Just as with human medicine, increasing owners are looking to alternative and herbal cures and supplements to support the health of their dogs. Bilberry, the European relative of the American blueberry, has been suggested as a helpful supplement to improve vascular health, eye health and reduce cancer risk in canines.
The family of plants known as Vaccinium is extensive, growing around the globe in northern zones of the Americas, Europe and Asia. The most commonly recognized representatives of the family in the Americas are the blueberry and huckleberry families. The bilberry, which is the European version, is lower growing than many wild and all domesticated versions of the American blueberry--often sub-shrubs growing only ankle high. While some American blueberry strains produce clustered fruit, bilberries tend to produce single fruits more widely spaced on the shrub. The flowers are small and urn shaped, often pink. The fruits are dark blue, black, purple or brownish in color with red fleshed interiors and produce vivid red juice.
History and Uses
The bilberry has been known and used throughout Northern Europe through much of history. But the difficulty in growing it has kept it from serving as a commercial product. Harvesting remains informal, a matter of picking from the wild and using for the most part within the family. Only with the growing popularity of American blueberry products is a growing market being developed for the European bilberry, in particular as a health food supplement. In more common use it is used as in preserves, desserts and as a juice fruit.
The wild nature of the plant has also encouraged the development of regional names for the berries. The berries are known as bilberries, blaeberries, wortleberries, winberries, whimberries, black hearts, hurtleberries and hurts.
Bilberries have become known in modern times for their antioxidant content. Packed with anthocyanosides, held to help vision problems, among other antioxidants. Bilberries also contain a high level of flavinoids, and are considered a possible natural treatment for vascular problems. Bilberries also have a long-standing reputation for improving night vision.
Use In Pets
The use of bilberries in pet treatment is very recent, and is based on the use in humans. Bilberries used in human medicine have been insufficiently tested for any sure answers to reliability and clear effects, and in pets the results are barely tested at all. What can be said is that bilberries appear safe, and highly unlikely to damage a pet, though a vet should be consulted before use in case of undiscovered sensitivities or new findings.
The uses recommended are aimed at cataracts associated with diabetes and other vision problems, and at vascular tumors, with an additional level of consideration as a general promoter of health and preventive of cancers. There are some claims that the bilberry also helps lower blood sugar in diabetic animals. Administered orally as a supplement to food, the bilberry is available through health food stores and online.
Bilberries are untested, and should not be considered a reliable alternative to regular medical attention from a veterinarian. In animals with no sensitivity, the bilberry appears a safe supplement for dogs. Supplements should not be allowed to overtake the major elements of the diet, and should not be used without supervision and professional advice.