Mushrooms have been recognized for their health benefits for many centuries by many different cultures. They have been revered by some of the world’s greatest ancient civilizations, including the Mayan, Hindu and Chinese empires.
Mushrooms were often called the “Poor man’s meat” during the Stalin area in history, and Russian, Ukrainian, and Lithuanian peasants survived starvation and protein deficiencies by eating wild mushrooms when meat was scarce.
Over the years, it became evident that mushrooms provided more than just nutritional sustenance – mushrooms are a super food!
There seems to be a recent worldwide revival of interest in the use of mushrooms as healing and health promoting foods (or what I like to call, functional foods). The mushroom-related nutraceutical industry now sells billions of dollars annually in fungi products!
But you don’t have to buy supplements in order to gain the benefits of including these super foods into your diet (or your pet’s diet)!
Below, I’ll outline the benefits of adding these powerful foods to your pet’s diet, and show you how to best incorporate them into delicious recipes.
How Did Mushrooms Become So Popular?
Mushrooms have been recognized for their health benefits for many centuries by many different cultures. They have been revered by some of the world’s greatest ancient civilizations, including the Mayan, Hindu, and Chinese empires.
The Greeks in 455 BC burned medicinal mushrooms onto “therapeutic points” on the body. Hippocrates used polypore mushrooms mixed with honey and vinegar (oxmel) as a tonic. Pliny (during the reign of the Roman Empire) used another polypore that grew on pine (dead) trees which was used to cure gastrointestinal diseases, spinal pain, cystitis, and to detox the body.
Some of the “functional food” health benefits provided by mushrooms include reducing serum cholesterol, decreasing body weight, improving immune system function, detoxify, improve digestion and assimilation of food.
What’s in a Mushroom Anyway?
The white button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus), crimini and portobello (Agaricus, spp), and the porcini (Boletus edulis) mushrooms basically all have similar attributes nutritionally.
General Summary of Nutritional and Organo-chemical Composition (Zivanovic 2008, Hobbs 1995):
- Vitamins — B’s, folic acid, pro-vitamin D
- Minerals — potassium, selenium, sulfur, sodium, iron, copper, germanium zinc, and phosphorus
- Protein — essential amino acids precursers
- Sugars — mannitol, xylose, ribose, glucose, galactose, mannose
- Lipids — phospholipids, choline, sterols, sterol esters, free fatty acids, mono-, di-, and triglycerides, omega 6
- Polysaccharides — glycogen, chitin, beta-D-glucans, anti -cancer (Adams 2008)
- Essential oils — triterpenes
- Antioxidants (Robaszkiewicz 2010)
- Sterols — anti-inflammatory compounds
- Enzymes — antibacterial, proteolytic, betaine
- Dietary Fiber — soluble and non-soluble chitin / polysaccharide cellulose (Vetter 2007)
- Improve intestinal health and act as “pre-biotics” (Giannenas 2010, Aida 2009)
In general compared to other foods, mushrooms have high levels of potassium, selenium, zinc, copper, lysine and B vitamins. Physiologically, they improve glucose and lipid metabolism as a result, lowering cholesterol levels in the blood and preventing weight gain.
Long term use of mushrooms in the diet have proven to reduce the incidence of cancer. (Sang 2010)
But What About Poisonous Mushrooms?
In the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods, fungi were considered “venomous and full of poison.” Mushrooms can also absorb toxins from the soil and concentrate them; such as heavy metals (cadmium, mercury), pesticides, and radiation. An example of this is the Chernobyl disaster: Many imported mushrooms from the area of the nuclear meltdown were eaten by people in Eastern Europe, Finland, Sweden, and Norway without their knowledge.
Many people even today are suspicious of mushrooms because of their past reputation and myths for being poisonous, hallucinogenic, or something slimy and “creepy.” This prejudice and misunderstanding has tainted many in the scientific world (oncologists?) to ignore them as possible uses in therapy.
As with most things, a little bit of knowledge and understanding can really open up your options to new and safe therapeutic resources.
Eastern Europeans developed interest in the culinary and medicinal varieties in the last 200 years. Much of the recent and past Russian research on mushrooms is left untranslated.
