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A complete guide to superfoods for dogs - Part 1

Guest authored by Bangaluru-based canine nutritionist, Manssi SK Saha

Lana Paws blog post on superfoods for dogs

What are superfoods?

It may come as a surprise to you, but the word “Superfoodis not an official term for any kind of food. It's a marketing term coined to express the idea that some foods are more superior in nature than others. All foods offer nutrition and benefits to the body. However, the reason behind the term “super”  is that these particular foods are deemed to have extraordinary nutrient density. This means that these foods will offer more nutrients packed gram to gram compared with other foods.

Why should we include them in our dog’s diet? 

Foods that offer maximum health impact in the minimum amount of calories or quantity required, tend to be a bang for your buck, so to speak! You share a lot of the superfoods with your dog, that could be included in the diet on a regular basis that are nutritionally dense and pack in health benefits immediately and in the long run. These foods help you fight disease, build immunity and provide good energy. Like you, your dog has a daily requirement of a variety of nutrients for the complex job of keeping their body functioning at a healthy optimal level. 

Needless to say that these “Superfoods” are going to be natural in form, ideally organically grown without GMO and is used in the diet with minimal processing to retain its nutrition to the highest level possible! Only then, will it be of any use to the body. 

The reason for the increasing concern with commercial processed dog food is the fact that there is a huge nutritional loss in the processing of the food. And to top it off, the quality of ingredients used is sub-par to say the very least! The kind of damage this kind of feeding does to the body over time is oftentimes irreparable. 

So, the answer to why you SHOULD include these superfoods in your dog’s food is that, if your dog is on Kibble, the incredibly nutrient-packed ingredients mentioned below will give your dog’s body the fighting chance it needs to heal and repair itself. 

If your dog is on Fresh food (Like all dogs should be), then adding these to their diet will fortify an already strong foundation you are building with the main meals. 

Overview of the top 12 superfoods for your dog:

Some of these you may be adding and not know how SUPER they really are! Some of them might be new to you and are worth looking over to see if your dog could benefit from them. Importantly, not all of them are exotic, hard to find ingredients! Good news is, you won't have to go further than your local organic health store to find them.

  1. Spirulina
  2. Kelp
  3. Kefir
  4. Cold pressed coconut oil
  5. Hemp Seed oil
  6. Bone broths
  7. Flax seed oil / Chia seed oil
  8. Mushrooms
  9. Local Raw(Unprocessed) Honey
  10. Organic, cage free Eggs
  11. Blueberries
  12. Omega 3 
  13. BONUS - Nutritional Yeast!! 

Spirulina:

Lana Paws blog on superfoods for dogs

Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae that grows naturally in oceans and salty lakes in subtropical climates. Spirulina was once classified as a plant because of "its richness in plant pigments as well as its ability of photosynthesis," according to a study published in the journal Cardiovascular Therapeutics. New understanding of its genetics caused scientists to move it to the Bacteria kingdom  — studied extensively because of its high nutritional as well as potential therapeutic values, according to the study's authors.

Some of the reported benefits of Spirulina are:

  • Spirulina is extremely high in many nutrients,  
    • Protein: 4 grams
    • Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
    • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
    • Vitamin B3 (niacin)
    • Copper
    • Iron
    • It also contains decent amounts of magnesium, potassium and manganese and small amounts of almost every other nutrient that you need.
    • Gram to gram, Spirulina might be one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet! 
  • Powerful Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Properties.
    • Spirulina is a fantastic source of  antioxidants that protect the body
    • Oxidative stress can damage your DNA and Cells
    • The active ingredient in Spirulina is called phycocyanin, this is what gives it the green-blue color
    • Phycocyanin can fight free radicals and inhibit the production of inflammatory signaling molecules, providing impressive antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects
  • Can Lower “Bad” LDL and Triglyceride Levels
    • Studies have been found to report that small doses of Spirulina taken daily have shown to reduce BAD cholesterol and triglycerides. 
    • This has shown to prevent and manage heart disease in early stages. 
  • May Have Anti-Cancer Properties.
    • Here, in India, there have been studies that have shown great promise in the ability Spirulina has to reduce and prevent growth of cancer and tumors. 
    • However, some of these studies have also shown that when the subjects stopped taking Spirulina the tumors returned in the following 12 months. 
    • Obviously more research is needed in this field, but the results seem very promising
  • May Reduce Blood Pressure
    • Spirulina may lead to higher levels of Nitric oxide in the blood which is a major factor in the signaling of the blood vessels to relax and contract. 
    • Lowering blood pressure with natural remedies such as Spirulina might prevent medication, and not to mention chronic heart disease, cardiac failure and kidney disease. 
  • May Be Effective Against Anemia.
    • Keep in mind that more research is needed in this area. 
    • There are many kinds of anemia, one of the most common ones is when the red blood cells and hemoglobin is reduced in the blood. 
    • This typically happens during infections, and is accompanied by fatigue and low energy. 
    • Spirulina has been seen to increase red blood cells and hemoglobin and improve immunity, but exact dosages for this are unknown. 
  • May reduce blood sugar levels.
    • There have been some small and short studies that have shown that a daily dose of Spirulina reduced blood sugar levels significantly. 
    • Small study sizes mean that more research is warranted.
    • However, the results have been promising enough. 

