Artemisinin Toxicity in Cats

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While some cats and dogs have success using artemisinin as a treatment for illness, it can also have negative side effects if administered incorrectly.
While some cats and dogs have success using artemisinin as a treatment for illness, it can also have negative side effects if administered incorrectly. (Image: House Cat image by phizics from Fotolia.com)

Artemisinins are a classification of herbal remedies or drugs used specifically for the treatment of malaria. Some veterinarians and doctors have recently begun prescribing artemisinins as a cancer treatment because of promising results in some patients. However, as with any drug or herbal compound, this treatment might not benefit everyone who uses it. In fact, some patients have discovered unwanted side effects, such as abdominal pain and liver damage.

What is Artemisinin?

Artemisinins, also known as qinghaosu, are a collection of drugs that combat malarial parasites. According to doctors and researchers at the University of Guelph in Canada, the herb Artemisia annua (sweet wormwood) is an active ingredient that has been used in Chinese medicine for many years to treat a variety of different illnesses. Herbal supplements containing artemisinins are marketed today to promote general health and to treat parasites and cancer.

Possible Dangers

Scott Weese, at the University of Guelph in Canada, warns prospective users of this drug and refers to reports filed with the CDC which have indicated patients have developed hepatitis while taking supplements containing artemisinin. Although the supplement has never been proven the cause, it is highly suspected by many. Weese believes taking high doses of artemisinin can risk liver damage and other potential complications.

Possible Benefits

Many dog and cat owners have turned to artemisinin as a treatment for cancer and also as a possible way to prevent the disease in their pets. A 2001 article in “Life Sciences” by Dr. Narenda Singh and Dr. Henry Lai at the University of Washington discussed the destruction of a radiation-resistant cancer cell in vitro, which occurred within eight hours after artemisinin was administered. Many dog and cat owners have since reported positive results using this alternative treatment.

Administering Artemisinin

Artemisinin must be given to cats with caution. This herbal supplement can be administered alongside chemotherapy, but many cat owners on artemisinin forums warn owners to do so only with the cooperation of a veterinarian. Dr. Charles Loops, a holistic veterinarian, warns that cats are especially susceptible to side effects from drugs and herbal remedies and must be given the herbal drug in small doses. While artemisinin has seen results with some animals, not every cat will benefit from the treatment.

Conclusion

Most veterinarians and experts seem to believe that pet owners should never give their pets artemisinin without expert assistance because the dosage amount a cat needs versus the amount a dog or human needs is too varied. Giving a cat too much artemisinin may lead to health complications including kidney disease and liver failure.

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