The most knowledgeable mushroom “cults” were located in the regions of Siberia, Tropical India, Southeast Asia, China, Central and South Americas, and Eastern Europe (Ukraine, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Russia).
- Nutritional: foods such as soups, sauces and gravies or as a meat substitute (Europe)
- Ritual: fertility, spiritual (transformational journey, psychic healing [Siberia, India, Mayan])
- Medicinal: nephritis, hepatitis, tonic, adaptogens (Russia, Asia)
Dried Mushrooms vs Raw vs Cooked
Fresh mushrooms contain more potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium than processed and canned mushrooms which contain higher amounts of salt as well as chromium, nickel, and mercury. But organic dried mushrooms would be a good way to keep and store them for “use as needed.” Because they could be dried, they can be stored and used in seasons when they are not growing.
But what is the difference between a dried mushroom, a cooked mushrooms and one that is eaten raw? The answer to that question is: “It would depend upon the species that ate it, the medium it was grown, the geographic location and climate, and the kind of mushroom it was.”
In general, fresh or dried mushrooms are better nutritionally than canned or preserved mushrooms.
These “preserved” mushrooms contain high amounts of sodium, chromium, nickel, mercury and toxins (Vetter, 2003).
Dried mushrooms can be stored for a year or longer depending upon the storing conditions. The drying process intensifies the flavor.
Although raw mushrooms contain more potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium than processed and canned mushrooms, they also contain higher amounts of salt, chromium, nickel and mercury. Because the cell walls of mushrooms are made of myo-chitin, they can be difficult to digest raw due to their dense, fibrous flesh. Cooking greatly increases the digestibility therefore making nutrients more bioavailable.
Steaming mushrooms is the best method because it preserves the heat sensitive nutrients such as Vitamin C (Campbell 2008). I find this method more time consuming so I usually sauté cut up mushrooms in organic butter (need fat to extract) and mix other ingredients in with them. You do not need meat in the meal, but adding a vegetable and egg would make it a more complete meal. (For examples, see recipes below).
Mushrooms contain anywhere from 2 to 14 percent protein and all the essential amino acids depending upon whether they are eaten raw, cooked, dried or fresh. They make the ideal meat substitute!
Personally, I like to buy whole dried organic mushrooms and then use them instead of fresh mushrooms, unless I am certain the fresh mushrooms are organic.
Ideally, finding fresh wild edible mushrooms and then drying them for future use would be ideal, but not practical. So just do the best you can, and look for organic mushrooms when possible.
Because mushrooms seem to act synergistically, I prefer to use a combination of mushroom varieties when cooking whenever possible.
Which Mushrooms Are Best to Eat?
For safety and convenience, buy commercial human grade mushrooms only.
Agaricus bisporus (white button mushroom; WBM) contains high levels of dietary fibers and antioxidants including vitamin C, D, and B12; folates; and polyphenols that may provide beneficial effects on cardiovascular and diabetic diseases.
The cultivation of this species began around 1650, in Paris France, in areas in which mushrooms were frequently collected on used compost from melon crops (Delmas 1978). Today, this species is grown on a substrate composed of composted horse manure and straw.
Crimini & Portobello
There are several “varieties” of Agaricus bisporus. Two variants are the crimini and portobello mushrooms.
The Crimini is a brown variety of the white mushroom and has been harvested after the cap has expanded and the dark brown gills are visible. The Portobello is a more mature and much larger mushroom than either of the “button mushrooms”(Delmas 1978).
Portobellos have similar nutritional content of the other button mushrooms containing a complex of B vitamins (riboflavin, pantothenic acid, niacin, thiamine, folate, and B6) as well as selenium, lysine, protein, zinc, copper, manganese, and iron.
Boletus edulis or Porcini mushrooms are hunted wild as well as commercially available seasonably. Dried mushrooms (Boletus group) after cooking show the highest nutritional value (Manzi 2001).
Medicinal Mushrooms: Reishi, Maitake, and Shiitake
Research studies indicate that medicinal mushrooms contain polysaccharides, which have anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-tumor properties. Some mushrooms contain compounds, which stimulate the immune system and assist healing of the liver, kidneys, and heart tissues. Yet, most veterinarians do not use medicinal mushrooms in their therapies and most pet owners do not feed their animals mushrooms.
