When it comes to mushrooms for dogs, my general rule of thumb has always been, “when in doubt, go without”. The truth is, there are MANY different species of mushrooms. There are some that are toxic to dogs and people also, however, there is a reason people still eat mushrooms, and its not just because they like them. Mushrooms can be a powerhouse of nutrition and have been used for centuries in medicine. When I kept seeing dog “immunity blend” vitamins with mushrooms in them, I decided this was something definitely worth looking into.
While I would never trust a mushroom that I found outside, most of the mushrooms that you will find at the grocery store are also safe for dogs. That being said, not all mushrooms are created equal. Some mushrooms are worth a lot more than others health-wise. Because my dog’s not particularly interested in veggies, if I am going to incorporate mushrooms in my vegetable blends or broths, I want them to be worth the effort. Immunity blends can be great, but I prefer whole foods and unless my dog has a specific need for a blend, I always prefer to go the homemade route. There are a number of vitamins, minerals, biologically active compounds and fungal enzymes in mushrooms that can help with things like:
- Immune system health
- Digestive health
- Respiratory health
- Joint health
- Normal cell growth
Some mushrooms are easier to find than others, so I also have a list below of whole-foods based supplements that might be helpful for those varieties that are not as easy to buy locally. Blends can also be beneficial because many contain important nutrient dense parts of the mushroom like the mycelium, that you just can’t buy in a store because they are cut in order to sell.
As with everything, moderation is key. Not all vitamins are beneficial in high amounts. Vitamins A, C and D for example can become toxic at certain levels, so it’s best to be aware of how mush your dog is getting combined with their other food per day. The benefit of buying store-bought mushrooms is that a lot of them have nutrition facts that can give you a general idea of how many vitamins you are dealing with at a time. The easiest to find beneficial varieties that can either be grown at home or found at most stores are shiitake, maitake, reishi, and button.
Most notable attribute: They are a symbol of longevity in humans and have health benefits for dogs as well. They are considered one of the world’s healthiest foods.
Additional benefits: They contain: protein, zinc, copper, thiamin, folate, selenium, iron, riboflavin, magnesium, potassium, manganese, pathothenic acid, niacin, vitamin D and dietary fiber. They also contain more than 50 enzymes including pepsin, which aids in digestion.
Most notable attribute: They are one of the most medicinal mushrooms on earth. They have a host of healing qualities and have been called an anti-cancer agent.
Additional benefits: Regulating blood sugar, lowering cholesterol, and immunity enhancing. Due to the unique chemical structure of its ploysccharide compound it has proven to be a strong tumor suppressant. They contain protein, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, copper, selenium and vitamin D.
Reishi: These mushrooms come in a variety of colors but those that are purple, black, yellow, blue, white and red are the most beneficial. Red is the most common.
Most notable attribute: It helps reduce fatigue, bone marrow suppression and risk of infection especially for those undergoing chemo therapy radiation.
Additional attributes: They are used to relieve allergies, support cardiovascular health, improve digestion, improve the immune system, aid in detox, improve cognition, healthy respiration, they are anti-inflammatory and increase energy. They are rich in polysaccharides, polypeptides, 16 amino acids, organic acids coumarin and micro elements. They contain protein, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, choline, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, copper, manganese, omega 6, and selenium.
Button aka White mushrooms:
Most notable attribute: They contain antioxidants that are not destroyed through cooking.
Additional benefits: These mushrooms have growth cycles that produce Button (can be white or brown), then Crimini and finally Portobello. The nutritional values vary between growth cycles but they all contain all of the B vitamins except 12, protein, fiber, omega 6, vitamin C, vitamin D, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, folate, pantothenic acid, choline, betaine, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, sodium, zinc, copper and selenium.
Other beneficial mushrooms:
These are much more rare but worth getting in a supplement:
Lion’s Maine: Helps improve memory.
King Trumpet: Anti-oxidant, maintains healthy cholesterol levels and contains high levels of l-ergothioneine, selenium and beta-glucans.
Turkey Tail: Promotes immune, digestive, urinary and respiratory health as well as normal cellular growth. This is because of a a particular polysaccharide called PSK.
Chaka: An immune nourisher, cancer preventive, and an aid to those dealing with melanomas.
Coriolis: Maintains, protects and restores immune health.
Himematsutake: Immune support and cellular growth. Related to the button mushroom.