There is a long list of benefits of Spirulina and certainly an impressive one. There isn't an aspect of good health that this microscopic organism has not covered. However, there are a few words of caution. Typical dosage is 1-2 grams per day. And although for certain specific results it may need to be higher, it is recommended that you consult a qualified Nutritionist to calculate that for your dog's specific issues. Spirulina does not get toxic in high doses, but it does come with its side effects if overdone. 

Side effects can be symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, gastric discomfort or vomiting. Also, the source of this supplement should be clean and contamination-free, or you will do more harm than good. 

Bottom line is that this is an impressive gift of nature. It definitely belongs in your dog’s diet. 

HOW MUCH: Start with a pinch or two per meal. Based on the size of your dog, you can go up to 1gm per day. ( 1 gram of powder is quite a lot - do not eyeball it at the risk of overdoing it!)

Kelp:

Lana Paws blog on the guide to superfoods for dogs

Kelp is a type of seaweed called brown algae. Kelp is eaten as food in Japan, Alaska, and Hawaii. Kelp is a good source of folic acid (one of the B vitamins), as well as many other vitamins. It also contains minerals such as iodine, potassium, calcium, and iron.

The kelp I'm referring to here is specifically Deep sea kelp. Bladder wrack, which is also known as brown kelp has different remedial uses. 

The rich mix of iodine and other minerals in kelp makes it an ideal supplement to keep your dog’s entire glandular system, particularly the thyroid, adrenal and pituitary glands, in healthy working order. This ensures an efficiently working metabolic system, and we all know how important that is for health. 

Here are some of the main benefits of Kelp as a supplement:

  • It is great for itchy skin. It reduces itching, helps with allergies and the inflammation that comes with it. 
  • Kelp contains a variety of amino acids. One of them is Tyrosine, which alongside iodine ( which is also in kelp) makes hormones that help the thyroid gland function properly. 
  • Since it has Anti-inflammation properties, it has been known to help with arthritis. 
  • Kelp also regulates the glandular system, specifically the pituitary gland, the thyroid glands and the adrenal glands. This has an impact on better functioning of the metabolic system, thus helping with constipation, digestive issues, acidity, heartburn, and weight management. 
  • The combination of soluble fiber, calcium, potassium, iron, boron, and vitamins A, B12, C, and E all work together to provide these benefits.

The important things to remember about Kelp are that although it has all these wonderful properties mentioned above, and it is known to regulate the glandular function, if overdone, it can lead to thyroid-related issues. In carefully calculated doses, it helps the thyroid gland function optimally. But if your dog has thyroid issues then the iodine in Kelp could worsen the problem. If your dog is on any Thyroid medication then DO NOT use Kelp. 

If your dog has an allergy to iodine itself then this would not be a suitable supplement to add to their diet. 

If your dog has liver or kidney diseases, this would NOT be a supplement to consider for your dog. 

It is NOT meant for pregnant for lactating female dogs, and it is not to be given to puppies. 

HOW MUCH: Start with a pinch or two per meal for puppies under six months of age.

Kefir:

Lana Paws blog dog superfood guide India

I did a workshop on Kefir a while back and I cannot stop raving about the amazing benefits of this amazing fermented probiotic! At Doggiliciouuswe make fresh to order kefir and use it for a variety of benefits it provides the dogs. 

What is Kefir? It is fermented Milk. Probiotic bacteria found in kefir products include: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus, Lactobacillus helveticus, Lactobacillus kefiranofaciens, Lactococcus lactis, and Leuconostoc species.

Compared to regular curd that only has Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactococcus lactis, Lactococcus cremoris. Kefir contains a larger number of different types of healthy bacteria, and it's better for the gastrointestinal tract because of this.

Kefir also has a variety of yeast in it that controls yeast overgrowth on your dog. So if your dog regularly suffers from yeast infections then Kefir is a must in your dog’s daily routine. Sourcing good quality, thick, creamy kefir is important. 

Along with this there is a host of vitamins and minerals lending their forces to pretty powerful healing qualities. 

