Turmeric is an ancient nutraceutical with promising synergistic effects and potential efficacy. You may have heard of curcumin for dogs ... but it's not as simple as adding it as a spice to your dog's food.
- It’s safe to give dogs curcumin, although a lack of bioavailability may make it hard to get curcumin into the bloodstream, and higher doses don’t solve the problem.
- Curcumin is usually dosed at 15mg-20mg per pound of body weight, and, more is not necessarily better.
- In vitro (lab) experiments have shown that curcumin can influence cell activity by promoting cell death, inhibiting cell growth and division, and reducing angiogenesis. In vivo (in living bodies) studies have shown that curcumin is effective in treating bladder, breast, and ovarian cancers in rats and mice.
- Many veterinarians have started to embrace curcumin as a possible aid for dogs with cancer, because it is well-tolerated and generally safe to give. However, bioavailability problems should be taken into account.
- Curcumin is one of the best-known phytochemicals that comes from the turmeric plant (Curcuma longa). Turmeric root and whole food supplements contain curcumin. Curcumin can also be extracted from turmeric and put in a supplement.
Curcumin is one of turmeric’s most important nutraceuticals
Nutraceuticals are natural remedies that can serve as alternatives to pharmaceutical options and they are gaining momentum in use for both humans and animals. One popular nutraceutical is called curcumin, a phytochemical isolated from the rhizome of the plant turmeric (Curcuma longa).1 If you’ve heard of curcumin for dogs, it’s no wonder — this has been touted as a “miracle cure” for a long time. But is it?
Turmeric has been used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years and is touted as a “super spice.” Spices can provide the body with easily digestible natural compounds that are absorbed into the body intact and easily excreted.2 More than 300 different components have been identified in turmeric, with curcumin being one of the best-known ones.3 Extracted curcumin has become a compound of interest due to its perceived efficacy in treating various diseases, including cancer4. Curcumin supplements are usually in powder form, either as loose powder or filled capsules.
How curcumin for dogs may help
Curcumin has the ability to bind and interact with a number of cellular proteins.5 This theoretically allows it to influence numerous targets within the body.
In vitro studies on curcumin
Prior to testing any of the clinical applications of nutraceuticals on pets, in vitro (in the lab) experiments are done to better understand how a compound like curcumin may impact cell activity. Such experiments have shown that curcumin can prompt proapoptotic activity (cell death),6 inhibit cell proliferation (growth and division),7 and reduce angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels that feed tumor growth).8
These in vitro experiments can be done in cells that are specifically from an organism of interest. In the case of curcumin, cell lines from cancers identified in dogs have been used to determine if curcumin has any impact on their activity. Studies done thus far have had promising results. For example, work done with osteosarcoma cell lines in the lab found that curcumin-activated proteins associated with cell death, decreased cell viability, and reduced the expression of mutated tumor suppressor genes that were not functioning properly.9,10
Another study investigating cell lines from canine mastocytoma and mammary cancer found that turmeric extract resulted in a significant increase in apoptotic cells after 36 hours.1 However, these effects were magnified when the extract was used in conjunction with rosemary extract, suggesting that synergistic effects may play a large role in the effectiveness of a compound like curcumin.1
Rodent studies on curcumin
Studies that are in vivo (in live organisms) allow researchers to better understand the impacts of a compound on live animals. These are first typically done in “model organisms,” which are generally used for a variety of reasons to better understand how a therapy may work in other animals. Curcumin has been the subject in a number of in vivo studies and has showed efficacy in treating bladder cancer in rats,11 breast cancer in mice,12 and ovarian cancer in mice.13
Once better understood in model organisms, researchers may seek to understand how a molecule may impact cells in the target animal of interest, like a family dog.
Dog studies on curcumin
More research in the area of curcumin use in live dogs with cancer is needed,1 but current publications have revealed helpful insights surrounding bioavailability and effectiveness.