Cordyceps: Restores stress from aging, supports healthy energy, circulation, respiratory health and healthy cholesterol.
A Brief Description Of What Makes Mushrooms So Valuable:
- Beta-glucans and Proteoglycans: Two of the most biologically active compounds that support the immune system. Beta-glucans in mushrooms are exceptional because they are large, complex long-chain molecules made up of polysaccharides. Proteoglycans are special protein found in connective tissue. They also contain other bioactive compounds such as: alpha-glucans, pectins, ribonucleases, peptides, lectins, ubiquitin-like proteins, enzymes and antioxidants.
- Digestive enzymes: Protease- digests proteins and aids in detox. Lipase- helps digest fat. Cellulase- breaks down fiber, promotes bowl health and regularity. Amylase– breaks down starch into sugar and supplies energy. This is important because unlike humans, dogs don’t produce this in their saliva and they need it to absorb nutrients from vegetables.
- Antioxidants: Mushrooms contain many antioxidants including polyphenols and selenium but they are unique sources of the most powerful antioxidants which make them truly exceptional. One is L-ergothioneine. This is now called the “master antioxidant” because it can be transported throughout the body to fight free radicals and oxidative stress. Mushrooms are the only producer of this anti-oxidant. Unless your dog can receive some through grass fed cows that happen to be eating grass that was fertilized by these mushrooms, they will not be getting any at all. It’s ability to target and fight oxidative stress, protect cellular DNA and protect against free radical damage that speeds up aging, makes this a vital source of health and longevity. They also help prevent cancer and allergies.
- Protein: Maintains healthy bodily functions and provides energy fuel. Protein is necessary for all aspects of growth, development and immune health. This is because it contains amino acids and the body cannot produce every one that is essential on its own. They must come through diet and protein quality is based not on the amount of protein itself, but the number of essential amino acids that it contains.
- Manganese: Regulates carbohydrate and protein intake and fortifies the skeletal system. It is also essential for certain enzymes in the body responsible for the production of energy and making fatty acids. Excess levels of calcium and phosphorus can interfere with the absorption of manganese in the digestive tract. Manganese toxicity is virtually unheard of but deficiencies can lead to significant skeletal abnormalities and increase the likelihood of injury.
- B vitamins: Water-soluable vitamins necessary for cell metabolism. B1 (thiamin) promotes nerve and muscle health. Niacin promotes essential enzyme production. Pantothenic acid enables the body to produce useable forms of energy from carbohydrates, fats and proteins. B6 (pyridoxine) helps the body utilize amino acids and is essential to life. Folic acid and B12 are necessary for bone marrow and bone health because they help the marrow produce red blood cells. Biotin is necessary for growth, digestion and muscle function, it also is important in maintaining skin and hair health. B vitamin toxicity is virtually nonexistent because the vitamins are not stored within the body. Because of this, it is important that they are provided through diet.
- Vitamin D: A Fat-soluable vitamin necessary for bone formation, nerve and muscle control. It balances phosphorus and calcium and regulates these in the blood stream, allowing calcium to be utilized and retained. Vitamin D is an important part of a dogs diet because they cannot produce it on their own. Vitamin D toxicity is very rare but could have a negative effect by causing calcium deposits in the heart, muscles and other soft tissue.
- Vitamin C: (Ascorbic acid) A water-soluble vitamin that boosts the immune system, speeds healing, promotes bone formation and can decrease joint pain. It also fights viral diseases, bacterial infections and is an anti-carcinogen. Vitamin C is not an essential vitamin for dogs because they can produce it on their own but deficiencies can happen on occasion. Because it is water-soluble, it is considered safe and too much usually just causes diarrhea.
- Riboflavin: Also known as B 2 is a water-soluble coenzyme that regulates the energy production from fats, maintains cells and helps the body utilize amino acids. It is essential to growth, muscle development and skin and coat health. As with the other B vitamins, it is not stored within the body and must be present in the diet.
- Vitamin A: A fat-soluble vitamin that promotes eye, skeletal and muscle health. This is a good vitamin for dogs because they easily convert it into a usable form. This is an especially important vitamin for growing puppies. The chances of toxicity are low with this vitamin but as with all fat-soluble vitamins it should still be avoided.
