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Itchy skin. Clumps of hair falling out. Chronic diarrhea. No, I’m not describing my last boyfriend! I’m describing my rescue dog, Chase, the four-legged love of my life.
It was January 2002, and I had just brought Chase home from the shelter, where he’d spent six months languishing in a cement run. Beneath his emaciated frame and dull coat, I sensed a shining diamond waiting to be revealed, and turned to food as the answer. And so began my journey into the world of canine nutrition — a journey I am excited to share with you. More than 13 years later, Chase is a “super senior” and testament to the power of a healthy diet. Here are five “superfoods” that help keep Chase looking and acting half his age.
Blueberries get their beautiful blue hue from anthocyanins, phytonutrients (plant chemicals) that are associated with lots of health benefits. Anthocyanins reportedly have powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties; help fight cancer in several ways, including preventing growth of cancer cells; are shown to improve memory and decrease age-related loss of brain function in older animals; and help protect the heart.
Blueberries also contain the compound pterostilbene — pronounced tero-STILL-bean — a powerful antioxidant shown to possess anti-tumor properties and prevent the spread of cancer cells. The next time you indulge in a bowlful of blueberries, why not offer some to your dog? Chase loves his mixed with goat milk yogurt!
Once dissed as a “bad” saturated fat, coconut oil actually boasts a bunch of health benefits, for humans as well as dogs. Coconut oil contains mostly medium-chain triglycerides, dietary fats that are more rapidly and easily digested, absorbed, and used by the body than long-chain triglycerides common in other fats. MCTs supply a rapid form of energy that is readily available for the body to use and is easy on the digestive system. They also provide efficient energy to the brain and are shown to improve cognitive function in older dogs. If your dog is overweight, MCTs may help support weight loss by increasing his metabolism and helping his body burn more fat. Try adding a dollop of virgin coconut oil on top of some fresh blueberries!
Omega-3 fatty acids are “essential” fats because the body cannot make them and so must get them from food. Fish oil is rich in eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid — EPA and DHA, respectively — the most bioavailable types of omega-3 fatty acids for dogs. Omega-3s are highly anti-inflammatory, so they can help combat a wide range of inflammatory diseases, including osteoarthritis, cancer, and obesity. DHA is a key fat in the brain, eyes, and heart, and is vital to healthy cognitive function, vision, and cardiovascular health.
Research has shown that puppies supplemented with fish oil experience better cognitive ability; better physical motor skills, such as coordination and dexterity; and better retinal function. Opt for a human-grade fish oil supplement made from small fish, such as sardines and anchovies; these do not accumulate chemical toxins, such as mercury, like large, carnivorous fish.
Go for the raw stuff. Raw honey is unpasteurized and so retains important antioxidants, minerals, natural enzymes, and phytonutrients destroyed during heating. It also contains powerful anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. Raw honey helps boost immunity, fight infection, and promote digestive health. Locally sourced raw honey may even help prevent your dog’s seasonal allergies; since local honey contains pollen spores, consuming it can slowly build immunity to the allergy-causing pollen.
Consult with your veterinarian if your dog is diabetic or overweight, since one tablespoon contains about 17 grams of sugar and 70 calories. Also, never feed raw honey to puppies, because it can become contaminated with a botulism-related toxin; adult dogs are not affected. Chase loves a teaspoon of raw honey mixed with some gluten-free oatmeal, blueberries, and a dollop of coconut oil for breakfast!
Spirulina is a class of microscopic blue-green algae that grows in warm, fresh water. Feeding
algae to your dog might seem weird, but the health benefits of spirulina are amazing! This protein-packed food contains many important nutrients, such as vitamin B complex, vitamin E, minerals, chlorophyll, phytonutrients, gamma-linolenic acid, and superoxide dismutase (a potent free-radical scavenger).
Spirulina gets its green pigment from chlorophyll and its blue color from phycocyanin, a compound with strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic, anti-cancer, and liver-protective properties. Add about 1⁄4 teaspoon per cup of food to super-charge your dog’s diet.
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About the author: Diana R. Laverdure, the Pet Food Diva, is an award-winning dog health writer, pet nutrition consultant, and healthy pet food advocate. She is the author (with W. Jean Dodds, D.V.M.) of the new book Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health and is currently writing her dissertation toward her master’s degree in animal science. Her weekly blog posts at petfooddiva.com discuss creating optimum health in our companion animals based on the principles of nutrigenomics, the science of how diet affects gene expression, and cellular health. Connect with her on the Pet Food Diva Facebook page and on Twitter at @PetFoodDiva.