Skip to content
Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Astragalus: Immune Booster and More

Updated: October 12th, 2020

I’d like to share some information taken from Traditional Chinese Medicine.  One of the important aspects of full spectrum care to improve cancer outcomes is investigating …  even when investigations lead outside the borders of our country.

China has a long, well-developed, complex system of medicine. It is very different from what we are used to here in the West.  Many of the ideas used can seem very foreign.

However, it has served them well for literally thousands of years, totally independent of Hippocrates and our ideas here in the US.

Let’s look at a common treatment that is used in many of the Chinese preparations.  It is beneficial in cancer management, easily available, and we can take advantage of it in our country.

It is Astragalus membranaceous, Huang qi in Chinese.  There are many subspecies of this legume, and some of the other types can be toxic in large doses.

This herb has several applications in canine cancer care.  First, it is an immune booster.  This is important for cancer patients, who often have suppressed immunity, which leads to secondary infections as well as cancer progression.

Because of this, immune stimulation is critical in dealing with cancer.  This herb seems able to stimulate B-cells preferentially. B-cells are the white blood cells that make antibodies. Although antibodies are not the primary way the body attacks cancer cells, they are useful in overall immunity.   Many times infections in the body or within the tumors themselves create further sickness.

Get a copy of this informative seminar to learn more on Treatment Plan Analysis for your Dog with Cancer

Huang qi also was shown to increase survival times and lessen chemotherapy’s side effects. In a study where lung cancers were treated with platinum drugs, the group treated with this herb lived longer and had fewer side effects.  Platinum drugs are commonly used in veterinary oncology and include cisplatin and carboplatin.

Astralagus species of plants accumulate selenium from the soil.  Selenium is considered generally to be an anti-oxidant. Anti-oxidants are generally thought to be helpful in cancer prevention … but once cancer has established itself, they are not as useful. (There is an entire chapter dedicated to the anti-oxidant vs. pro-oxidant discussion in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, and you can also find an article here to explain more.)

So why are we talking about selenium for cancer? Because in larger amounts, selenium becomes a pro-oxidant! And administering pro-oxidants to fight cancer is very common.  Many chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy work by killing cancer cells through oxidation. They have pro-oxidant effects.

The selenium in the Huang qi is one way that this herb may help.  The breakdown products of selenium in the body actually induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) of cancer cells. Read more here.

Astragalus is commonly found in teas.  However, the amounts of tea needed are likely too high to be useful in dogs (dogs don’t like to drink tea as much as humans do).

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, people use this root on the order of 1/2 to 1 ounce.

It could be useful to give  1/4 to 1/2 an ounce of the root one to two times daily for a 60 lb dog with cancer.  Astralagus root is a sliced, woody material, and you can either grind it yourself or soak in low-sodium chicken or beef broth to make it palatable. Here is an article from a veterinarian who uses astralagus regularly and has dosing recommendations.

As usual, work with your veterinarian or oncologist to come up with a plan that makes sense.  Don’t forget that you are your dog’s primary health advocate!

Best to all,

Dr D

Leave a Comment

  1. Linda Moore on March 21, 2019 at 8:09 am

    One f our dogs was recently diagnosed with small cell cancer. e are not doing chemo. I have her on Turmeric and CBD oil. Which one of your products is the best for this cancer? I didn’t see it on the list. She weighs 22 pounds.

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on March 22, 2019 at 6:27 am

      Hello Linda,

      Thanks for writing. In this article, which is an excerpt from the full length book The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, Dr. Dressler provides a list of supplements for dogs with cancer, listed in order of importance that you may find helpful 🙂

  2. Lisa Marie Cross on October 7, 2015 at 8:33 am

    By the way, those herbs, roots are generally made into teas or a broth, not fed directly, in Chinese medicinal practices. Their nutrients are then found in the broth or tea. You should not give low sodium, or otherwise, chicken broth, make it yourself (cook an organic chicken with bones, REMOVE skin first, use plenty of ionic filtered water) garlic, 3 one inch chunks of fresh ginger unpeeled, sprig or two of fresh rosemary, astragalus root, American Ginseng, Shiitake mushrooms, various green veg and carrots, fresh parsley) and leave the salt out of it. Serve up the broth, chicken and veg. Leave the ginger, ginseng, astragalus root in the pot. Chinese red dates are also good to simmer in the broth and eat. You could just about save the world with such a soup; it’s very healthy. It is not your grandmother’s chicken soup, but much better for your health, animals too.
    Also, cancer thrives in acidity, get alkaline. Check tongue with litmus test strips to see where you or or pet is at.

