Antioxidants are an essential part of the human diet. Animal nutrition experts are now realizing that these tiny molecules are also important in the canine diet. There are many benefits in including appropriate antioxidants in dog food and you may have seen them referred to on the label of your dog’s commercial kibble or canned food. To get you up to speed, here’s what you need to know about these important micronutrients and how they can benefit your pooch.
What Are Antioxidants?
Before you can understand the role of antioxidants, you need to know about free radicals. These are a type of molecule that is produced when oxygen in the body splits into single atoms – a reaction which is called oxidation. These atoms are highly reactive and move around the body looking for other reactive molecules to bond with. This causes damage to cells, proteins and DNA and results in diseases such as cancer. There are free radicals throughout the environment so it is impossible for your dog to avoid them.
Antioxidants are molecules that stop the chemical process of oxidation and therefore stop the dangerous free radicals from being produced. They are mainly vitamins, minerals or enzymes but can be other chemical compounds. They work by stopping free radicals from causing damage to cells in your dog’s body by giving up one of their electrons to the free radical and making it more stable. The free radical does not try to react with DNA or cause lipids to oxidize and the damage is prevented. However, the important point is that once the antioxidant has given up an electron to a free radical, it cannot do so again. Therefore, your dog needs a constant source of free radicals from their diet.
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How Can Antioxidants Be Added to Dog Food?
So, now that you know that antioxidants are a desirable element of your dog’s diet, how can you make sure that your pooch is getting enough of them?
Some of the most powerful antioxidants are listed below. If you see that these are named on the supplement list of your dog’s food you can be confident that they are getting some antioxidants.
- Vitamin A: This antioxidant is especially important for the growth and repair of body tissue, for keeping the skin and mucous membranes healthy and for eyesight.
- Vitamin C: This is important for wound healing, for making the skin and blood vessels strong and for resisting and fighting infections.
- Vitamin E: This plays a role in slowing down cellular aging, strengthens cells and capillary walls and keeping skin healthy.
- Selenium: This can also slow down cellular aging, promotes tissue elasticity and keeps membrane tissue healthy.
- Carotenoid: These molecules are highly effective at preventing lipid peroxidation and therefore helps to ward off degenerative diseases. They are also highly beneficial for the eye membranes and prevent cataracts.
- Alpha Lipoic Acid: This anti-aging antioxidant is able to scavenge hydroxyl radicals and removes heavy metals. It plays a role in helping other antioxidants work more effectively and regenerate.
- Coenzyme Q10: This enzyme will strengthen your dog’s heart muscle and improve carbohydrate metabolism as well as preventing oxidation.
The best way to get antioxidants into your dog’s diet is through natural foods so also look out for these on the ingredients list. You should be looking for blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, wolfberries and pomegranates. Also keep an eye out for dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, beets, peas and carrots. In a human diet, these would be referred to as ‘super foods’ because they are so good for you and a dog’s diet is no different.
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What Are the Health Benefits of Antioxidants in Dog Food?
There are clear health benefits of including antioxidants into your dog’s diet. Your dog will be exposed to lots of harmful chemicals in the environment including air pollution, pesticides, insecticides and cigarette smoke. These contain free radicals which will eventually cause harm to a dog’s body.
All dogs would benefit from a diet rich in antioxidants but some dogs need them more than others. If your pooch has any of the following health problems, you should talk to your vet about diet adjustments that would increase their intake of antioxidants.
- Degenerative and inherited joint problems such as hip dysplasia and arthritis.
- Allergies that are causing skin problems such as inflammation, itching, flaking and hot spots.
- Problems with the membrane of the eye including cataracts.
- Respiratory problems including wheezing and asthma.
- Autoimmune disorders such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA) and immune-mediated polyarthritis.
- Chronic infections that have triggered a suppressed immunity.
- Chronic heart disease.
There have been plenty of studies that have indicated the health benefits of antioxidants in a dog’s diet. Several studies of senior dogs have shown that an antioxidant-rich diet helps older dogs to learn complex tasks better than dogs on regular diets. It is suggested by the scientists that the effect is caused by the antioxidants blocking oxidative damage in the dog’s brains which is associated with aging.
Further studies have shown that feeding antioxidant-enriched foods to dogs aged over seven reduces the incidence of age-related behavioral changes caused by cognitive decline including excessive licking and patterned pacing. Dogs who ate a lot of antioxidants were also better at recognizing family members and other animals and were more agile. Antioxidants have also been shown to help with allergy symptoms and to promote immune system activity.
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To sum up, there is no doubt that all dogs would benefit from having more antioxidants in their diet. These could be added naturally with healthy fruit and vegetables or as supplements. Some dogs with chronic disease would especially benefit from the addition of antioxidants to their diet. If you are unsure, you should always speak to your vet to get some advice. They will be able to tell you which antioxidants would best suit your dog’s needs based on their age, breed, size and lifestyle.