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Supplements for Your Dogs- Part 1

Article Author: J.Gregorich

Maximize Your Dog's Health, Vitality, and Longevity by J.Gregorich

Do you ever wonder if your dog's food provides all the nutrients he or shee needs for optimal health? With the many supplements formulated specifically for pets that are lining store shelves these days, it makes sense to ask yourself if there's anything you should be adding to your dog's meals. On the other head, you may have heard about the dangers of "unbalancing" your dog's diet with supplements. So what's the answer?

Why Supplement Your Dog's Diet

If you are feeding a commerical dog food, chances are the food claims to provide "complete and balanced" nutrition. Doesn't this mean your dog is already getting all the nutrients he or she needs in the right amounts? Not necessarily. Dog foods labeled "complete and balanced" must meet an AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) nutrient profile or pass a feeding trail, but doing so requires only that the food does not product pathological signs of nutritional deficiency or excess in the average dog over a 26 week period. Not that impressive, is it? Moreover, up to 25% of the dogs in an AAFCO feeding trial can drop out from malnutrition and the food still passes. As for the AAFCO nutrient profiles, they are based on guidelines established by the National Research Council (NRC), but while the NRC updated its recommendations in 2006, AAFCO nutrient profiles were last revised in 1995.

Canine nutrition is a constantly evolving field, and AAFCO nutrient profiles do no encompass nutritional studies and discoveries from the last fifteen years. This is particulary striking in the area of fatty acid research. For instance, dog foods need not contain any omega-3 fatty acids to be labeled "complete and balanced," despite compelling evidence linking omege-3 deficiency (and omege-6 excess) to everthing from inflammatory disorders to cancer. Even when nutrients are required by AAFCO nutrient profiles, amounts need only be sufficient to prevent deficiency symptoms in the average dog. If your dog isn't average or you would like to provide your dog with more than the bare minimum necessary for survival, supplementation may be the answer.

To be fair, there are super premium dog foods that provide far more than the core nutrients and minimum amounts suggested by the AAFCO, but even when a food is formulated based on the latest scientific research, we have to face the fact that- as with foods intended for humans- ingredient quality simply isn't what it used to be. Mineral depleted soil results in foods lacking important trace minerals, while modern livestock farming produces meats, eggs, and dairy products with unbalanced fatty acid profiles. Plant and animal foods alike contain far fewer antioxidants than they did before the advent of factory farming with its heavy reliance on feedlots, grain-based livestock feed, drugs, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides.

Finally, there's the issue of processing. Even dog foods made with quality ingredients lose a good chunk of their nutrients during processing. That's why a glance at just about any dog food ingredient list reveals a long list of synthetic supplements. Unfortunately research indicates that the synthetic versions of many nutrients (B vitamins, vitamin E, conjugated linoleic acid, etc.) simply aren't as effective as the real thing. Therefore I recommend using primarily natural and whole food supplements to make up for these shortfalls.

What to Supplement

The following is a list of some of the most important supplements you can add to your dog's diet. Not only are they successfully used by countless dog owners and breeders, but there is scientific evidence to back up their efficacy. And since we're not adding mega doses of synthetic nutrients, we don't risk creating dietary imbalances through supplementation.

DHA & EPA

What is it: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids found primarily in fatty fish species such as mackerel, salmon, sardines, etc.

Why to supplement it: Modern Western diets -those of our dogs as well as our own- contain far too many omega-6 fatty acids and far too few omega-3 fatty acids. This is a direct result of modern farming practices. For instance, while grass-fed beef has an average omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 1.5:1, the grain-fattened beef products available today provide, on average, eight times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3s. The health consequences of this imbalance are disastrous and include increases in inflammatory disorders, cardiovascular disease, skin problems, mood and brain disorders, and cancer. In fact, recent research suggests that one third of canine cancers are preventable by maintaining an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of no more than 4:1. Unfortunately only a tiny number of super premium dog foods contain omega-3 levels that high. Many dog foods provide no omega-3 fatty acids at all- sometimes due to cost and sometimes because long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids are extremely fragile and decrease the shelf life of kibbles. When a dog food does contain omega-3 fatty acids, they are often supplied by flaxseed or canola oil. However, these plant sources provide alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), not the far more beneficial DHA and EPA. While dogs are theoretically able to convert ALA to DHA and EPA, in actuality, conversion is highly inefficient or even nonexistent (many dogs convert less than 10% ALA to EPA and can't synthesize DHA at all). That's why it's so important to provide dietary sources of DHA and EPA.

