Chaga: Why This Fungus Is Good For Your Dog

chaga mushroom for dogs
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Chaga for my dog? What the heck is that?

Chaga is a type of mushroom that looks like dark, crusty, blackened growths that appear on birch trees in cold climates (it’s also known as birch conk).

Chaga mushrooms have played an important role in folk medicine since the 16th century and were even commonly called “the gift from god.” But modern medicine has only recently begun to catch on to the benefits of this mushroom … and the results from recent studies look promising.

Here are a few reasons your dog could benefit from a little bit of this fungus in her food!

RELATED: The surprising health benefits of mushrooms for dogs

The Immune System

The main benefit of chaga mushrooms is their effect on the immune system. They have the unique property of not only boosting the immune system when necessary, but they’ll also slow down the immune system that’s running on overdrive – something called a Biological Response Modifier. That’s good news for dogs with over-active immune systems (think relief for allergies and common autoimmune diseases like arthritis)!

Anti-Cancer Properties
Chaga mushrooms have been credited with the low cancer rates in areas of Russia where they were regularly used by the native peoples. It’s been proven effective for fighting several types of cancer, particularly breast and uterine cancers. Other recent studies show that chaga is effective for melanoma, liver, and colon cancers (1, 2, 3)

Their anti-tumor effects are described as “pro-apoptotic,” meaning they promote cell death in cells that are a threat to the body, while leaving healthy cells alone – selectively targeting and killing cancer cells. They’ve also been shown to help reduce toxicity after traditional radiation or chemotherapy treatments.

Antioxidants
Chaga mushrooms are brimming with antioxidants! They contain polysaccharides that boost heart, intestinal and liver health, and also energy levels. Chaga mushrooms also contain a high number of Beta-D-Glucans, which supplement the immune system, regulate both blood sugar and cholesterol, and help the immune system target cancer cells. They’re also high in B vitamins, enzymes, sterols, and several minerals, like zinc and potassium, which all help to fight free radicals.

Anti-Inflammatory and Analgesic
Chaga mushrooms have an anti-inflammatory effect, especially for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). They also have some pain-relieving benefits.

Anti-Viral
A paper published in 2005 by Ulrike Lindequist et al studied the medicinal benefits of several different types of mushrooms and found chaga to be specifically useful as an anti-viral (4). The paper notes that, “besides immunostimulation, other effects of the polysaccharide–protein complexes [of the mushrooms] contribute to the antiviral activity.” Chaga mushrooms are being researched for use in HIV patients, but they can also be a useful anti-viral for your dogs, particularly when considering the flu

Gastric Issues
Some of the earliest uses of chaga mushrooms were for ulcers, stomach pain, and inflammatory bowel disease. It’s believed that the immune-stimulating traits of chaga help balance the gut bacteria and ease ulcers and gastritis.

Diabetes
Chaga mushrooms can help regulate blood sugar levels for animals with diabetes. However, if your dog is diabetic, you may want to alert your vet and monitor his glucose levels when adding medicinal mushrooms to his diet because they may interact with his medications.

Cholesterol
A study by Jiangnan University in China demonstrated that adding chaga to the diet could cause a significant decrease in cholesterol levels, and also boost of the HDL, or “good cholesterol.” If your dog has hypothyroidism, he may be more prone to high cholesterol levels and chaga mushrooms could be a great addition to his diet to help with that (5).

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Feeding Chaga Mushrooms To Your Dog

You can buy chaga mushrooms as a powder or whole. Their taste is a bit bitter, so the most common suggestion is to make a tea. Here’s how:

Note: If you use raw unprocessed chaga, it must first have any parts of the tree bark removed. It then needs to be chopped into smaller chunks and dried. It can then be left as chunks or ground into a powder, depending on how you want to use it. If you’re buying chaga from a reputable supplier, this part is most likely taken care of.

Chaga Tea

1. Break up the dried chaga into smaller chunks, roughly 1 inch in size.
2. In a 1 liter pot of water, drop in a handful of chunks and bring to a boil. Let them simmer until the water turns a reddish brown color, or at least an hour to extract more of the bioactive ingredients.
3. Strain the tea into a mug. (If you’re drinking it yourself, you may want to add some maple syrup or honey to taste.)
4. You can reuse the chaga chunks several times before they start to lose their strength. Simply put them in a mason jar without a lid, and store in the fridge.

You can also dry the leftover chunks in a dehydrator and burn them as incense!

* There are many, many different chaga tea recipes available. Some suggest boiling, others say never boil it, and recommended steeping times vary from 10 minutes to several hours! You can also use ground chaga which would only need to be steeped for a few minutes, and then strained through a coffee filter. 

How much to give?

You can give a 50 lb dog up to a cup of chaga tea per day. Online anecdotes report that dogs and even cats enjoy the taste! It’s best to start with a smaller amount and build up gradually; chaga can have a cleansing effect and may increase bowel movements.

If you buy a tincture, assume the recommended dose is for a 150 lb human and adjust accordingly for your dog’s weight.

Other considerations

When buying your chaga mushrooms, keep in mind that the increased demand has led to harvesting that can be ecologically damaging … so be careful that the source you’re using is working ethically and taking care of the trees they harvest from.

Caution: chaga mushrooms can interact with anticoagulant medications and may increase the effects of those medications, so consult with your holistic vet before using them if your dog is on these meds.

References:

1. Youn MJ, et al. Potential anticancer properties of the water extract of Inonotus [corrected] obliquus by induction of apoptosis in melanoma B16-F10 cells. J Ethnopharmacol. 2009 Jan 21;121(2):221-8. 

2. Youn MJ, et al. Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) induces G0/G1 arrest and apoptosis in human hepatoma HepG2 cells. World J Gastroenterol. 2008 Jan 28;14(4):511-7. 

3. Lee SH, et al. Antitumor activity of water extract of a mushroom, Inonotus obliquus, against HT-29 human colon cancer cells. Phytother Res. 2009 Dec;23(12):1784-9. 

4. Lindequist, Ulrike, et al. The Pharmacological Potential of Mushrooms. Institute of Pharmacy. Germany. 2005. 

5. Sun JE, et al. Antihyperglycemic and antilipidperoxidative effects of dry matter of culture broth of Inonotus obliquus in submerged culture on normal and alloxan-diabetes mice. J Ethnopharmacol. 2008 Jun 19;118(1):7-13. 

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