The most common use of “medicinal” mushrooms is in the treatment and prevention of cancers.
Results compiled from research all over the world suggest that whole-mushroom extracts contain compounds that modulate the immune system to suppress cancer growth and metastasis throughout the body.
Besides having phytotherapeutic actions, these fungal wonders of nature contain many different vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, protein, and sterols. They are easily administered with little or no side effects. (Some animals can be sensitive to mushrooms, and may break out in rashes or have diarrhea, but this is very rare).
Reishi Mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum)
Often touted as the “Herb of Immortality,” Reishi mushrooms are my favorite mushroom to consume for my own health benefits, and my favorite mushroom to use in my holistic practice (in combination with herbs, other mushrooms, and antioxidants).
The “actives” are found in the polysaccharides, triterpenes and lysosomal enzymes constituents of the fungus.
Maitake Mushrooms (Grifola frondosa)
Maitake means “Dancing Mushroom” in Japanese, or “Chicken of the Woods” in the West. The name probably comes from the fact that this mushroom grows in over-lapping groups which resemble butterflies in a wild dance. Japan now commercially grows these mushrooms since wild crafted mushrooms are endangered if not extinct in many areas.
It is commonly found growing in Eastern USA, Europe, and Asia. Rarely, it can be found in the Pacific Northwest, but “mushroom” wars over collecting rights has spurred multiple shootings and deaths over the cost of this highly valued fungi (at $45 dollars/lb.)!
Shiitake Mushrooms (Lentinula edodes) aka the Asian Forest Mushroom
Shiitake is an edible mushroom highly appreciated for its nutritional and medicinal properties. In Japan, Shiitake mushrooms, have always been considered an “elixir of life,” possessing the ability to enhance vital energy’ and cure colds.
Shiitake mushrooms contain 30 enzymes, 10 amino acids, and are high in minerals (Ca, Zn, P, Rb, Se, Cu, Ni, K, Mg, Cd, Fe). If raised commercially or found growing in the forest, sunlight increases free amino acid content of the fruiting bodies (Kiribuchi 1991). Shiitake are high in potassium, ergosterol (converts to Vit D2), vitamins B2 and C and essential amino acids; lysine and arginine are abundant (Hobbs 1995). These mushrooms also have strong immunomodulating and anti-cancer effects.
Recent studies report that substances in this popular fungus, can reduce blood pressure, decrease blood cholesterol levels, prevent heart disease, and cancer.
Other studies show its antibiotic potential actions. In general these mushrooms stimulate WBC’s, antibodies, interferon, and inhibit prostaglandins.
Because of my distrust of the growing medium used in China, I recommend only buying dried organic forms of shiitake grown in the Pacific Northwest. Fresh shiitake are not always available and can be very expensive to buy.
Health Benefits of Mushrooms For Your Pets
In my experience, whether mushrooms are given as food or as medicine, occasionally feeding mushrooms to your dog or cat will help extend their lives.
If your family enjoys eating mushrooms, why not share the benefits? You can swap out the meat in your pet’s meal once a week and substitute it with a serving of mushrooms.
Health benefits of mushrooms for your pets include:
- Help support liver, kidney function
- Improves diversity of nutrients in the diet; especially minerals: K. Zn, Se, Cu
- Improve nutrition in weak and deficient animals
- Improves geriatric conditions (blood sugar and metabolism)
- Lowers cholesterol and helps support weight loss and fatty liver diseases
- Prevent viral infections
- Contain many antioxidants and immunomodulators and improves health
The Best Mushrooms To Feed Your Pets
You can find many good mushroom varieties at your local grocery store! Brown mushrooms such as porcini, crimini, portabella, white mushrooms (Agaricus bisporous), and oyster mushrooms are all good to eat, and your pets can eat them too!
The main “power mushrooms” I use for health benefits (in combination) are Reishi, Maitake, and Shiitake.
In general, reishi mushrooms are good to use with pets experiencing chronic degenerative processes, weakened immune systems, dysfunctioning liver, heart or kidney systems, or general weakness.
Depending upon the pet’s underlying weaknesses or “deficiencies,” symptoms and constitution, other mushrooms will be added, such as Maitake, Shiitake, Cordyceps sinensis, and Trametes versicolor (Turkey Tail).
