I am often contacted by worried dog owners once their pet has been diagnosed with cancer.

Many dog owners seek alternative treatments for cancer these days , especially when their vet is unable to offer any further treatment or the treatments being offered also have a high risk of side effects and/or are extremely expensive. While it is illegal for anyone that is not a vet to actually treat cancer in animals, at times I’ve offered pet owners medical-grade nutraceuticals and herbal medicines which can support and increase their dog’s own immune function, under the supervision of the animal’s vet. Although I assess each dog individually, depending on their unique requirements, I often prescribe medicinal mushrooms in a concentrated, medical-grade, liquid form as they have been very well researched as proven treatments for cancer in animals.

I find the medicinal mushrooms, in conjunction with other clinically proven herbal medicines and nutraceuticals, can be excellent at helping improve a dogs immune function and therefore can be used in a wide variety of diseases, often with good results.


Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis); maitake (Grifola frondosa); reishi (Ganoderma lucidum); and turkey tails (Tramates versicolor). Besides being good dietary sources of protein, fiber, several minerals, B vitamins and ascorbic acid, many of the 38,000 species of mushrooms have medicinal uses, either known or as yet unknown.

Cordyceps ‘has perhaps one of the oddest places of origin of any natural medicine’: it was originally found on a caterpillar, Hepialus armoricanus, in the mountains of Asia. Historically, use of cordyceps was limited to ancient royalty. Traditional uses included enhancing endurance, energy, and sexual vitality; supporting the heart, lungs, kidney, and immune systems and the vital essence (Chi); and supporting longevity. Active constituents include several saccharides, sterols, peptides and polyamines, fatty and organic acids (nearly 30 fatty-acid compounds), vitamins, nucleotides, and inorganic compounds and minerals. Today, several species of cordyceps (C. capita, C. ophioglossoides, C. militaris), and their artificially cultured mycelium (particularly strain Cs-4) are used commercially.

Cordyceps extracts have demonstrated some ‘potent antioxidant activity’, although it was found that the extracts’ ability to scavenge superoxide ions was minimal and that they inhibited hydroxyl radical byproducts only moderately. However, when incubated with low-density lipoprotein and copper chloride in the presence of macrophages, a cordyceps extract strongly inhibited lipid peroxidation. This effect was similar to that of superoxide dismutase (SOD), one of the cell’s main protectors against oxidative damage. In one trial, SOD activity increased by 16% while plasma malondialdehyde and lipoperoxide decreased by about 34% in patients who used a cordyceps supplement. Cordyceps also benefits the vascular system and microcirculation.
It is hypotensive and vasodilating and may prevent clotting and ischemia. Its ability to decrease serum lipid peroxidase levels and inhibit LDL oxidation may contribute to these vascular protective effects in particular. Several studies have found that cordyceps can affect immune-cell function and population, e.g., causing a significant increase in the number of T-helper cells and their ratio to T-suppressors. Others have found that cordyceps could ‘enhance’ natural killer (NK) cells and certain CD marker designations in people with leukemia, giving improved binding ability on lymphocytes. Inhibition of melanoma in an animal study was attributed to improved NK-cell function.

In one animal study, cordyceps extract stimulated mononuclear blood cells, inhibited human leukemia cell growth by about 80%, and induced immature immune cells into maturity.
Other immune-enhancing effects of cordyceps include increasing levels of cytokines such as interferon-y, tumor necrosis factor-a, and interleukin-1; prolonging lymphocyte survival, and even direct toxicity to cancer cells, especially lung carcinoma. Cordyceps is a promising anti-inflammatory. It modulates cytokines and increases levels of corticosteroids although the mechanism of action is unclear. Increased corticosteroids may be responsible for tonifying effects of cordyceps in adrenal-gland support programs.

