Can you name the single most important disease-fighting element of your dog’s diet? The ingredient you should be feeding your dog to fight cancer, diabetes and heart disease?
The answer is … antioxidants! And they’re available in dozens of common everyday foods.
Antioxidants are an important nutrient to fight oxidative stress. You might not be able to see oxidative stress in your dog, but it’s there. It takes hold when there are too many free radicals in your dog’s body. It’s far too common. And it’s one of the reasons 50% of dogs get cancer.
What Are Free Radicals?
Free radicals are damaged cells that are missing a critical molecule. Once free radicals form in cells, their single electron makes them very unstable. So they react quickly with other compounds to steal a second electron. Once they have the second electron they become stable again. So the damaged molecule with the missing electron becomes another free radical. The chain reaction continues … and can create oxidative stress in your dog.
This process damages the DNA in those cells. Besides cancer, it can lead to premature aging, a decline in cognitive function and other chronic health problems for your dog.
Free radicals also form when your dog is exposed to toxins. Just look at what he can experience every day:
- Second-hand smoke
- X rays and radiation
- Cleaning and garden chemicals
- Processed foods
All these things can help free radicals multiply too fast. But there’s a way to control free radicals. And that’s by feeding your dog lots of antioxidants. Antioxidants capture free radicals and neutralize them. It’s like sending in the cavalry.
How To Control Free Radicals In Your Dog’s Body
Antioxidants stop free radicals from multiplying. They do this by giving up some of their own electrons to the free radicals. This breaks the chain reaction and neutralizes the free radicals to stop them from attacking other cells. But antioxidants are not in meat. They only come from plants. So this is why you need to feed your dog fruit and vegetables.
5 Antioxidants You Should Feed Your Dog
Here are 5 antioxidants to add to your dog’s diet and where to find them.
Astaxanthin is the king of antioxidants. And it's 6,000 times stronger than vitamin C, another heavy hitter in the antioxidant family. Astaxanthin protects all parts of the cell including the cell membrane. This wide net of protection stops too many free radicals from invading the cell at once. It also forms an electron cloud around the molecule and absorbs free radicals as they pass.
Astaxanthin also works as an anti-inflammatory to address conditions like dry eye. It supports eye health in general. And it supports joint health. It’s also great for brain function, cancer prevention, immune system health and slowing the aging process.
The major source of astaxanthin is the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis. You’ll also find it in wild caught Pacific salmon – not farmed. But salmon isn’t a great choice because most of it is farmed and it’s exposed to lots of toxins. That’s why supplements are probably the safest and easiest to use. Make sure your supplement is naturally sourced. Beware of synthetic and genetically-modified (GMO) versions.
How Much To Give: If you’re using a product for people, assume the dosage is for a 150-pound person and adjust for your dog’s weight. If it’s made for dogs, follow the package instructions.
As well as being a great antioxidant for your dog, it’s a plant-based compound that’s also an anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory. That’s why quercetin is known as nature’s Benadryl.
Quercetin can turn off the body’s allergic reaction to food or environmental allergens. It does this by suppressing the inflammatory reaction so there’s less itching and swelling. It also helps reduce inflammation related to respiratory issues like asthma.
It’s easy to add quercetin to your dog’s diet to boost his antioxidants. Just feed him fruit! Or feed green leafy vegetables like kale and parsley. Lots of dogs love blueberries, raspberries, apples and strawberries. Some will even eat cranberries. These berries are full of antioxidants and vitamins, plus they’re low in sugar.
These fruits and vegetables also contain another antioxidant that can provide an immune boost to your dog. And that’s Vitamin C. Your dog can produce his own vitamin C. Aging can cause less production so your dog may need a dietary boost. Stress also depletes vitamin C. Stress hormones use up vitamin C leaving less for the rest of your dog’s body.
You and your dog have probably eaten anthocyanin and didn’t even know it. You know that blue-purple color in blueberries? It comes from flavonoid pigments called anthocyanins. Other purple foods high in anthocyanins are eggplant, red cabbage, blackberries, black currants and cranberries.
Anthocyanins also have a valuable anti-inflammatory effect. Anthocyanins can also help reduce cancer cell growth. They can increase apoptosis (cancer cell death). And studies show that anthocyanins in blueberries control inflammation in the body. This reduces the risk of chronic disease.
Blueberries have the most antioxidants of any fruit. They’re especially good antioxidants for your dog because they can cross the blood-brain barrier. That means they’re one of the only antioxidants that can help keep your dog’s brain strong. It’s been found that eating blueberries can improve the gut microbiome ... and even help heal leaky gut. The anti-inflammatory nature of anthocyanins are part of the reason for this effect.
Beta-Carotene is a carotenoid, like astaxanthin, which is rich in antioxidants for dogs. Red, orange and yellow plants are rich in beta-carotene. Good sources of beta-carotene are carrots, red and yellow bell peppers, squash, cantaloupe and dark leafy greens like spinach and kale.
Beta-carotene has two roles in your dog’s body. Once eaten, it acts as an antioxidant and an immune system booster. It is also a provitamin A carotenoid. That means it converts into vitamin A. Vitamin A is important for your dog’s skin, coat, muscles and nerves.
It also helps:
- Improve vision health
- Restore the immune system
- Improve cognitive function
- Protect skin from sun damage
- Prevent cancer
There was a former US president who didn’t like his broccoli. Perhaps if he’d known of its powerful benefits, he’d have eaten it at every meal. Luckily, you can feed it to your dog as often as you’d like.
Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, kale and cauliflower. And cruciferous veggies are rich in sulforaphane, which fights cancer and detoxifies the liver. It also reduces pain, slows aging and supports the heart.
And like the blueberry, sulforaphane crosses the blood-brain barrier to increase antioxidant activity in the brain.
Sulforaphane needs to be released to be of benefit. It needs to combine with another enzyme within the veggies. To do this you have to chew or damage the vegetable or leaf.
We know your dog isn’t going to chew his veggies. But you can chop them into small pieces or bruise the leaves by rolling them between your hands. Or you can lightly steam them below 155 degrees for no more than 3 minutes.
By far the best way to feed your dog sulforaphane is to give him broccoli sprouts. The younger the sprouts, the better. Just sprinkle or mix into your dog’s food. Feed sulforaphane daily because it leaves your dog’s body after 24 hours. You’ll want him to have its benefits every day.
It’s easy to feed your dog a fruit or vegetable salad of antioxidants. Like anything, just feed in moderation. And you want to spread them out and give him a variety. That way your dog gets the benefits of these health boosting antioxidants every day.
Written By Joanne Keenan
Joanne is a writer on the Dogs Naturally Content Team. For 20 years, she’s been committed to maintaining a multi-dog household reared on raw meat, whole foods and good manners. She coined “chew factor” as her method to keep her first puppy pair occupied by chewing on frozen raw bones. With interests in human and canine nutrition and fitness, she is finally using her journalism background to explore interests close to her heart and her dogs.