The most common uses of these 3 “power mushrooms” in my practice are:
- Geriatric diseases with chronic debilitation complex: muscle atrophy, cardiac problems, and weakness (Qi Deficiencies)
- Alone or in conjunction with chemotherapy for Cancer patients (synergistic effects)
- The side-effects of cortisone therapy (adaptogenic & hepatoprotective)
- Supportive care with Cushing’s disease (adaptogenic)
- Weak puppies or kittens with severe parasitism
- Cats with compromised immune systems (FIV, FIP, FeLV) or kittens with viral upper respiratory tract infections
- Hepatitis, liver failure, mushroom poisoning
- Adjunct to antibiotic or anti-fungal pharmaceuticals (synergistic effect)
- Acute and chronic cystitis (add Poria cocos, Polyporous umbellata)
- Urinary Incontinence (add Cordyceps )
How To Add Therapeutic/Medicinal Mushrooms To Your Pet’s Diet
Mushrooms can be given to both dogs and cats as an extract, soup, or made into a porridge as a functional food or in pills and powders.
I prefer dried mushrooms because they have a longer shelf-life, are convenient, and have better flavor and potency.
Buy dried mushrooms whenever you can. The best time to purchase dried mushrooms is during harvest in the Fall. I buy a diverse variety of mushrooms (shiitake, crimini, porcini, maitake, and chanterelles) and use them with fresh mushrooms when available.
Medicinal Mushroom Extract
It’s easy to administer extracts or soups to ill pets.
To make an extract, simply soak dried mushrooms (1/3 cup) in fresh cool water (1 cup), for 24 hours. Save the liquid “extract.” This is the “medicine.” The other way (if in a hurry) is to heat the water to almost boiling and soak the dry mushrooms in that for 2 to 4 hours.
The flesh of the mushroom can be sliced up and fried with meat and vegetables, or made into a stew or soup.
When making stews, simply add the soaking mushrooms to the pot after slicing them up. When cooking is done, add the mushroom juice at the end, and remove from heat.
If a pet is debilitated and not eating well (and especially if the animal is experiencing kidney problems), making the soup below is a better option.
Rehabilitating Mushroom Broth
- 1/3 cup of dried mushrooms (shiitake) soaked in 1 cup of water over night (save the soaking water too)
- 1 cup of beef soup bone
- 1/2 cup chicken hearts and gizzards
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt or 1 tsp Konbu seaweed
- 1/3 cup celery
- 1/3 cup parsley
- 1 teaspoon miso
- 3 cups of water
- Put water, celery, parsley, soup bone, salt (or konbu), and mushrooms into a pot.
- Bring to a boil and let simmer for 45 minutes.
- Remove bones, vegetables, and mushrooms.
- Remove chicken hearts and gizzards and save for other meals.
- Add miso, and the soaking water from the dried mushrooms, and stir well.
- Strain excess debris to make a clear broth.
Administer the broth (using a syringe) every 1 to 3 hours, give 1 cc per pound of body weight, 4 to 6 times a day if not eating. If your pet is eating, mix the broth with food and give 1 to 3 teaspoons (for small dogs and cats) with each meal.
Recipes To Try At Home
Mushrooms and Peas
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced white button mushrooms or porcini
- 1/2 cup of chopped snow peas (fiber, carbs, antioxidants Vit K, C and amino acids)
- 1/4 cup of beef or chicken broth
- 3 tablespoons of salted Organic Butter (CLA) or ghee
- 1 raw egg
- Sauté mushrooms in butter on medium heat for about 10 minutes.
- Add broth and increase heat to medium high.
- Add snow peas and stir in well.
- Cook for another 5 minutes stirring well.
- Remove from heat.
- Crack open the raw egg over the food and mix well.
- Cover pan.
- Serve at room temperature, over an equal amount of cooked brown rice, quinoa, or buckwheat.
Mushroom Veggie Scramble
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced white button mushrooms or fresh porcini
- 1/4 cup of finely chopped kale
- 1/4 cup of finely chopped celery
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons of organic butter or ghee
- 1/2 cup of chicken broth
- 4 eggs (scrambled raw)
- Pour the chicken broth into a deep frying pan or wok and heat to medium high.