How to supplement it: The best way to supplement DHA and EPA is by adding salmon oil or other fish oils to your dog's diet, either as gelcaps or in liquid form. Note that while cod liver oil is also a good source of DHA and EPA, it contains too much vitamin A and D to supplement omega-3 fatty acids in sufficient amounts, so it's best to stick with regular fish oils. As you are probably aware, environmental contamination is a concern with fish. Therefore I strongly recommend purchasing only molecularly distilled fish oil products for daily supplementation.

How much to supplement: The recommended therapeutic dose for heart disease or inflammatory disorders such as arthritis is one gram of fish oil (providing 300 mg of combined DHA and EPA) per 10 pounds of body weight. Colorado State's cancer protocol for canine lymphoma patients calls for even higher doses. If, however, your dog is basically healthy and you are giving fish oil as a preventative, 100 mg of combined DHA and EPA per 10 pounds of body weight are sufficient. Divide into two or more daily doses.

GLA

What is it: GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) is an omega-6 fatty acid that functions more like omega-3 fatty acids in the body.

Why to supplement it: I know what you're thinking. Didn't I just get through telling you that omega-6 fatty acids are already too plentiful in your dog's diet, and now I'm suggesting you add more? True enough, but GLA is no ordinary omega-6 fatty acid. There's an abundance of research indicating that GLA's effects are much closer to those typically associated with omega-3 than omega-6 fatty acids. For instance, GLA has been found to protect against cardiovascular disease, enhance immune function, and trigger apoptosis (cell death) in certain cancer cells. While most omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation, GLA has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. GLA is great for skin and coat health and is frequently combined with fish oil to help treat canine skin disorders. One study found the combination of EPA/DHA (fish oil) and GLA (borage oil) to be as effective as steroids in the treatment of canine dermatitis. While most dogs possess the delta-6-desaturase (D6D) enzyme necessary to synthesize GLA from linolenic acid (which is abundant in most canine diets), D6D production can be depressed for a number of reasons including hypothyroidism, hormonal imbalances, diabetes, infections, cancer, and nutrient deficiencies. Moreover, the amount of linolenic acid in the diet has been shown to have no effect on the levels of GLA produced. This is why it makes sense to add a dietary source of GLA.

How to supplement it: There aren't many potent dietary sources of GLA. The best is borage oil, followed by evening primrose oil and black currant oil. All three are available as gelcaps and in liquid form.

How much to supplement: One gram of borage oil contains 240 mg GLA, and the recommended therapeutic dose for treating skin problems or inflammatory disorders is 100-200 mg of GLA per 10 pounds of body weight. Best if divided into two daily doses. For prevention, approximately 50 mg GLA per 10 pounds of body weight is sufficient.

Vitamin E

What is it: Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant vitamin consisting of a family of four tocopherols and four tocotrienols that protect cells against the destructive effects of free radicals and are instrumental in preventing oxidation of unsaturated fats.

Why to supplement it: While all commercial dog foods contain vitamin E, amounts are usually inadequate to provide optimum benefits. Natural vitamin E has been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and it may offer some protection against cancer as well. Most importantly, adding unsaturated fatty acids - such as the DHA, EPA, and GLA recommended above - to your dog's diet dramatically increases the body's need for vitamin E. If you supplement fats/oils, you should also supplement vitamin E.

How to supplement it: There are natural and synthetic vitamin E supplements. The best vitamin E supplements are natural and contain all eight tocopherols and tocotrienols; the least effective are synthetic and contain only a single tocopherol, most commonly alpha-tocopherol. Most are available as gelcaps, but Country Life makes a good natural vitamin E Complex supplement that comes in a dropper bottle, which is great for dogs that won't eat gelcaps and for small breeds that don't need a whole capsule. For maximum absorption, vitamin E should be given with a meal that contains at least some fat.

How much to supplement: 50-80 IU per 10 pounds of body weight up to a maximum of 600 IU, 4-5 days a week. Vitamin E is stored in the body, so it's not necessary to supplement it every day.

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