  3. Lisa Marie Cross on October 6, 2015 at 11:47 am

    It is not so much about the killing of cancer cells if viewed from a Chinese medicine perspective as it is about correcting what the imbalance is, to restore balance, harmony to the system that alleviates the issues; cancer, ill health, etc.
    Western medicine does not have the gift of understanding this the way Asian medicine does. Find a good doctor of Chinese medicine and inquire with them; that is how you get the help you are seeking. Do not leave it up to others; it takes too long to get a response, and meanwhile the window (laws of nature) are closing in.

  4. Becky on April 16, 2014 at 3:57 am

    Dr Dressler I want to give my cat astragalus. I was told you have to be careful not to raise the chi too much or you put them at risk of stroke. Do you know the amount of astragalus for a 5 lb. cat that you have to be concerned about raising the chi. Would one drop of astragalus in water in a 5 lb. cat would I have to be concerned about raising the chi too much?

    • Susan Kazara Harper on April 16, 2014 at 5:50 am

      Hi Becky, We really appreciate you doing all you can to care for your cat’s health using natural resources. Dr. Dressler just isn’t able to consult on individual cases, but even if he could, it wouldn’t be appropriate to suggest dosage over the internet. Astragalus is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and can be a powerful addition to your protocol. But as such it’s really best that you consult a vet who uses TCM and have your cat assessed. Dosing at home with ingredient which are potentially quite powerful in their effects can be dicey. A good TCM vet can check your cat’s energy and advise the proper way to move forward. I hope this helps. All the best.

    • Sooky Das on March 11, 2015 at 3:35 pm

      I have seen 200mg-1,600mg for humans re astragalus in combined supplements & individually. Possibly try 50mg/day or google & find for cat. I accidentally took a brand having excess 6,000 mg & I certainly experienced that side effect feeling of veins constricting (eg. stroke) so I quickly scrambled for vasodilators (expands blood vessels) eg. Hawthorn Berry & Rutin Vit P & Bioflavanoids, buckweat, oats or 1/4 tspn wheatgerm & it made a difference. Cats are allowed these. Although grains can cause mites in cats ears. So limit those.

  5. susan on June 17, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    Can I please get advice where to start? My 10 yr old chihuahua mix Rosie was diagnosed Sat (6/13) with lymphoma. We started prednisone and chemo yesterday – she is acting as healthy & normal as always. I am so sure she can be helped properly with diet and alternatives in addition to the chemo etc – can I please get some help? I’m devastated by this as I just had to put down my 15 yr old “other best friend” t the end of Feb. so I am still reeling from that. I’m desperte for advice. Thank you so much. Susan S.

    • Dr. Dressler on June 28, 2009 at 9:07 am

      this question has an answer that could fill a book (actually it has).
      I will address it at this weeks’ webinar:
      It will be recorded so you can tune in later…
      Thanks for the question!
      Dr D

  6. Susie on June 4, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    Lilly F. poses a excellent question. Excellent. I believe we are trying to gain a understanding on how to keep our pets radical free. Selenium was high on my list as a preventative, for my 3 year old Lab. My vet told me to cut it, and just give her fish oil and a multi vitamin. I realize the doseage should not be as extreme as when you are treating CA. How much is to much and how much is not enough ?
    Recently there was a study that 1 teaspoon of broccoli sprouts, have the antioxident power of a pound of broccoli. What would you reccommend as a preventative amount?

    Thank you

  7. SUsanPAul on June 4, 2009 at 11:38 am

    Check out Neoplasene for apoptosis of neoplasm. Bladder cancer treated w/ it as well. Website is Good Luck

  8. Judith Conigliaro on June 4, 2009 at 11:07 am

    My vet decided to treat my dog’s bladder cancer with Wei Qi Booster and Red Front Door. Abby could not tolerate Wei Qi as she kept vomiting after each dose. Therefore, because of her sensative stomach, she is planning on using acupuncture. She told me she herself has never used acupuncture for this type of cancer, i.e., bladder, but she assured me that it has been used by other vets. Have you had success with acupuncture on bladder tumors?

    Thank you.

    Judith Conigliaro

  9. Lilly F on June 4, 2009 at 8:43 am

    This is such a contradiction to me–can you help explain more fully? If I give my dog an antioxidant before he gets cancer it is supposed to help stave off cancer. (so I am told) If too much selenium is a pro-oxidant and kills cancer cells then why would I ever give my dog an antioxidant? I always want my dog to be killing cancer cells (we are all exposed to cancer cells on a daily basis) I have heard this before but I cannot wrap logic around it. Lets say my dog has a hidden cancer and I give antioxidant–then I am speeding up the process? Can you break this explanation down so I can understand it? Thanks.

Scroll To Top