- Add celery, salt, and mushrooms.
- Cook until the liquid is reduced to half.
- Add the eggs to the pan and stir until the eggs are done.
- Serve at room temperature, over an equal amount of cooked brown rice, quinoa, or buckwheat.
Medicinal Catnip Mushroom Butter
This is a good way of administering medicinal or culinary mushrooms to a cat.
- 1/4 ounce (1/3 cup) dried mushrooms (shiitake, maitake, porcini or combo)
- 1 teaspoon minced (fresh if possible) catnip leaves
- 1 tablespoon of nutritional yeast
- 1/2 cup of organic chicken or beef broth (no onions!)
- 1/2 cup organic butter or ghee, softened
- Heat the broth to “hot” and pour onto mushrooms sitting in a glass bowl (let soak for 2 hours).
- Put the mushrooms and broth into a blender and blenderize.
- Pour contents into a sauce pan, add catnip, and heat.
- Cook on “simmer” until half of the water is reduced (approximately).
- Remove from heat and let stand until the liquid mushroom mix is just “warm.”
- Pour back into the blender or mixer and add the nutritional yeast, softened butter and blenderize well again.
- Pour into a wide mouth glass jar for storage in the refrigerator.
Dose as a tonic: Give 1/4 teaspoon per 5 lbs of body weight, twice daily.
Safety Precautions & Other Things To Keep in Mind
There is controversy in general among herbalists and phyto-pharmacologists whether to use the whole mushroom, or use the separated active ingredients in therapy.
It is my experience and belief that the nutritional portions of the mushroom coupled with the numerous other substances found in medicinal mushrooms, contribute to the so-called “active ingredients” creating synergistic effects.
But a therapeutic dose of fresh mushrooms would be too large to consume in one sitting without suffering a gastric upset.
Ideally, a standardized extract of the actives in Shiitake would be the easiest method of administering high doses to cats and small dogs, although this would be very expensive to buy if available.
Therefore, dried mushrooms are preferable to use in the form of extracts or soups (like the ones mentioned above) and added to your pet’s food, or administered with a dropper or syringe.
Most mushrooms mentioned above can be bought as powders, freeze dried granules, or alcohol extracts from commercial growers.
It is also important to keep in mind that results can only occur over months of therapy with chronic diseases. In other words, these kinds of treatments take time. So, if you’re using the mushroom tonics above, give it at least 1-3 months before you determine its effectiveness.
Hydrazines & Ill Effects
Some people have raised concerns about the presence of carcinogenic compounds in mushrooms.
Famous holistic health physician Dr. Andrew Weil has often discouraged people from consuming white button mushrooms because of the potential for ingestion of cancer-causing compounds and heavy metal toxicity. These compounds are called hydrazines and can be found in the Agaricus varieties. But here’s why I’m not too concerned about the risk of these potential carcinogens.
The most aromatic hydrazine is agaritine.
Fortunately, agaritine is rapidly broken down by the body enzymes to form very unstable compounds (Kondo 2007). Researchers found that during the storage period of commercially available mushrooms, the level of carcinogenic hydrazines was reduced up to 47% after 1 week, and up to 76% after 2 weeks. The aromatic properties of the hydrazines cause them to dissipate with time. Cooking also destroys more of the remaining hydrazines (up to 25% with this process). This means that virtually NO hydrazines are left to worry about after cooking. One study demonstrated that boiling the mushrooms in water at 100 degrees C for 10 min very significantly decreased the level of agaritine (Hashida et al., 1990).
All of the Agaricus genus of mushrooms have organic (natural) forms of hydrazine, but studies have found that consumption of these mushrooms have far more beneficial effects compared to the potential risk of cancer.
“A very recent study has demonstrated that agaritine purified from Agaricus blazei has direct anti-tumour activity against leukemic tumour cells in vitro which is in contrast to the carcinogenic activity previously ascribed to this compound.” – Mushrooms & Health: Food Safety Studies
My biggest concern is not the agaritine but heavy metals and pesticides that might be absorbed into the mushroom from agricultural procedures to prevent contamination with other fungi.
Organic mushrooms are the only way to go, unless you know your farm and what their procedures are in the use of chemicals, and the quality of their medium on which they grow mushrooms.
