Feeding a dog may seem simple: head over to the pet store, buy some kibble and pour it into a food dish beside a bowl of fresh water. However, if you want to ensure your dog lives a healthy life well into the old age, there's some evidence suggesting that specific ingredients incorporated into your dog’s diet may prevent or cure certain canine health problems and diseases.
The reason a specific commercial and homemade dog food diets have been shown to aid in the prevention and treatment of a certain dog disease may not necessarily be the diet itself, but more so some certain ingredients contained in the diet.
There are several superfoods for dogs that have been scientifically proven to be beneficial to canines. Some are simply higher in vitamins, minerals and fiber than others. Likewise, some ingredients contain natural oils and beneficial nutrients like antioxidants.
Let's take a look at three dog food diets that you can feed your canine companion to potentially help prevent and cure diseases (you can use homemade recipes or commercial brands).
1. Antioxidant-Rich Diet
Antioxidants, such as Vitamin E and beta carotene, are organic substances that help protect living cells from oxidative stress by counteracting the damaging effect of free radicals. Because dogs are carnivores and antioxidants come largely from fruits and vegetables, it may seem strange to suggest that dogs may benefit from the addition of antioxidants to their diet, but dogs experience oxidative stress as much as any other animal, including humans.
As dogs age, oxidative stress increases, and dogs begin to exhibit cognitive dysfunction and neuropathological conditions similar to those seen in the brains of human Alzheimer’s patients. In one study, dogs with dementia showed excessive production of free radicals and showed lower levels of Vitamin E, an important antioxidant for fighting free radical damage.
Because oxidative stress and free radical damage seem to contribute significantly to the development of cognitive dysfunction and dementia in dogs, it makes sense that giving your dog an antioxidant-rich diet may help prevent the development of these problems as your dog ages. In fact, an antioxidant rich diet has been shown to improve cognitive function and reduce oxidative damage in aging dogs.
As a side note, these studies on the effects of an antioxidant-rich diet were done in combination with behavioral enrichment techniques, which are ways to get the dog engaged and actively using its brain. One cannot discount the importance of behavioral techniques to keep your dog’s brain active and healthy.
Bottom line: Feeding your dog an antioxidant-rich diet helps prevent dementia and general cognitive decline in your dog’s later years.
2. Diet Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids & Fish Oil
It has long been understood that omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in preventing cardiovascular disease in humans, but new evidence suggests these omega-3 fatty acids may play a similar role in dogs. Because cardiac disease affects about 11% of dogs, it is vital for dog owners to understand ways to prevent or slow the progression of this disease.
To prevent or slow the progression of cardiac disease, it is critical for your dog to maintain an optimal body composition (i.e. an optimal body weight with a significant amount of lean muscle mass), to avoid nutritional deficiencies, and to reap any potential benefits from certain nutrients. As it turns out, omega-3 fatty acids help with all three of these goals.
The loss of lean muscle mass associated with cardiac disease in dogs is largely an inflammatory condition, and omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties. As for nutritional deficiencies associated with cardiac disease, the intake of omega-3 fatty acids, in the form of fish oil, was shown to reduce deficiencies in plasma fatty acid.
Another potential benefit of omega-3 fatty acids, again in the form of fish oil, is that they have been shown to reduce ventricular arrhythmias in dogs. Although more studies need to be done to see the full extent of the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in dogs, there is enough evidence to suggest that the administration of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically the administration of fish oil, may help prevent and slow the progression of cardiac disease in your dog through several mechanisms.
Bottom line: Adding fish oil to your dog’s diet may help prevent cardiac conditions.
3. Diet with Selenium
Selenium (Se), an essential trace element, protects against oxidative stress, so it has the potential to have many of the benefits listed above in the antioxidant section. The problem with selenium is that you need to take a certain amount in order to gain those antioxidant benefits, and too much selenium can be toxic.
There are also studies that show selenium helps prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease, and impaired immune functions in humans. Selenium intake has also been shown to have a significant effect on the long-term health of dogs.
However, there is some debate about the best way to deliver selenium to your dog. A recent study shows that dogs fed a canned food diet, versus a kibble diet, had higher biological activity of selenium. This could be because canned food has a higher percentage of meat protein, which has organically bound selenium.
Kibble diets often need to add selenium to reach the recommended daily allowance for dogs. Considering that dogs are carnivores, it is not surprising that they would more easily digest selenium that is organically bound in meat and meat by-products.
Bottom line: A certain amount of selenium is essential for dogs as an antioxidant protection, and may have more extensive preventative benefits, but too much selenium is toxic, therefore further research is necessary.