Turmeric and its compounds, including curcumin, are not well absorbed into the body’s circulatory system. This presents one of the main challenges in the clinical application of curcumin. Less than 1% of orally administered curcumin will be absorbed in the intestinal tract and even less of that will reach the bloodstream.14
Some ideas to increase bioavailability include changing formulas, administration schedules, and delivery methods. For example, LipoCurc™ is a synthetic curcumin formula that can be administered intravenously as opposed to orally, greatly increasing its bioavailabity. This may be effective for combatting canine cancer. In one study of 11 dogs with cancer, LipoCurc™ was found to have inhibitory effects on cell proliferation and angiogenesis.15
As mentioned above, curcumin interacts with many different compounds and may be able to “combine” forces with other compounds to amplify its effects. Harnessing this kind of synergistic behavior may assist in overcoming the issue of bioavailability. In a study that examined the impacts of turmeric extract on dog cancer cell lines, the addition of rosemary extract to the turmeric extract caused a significant increase in the cellular accumulation of curcumin by 30% to 480%, depending on cell line type.1
Studies on curcumin in humans
Curcumin has also been studied with humans and has been tested in Phase I and II clinical trials for many cancer types, which may further elucidate how curcumin can best be harnessed to combat cancer. However, randomized control trials are needed.22
Common uses for curcumin
Broadly, curcumin exhibits anti-inflammatory activity, which can assist with treating cancer and increasing your dog’s comfort.23
It’s likely that curcumin will make its biggest impact in treating complicated cancers with low survival rates. Broadly, new therapeutic strategies are needed for common cancers with low survival rates across the board.24 Curcumin may be such a strategy, given the positive results found in in vitro experiments with dog osteosarcoma cell lines.1,10,11
Curcumin may also benefit cancers commonly treated with chemotherapy or radiation. Curcumin may be able to amplify the effect of chemotherapy due to its known synergistic effects while simultaneously helping to overcome drug resistance, support the body through periods of increased stress, and help eliminate toxic waste products.25,26 Numerous studies also suggest that curcumin can increase the radiosensitivity of cancer cells by acting on a number of diverse molecular targets and impacting multiple cellular signaling cascades.27
Is curcumin toxic to dogs?
Overall, curcumin supplements are generally well tolerated by dogs. Concentration and method of administration likely play a large role in the side effects experienced.1
At present, intravenous administration of curcumin in a formula such as LipoCurc™ is likely the best method to overcome the lack of bioavailability in curcumin. One study has used this method to determine its possible side effects by intravenously administering 10mg of LipoCurc™ per kilogram to 11 dogs over the course of 8 hours once a week within a time span of 28 days.15 The authors broadly concluded that the dogs were able to tolerate the dosage provided within the study’s time frame, but noted the following:
- Three dogs had anemia
- Two dogs had decreasing HCT (% of red blood cells)
- One dog had vomiting
- One dog had a mild allergic reaction
- Four dogs died during treatment (Note that these dogs had late-stage cancer, but LipoCurc™ related toxicity cannot be ruled out.)
- Zero dogs reached complete regression of their respective disease.
Side effects that have been noted for oral formulations include:
- Decreased appetite
- Mustard-colored stools
- Sporadic vomiting28
Can curcumin be given with other supplements or drugs?
Curcumin extract can be combined and used with other nutraceuticals, such as rosemary. One study found that the synergistic properties of curcumin allowed it to be boosted in efficacy by the rosemary extract.1 Another study examined the utility of a dog biscuit with five nutraceuticals, including curcumin, resveratrol, ellagic acid, genistein, and quercetin. The combination of these together was found to be safe at the dosage examined.
Curcumin extract can also be combined with chemotherapy. Again, the synergistic properties of curcumin make it a potential booster of chemotherapeutic drugs, allowing for lower concentrations to be administered and ultimately minimizing the negative side effects associated with chemotherapy.29
Curcumin is also a known adaptogen capable to supporting the body through periods of stress, as is often brought on with chemotherapy, and can help remove toxic waste products which may accumulate from chemotherapeutic drugs in the body.26
Curcumin can also be combined with radiation therapy. In fact, it’s been demonstrated as having several benefits, such as increasing the sensitivity of cancer cells to radiation, across a wide range of cancer types and stages.27
When not to use curcumin for dogs
Always consult with your veterinarian to ensure that it is safe to add curcumin to your dog’s current regimen, particularly because synergistic effects with other medications and supplements may be harmful to your dog.
How to give curcumin
There are a number of commercial curcumin options that are currently available on the market, ranging from powders to chews and softgels. Products typically recommend a once or twice a day dosing schedule.
Most products intended for use in dogs dose at 15mg-20mg per pound of body weight per day. This is sometimes spread out over the course of the day, likely to try to make it more bioavailable.
Asking your veterinarian about products and brands they trust and have seen benefits with is always a good idea, especially with very popular supplements.
