Friday, June 29, 2012

Enhance Performance in Dogs with Herbs

At a recent flyball tournament we got some sample bottles of a product called AgilityPro which contains: American Ginseng, Ashwagandha, Siberian Ginseng, Codonopsis pilosule, and Astragalus. I knew the uses of these herbs in humans. I know from personal experience that they are useful during times of stress. I found Ashwagandha to be very useful while I was in graduate school. I wrote this little article and based on what I found regarding their use in dogs, I am going to start giving a similar product to my dogs. 

All of these wonderful benefits I am about to tell you about are not based from personal experience. It's based on studies in humans and reports of success from horse and canine vets. I'd love to know if anyone has used a performance enhancing supplement in their dogs and how it works!

When talking about good qualities of a performance dog people tend to say things about "no self preservation" and "giving 110%" despite pain, stress or fatigue. We also know that we need to decide when it's time to force rest to prevent injuries or accidents, which can lead to a shortened career in the long term.  Hard working canine athletes may benefit from some assistance in handling the physical and mental stress brought on by their work. Many of the sports and daily work that our dogs perform are very taxing on the body.

The herbs in Agility Pro and other similar products are known as ADAPTOGENS which literally translates from Greek “to produce an adjustment "

They are used by humans for adrenal gland support / stress management. These herbs have a non-specific activity, increasing the resistance of the entire body. They work to help the entire system gain balance or homeostasis, helping to normalize body system functions affected by stress.  Many of these herbs improve endurance, work capacity under stress, and recovery after strenuous activity.  Interestingly most of the adaptogenic herbs tend to grow in challenging environments and survive despite the conditions.

Based on studies in humans and animals the following benefits might be seen in a performance dog.
  • Fewer injuries and faster recovery due to a faster rate of tissue repair
  • Delays the onset of fatigue during exercise
  • Improved performance and endurance
  • Increased learning, memory, focus and accuracy when tired or stressed
  • Skeletal muscle & strength
  • Immune system protection from long-term or intense stress
  • Glucose movement into muscle cells
  • Higher levels of ATP in muscle cells
  • Utilization of lipids for energy production
  • Mitochondrial efficiency for energy
  • Protects digestive function
  • Protects against oxidative damage
  • Calming for anxiety, depression, nervousness, irritability, or aggression
  • Reduces stress during performance and traveling.  

These herbs will not enhance performance beyond natural ability like an anabolic steroid or stimulants, but will support the body and help the dog reach natural potential. During events or conditioning you may see improvements in endurance and delayed exhaustion, which can prevent injuries related to fatigue and a lack of focus and concentration.  
After strenuous activity adaptogens will help with muscle repair via protein synthesis. The time needed for the body to recover from high-intensity training or extended periods of stress is greatly reduced. In dogs that are well conditioned and mentally sound, you may not see improvements until the dog is faced with a difficult situation or is tired.
It is best to choose a product with a combination of adaptogenic herbs. For example, the benefits may be seen immediately with Rhodiola and Schizandra, whereas Panax ginseng and Ashwagandha needs to build up in the system. 
After discussing with your vet, try giving one dose per day or more if there is major stress. If the goal is overall stress relief vs improved performance, it may need to build up in the system for 2–4 weeks before you see results. Many people will give their performance dogs a lower dose at home and then increase it just before and during an event. 


Aralia mandshurica: Protects the body from environmental toxins and infection; protects the stomach lining and intestines, improving absorption.

Codonopsis pilosule: Works in a similar way to Panax Ginseng, but is milder and less expensive

Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus): Prevents exhaustion from physical and mental stress; fat & glucose metabolism; may increase the numbers of mitochondria, increasing exercise capacity; ability to withstand adverse conditions (heat, noise, increases in workload and physical exertion);  physical and mental performance and quality; memory, mental alertness and work output.

Panax ginseng:  Increases blood flow to the brain, improves libido and reproductive performance, stamina and energy levels; ability to withstand stress, improve work performance and quality, and enhance mental function.  

Rhaponticum carthamoides: Helps build and maintain lean muscle mass improves fertility and prevents impotence, prevents fatigue, and improves recovery from long illness.

Rhodiola rosea: Increases the blood supply to the muscles and brain, and increased protein synthesis; immune support, resistance to fatigue, improves mood & attention especially with not enough sleep; useful for acute stress; helps with depression and time spent in recovery; increases endurance, mental and physical strength; heart rate recovery after intense exercise; lipid metabolism

Schisandra chinensis: Helps during times of stress and fatigue; anti-imflammatory; stimulates central nervous system and use of oxygen in the cells; enhances mental coordination and physical endurance, improves vision especially at night; reduces stress via the adrenal gland; suppresses excessive stomach acid production and protects against stomach ulcers.

Ashwagandha: improves immune function relaxation & sleep, anti-inflammatory and immune boosting; adrenal support, lowers blood pressure; improves thyroid function (increases energy, digestive function and mood): alertness and memory, promotes a feeling of well-being; anxiety and irritability.  

Astragalus: useful during weakness ; recovery following an illness or prolonged stress; boosts vitality.; enhances immune function by increasing natural killer cell activity, increasing T cell activity, and enhancing macrophage activity.

While adaptogens may offer many benefits, there are also a lot of things they can't do. Please use feed quality diet, allow for rest, regular conditioning and veterinary/chiropractic care.

This product seems to be the best one in terms of variety of adaptogenic herbs. It contains: Eleutherococcus senticosus,Rhodiola rosea, Schizandra chinensis, Aralia mandschurica, Rhaponticum carthamoides. I am going to order it and see how it works and will report back! 

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