvested, further diluting the levels of beta-glycans. One study showed that products containing mycelium with grain contain about 6% beta-glucans, whereas pure mushroom supplements contain about 35%. Clues that may indicate a supplement is primarily mycelium include being light-colored or sweet-tasting, because of its grain content. You can contact the company and request their certificate of analysis.

If the product is manufactured for humans, or if it doesn’t come with dosage information, assume it’s calibrated for a 150-pound person and reduce it accordingly. As with all supplements and herbal remedies, keep in mind that products may vary in the levels of ingredients they contain. Very few, if any, have been tested for effectiveness or toxic levels in dogs. It’s generally easier to determine dosages when using products formulated specifically for dogs.

Dachshund with its owner getting checked by a veterinarian.
Alexander Raths via Getty Images

Don’t Forget to Consult Your Veterinarian

Taken at suggested dosages, mushrooms should be completely safe for most dogs. Silver cautions that a very small percentage of dogs might be allergic or sensitive to mushrooms. But, he reiterates that this is “a very, very small percentage as compared to the number of dogs that routinely benefit from using mushrooms on a regular continuous basis.”

It’s also possible that some medicinal mushrooms can interact with other drugs your dog is taking. For example, both reishi and lion’s mane can increase the risk of bleeding if your dog is also taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), an anticoagulant, or blood pressure medications. Mushrooms that enhance the immune system may be contra-indicated for dogs on immunosuppressive medication. Mushrooms with high copper content may not be a good choice for dogs with copper toxicosis. In addition, mushrooms that enhance the immune system could possibly worsen autoimmune problems.

Never give any substances, herbal or otherwise, to your dog without first consulting with your veterinarian, especially if your dog has an underlying health issue or is currently on any medication. There is always a concern of drug interaction, including with over-the-counter vitamins or supplements and prolonged use or high doses of medicinal mushrooms may cause harm.

This article is intended solely as general guidance, and does not constitute health or other professional advice. Individual situations and applicable laws vary by jurisdiction, and you are encouraged to obtain appropriate advice from qualified professionals in the applicable jurisdictions. We make no representations or warranties concerning any course of action taken by any person following or otherwise using the information offered or provided in this article, including any such information associated with and provided in connection with third-party products, and we will not be liable for any direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary or other damages that may result, including but not limited to economic loss, injury, illness or death.
Get Your Free AKC download

Puppy Vaccination Schedule

Download and print this vaccination schedule to help keep your puppy on track for its first year of life!
*Turn off pop-up blocker to download
*Turn off pop-up blocker to download