Some people take matters into their own hands and try natural at-home recipes that claim to increase the bioavailability of curcumin via the creation of a “golden paste.” Most paste recipes call for turmeric to be dissolved into water with an agent containing fats, like lecithin or coconut oil and black pepper, then boiled over heat.2,16,17,18
Heating the mixture to create the golden paste supposedly also increases the solubility of curcumin, which in turn is thought to translate to an increase in bioavailability. One study found that heating curcumin for 10 minutes increased its solubility 12-fold and did not reduce the integrity of the compound itself.20 However, there is no published research showing that heat-solubilized curcumin has greater bioavailability, and other studies testing the bioavailability of 98.5% native turmeric point out that even though heating the mixture makes it easier to combine, it does not increase solubility.21
Some recipes recommend adding black pepper to the golden paste. This adds in piperine, black pepper’s key alkaloid. One study found that curcumin bioavailability increased 2,000% after it was provided orally with piperine and another study detected curcumin in the tissue of rats for a significantly longer period of time when it was given with piperine compared to without.18,19
Curcumin is typically administered orally. Dogs usually don’t mind the taste of curcumin, but if they absolutely refuse the supplement, you could fill a turkey baster with water and immediately dispense it into your dog’s mouth after you place the curcumin supplement into their mouth.2 This will encourage them to swallow and avoid spitting the supplement out.2
Recall that oral administration, although by far the most common, may be problematic because it is not well absorbed into the gastrointestinal tract. Less than 1% of orally administered curcumin will be absorbed through the intestinal tract, with even less reaching the bloodstream to circulate throughout the body.14
Home recipes that claim to increase curcumin bioavailability typically involve instructions for creating a “golden paste.” It’s relatively inexpensive and easy to make, only requiring a couple of ingredients mixed together and heated over a stove.17 However, it’s important to keep in mind that claims of increased bioavailability in using this method aren’t necessarily well supported.
A drug delivery system that bypasses the need for oral consumption will likely be needed to improve efficacy, such as the above-mentioned intravenous formulation, LipoCurc™. This particular system of delivery was provided at a concentration of 10mg per kg over a span of 2 hours.30 The difficulty with this product is that it must be given by a veterinary professional.
Don’t Overdo Curcumin Supplements
Regardless of concerns over bioavailability and effectiveness, there’s no reason to give your dog multiple supplements that use curcumin. Sometimes, our love for our dogs and a strong desire to support them in their cancer treatment can go into hyperdrive and do more harm than good. Very few of us have the pharmacological training or knowledge to create high-quality, effective supplements at home.
With all the options out there, it’s best to talk to your veterinary and find a reputable well-supported product containing curcumin to give to your dog as opposed to trying mixes and combinations of supplements and recipes at home.
What if I miss a dose?
In vivo research suggests that canine osteosarcoma cells are more sensitive to curcumin exposure with time, so missing a dose may decrease efficacy.10 However, if you do miss a dose, do not “double dose” your dog to catch up. Some curcumin supplements are potent, and giving your dog too much at once could be toxic. If you suspect that toxic levels have been reached for your dog, call your veterinarian immediately.
Storage and handling
Most solid forms of curcumin supplements can be stored in a cool and dry place, but some may need to be refrigerated.28 Similarly, paste forms of curcumin that are made by mixing water and curcumin extract powder together may require refrigeration with a shelf life of about two weeks. Curcumin is typically bright gold in color and may stain fabrics, so take care when handing.
Our take on curcumin
There are many tumor types in canine oncology, and curcumin may work differently for all of them. It may be able to help boost your dog’s current cancer treatment regimen, but most research has only shown efficacy in cancer cells in the lab. Its reduced bioavailability makes it difficult to give oral doses that are impactful and strategies that claim to increase bioavailability, such as making a “golden paste” aren’t scientifically supported. Fortunately, preliminary research on effective delivery methods is growing and promising. Despite the potential lack of efficacy in active cancer in your dog, the minimal negative side-effects associated with curcumin in combination with its promising synergistic effects make this supplement worthy of chatting with your vet about.
- Levine CB, Bayle J, Biourge V, Wakshalg JJ. Cellular effects of turmeric root and rosemary leaf extract on canine neoplastic cell lines. BMC Vet Res 2017;13:388.
- Dressler D, Ettinger S. The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. Maui Media, LLC. 2011.
- Li S, Yuan W, Deng G, Wang P, Yang P, Aggarwal B. Chemical composition and product quality control of turmeric (Curcuma longa L.). Pharm Crops. 2011;2:28–54.
- Newman DJ, Cragg CG, Snader KM. The influence of natural products upon drug discovery. Nat Prod Rep 2000;17:215-234.
- Sharma RA, McLelland HR, Hill KA, et al. Pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic study of oral curcuma extract in patients with colorectal cancer. Clin Cancer Res 2001;7:1894–1900.
- Woo JH, Kim YH, Choi YJ, et al. Molecular mechanisms of curcumin-induced cytotoxicity: induction of apoptosis through generation of reactive oxygen species, down-regulation of Bcl-XL and IAP, the release of cytochrome c and inhibition of Akt. Carcinog 2003;24(7):1199–1208.
- Liu Q, Loo WT, Sze SC, Tong Y. Curcumin inhibits cell proliferation of MDA-MB-231 and BT-483 breast cancer cells mediated by down-regulation of NFkappaB, cyclinD and MMP-1 transcription. Phytomed 2009;16(10):916–922.
