Product: Honest Kitchen Sparkle herbal supplement
Quantity: 3.4 oz
Price Paid: $11 [via the HK online store]
Ingredients: Dandelion leaf, rosehips, burdock root, nettle leaf, yeast flakes
Crude protein: min 18.00%
Crude fat: min 0.50%
Crude fiber: max 10.26%
Moisture: max 11.00%
Potassium: 2.24 ~ 2.49%
Magnesium: 0.29 ~ 0.34%
Iron: 140 ~ 170 mg/kg
Manganese: 59 ~ 74 mg/kg
Zinc: 46 ~ 54 mg/kg
Country of manufacture: Not clear, though the company claims that all of its ingredients are 100% human grade, a claim that has been cleared by the FDA
Company information: The Honest Kitchen; 145, 14th Street; San Diego, CA 92101; tel: 1-866-437-9729 / (619) 544-0018
Web presence: TheHonestKitchen.com, on Facebook, etc.
When Bowdu’s system was thrown out of whack owing to his hypothyroidism, one of the most obvious physical signs was his recurrent skin issues and out-of-control allergies. Last year’s summer of suffering has inspired me to explore alternative dermal health remedies, especially options geared towards long-term and holistic maintenance.
The Honest Kitchen was also founded on a philosophy of good health through optimum diet and natural care. For a number of reasons, including their high standards of quality, accountability, size of the company and apparent transparency, HK is probably one of my favorite pet-related companies out there. When I saw that they offer a skin supplement, Sparkle, I was happy to give it a go.
Here’s the product description from the website:
Proper pet nutrition is the first step to improving your dog or cat’s skin and coat health. For additional nutritive support, we offer Sparkle. After using this natural herbal supplement, all your friends will be in awe of your pet’s healthy, shiny coat!
Sparkle is an herbal nutritional supplement made with a selection of natural herbs, designed to support healthy skin and a shiny coat for both dogs and cats.
I was unable to find more specific information about the ingredients on the company site, so I consulted Gregory L. Tilford and Mary L. Wulff’s Herbs for Pets: the Natural Way to Enhance Your Pet’s Life (Second Edition, Irvine: Bowtie Press, 2009). I claim no expertise or special knowledge in herbal nutrition, and certainly not because I happen to have a couple relevant books in my personal library. This is just one ready reference that I like having on hand (though they could use an updated list of references, even if they are one of the pioneers in this subfield).
Anyway, here are some relevant passages from Tilford & Wulff related to the selection of herbs in this blend:
Dandelion is a “classic” and extremely common herbal remedy with a large range of benefits, including boosting the liver and optimizing waste elimination (aside from regularizing digestion, it can act as a diuretic). With long-term use, the whole plant is reputed to offer medicinal effects without taxing the body with harsh or excess chemicals and minerals. As far as its immediate benefits, I thought this was interesting:
In addition to providing your animal with many of the nutrients she needs, the leaves have what the herbalists call a bitter tonic effect: the body’s metabolism is ‘warmed up’ before the digestive system is forced to go to work. When a small amount of a bitter herb is taken into the mouth, the recipient immediately experiences a sudden increase in salivation. As the bitter herb reaches the stomach, bile and other digestive agents are then triggered into production. The result is more efficient digestion, reduced indigestion, better absorption of nutrients, and increased appetite.
Tilford and Wulff, pp. 95-6
In other words, dandelion leaf works primarily by maximizing the effects of an already-healthy meal; as with any dietary supplement, you have to start on a solid foundation. Dandelion is not an immediate choice for improving dermal health, but it would be a first resort if the aim, as described by the Honest Kitchen, is to detox and offer “nutritive support.”
This is another common herbal remedy known for being rich in Vitamin C and ascorbic acid (ibid., p. 172). All the better when it’s sourced from such a cute little fruit. This is hardly an obscure vitamin so I’ll trust that we all understand its many functions, and move on…
Burdock root is a specific treatment for chronic acute psoriasis or eczema; it has a strong affinity toward the treatment of flaky, oily, or inflammatory skin disorders that can be traced back to liver deficiencies or a general overload of toxic substances in the body (usually the result of a poor diet). It is also useful in the holistic treatment of arthritis, rheumatoid disorders, inflammatory kidney and bladder diseases, and virtually any other type of metabolic disorder that may be the result of poor waste elimination. Adding to all of this is a diuretic action that helps in the elimination of waste materials from the body. In simple terms, burdock helps clean the body from the inside out.
ibid. p. 68
By this description, this herb is the most explicitly indicated for dermal care. Many of its functions overlap with that of dandelion, so again, it’s aiding in overall gastrointestinal health.
