Antioxidants are nature’s way of keeping the byproducts of your metabolism in check. Too few can cause major health issues, both chronic and acute, for humans and pets alike.
They are found by the handful in many plant foods, but you have likely also seen them on store shelves packed into pills or powders.
You may even have some in your kitchen cabinet right now.
You may have considered the idea that your pet needs to be eating better. Or maybe you are toying with the idea of supplementing his already healthy diet with something more, perhaps to boost his immune system or encourage birthing healthy puppies.
There are many products on the market that will convince you that they do just that: that they ensure optimal health for your dog.
But what does he really need? What will actually make the biggest difference?
One answer is antioxidants.
What Do Antioxidants Do?
Your body is constantly working to maintain balance in all its systems, all the way down to its subatomic particles.
Essential metabolic processes constantly being performed in your cells often break oxygen molecules for use, which may leave an unpaired electron floating around your body. These electrons are called free radicals and too many can throw your body out of balance.
Your body needs free electrons to fight infection, so small numbers are helpful. Too many free radicals, however, can cause oxidative stress and can be linked to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and premature aging. Long-term, oxidative stress can damage DNA and kill cells.
A multitude of environmental and lifestyle factors contribute to excessive free radical formation:
- Air pollution
- Cigarette smoke
- Drug and alcohol usage
- Ingesting toxins and chemicals
- Intense and prolonged stress
- Long term or untreated bacterial, viral, or fungal infections
- Sustained high blood sugar levels
- Too much or too little oxygen in the body
- Too much fat or too much sugar in the body, or not enough fruits and vegetables
- Pesticide and insecticide residue
- Industrial chemicals
Free radicals can damage and deteriorate cells. Antioxidants stop the process before it has a chance to harm you or your pet.
Antioxidants fight free radicals in the body by inhibiting oxidation, which is the chemical reaction that releases the electron, turning it into a free radical.
There are two main types of antioxidants: water-soluble, which perform their functions on the inside and the outside of cells, and fat-soluble, which work primarily in the middle in the cell membrane. Both are essential to optimal health.
Your body creates its own antioxidants, such as glutathione, but the best way to fight free radicals is to consume foods high in antioxidants. Be advised, however: excessive intake of antioxidants, particularly of one single isolated type, can be just as harmful as a deficiency.
In humans, it is suggested that we eat a varied, well-balanced diet full of organic whole grains and produce. Dark chocolate, berries, coffee, green tea, and extra virgin olive oil are all popular food sources of antioxidants, as are many herbs and spices like turmeric. Red wine is often touted as an amazing source of antioxidants, and it is often made into tablets and sold as concentrated polyphenols for heart health.
But what about your dog? None of those choices are really safe for him. No responsible pet owner would pass their pooch a bowl of dark chocolate and coffee for the sake of eliminating free radicals.
Side note: your dog can NOT have grapes in any form. Raisins are out as well. Red wine may be a lovely drink for a human dinner party but keep it far from Fido.
Do your pets need antioxidants, too? You want them to be healthy and live as long and as well as they can, so it makes sense to ensure their bodies are in top running condition. Antioxidants can help.
There are several ways of ensuring your dog has adequate levels of antioxidants in his body. Supplements combining vitamins E and C, selenium, and beta carotene are popular options widely available in pet stores and online. They are also often added to commercial pet foods.
Any animal can benefit from antioxidants, but they can also help dramatically reduce the effects of chronic illness.
Ask your vet about introducing antioxidants if your dog:
- Struggles with arthritis
- Needs extra kidney function support
- Has digestive disorders or often experiences nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Has trouble breathing because of respiratory system disorders
- Gets sick a lot because of a depressed immune system
- Is obese or underweight
- Cannot sleep well, or does not recover quickly from athletic activity or injury
- Is prone to infections
- Has a family history of degenerative eye conditions
- Shows signs of poor dental health despite good hygiene
- Has a nervous system or neurodegenerative disorder
- Is pregnant or nursing, or you intend to breed your female dog several times
Ask your veterinarian before giving your dog anything. Make sure to mention any signs of illness before starting him on antioxidants.