Maitake, reishi, and turkey tails are all among a class of mushrooms known as the higher Basidiomycetes, many of which have medicinal properties. Active ingredients among many include ß-glucan polysaccharides, particularly valuable in immune system enhancement. Maitake has been found to stimulate regulation of interleukin-1, NK-cells, cytotoxic T-cells, and superoxide anions. Reishi’s ß-D-glucan assists macrophage maturation. Reishi also has a triterpene compound, Ling Zhi-8, believed to be a generalized immunomodulator and anti-allergen. Reishi activates macrophages and T-lymphocytes, enhancing cytokine levels. Turkey tails, which has several ß-glucans compounds, is known for its immune-enhancing effects. In particular, its protein-bound polysaccharide krestin (PSK) and polysaccharide peptide (PSP) have been researched for anti-tumor effects and are used widely in anticancer regimens in Japan. PSP is used throughout Asia as an adjunctive cancer treatment. PSK has shown benefit against gastric, esophageal, colorectal, breast, and lung cancers. Turkey tails also shows promise as an antiviral, with both PSK and PSP inhibiting HIV-1 virus in vitro, and ‘appears to have wide-ranging immunomodulatory effects, making it a prime therapy in conditions of impaired immunity.’

Both maitake and reishi have vascular effects and benefit circulation in several ways. Maitake changes the metabolism of lipids, inhibiting accumulation in liver and serum. It lowers blood glucose, reducing the insulin burden on the circulatory system. It may lower blood pressure. Reishi contains an alkaloid, cyclo-octasulfur, which has cardiotonic effects; a triterpene, ganodermadiol, which lowers blood pressure; and ganodermic acids, which are antihypertensive and inhibit cholesterol synthesis. Reishi has also been found to inhibit platelet aggregation.

Both reishi and turkey tails have been studied for antioxidative effects. In reishi, terpene and polysaccharide fractions have been found to have dose-dependent antioxidative effects, with the terpene having the strongest. In one study, turkey tails inhibited oxidation by approximately 59%. Its free-radical scavenging ability was nearly 25% in vitro. This effect could improve immune function in cancer patients, since PSK can mimic SOD, restoring NK-cell function.

Maitake, with one of the largest fruiting bodies of any mushroom, is prized gastronomically. It was used historically to lower blood pressure and treat cancer, and for general wellness. It is now considered an adaptogen. Reishi, which grows on decaying logs and plant matter in coastal areas, was already valued medicinally in the first century BCE, with the most applications of any medicine in the Chinese pharmacopoeia of that time. Traditional Chinese Medicine uses reishi to treat fatigue, weakness, insomnia, asthma, and coughs. Besides the benefits mentioned previously, it has  demonstrated hepatoprotective, anti-aging, antidiabetic, antiviral, and antibacterial effects. Turkey tails’ traditional applications included improving vitality and strength, enhancing respiratory function, promoting calm and a sense of well-being, restoring energy following physical exertion, strengthening tendons and bones, enhancing liver health, and promoting longevity.


Please consult a qualified animal naturopath for advice about nutritionally-balanced diets and naturopathic medicines for the treatment of animals*. 

Yours In Great Health,

Sar Rooney BHSc., DC., ND., DASc., GDSc. (Hons) Zoology, MHATO, MATMS

Naturopathic Practitioner, Researcher, Lecturer, Canine Naturopath

Science-Based Naturopathy for Canine Wellbeing 


Helping dogs achieve optimal wellness with personalised, professional naturopathic health care and individually-prescribed high-quality herbal medicines and supplements 

Naturopathic Animal Services
E:   [email protected]


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Reference – Meletis C, Barker J. Medicinal mushrooms Altern Complement Med. 2005; June:141-145.

Disclaimer: The information provided is not intended to replace any veterinary or medical advice or treatment. 

* Treatment advice will only be provided with the approval of your veterinarian.

Natural Animal Health for pets, specialising in natural health for dogs. Naturopathic dog therapy with a holistic approach to animal health may complement conventional vet treatments. We offer expert naturopathic advice for dogs from a qualified animal naturopath that specializes in natural dog health. We are based in South Australia's Adelaide Hills region but consult throughout Australia and internationally, with clients in South Australia, Queensland, Victoria, the ACT, NSW, the NT, Tasmania, Western Australia, New Zealand, the UK, the US and other countries throughout the world. While we specialise in dogs health problems and natural animal therapy we also treat people with naturopathic medicine and offer clinic services in natural health. Many clients have found natural animal therapy to be more effective or less invasive than conventional vet services. Our clients have a common interest in the health and wellbeing of their dog and are looking for natural preventative health programs and natural remedies for dogs such as herbal medicines and homeopathy that are often not offered by veterinary practices or veterinarian clinics in Australia and New Zealand. Canine natural pain relief and natural animal therapy for inflammation are common conditions that may benefit from naturopathic animal health treatments and holistic pet care.

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