If this was not enough, it has been shown to help tremendously with leaky gut, anemia, allergies, repeated skin infections (including dry flaky skin), gastritis, recurring digestive issues, strengthening of bones and joints and immune boosting! 

What more can you ask for from one single SUPERFOOD! 

Doses are pretty flexible, but one rule applies to all. Start small and increase slowly. 

Most dogs love the tangy/tart taste of it. It's versatile and can be mixed into food. Mixed with buttermilk in the summer months as a snack. Or it can be added to a bowl of curd in the afternoons as a cooling snack. 

HOW MUCH: 

Small dogs - Start ½ - 1 tsp -- go up to -- 1 tablespoons / day

Medium dogs - Start 1tsp -- go up to -- 2 tablespoons / day

Large dogs - Start 1.5 tsp -- go up to -- 2-4 tablespoons / day.  

Giant dogs - Start with 1 tablespoon -- go up to -- 4-5 tablespoons / day. 

Cold Pressed Coconut oil:

Lana Paws blog canine health and nutrition

Over the last 5-8 years, we have been increasingly hearing about a term called “good fats”. This is not a new phenomenon. And it wasn't invented 5 years ago! It's been around for thousands of years. Our Ayurveda's mention it and now the world seems to have caught on. 

The reason coconut oil makes it to the list of POWER foods is that it's very good fat, indeed. It is made up of Medium chain triglycerides (MCT), and this is what makes it so good. It does not oxidize very easily and this makes it a very stable oil, making it very easy to cook your dog’s food with. 

It has so many benefits, it deserves a list: 

  1. It had innate anti-inflammatory properties - so it helps with joints and other systemic inflammation to bring it down. 
  2. All healthy fats help with joint mobility and keeping them more lubricated
  3. All healthy fats aid in smooth digestion and bowel movement - preventing constipation. 
  4. It is an immune booster. 
  5. It is great for soft, supple and shiny skin. ( For you too!)
  6. It improves the shine and quality of the coat. 
  7. It has Antimicrobial properties - which allows it to combat minor bacterial infections and yeast overgrowth. 
  8. It heals wounds, cuts, scrapes, and burns when applied topically.
  9. It promotes collagen regeneration and allows for minimal scarring while healing a wound. Great for surgical scars - Old and new. 
  10. Increases cognition and brain function - especially useful in developmental years in puppyhood, and in old age. 
  11. Last but not least - It fights Cancer! Cancer cells CAN NOT metabolize fats. They rely solely on sugars to grow and multiply. 

HOW MUCH:  

Use as needed to cook the food in, or fry up some eggs. For best benefits, 

Drizzle ½ - 1 tsp (Based on do’s size) on top of your dog’s food just before serving. 

Cold pressed, Virgin Coconut oil is recommended. 

Hemp seed oil:

Canine health and nutrition Lana Paws blog

Many of us have wondered if Hemp seed oil, CBD oil, with THC(the psychoactive component of Cannabis) without THC, minimal THC, is all a passing fad? Which one is best and what does it actually do? Is it a hippie revolution? Is it scientific? Is there enough research to back up all these stories? 

Well, like with many things in life, there were no definitive answers at the time. But slowly, research is emerging, facts are getting corroborated, and the list of benefits along with the evidence that supports it, is slowly taking the front stage! 

Some facts:

Hemp and Marijuana are botanical variants of a family of plants called Cannabis Sativa. They are cousins, much like wolves and dogs. Although the same family, their chemical composition and the way they are grown are quite different. Hemp has almost no THC, but is higher on CBD (the healing wonderful properties everyone is raving about). This makes it legal in countries that recognize the difference between the cousins. The industrial plantation of Hemp has been recently made legal in India. Since Hemp also has tremendous industrial uses, it grows fast and is sustainable. 

Some Research:

A study showed that hemp oil has properties that inhibit certain bacterial activity that cause skin infections, pneumonia. 

A study showed that hemp oil is very complex in its composition and although more research is needed to know exactly which compounds help, it concluded that hemp oil improved cognitive ability, learning capacity, memory, improved brain tissue, alleviated dementia, showed neuroprotective qualities and so on and more. 

Another study supported the hypothesis that hemp seed has the potential to beneficially influence heart disease. A mix of legal issues and misunderstandings has slowed research progress in this area but enough data presently exists to argue strongly for the continued investigation into the therapeutic efficacy of dietary hempseed.

A study looked at the effects of full spectrum CBD compounds on different types of pain in animals and concluded that it does help relieve pain of various types. 

A study conducted on children with drug-resistant epilepsy showed an 84% improvement in frequency of seizures with the controlled administration of CBD. 