What Are The Best Antioxidants For Dogs?
It is fairly easy to find antioxidant supplements for dogs. They come in a number of forms like powders and pills. You can even find packaged treats that contain them.
But experts all agree: antioxidants are most valuable when eaten. Your dog’s body needs a full range of phytochemicals, micronutrients, and prebiotics along with the antioxidants. Making sustainable whole-food-based choices will ensure his life-long health.
A well-rounded diet including lean proteins, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and plant matter will help make your dog function at his best. With antioxidants in mind, topping his food with some tasty human snacks may be the best way of maintaining his wellness.
Many of the fruits and vegetables highest in antioxidants are safe, wholesome options for dogs, including:
- Kale and spinach
- Red cabbage
- Beans and legumes
- Sweet potatoes
All of these can be occasionally added to your dog’s food (assuming he digests them well and has no food allergies).
If you would like to include even more, the foods highest in antioxidants are easily found in supplement form.
- Green tea is very popular with people for good reason! Decaffeinated green tea brewed from tea bags can be a great source of polyphenols and catechin (types of antioxidants). There are other health benefits to introducing green tea to your dog’s diet, too, like it’s anti-inflammatory properties and ability to support the immune system. It contains L-theanine which provides a number of unbelievable benefits. There have also been many studies pointing to green tea’s ability to fight cancer. It can also help freshen their breath. Green tea is generally considered safe for dogs and many commercial dog foods add green tea leaf to their product. An easy way of getting it into your dog is to brew a strong cup of organic decaf green tea (with bags from the grocery store), let it cool, and serve it up in his bowl along with a few cups of water.
- Larch arabinogalactan is a type of soluble fiber (which makes it a great prebiotic to feed the good bacteria in your dog’s digestive tract!) found in wood gum trees. It is also present in smaller amounts in corn, peas, carrots, coconut, and mushrooms. It is actually being tested for use in humans, too- it is showing promise in treating the H1N1 flu and HIV / AIDS. It enhances the natural ability of macrophages, or the ‘killer’ cells, that your immune system uses to fight infections and illness. The caveat with Larch arabinogalactan is that it could be counterproductive if given too often or regularly for a long period of time, so use it sparingly with plenty of time in between doses.
- Phytoplankton is a great way of getting omega fatty acids into your dog’s diet without resorting to potentially mercury-filled fish oil. Phytoplankton helps support the liver by removing toxins from your dog’s body and contains trace minerals that improve cell function in the whole body. It is easily absorbed and used by your dog’s body and is generally tolerated well, making this a go-to suggestion when discussing antioxidant supplementation for pets. Humans commonly use dried spirulina, which is safe for dogs as long as they have no history of liver disease.
- Eggshell membrane is an often overlooked nutritional powerhouse. The purpose of it, biologically speaking, is to feed baby chickens until they hatch, so it is packed full of essential amino acids and micronutrients. The membrane is the super thin layer inside the eggshell but is generally not part of what you eat (but is generally part of what you throw away when making eggs for breakfast). In addition to antioxidants, the eggshell membrane contains several compounds that facilitate healthy joint function, like glucosamine, chondroitin, and collagen. There is absolutely no danger to your dog from the eggshell membrane (unless he does not tolerate eggs), so he can eat them every day.
- Green-lipped mussels hail from New Zealand and are an awesome source of iron, providing more than 100 percent of your dog’s recommended daily intake. They are also absolutely packed with amino acids, fatty acids, digestive enzymes, and vitamins. They are an incredible source of antioxidants. They also contain glycosaminoglycans, which are naturally found in the synovial fluid in joints and can relieve inflammation and discomfort from arthritis. Green-lipped mussels are often dried, ground into powder, and cold packed to ensure they maintain their nutrient content. Do not buy a product that is heat-treated. You can also order them freeze-dried online, which your dog may love as a special treat!