- Potassium: Regulates hydration and proper fluid balance throughout the body and maintains the nervous system. Potassium is necessary for proper enzyme function, muscles and nerves. Digestive disturbances (like diarrhea) can lead to potassium deficiency which can be very dangerous. Prolonged vomiting or diarrhea should always be checked by a vet. As long as the kidneys are properly functioning, potassium toxicity is very rare. If the adrenal glands are not functioning properly, however, blood potassium levels can reach dangerous levels and cause addison’s disease. Dietary potassium may exacerbate this condition but it is not the cause of this disease.
- Selenium: A trace mineral that should be used in limited amounts. It is an antioxidant that works with vitamin e and certain enzymes to promote heart and skin health. It also helps prevents arthritis and cancer. Selenium deficiency is very rare in dogs because they usually get an adequate amount in their diet. In rare cases, if dietary intake is in excess of 0.9 mg per pound of food eaten, over time, toxicity may occur and symptoms such as hair loss, anemia, liver failure or lameness may occur.
- Iron: A mineral that increases the production of red blood cells. This helps maintain bone marrow and prevents anemia. Iron is necessary for certain enzymes in the body to function normally. Iron also combines with copper and protein to produce hemoglobin (the molecules in red blood cells that carry oxygen). The body needs a constant supply to maintain red blood cells, as they need to be replaced in the body every 110 days. Iron toxicity in dogs is extremely rare but can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb phosphorus.
- Phosphorus: A mineral that works with calcium, that is vital to bone development. Together they maintain the growth and structure of the skeletal system. The ratio of calcium to phosphorus should be about 1:1 or 1.2:1 in favor of slightly more calcium. Because calcium is the mineral that is required in the highest amount, phosphorus is number two. Phosphorus deficiency is very rare in dogs. Too much phosphorus is more common and can accelerate kidney failure or renal disease. Because the calcium to phosphorus ratio is so important in dog health, its important to pay special attention to the amounts of both in each food. Excess or deficiency of either can cause problems. There are some foods that have a natural balance, like green tripe, but not most. For this reason, out of all of the items on this list, this is the one I would pay attention to most. Imbalance over time can cause skeletal problems that can be very severe. There should not be enough present in mushrooms to cause an issue, but it’s a good thing to be aware of.
- Dietary fiber: Carbohydrates that aid in the metabolism of nutrients by regulating the digestive track allowing for better nutrient absorption. Fiber also lowers blood sugar and prevents the overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the digestive track. Fiber can help with weight management, reduce the chance of diarrhea, constipation and diabetes.
Water-soluble vitamins are carried to the body’s tissues but not stored. If they are in excess, they simply pass through usually with minimal side effects or slight digestive upset.
Fat-soluable vitamins are the ones to pay close attention to. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body for long periods of time for further use. For this reason, the body doesn’t need theses vitamins every day. They are mainly stored in the liver and fatty tissue. They are essential to health but when eaten in excess they can cause toxicity.
How To Use Mushrooms:
When dealing with mushrooms at home, it is always best to cook them. It is also safest to buy organic and wash them throughly before using, to get rid of any possible pesticides. The easiest way for a dog to digest mushrooms is to cook them and cut them up, puree or make them into a broth. The broth may lose some nutritional value but it also helps release some of the nutrients. They are more likely to get a higher concentration especially if they are not interested in eating them.
I mostly add them to purees or make broths and save the mushrooms for our dinner.
There is much more to the story! I tried to cover a manageable amount here, but mushrooms are really amazing. I will be interested to see what else there is to learn!
Some Good Mushroom Blends To Increase Immunity:
In an effort to be responsible I wanted to be sure to add a bit about which mushrooms are most toxic. Generally these may only be found on occasion outside, but I consider all outside mushrooms to be dangerous.
This is from PetMD:
Poisonous mushrooms for dogs include the following types:
Liver toxic mushrooms
– Amanita phalloides (Death Cap Mushroom)
– Amanita ocreata (Angel of Death)
– Lepiota (False Parasol)
– Amanita pantherina (Panther Cap)
– Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric)
Mushrooms Containing Muscarinic Agents
False Morel Mushrooms
– Gyromitra esculenta (Beefsteak)
– Gyromitra caroliniana
– Mushrooms in the Verpa genre
– Mushrooms in the Helvella genre
Mushrooms That Cause Gastrointestinal Distress
Find out more information on mushrooms that are poisonous to dogs.