A popular mushroom in North America, Lion’s Mane features a range of medicinal benefits for both people and their dogs — from calming anxiety to supporting the gut.
As we learned How Your Dog Can Benefit from Medicinal Mushrooms, many mushroom species are rich in healing properties. Exploring the medicinal benefits they can offer our dogs gives us another powerful tool for treating certain ailments and maintaining wellness. In this article, we’ll focus on Lion’s Mane, and how it can be used to help dogs with anxiety.
A LOOK AT LION’S MANE
Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) is a highly-prized edible and medicinal mushroom. It goes by several other names, such as hedgehog fungus, monkey head mushroom and pom pom mushroom. I personally like the name “pom pom” because this white puffy mushroom looks like the pom poms on a groomed white standard poodle!
Tip: The mature Lion’s Mane mushroom resembles a brain — and interestingly, the brain is where a lot of its medicinal activity occurs.
Lion’s Mane is found growing in the wild on old or dead broadleaf trees, but is not that easy to find. Recently, mycologists (people who study and grow mushrooms) have figured out how to cultivate this mushroom in the laboratory.
Because it’s quite hard to find in nature, Lion’s Mane is a relatively new topic for researchers. However, the ability to cultivate this mushroom on a large scale for both medicinal and culinary use has significantly added to its current popularity, and to the publication of more objective research studies about how it works. These studies also give us a glimpse into what Lion’s Mane can do for canine health.
HOW LION’S MANE IS USED
In traditional cultures that utilize mushrooms for health, such as those of Asia and Eastern Europe, Lion’s Mane has been used as both food and medicine. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Lion’s Mane has found applications for GI health, as it nourishes the gut. It has also been used to support the spleen, and as an anti-cancer agent.
Tip: Lion’s Mane is considered nutritive to the five organs of TCM: the Liver, Lungs, Spleen, Heart and Kidney.
Lion’s Mane is known to promote healthy digestion, and has been recommended for gastric and duodenal ulcers as well as the gastritis that leads to ulcers. Its effect on the body as a whole has been to promote general vigor and strength. Lion’s Mane is also known for its effects on the nervous system, and is commonly used for anxiety, nervous stress, insomnia, weakness and lack of energy.
LION’S MANE’S EFFECTS ON THE BRAIN
Recently, Lion’s Mane has been receiving a lot of attention for its effect on brain function and cognition. This is a relatively new use for this mushroom, and is related to discoveries in the 1990s around its effect on nerve growth factor (NGF). More recent clinical studies have supported this discovery.2
This mushroom has not been clinically studied in veterinary species, but the research so far is very encouraging regarding its potential usefulness for geriatric senility in dogs (also called canine cognitive disorder or CCD). A few pilot trials by veterinarians using Lion’s Mane to treat patients for CCD have been especially encouraging. Many animal parents are already discovering that Lion’s Mane can be useful for calming their four-legged family members. There are also reports that when Lion’s Mane is combined with CBD and other cannabinoids, the two work together synergistically to create even more profound calming, which is never sedative unless the cannabis also contains some detectable THC.
One neurological disorder in dogs that extracts of Lion’s Mane may play a vital role in is degenerative myelopathy (DM). This insidious difficult-to-treat disease is an autoimmune disorder affecting the myelin sheath of the spinal cord. This results in progressive paralysis, starting at the hind end and progressing toward the brain.
Tip: DM is fairly similar to ALS in humans.
Published studies found that myelin sheath repair happened significantly more quickly in groups that received Lion’s Mane terpenoid extracts than it did in the control group. No toxic effects were observed.3
Lion’s Mane is a mushroom worth getting to know — if not for its great taste, then for its amazing digestive, cognitive, and general health benefits. It may be a lifesaver for older dogs who are getting a little “slow” in their ways. It can also help with digestive function, and its ability to reduce stress and assist memory is great for dogs and their people!
1Spelman K, Sutherland E, Bagade A. Neurological Activity of Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceous). Journal of Restorative Medicine, (2017) 6:19-26.
2Hirokazu Kawagishi. Chemical studies on bioactive compounds related to higher fungi. Bioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistry, (2021) Vol. 85, No.1, 1-7.
3Huang H-T, et al. Hericium erinaceus mycelium and its small bioactive compounds promote oligodendrocyte maturation with an increase in myelin basic protein. Scientific Reports, (2021) 11:6551.