Benefits and Uses: 

  • Skin - Infections, inflammations, eczema, Psoriasis, Dry skin, Unhealthy coat. 
  • Cardiac health - High cholesterol, Blood pressure, Coronary heart disease, Artery blockages.
  • Pain management - Neuropathic pain, Inflammatory pain, Cancer pain, Chronic pain, Muscular pain, Rheumatic pain, Arthritic pain. 
  • Brain function - Antioxidant & anti-neuroinflammatory properties, Improved cognition, improved memory, improved learning. 
  • Research has suggested that it could have anti-cancer properties due to the presence of GLA 
  • It has Omega 3 and 6 - so all the benefits of the essential fatty acids. 
  • May reduce anxiety. ( Could be useful for fearful dogs, and dogs with separation anxiety)
  • Helps the immune system function optimally - being able to fight off infections. 
  • Could help seizures in epileptic dogs. 
  • Helps with bowel disease.
  • HUGE BENEFIT - it's safe, unlike so many synthetic supplements.  

Since the oils in hemp seeds go rancid rather quickly, they are best kept in the refrigerator away from light, in a dark bottle. Be aware that heating hemp seeds will destroy the nutritional benefits of the fatty acids so add them to foods after cooking. 

HOW MUCH: 

5-10kg dogs - ¼ tsp

11-20 kg dogs - ½ tsp

21-30 kg dogs - ¾ tsp

31- 40kg dogs - ¾ tsp

40 kg + - 1 tsp.

Side Effects

While generally considered safe, here are some side effects to be aware of. Because of the high-fat content – even though it’s the good kind – it may cause diarrhea. Start with approximately half of the recommended dosage and work your way up to the full dose over a week or two. As of 2011 hemp seeds were not known to interact with common medications.

Bone Broths:

Lana Paws blog dog superfoods guide

This is a very undervalued and underused health building tool in India. Perhaps because we do not have easy access to farm-raised, pasture-fed and grass-finished meat and bones. Perhaps because we do not always know the full supply chain of the end meat product. But nonetheless, it would be worth investing some time and effort into sourcing the right kind of meat and bones to make Bone Broths! 

What is bone broth? It is a soup that is made by simmering bones (sometimes with meat) for many hours, with organic apple cider vinegar and a few herbs like basil or mint. This slowly breaks down all the nutrients from the bones and cartilage making the broth extremely nutritious. 

Benefits and Uses:

Where can I start about the benefits….There are so many! Like all the foods that have made the cut, Bone broths are very versatile in its uses and benefits. 

  1. It's a soother for the tummy! Got upset tummy for pups adults or senior dogs, this will do the trick! 
  2. It's an appetite stimulator - great for fussy eaters, great for snacks, great as an add on in meals. 
  3. The plethora of nutrients in the broths support joint health, stimulate cartilage growth and help in joint lubrication. 
  4. It helps in all sorts of inflamed gut conditions to reduce the inflammation and yet deliver great quality nutrition to the body. 
  5. It's a great weight-loss snack. Filling, satisfying and yet not high on calories. 
  6. Helps sound sleep - super important for the body to heal and repair! 
  7. Strengthens all connective Tissue - That covers - skin, tendons, ligaments, nerves, muscles! 
  8. May help soothe Joint pain. An absolute must for dogs with arthritis and hip dysplasia. 
  9. The nutritional profile ( based on the quality of the bones used) reduces inflammation in the body, thus helping with pain, thus helping with sleep. 
  10. It can be used to detox the Liver and Kidneys. ( Humans go on bone broth fasting for 24 to 48 hours every month to achieve a deep cleansing of these organs) 
  11. The micronutrient profile boosts immunity - Mutton soup and paya soup are age old recipes that have been used to heal the sick. It helps raise immunity and gives energy. 
  12. Boosts skin health also - can be used for dogs that don't have soft supple shiny skin - the collagen in the broth helps rebuild the proteins in the skin, making it healthy, soft and young. 
  13. Broth is also rich in minerals - namely magnesium, zinc which are easy to absorb - that play an important role in restful sleep and repair of the body. 

HOW MUCH: 

You can prepare broths in batches and store them in the freezer in small containers for one-time use. Store in airtight containers after its room temperature. 

Puppies - Can have small quantities mixed in meals / or as small liquid snacks

Adult dogs - as an afternoon snack / or added into their meals as a supplement.

Sick dogs - As a meal replacement / 2 - 3 times a day as small snacks

Senior dogs - Added to their meals / 2 -3 times a day as small snacks

Dogs on liquid diets - Can have this as the main base for adding other semi-liquid foods. 

The second part of the 2-part blog series on 'Superfoods for Dogs' will follow soon. 

Manssi SK Saha is a canine nutritionist and founder of Bengaluru-based Doggiliciouus. Connect with Manssi on Instagram or Facebook. 

 


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