- El-Azab M, Hishe H, Moustafa Y. et al. Anti-angiogenic effect of resveratrol or curcumin in Ehrlich ascites carcinoma-bearing mice. Eur J of Pharmaco 2011;652(1–3):7–14.
- Aşici GSE, Kiral F, Bayar I, Bildik A, Ulutaş PA. Cytotoxic and Apoptotic Effects of Curcumin on D-17 Canine Osteosarcoma Cell Line. Kafkas Üniversitesi Veteriner Fakültesi Dergisi 2021;27(4).
- Soares NP, Nepomuceno LL, de Sousa Cruz V, et al. Curcumin promotes extrinsic apoptosis in canine osteosarcoma cells. Res Soc Dev 2020;9(10):e7289109231-e7289109231.
- Tian B, Wang Z, Zhao Y, et al. Effects of curcumin on bladder cancer cells and development of urothelial tumors in a rat bladder carcinogenesis model. Cancer Lett 2008;264(2):299–308.
- Bachmeier B, Nerlich AG, Iancu CM, et al. The chemopreventive polyphenol Curcumin prevents hematogenous breast cancer metastases in immunodeficient mice. Cell Phys Biochem 2017;19(1–4):137–152.
- Lin YG, Kunnumakkara AB, Nair A, et al. Curcumin inhibits tumor growth and angiogenesis in ovarian carcinoma by targeting the nuclear factor-kappaB pathway. Clin Cancer Res 2007;13(11):3423–3430.
- Helson L. Curcumin (diferuloylmethane) delivery methods: a review. Biofactor 2013;39(1):21–26.
- Withers S, York D, Johnson E, et al. In vitro and in vivo activity of liposome-encapsulated curcuming for naturally occurring canine cancers. Vet Comp Oncol 2018;16(4):571-579.
- Dressler D. More on curcumin and dog cancer. Dog Cancer Blog. December 26, 2018. Accessed on December 13, 2022. https://www.dogcancerblog.com/articles/full-spectrum-cancer-care/nutraceuticals/more-on-curcumin-and-dog-cancer/.
- No author. The benefits of gold paste to dogs and cats. Camp Canine. March 8, 2021. Accessed December 12, 2022. https://campcaninesb.com/the-benefits-of-golden-paste-to-dogs-and-cats/.
- Prasad S, Tyagi AK, Aggarwal BB. Recent developments in delivery, bioavailability, absorption and metabolism of curcumin: the golden pigment from golden spice. Cancer Res Treat 2014;46(1):2-18. doi:10.4143/crt.2014.46.1.2
- Suresh D, Srinivasan K. Tissue distribution & elimination of capsaicin, piperine & curcumin following oral intake in rats. Indian J Med Res 2010;131:682-691.
- Kurien BT, Scofield RH. Oral administration of heat-solubilized curcumin for potentially increasing curcumin bioavailability in experimental animals. In J Cancer 2009;125(8):1992-1993.
- Aggarwal BB. Response to Kurien and Scofield: solubility and bioavailability of curcumin. Trends Pharmacol Sci 2009;30(7):335.
- Gupta SC, Patchva S, Aggarwal BB. Therapeutic roles of curcumin: lessons learned from clinical trials. AAPS J 2013;15(1):195–218.
- Chen J, He ZM, Wang FL, et al. Curcumin and its promise as an anticancer drug: An analysis of its anticancer and antifungal effects in cancer and associated complications from invasive fungal infections. Eur J of Pharmaco 2016;772,33–42.
- Szewczyk M, Lechowski R, Zabielska K. (2015). What do we know about canine osteosarcoma treatment? – Review. Vet Res Commun 2015;39(1):61-67.
- Alkan FU, Anlas C, Cinar S, et al. Effects of curcumin in combination with cyclophosphamide on canine mammary tumour cell lines. Veterinární medicína 2014;59(11):553.
- Sak K. Chemotherapy and dietary phytochemical agents. Chemotherapy Res Prac 2012;282570:doi:10.1155/2012/282570.
- Sak K. Radiosensitizing potential of curcumin in different cancer models. Nutr Cancer 2019;DOI:10.1080/01635581.2019.1681480.
- Kondratyuk TP, Adrian JAL, Wright B, et al. Evidence supporting the conceptual framework of cancer chemoprevention in canines. Sci Re. 2016:6(1):1-13.
- Menendez, J.A., del mar Barbacid, M., Montero, S., et al. Effects of gamma-linolenic acid and oleic acid on paclitaxel cytotoxicity in human breast cancer cells. Eur J Cancer 2001;37:402–413.
- Helson L, Bolger G, Majeed M, Vcelar B, Pucaj K, Matabudul D. Infusion pharmacokinetics of Lipocurc (liposomal curcumin) and its metabolite tetrahydrocurcumin in Beagle dogs. Anticancer Res 2012;32(10):4365–4370.
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