By Rania Gollakner, BS, DVM, MPH

What is ginkgo?

Ginkgo is an herbal supplement derived from the Ginkgo biloba tree. The ginkgo seed is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat respiratory disorders (must be roasted, as the raw seed is toxic), and the leaf is used in Western medicine to stimulate blood flow to the extremities and to the brain. Therefore, it is used to treat cognitive dysfunction, memory problems, headache, breathing problems, and muscle spasms by increasing blood flow. The standard extract used in clinical studies contains 24% ginkgo flavonol glycosides and 6% terpene lactones.

Dietary supplements are substances that can be used to supplement the diet, such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, botanicals, enzymes, and probiotics. While many supplements are sold over the counter, they still contain ingredients that have biological effects that should be managed by your veterinarian. Follow your veterinarian’s directions and cautions very carefully as their directions may be significantly different from those on the label.

There are differences in how countries regulate supplements. In the United States, these substances are not as vigorously regulated by the FDA as other medications, which means they can be sold without the manufacturer proving their effectiveness, safety, and without a guarantee of consistent or accurately reported ingredients. In Canada, products that have been evaluated for quality, safety, and effectiveness by Health Canada and authorized for sale will have a license number on the label.

How effective is ginkgo?

Ginkgo is one of the few herbal supplements that have undergone more rigorous scientific studies in humans, although many are still very small and use unsatisfactory methods. Some studies have shown improvements in Alzheimer and dementia while others have not, and therefore more studies are warranted.

Only a few small studies have been performed in animals, but there is anecdotal evidence that ginkgo works to treat canine cognitive dysfunction and brain and spinal cord injuries. Other possible uses are to treat retinal injuries of the eye, and to treat lung disease or injury.

How is ginkgo given?

Ginkgo is given by mouth in the form of a tablet, capsule, powder, or tincture. It may be given with or without food; however, if stomach upset occurs when dosed on an empty stomach, give future doses with food. Measure liquid forms carefully.

What if I miss giving my pet the supplement?

If you miss a dose, give it when you remember, but if it is close to the time for the next dose, skip the dose you missed and give it at the next scheduled time, and return to the regular dosing schedule. Never give your pet two doses at once or give extra doses.

Are there any potential side effects?

Studies are limited for this supplement and therefore information regarding side effects is also limited. At very high doses, ginkgo may cause diarrhea, vomiting, or restlessness. Allergic reactions of the skin are also possible, characterized by itchiness, rash, hives, or redness.

Are there any risk factors for this supplement?

Studies are limited for this supplement and therefore information regarding risk factors is also limited. Ginkgo should not be used in pets that are allergic to it or in pets with blood clotting disorders. It should not be used in pregnant or nursing animals, as safety has not been established. Ginkgo should be used cautiously in old or debilitated pets.

Are there any drug interactions I should be aware of?

The following medications should be used with caution when given with ginkgo: blood thinning medications or supplements (which include warfarin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and fatty acids), diazepam, imipramine, and omeprazole.

Vitamins, herbal therapies, and supplements have the potential to interact with each other, as well as with prescription and over the counter medications. It is important to tell your veterinarian about any medications (including all vitamins, supplements, or herbal therapies) that your pet is taking.

Is there any monitoring that needs to be done with this supplement?

There is no specific monitoring that needs to be done while your pet is taking this medication. Your veterinarian may monitor your pet to be sure that the medication is working.

How do I store ginkgo?

In general, store ginkgo supplements in a cool place, protected from light and moisture. There are many formulations and manufacturers of this supplement, so always follow the specific directions on the product label.

What should I do in case of emergency?

If you suspect an overdose or an adverse reaction to the medication, call your veterinary office immediately. If they are not available, follow their directions in contacting an emergency facility.

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