Although the theories behind the medicinal actions of nettle are varried, we believe that part of the basis for nettle’s antiallergenic usefulness may lie in the plant’s histamine content, which may work in a like-versus-like manner similar to the concepts of homeopathy. What we mean is that by introducing a substance into the body that acts mildly as an allergenic antagonist, the body is triggered into protecting itself from what it believes to be an inevitable, all-out attack of allergens. In short, nettle may prompt the body into preparing itself. For animals with predictable seasonal occurrences of allergies, dietary supplementation with dried nettle leaf may help.
ibid., p. 154
This same principle applies to allergy shots and immunotherapy, but instead of injecting the body with a number of specific, targeted allergens, just nettle is used to increase the body’s tolerance to potential environmental irritants.
Nutritional yeast (yeast flakes):
Tilford and Wulff provide no information on this ingredient. However, nutritional yeast is the primary ingredient in Dr. Pitcairn’s “Healthy Powder” mix which is an essential component of the recipes in his book [cf. Richard & Susan Pitcairn, Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats (Emmaus, PA: Rodale Books, 2005) p. 53]. In this blend, I think these flakes add mere traces of additional vitamins and minerals.
For 11 ~ 30 pound pets, the recommended daily dose is 1/2 a teaspoon twice daily (roughly consistent with recommended doses in Tilford & Wulff), mixed or sprinkled onto the food. That seemed like enough to significantly alter the taste of the food, which usually backfires when it comes to Bowpi. I ended up giving less than recommended — about three pinches per meal for Bowdu and two pinches for Bowpi, which amounted to about half of the suggested daily intake. It seemed reasonable to lean on the lower side of the spectrum, since too much of a couple of these herbs might trigger too much of a diuretic effect or overly loose stools, at worst. When the pups got raw meals, I would either sprinkle this into a side dish of pumpkin or mushed up sweet potato (preferred) or coat the meat as if preparing an herbal dry rub.
At this rate, the container lasted us about two months, a fair stretch of time.
What I like about Sparkle is that the ingredients give me a different set of dietary “tools” to work with by improving the skin in an indirect fashion. Sparkle works through the internal organs by improving modes of circulation (waste processing, nutrient delivery and absorption), instead of building the epidermal layer on a cellular level. Since we’re talking about a cumulative effect, I expected the results to be a little more subtle, prompting me to look a little harder.
Now the thing is both Bows already have fairly nice coats, so I can’t really proclaim any drastic changes. For Bowpi, who came to us with some dandruff and dry patches, improvements were especially dramatic when we started boosting her Essential Fatty Acid intake with fish oil (and Vitamin E) supplements at dinnertime and olive oil drizzles with breakfast. If you’re looking for a quick and observable improvement, load up those EFAs and you’ll definitely know there’s been a before and after.
We crossed that threshold with Bowpi’s coat some time ago. Though she’s already pretty soft and glossy, I guess she does seem even plushier these days. Her skin is clean and supple. The rash that had broken out on her upper arms, already slowly on its way to improvement once we took her off the suspected culprit food, completely cleared up after we started using Sparkle. Most significantly, her injured eye has been less watery, an improvement I was not anticipating.
As all these observations have coincided with our continuous use of Sparkle, I will be generous in my assessment and say that it could be due to this supplement’s benefits — though it could also be due to other factors like seasonal and environmental changes.
With Bowdu, the only noticeable recent change has been in the scent of his skin and coat. He generally doesn’t have much of an odor anyway, but lately he’s been even more nuzzleable than ever.
Again, this could be due to seasonal changes, and my own desire to huff Shiba fur as the weather gets chillier.
Here at the House of Two Bows, where academic habits inevitably bleed into blogging, we typically stamp reviewed products with an A ~ F letter grade. Given all that I’ve written above though, it doesn’t seem fair to assign a letter grade. I know I’d like to give Sparkle an A grade based on how much I respect the company and how much I want to trust in the efficacy of a holistic approach. But honestly, I can’t say that even my own observations justify the high marks.
Would I purchase and use this supplement again? Sure! I think if we started the daily supplementation at least a month in advance of allergy season, that would be a more serious test.
Is Sparkle a required part of the daily diet for the Two Bows? Here, I’d have to say no. And since it’s not part of the core menu here, maybe it’s better to grade it on a pass/fail basis. Thumbs up or thumbs down.
To summarize –
- high quality ingredients from a trustworthy company
- offers a natural, holistic alternative or complement to EFA supplementation
- attractive and handy packaging
- fair price for amount of product (especially if used conservatively)
- good for dogs AND cats!
- results may not be immediate, demands consistency and patience over long-term use
- some animals may not enjoy the taste
- best when mixed into moist food, which not every dog gets all the time
- calling this a “skin and coat” supplement is somewhat misleading when the operating premise actually seems to be gastrointestinal management which ultimately results in healthier appearanaces
FINAL GRADE: PASS / SATISFACTORY
[Edit 9 April 2012: Related post, "Holistic treatments for pet allergies“