I have to tell you at the outset that I’m not a huge believer in holistic remedies when it comes to caring for your dog. I have an outstanding veterinarian in Dr. Stephen, and I always defer to his judgement when it comes to looking after Janice and Leroy. That said, though, I’m always curious about (and reasonably open to) anything that might help an ill dog, provided that there’s no possibility of it causing harm.
That’s why, when I came across a lot of information about using colostrum for canine IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and other issues, my take on it was something along the lines of, “Well, I’m not sure that it will help, but certainly it doesn’t sound like it will hurt.” I was curious enough to want to learn more, and I’ll share what I’ve discovered with you.
What Is Colostrum?
If you’ve ever had a dog that’s had a litter of puppies, then you’ve seen colostrum. It’s the “first milk,” yellowish, that is produced immediately after the birth.
All mammals produce colostrum. It’s essential for the health of the young, since it contains antibodies that provide the first line of defense against any number of illnesses. Animals that don’t get colostrum can end up with suppressed immune systems, and, sometimes, can even weaken to the point where they die.
Janice is about a week away from giving birth right now, and I’m obsessing. What if she has a huge litter? A friend of mine recently had a dog who gave birth to 12 puppies, and was very concerned that the little ones might not be getting enough colostrum, so I suggested that she might want to have some dog colostrum replacer on hand, just in case. I bought some, too; I consider it to be something along the lines of life insurance. In other words, it’s something you buy hoping that you’ll end up wasting your money, because you’ll never have to use it.
It’s Not Just About Birth
The interesting thing about colostrum, though, is that from what I’ve been able to learn, the benefits don’t stop with the birth of the litter. There can be benefits at every stage of your dog’s life, and the colostrum that’s needed doesn’t even have to come from a dog; it could come from cattle, or goats, or almost any other species that produces milk. And sometimes, it doesn’t even have to be ingested to be helpful but more on that later.
Of course, colostrum is highly nutritious. It also contains substances that will help to boost your dog’s immune system (and for more on that, see 16 Best Immune System Boosters for Dogs). Because it’s so powerful, the babies aren’t the only ones that can benefit.
Even better, some types of colostrum aren’t really species-specific, meaning that animals of any species can benefit from using it. Cow colostrum is one such type. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that bovine colostrum can be used to treat autoimmune disorders cross-species, as well as easing allergies, infections, digestive disorders, and maybe even cancer.
Well, Dr. Stephen Blake is a veterinarian practicing in San Diego, and he is a big believer in the benefits of colostrum for various issues. He claims to have seen dramatic improvement in sick dogs once they begin a regimen of colostrum. He points out that bovine colostrum has been used for centuries both as a treatment for medical issues and as a nutritional supplement.
Now, I have to tell you that I think a lot of holistic vets are total yahoos. I don’t make any secret of that. But much of what Dr. Blake and other veterinarians say about the benefits of colostrum for canine IBS and other disorders makes sense to me. At the very least, as I’ve suggested before, it won’t do any harm.
How Does It Work?
All mammals pass antibodies on to their young. In human mothers, it goes through the placenta more than it does through the milk, so when the baby is born, anything the mother’s body needs to do in terms of passing antibodies has pretty much already happened. The mother does produce colostrum to some extent, but not in the quantities that other mammals do. And since the baby has already gotten the antibodies through the placenta, it really doesn’t matter much if the colostrum is ingested. Maybe even producing it is just some sort of evolutionary holdover; I don’t know. Either way, it’s not vital in humans.
With non-human animals, though, the colostrum is very important. Other mammals do not send antibodies through the placenta, so they need the very rich colostrum delivered through the breasts in order to be healthy.
More on Dr. Blake
Dr. Blake says that colostrum is the first thing he offers when dogs present with various illnesses, including canine IBS. His take on it is that if your dog has diarrhea, colostrum is 95% more effective than antibiotics. In addition to curing the problem, it might also work to heal the problems in the digestive tract that caused the diarrhea in the first place.
