Gallbladder and Milk Thistle

Gallbladder and Milk Thistle 

Introduction to Gallbladder 

For dog and humans alike, the gallbladder is a thin sac-like organ that collects bile from the liver, stores and concentrates the collected bile until it is needed for digestion and then releases it into the duodenim (the very first part of the small intestine, immediately after the stomach).  Bile is a greenish-yellow liquid that aids in the digestion of fats and fat soluble vitamins.  The human gallbladder may be the size of a small pear just before a meal, when bile storage is at its maximum, and may resemble a deflated balloon after digestion of a meal.  Dog gallbladders are also generally pear-shaped but can vary in length and width depending on the dog's age and breed. 

What are the Main Problems that People and Dogs Have with Their Gallbladders?  

The gallbladder condition we are all probably most familiar with is the formation of gallstones.  Bile contains both cholesterol and bilirubin (in addition to other substances), and gallstones form when too much cholesterol or too much bilirubin gets concentrated in the gallbladder. Increased cholesterol production is usually caused by a lack of bilirubin in the blood, which causes the liver to produce more cholesterol to compensate. Gallstones may be tiny or may be the size of a golf ball and can cause pain, inflammation and nausea.  Other major gallbladder pathologies include: 

  1. Cholecystitis is inflammation of the gallbladder wall. The inflammation may be due to infection, tumor, obstruction of the ducts, or trauma. 
  1. Cholangiohepatitis is the concurrent inflammation of the liver, intrahepatic bile ducts, and gallbladder, often related to obstruction of those structures by minerals. 
  1. Rupture of the gallbladder may happen secondary to acute cholecystitis or severe trauma to that organ. 

What Supplements Are Helpful for Gallbladder Issues?   

Different treatment options are available for gall bladder disorders depending on their severity and pathology. Because the gallbladder sits downstream of the liver, many gallbladder problems originate in the liver.  Thus, by treating or preventing problems in the liver, you can improve your or your dog’s gallbladder condition.   

For canine gallbladder issues, your veterinarian may recommend supplementation with herbs such as turmeric, ginger, and milk thistle. In addition, changes in diet may improve gallbladder problems.  Gallbladder-healthy diets are rich in monounsaturated fats (such as olives, peanut butter and nuts) and polyunsaturated fats (like falx, fatty fish and walnuts).  More frequent feeding can also be helpful as that results in bile sitting in the gallbladder for less time and thus provides less opportunity to concentrate into stones. 

Milk Thistle Supplementation 

Milk thistle (also known as silybum marianum or “Holy Thistle”) is a flowering plant that has been used to treat liver problems in humans and animals for over 2000 years. It has proven effective in treating human and canine gallbladder disease and liver and kidney diseases.  The active ingredient of Milk Thistle is called silymarin, which is a group of flavonoids. This compound works by stimulating the growth of new liver cells and protecting them from further damage.  Other important benefits of milk thistle for the gallbladder and liver include: 

  1. Because it is rich in flavonoids, milk thistle helps maintain and stimulate healthy function of the liver and gallbladder and helps protect the liver from further damage while removing toxins that may be trapped within it. Flavanoids also assist with removing parasites, chemicals, and heavy metals from the body. 
  1. Milk thistle also strengthens the gallbladder lining and protects it from toxins and chemicals that can be harmful to your dog's health. 
  1. Milk thistle can be beneficial before and after surgery to remove the gallbladder, as it will help limit damage to the liver while healing takes place. 
  1. A dog with no gallbladder will need to receive milk thistle supplements to help dissolve cholesterol stones in its bile ducts. 
  1. Milk thistle also improves bile flow by increasing levels of bile in the gallbladder and helping to prevent it from becoming too thick. It also reduces the chances of gallbladder removal and rupture in dogs. 
  1. Milk thistle helps improve liver function and acts as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory agent, and choleretic (stimulates bile flow). 

Recommended Dosage of Milk Thistle 

The recommended dosage for milk thistle for gallbladder support is 75 to 100 mg per 10 pounds of body weight once daily for dogs. So a 50-pound dog would need 375-500 milligrams of milk thistle once daily.  (Our products are labeled for maintenance doses for healthy dogs.)  Note that many products list the dosage based on the percentage of silymarin in the product, which ranges from 40 to 80%. Milk thistle is available in tablet or capsule form that you can mix with your dog's food or administer separately.  It is also sold as a beef-flavored tablet that can be given like a treat.