- Colostrum is the very first concentrated breast milk that newborns of any species eat. You can find it for adult dogs in powder or capsule form. It is essential for the proper formation of a baby’s immune and digestive systems. It is also heavy with antioxidants and can help support your dog’s joints, improve his healing time when he gets injured or has an open wound, and can protect him against the development of allergies. Colostrum should be given on an empty stomach to ensure complete absorption but can be mixed with a little broth or plain yogurt if the powder is distasteful. It can also be mixed with some distilled water and used topically for rashes and other skin conditions.
- Astaxanthin is a red pigment compound found in microalgae like krill and shrimp. It is actually the compound that makes flamingos pink - their main food source, microscopic shrimp, are super high in astaxanthin! It is also an antioxidant about 65 times more powerful than vitamin C, which makes it a fantastic choice for your dog. It can reduce joint pain and inflammation, bolster his immune system, and provide essential nutrition to maintain full neuron function in the brain. Always make sure your astaxanthin supplement is sustainably sourced from microalgae; synthetic versions are often made from petrochemical byproducts (like the additive that makes gray farmed salmon look pink before they are sold) and can be toxic to your dog.
Antioxidants are most effective when eaten in combinations. A complete nutrition profile will include antioxidants from several different sources.
What Else Can I Do To Promote Good Health For My Dog?
Because of the scientific advances we have made in the last few decades, it is easier than ever to make sure your pet is the healthiest he can be.
Make sure to take your dog to the veterinarian at least for an annual physical. Make sure he receives his vaccines, heartworm preventative, and any necessary prescription medications. Fight fleas, ticks, and mites with flea collars or spot-on treatments. Watch for worms; if you see any in his feces treat for them immediately.
A high-quality whole food diet is a good place to start. Not only will your dog naturally get the antioxidants he needs from bioavailable food sources, but he will also take in enough fiber, protein, and vitamins to keep him strong and vibrant.
He always needs fresh water available to him. Make sure to keep the bowl scrubbed clean and refresh the water any time it runs low or looks murky. A good rule of thumb is your pet's water should be as clean as you expect yours to be.
From there, a multivitamin is a solid next step. Many animals, humans included, do not always get enough of every necessary micronutrient and mineral. Many dogs are deficient in magnesium, for example, just like humans are. Ask your veterinarian for suggestions.
If your dog is dealing with some disease or illness, you may find supplements and herbal remedies helpful in easing any related uncomfortable symptoms. Glucosamine, for instance, is the most popular supplement given to dogs. It can help maintain joint mobility and lessen the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis.
Fish oil is a close second. Fish oil may contain mercury, which could prove to be a neurotoxin, however, so swap it out for phytoplankton to avoid the contamination.
Probiotics are good bacteria that colonize the digestive system. They are essential for sustaining life. Many pet owners choose to give their animals probiotic supplements to ensure they have plenty of live organisms in their guts.
Probiotics need food. A prebiotic may be a good choice. There are many natural choices available for pets, like chicory root, that are safe and packed with nutrients.
The claims attached to digestive enzymes can sound crazy, but they are actually a great addition to any type of long-term health plan. They are generally made from tropical plants like mango, papaya, and pineapple.
When selecting a supplement for your dog, you may find the market is saturated with options that can be difficult to navigate. Be advised that fraud and outlandish claims run rampant in the natural health market. There are billions of dollars tied up in homeopathic and holistic treatments and everyone wants a piece of that pie.
Due diligence could save you money and time, as well as protect your dog from dangerous substances. Ask your veterinarian, trainer, and groomer for recommendations and resources. Check with your social media groups. Go to a pet store and ask the associates stocking the products, or email customer service on the site you are buying from.
If you notice your dog’s behavior or physical appearance change abruptly, call your veterinarian immediately. Trouble breathing, extreme lethargy, unusual aggression, severe or bloody vomiting or diarrhea, or collapsing are all signs of devastating illness and require emergency life-saving medical treatment.
We all want what is best for our pets. They enrich our lives so much, and we love them more than we can stand, and we want the whole world for them.
Ensuring their bodies feel comfortable enough to live in is essential to a good life. You can help make sure that your dog’s life is full and fun and fit and that he can spend as much time playing with you as he can!