Dr. Blake further touts colostrum as being an effective treatment for various other immunological disorders. He maintains that the polypeptides in colostrum help to achieve balance in the thymus gland, which is the part of your dog’s body that regulates the immune system. Other issues like hip dysplasia and arthritis, he maintains, can also be eased by using bovine colostrum. In fact, he pooh-poohs the conventional wisdom that glucosamine and chondroitin, on their own, can ease joint discomfort in dogs. He states that these substances do nothing to help the body replicate cells. If the body is not able to replicate cells, then the body will not heal. Colostrum, he says, is what helps the body to replicate cells. Then, once that is achieved, glucosamine and chondroitin can do their work.
What About Side Effects?
Okay, let’s take this in the context that Dr. Blake is going to recommend colostrum for pretty much everything. That said, though, he doesn’t recommend going overboard with the treatment; the proper dose, he says, is no more than a pinch in the beginning, especially if the dog is very ill. Going forward, Dr. Blake increases the dose to about a quarter teaspoon per 25 pounds of the dog’s weight.
How Is Colostrum Administered?
If you and your vet agree that your dog might benefit from colostrum, administering it isn’t usually all that difficult. This is because most dogs find the flavor pleasing; it’s actually a lot like powdered milk. If your dog doesn’t care for it, though, it’s easily mixed, in powder form, into dog food.
Are There Side Effects?
Okay, let’s take it on faith here that Dr. Blake is pretty much a colostrum evangelist, and he’s going to tell you, “Don’t worry!”
That said, though, I’m not really finding anything that would suggest that there are adverse side effects from having your dog ingest colostrum. The worst I’ve been able to find is that your dog might vomit a bit, or the diarrhea due to canine IBS might get a bit worse in the short term. This is what’s known as a “healing crisis,” and it is exactly what it sounds like: a minor crisis before the actual healing begins. The best course of action, if your dog goes into a “healing crisis” is to scale back on the colostrum in the short term and then gradually increase the amounts that you offer.
Other Ways of Using Colostrum
There is a lot of evidence to suggest that colostrum might work just as well as a topical remedy as it does when ingested. You can apply colostrum paste to wounds, abscesses, and surgical incisions. Most of us just reach for the Neosporin, but if a natural alternative is available, why not give it a try?
The Transfer Factor
Dr. Blake advocates the use of colostrum on the basis that every single compound in colostrum is good for dogs. Other practitioners take a more cautious approach, suggesting that the benefits are actually due to what is known as “transfer factors.”
While Dr. Blake believes in and promotes whole colostrum supplements, some other practitioners attribute its effects to one specific component present in colostrum: the transfer factor.
Transfer factors were discovered by Dr. H. Sherwood Lawrence about 50 years ago when he was doing research on tuberculosis. He identified molecules in the body’s white blood cells that could actually deliver immunity from a donor to a recipient. Later, in the 1980s, scientists discovered that transfer factors were present in bovine colostrum.
Then, a company called 4Life Research found a way to isolate and extract these transfer factors. Next, they created a supplement that could be used for various mammals, including dogs. Dr. Blake prefers using whole colostrum as opposed to this sort of supplement, but many other veterinarians extol the benefits of this supplement that’s administered orally and doesn’t even need to be digested in order to be effective.
Some veterinarians consider it to be something of a “numbers game” when using 4Life, though, and say that it has to be administered early and in high doses. Still, though, the results are generally positive.
The Final Word
There is a lot to suggest that colostrum for canine IBS and other disorders can be very effective. Whether it really works for serious diseases like cancer, I’m not certain, but for sure, it won’t cause any harm, and if you want to give it a try, I’m the last person who’s going to tell you not to do everything you can for your ill dog.
I don’t think I necessarily agree with Dr. Baker that colostrum is a miracle cure for everything that might trouble your dog. But again – it won’t hurt. At the absolute worst, you’ll be out some money. And if it works the way Dr. Baker thinks it does… well, that has to be good, right?
When it comes to holistic remedies for dogs, I’m usually pretty skeptical. I don’t want to see you waste your money on things that will have no effect whatsoever, or that could even be harmful. Colostrum doesn’t fall into either of those categories, so feel free to give it a try.