Benefits of Garlic for Dogs & Cats

Written by: Dr. Jean Hofve, Holistic Veterinarian, DVM

Garlic's Many Health Benefits for Dogs & Cats

There is plenty of information and misinformation available on the internet about the use of garlic in food and supplements for dogs and cats. Garlic has many health benefits such as supporting healthy digestion, assisting the immune system, and helping maintain cardiovascular function.

Fresh garlic has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine for dogs and cats and Ayurvedic medicine. Holistic veterinarians have been recommending garlic for many years for its multiple health benefits.

Is Garlic Safe for Dogs & Cats

Garlic's impact on health has come into question recently due to its properties as a member of the lily family, along with onions and shallots. A compound found in onions, n-propyldisulfide, can, in large doses, cause oxidative damage to red blood cells, creating Heinz bodies and triggering the body to reject these cells from the bloodstream. If large doses of this compound are ingested frequently enough, the process can lead to anemia and even death.

The dosage level and frequency of consuming the offending compound are the key here. Typically an animal would need to ingest over 0.5% of its body weight in onions (a 5-ounce onion for a 60 lb. dog) for the oxidative process to begin. Since red blood cells are constantly regenerated from the bone marrow, a dog would likely need to ingest this much onion on a repeated basis to cause permanent harm. Garlic contains less of the n-propyldisulfide compound than onions do.

How Do You Supplement Garlic?

In The Nature of Animal Healing, Dr. Martin Goldstein recommends adding garlic to home-made pet food and, in fact, feeds garlic to his own cats and dogs on a regular basis.

According to Gregory Tilford in Herbs for Pets: The Natural Way to Enhance Your Pet's Life, dogs can safely consume 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder per pound of food 3-4 times per week.

Cats probably should be given a bit less, as they are more sensitive to the compounds in garlic. Cats can eat garlic, but Tilford cautions cat guardians to watch for behavioral changes or digestive upset, and to listen to the cat if they reject food or supplements containing garlic. Fresh garlic is less concentrated than dried garlic.

In Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats, Dr. Richard Pitcairn recommends up to ¼ clove of garlic per day for cats and ½ to 3 cloves for dogs. As with most herbs, at least one day off per week or a periodic week off from garlic is a good idea.

Uses for Garlic

The key in feeding or supplementing with garlic is moderation and common sense.

Cautions and Considerations

Using garlic in the diet or as a supplement for any of its health benefits may help maintain general health in healthy dogs and cats. Obviously, any animal that has a pre-existing anemic condition should not receive garlic. Puppies under 8 weeks of age should also not be given garlic, as they do not begin reproducing new blood cells until after 6-8 weeks of age.

The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center is the best resource for any animal poison-related emergency, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Here is what one of their Certified Vet Tech’s told us: “Garlic is commonly found in pet food and is okay for consumption in small, limited doses. Ingestion of garlic and onions, whether raw or cooked, may be potentially toxic causing signs ranging from vomiting and diarrhea to circulatory issues. The toxicity is based on the amount ingested and the size of the pet. Cats are more sensitive than dogs, so if you have feline don't let them eat from your dog's food bowl.”

Additional Resources

Information in this article is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure your pet and is not a substitute for veterinary care provided by a licensed veterinarian. For any medical or health-related advice concerning the care and treatment of your pet, contact your veterinarian.