As the amount of agaritine present will vary dependent on the origin of each batch of mushrooms, it’s important to find a reputable source where the growing medium for these mushrooms are free of toxic metals and pesticides. Organic mushrooms will contain fewer heavy metals, but would still contain hydrazine compounds.
So to be safe, always cook your mushrooms for your pets.
In summary, ill effects due to hydrazines is very rare. A study conducted on people determined that a person would have to eat 350 grams of fresh raw mushrooms daily for 50 years to be at significant risk of initiating tumor growth (Toth & Gannett 1993).
In pets, a healthy liver should help detoxify these compounds, but in older dogs and those with compromised liver or immune issues, I would recommend including additional antioxidant supplements into the treatment plan to prevent DNA damage caused by oxidation and toxins.
In general, problematic reactions in pets are rare as you’re only feeding them small amounts of cooked mushrooms, and only sporadically throughout the month. I have never had a problem with shiitake mushrooms cooked with other ingredients and used in minimal amounts, as seen in my recipes.
Thoroughly cooking mushrooms will also destroy any compounds that could lead to mild stomach irritation and will reduce the bitterness of some varieties of mushrooms (Manzi 2001).
Some studies (conducted with people) have found that gastric distress may be caused by increased intestinal gas as a result of a sugar called “raffinose” (this is difficult to break down), and the presence of chitin-glucan fiber, which is insoluble and makes up most of the mushroom body and cap.
With pets, intestinal gas would be the most common issue when feeding whole mushrooms, especially if these mushrooms are fed raw. Why? Because most dogs do not have the enzymes to break down the fiber and some of the sugars present in the mushrooms. Cooking breaks down the fibers to become more usable by the bacteria in the colon and prevent formation of gas.
Simply adding a Probiotic such as Protegrity EZ (made by RESOURCES) or Acetylator (made by Vetri-Science) with meals would prevent the problem.
Some dogs who have had extensive antibiotic treatments during the year would be most susceptible to possible diarrhea because the normal flora of the GI system has been disrupted, and protective mechanisms are not working properly. The diarrhea will clear up within 3 days with cessation of feeding mushrooms, and the addition of probiotics and prebiotic foods (cooked pearl barley or steel cut oats, Kefir, goat yogurt).
What About The Potential For Allergic Reactions?
In my experience, allergic reactions in pets due to mushroom consumption, are rare.
The most common reaction to any food, plant, insect bite, and vaccine or drug injection in a susceptible (i.e. sensitive) animal is to “break out into hives.” These will look like little itchy bumps all over the body. I’ve only seen this kind of reaction happen with 2 dogs, and in both cases, the reaction was NOT caused by mushrooms in the cooked food, but by the ingredients in a commercially-available pet food that contained mushrooms (the quality of the ingredients seems to have been poor/compromised).
Treating with antihistamines will reduce an allergic reaction within 24 hours, if not sooner.
Other reactions can include:
- Immediately vomiting up the food
- Excessive “gas”
I’ve only had a few patients (dogs) display these milder reactions, over the past 20 years!
It is possible for some animals (and people) to have severely adverse reactions to mushrooms — these would include hives, swelling of the face and neck, increased heart rate, and difficulty breathing. But I’ve never seen this reaction occur in any of my patients.
If your pet is allergic to mushrooms, you can expect to see symptoms of a reaction 24-48 hours after eating the mushrooms.
So if your pet has never had mushrooms before, I recommend getting high-quality organic mushrooms, then cooking them with other ingredients (meats, veggies, etc.), and feeding a small amount to your pet and observing him/her for 24-48 hours to ensure that these mushrooms “agree” with his/her system.
If your pet displays any of these reactions after eating mushrooms, please take him/her to your local veterinarian immediately!
Doing research on your own is great, and I do hope you gain lots of insight from the strategies I’ve posted above, as well as the other resources on my site.
However, if your pet is currently fighting a difficult illness, like cancer, please get in touch! It can be a challenge to find the right balance between natural therapies, traditional pharmaceuticals, and financial considerations. I’ve worked with many sick pets over the years and helped them get comfortable or get better via safe and gentle therapies. I would love to help you navigate your options to best help your best friend.
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