Silymarin (Milk Thistle)

Boost your cat's liver functions with this natural supplement.

What is Silymarin/ Milk Thistle?

Milk Thistle seedsMilk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a flowering plant in the Aster family. A native of Europe, it has been used for centuries as a liver tonic. Milk thistle is one of very few traditionally used herbs that has been widely accepted by conventional science to have significant medicinal value. The active ingredient of milk thistle seed extract is a flavonoid compound called "silymarin." Most milk thistle seed extracts available today contain about 80 percent standardized extract of silymarin. Silymarin, which is itself a combination of several other active compounds, has been extensively studied around the world and has been shown to be safe and effective in treating a variety of liver diseases and other conditions. It specifically protects the liver against toxins, activates protein synthesis, and stimulates the growth of new liver cells to replace those that are dead or damaged. Milk thistle also has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions.

How Silymarin works:

Silymarin reaches high levels in the bile and liver where it concentrates its beneficial action. It supports the immune system through its powerful antioxidant, free-radical scavenging action, its ability to preserve the supply of another important antioxidant, glutathione (primarily stored in the liver), as well as direct effects on immune cells.

What does Milk Thistle do for your cat?

Milk Thistle supports the production of new liver cells, helping to replace the damaged ones. As anti-oxidants, silymarins are even more effective than Vitamin E.
Silymarin, the active component in Milk Thistle, helps:

    - protect against free radical damage
    - aid in stabilizing liver membranes
    - support liver recovery
    - guard against toxins binding to the liver
Silymarin is useful in the treatment of feline hepatic lipidosis, chronic hepatitis, cholangitis, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Milk Thistle is gentle enough for long-term use.

How does it help with FIP?

We know all too well that most FIP cats lack appetite. This sets a chain of events in motion that can quickly become critical. A cat who does not eat is at risk of developing hepatic lipidosis (a.k.a. fatty liver disease), a condition that can be fatal. Not eating enough or not at all can lead to or worsen anemia. Let's not forget that FIP is a starvation disease: the last thing you want is your cat turning away from food.

Let's be clear about what Silymarin, the main compound in Milk Thistle, does or does not do. One thing is sure; it's NOT going to cure FIP. We only recommend Silymarin/Milk Thistle for its liver support and detox properties, as it can help your feline companion find a renewed interest in food once he starts feeling a bit better.

Your cat may not be eating because he is feeling nauseated. His liver functions may be impaired. Blood tests may show elevated liver enzymes, such as ALT, Amylase, or Bilirubin for example, or decreased liver function (low Albumin). That's where Silymarin, a.k.a. Milk Thistle comes in and helps reduce the signs associated with poor liver functions caused by the FIP virus.

We strongly recommend using Milk Thistle as a complement to your cat's regular FIP treatment (Polyprenyl Immunostimulant, Feline Omega Interferon, etc.) or for any cat who may suffer from liver disease, regardless the underlying cause. Milk Thistle also provides health support for cats treated with antibiotics, corticosteroids and chemotherapy agents.

Dosage and frequency

For most purposes, 75 to 100 mg per 10lbs of weight of milk thistle extract daily is adequate. Just open up a capsule, mix the appropriate amount of powdered herb with a small amount of blenderized food or baby food, and feed by syringe. If your cat does not seem to improve, you can go up to 200mg per 10lb of body weight–of milk thistle extract daily. Too high a dose can cause an upset tummy, gas, or mild diarrhea; this is easily resolved by giving less.

Milk thistle is very gentle and has an excellent safety record and lack of adverse drug interactions. It is safe for long-term use.

Buy the right product.

As with any other supplement, you have to choose carefully. Potency and purity of product are paramount. You can buy silymarin in pill form made especially for cats (and dogs). It is sold under the brand name Denamarin or Denosyl in the US, and Silycure in Europe, but you can just as easily buy it as a supplement in any health food store or online. You can also find it in liquid form, but make sure to get one specifically intended for use in animals, as the human version contains alcohol which is toxic to pets.

If you choose to buy Milk Thistle as a supplement, please note that the industry standard puts the minimum amount of silymarin at 70%.
The standard dosage of milk thistle seed extract is based on a silymarin content of around 80 percent; most supplements contain anywhere from 50-500 milligrams (175 mg is typical). Silymarin is found mostly in milk thistle seeds but in low amounts. Consequently, a milk thistle seed extract will contain the most abundant source of this active component, as well as other natural compounds found in the seeds. Therefore, when buying a supplement, make sure the percentage amount reaches at least the industry standard of 70% silymarin.

Consumer Lab® released a report in July 2016 regarding test results from ten commercial milk thistle supplements. Only two products contained the industry standard 70% silymarin; all the rest fell short. We suggest using a product containing milk thistle "seed extract" as opposed to "seed powder" or "whole herb" to get the most silymarin.