Antioxidants for dogs and cats: What are they and what do they do?
An antioxidant is a compound that neutralizes free radicals. Free radicals are naturally produced in the body from many different metabolic and physiological reactions.
At low levels, free radicals are relatively harmless and are involved in regular functions for the body. However, under different conditions, such as in disease or obese states, they can build up and cause oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress can have many negative consequences including damage to cells and DNA. This can lead to higher risks of chronic diseases. Notably, cancer risk is much higher when the body is under oxidative stress.
This is where antioxidants come in! Antioxidants are natural compounds that have a unique chemical structure in which they have an unpaired electron. This chemical structure can bind to, and neutralize, free radicals in the body.
Some antioxidants also have the ability to indirectly reform other antioxidants – essentially increasing the antioxidant capacity of the body!
Under normal conditions, our pet’s bodies use vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, and selenium, among other nutrients, to maintain a healthy balance of free radicals.
Why do I want Antioxidants in my Pet’s Food?
For starters, antioxidants such as vitamin A, C, and E, and selenium are essential vitamins and minerals for your pets, meaning that your pet requires them in their diet. They have many functions, including neutralizing free radicals.
In addition to their typical functions and roles, studies have shown that there may be health benefits to having additional antioxidants in the diet.
A study in healthy Beagles showed that adding natural antioxidants to their food promoted antioxidant levels in the blood and subsequently limited negative effects of free radicals.
Currently, the majority of conclusive research for antioxidants and health benefits has focused on their preventative effects. Antioxidants may have a role in disease management and treatment, however, there are many variables involved and so their capabilities are currently inconclusive.
Sources of Antioxidants for Dogs and Cats
Luckily, antioxidants are widely available in food – especially fruits and vegetables!
Popular antioxidants can include:
- Vitamin E: Found in spinach, pumpkin, bell peppers, and vegetable oils
- Vitamin C: Found in bell peppers, potatoes, broccoli, and berries
- Vitamin A: Found in carrots, bell peppers, eggs, and fish
- Carotenoids (i.e. beta-carotene, lycopene): Found high in carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers
- Polyphenols: Found in turmeric, goji berries, blueberries, and spinach
As with anything, moderation is key! Antioxidants can certainly be supplemented into your pet’s food. However, too much can have negative consequences as well such as toxicity of a vitamin or mineral. In addition, too much antioxidant capacity could cause too much neutralization of free radicals, which can have its own health consequences.
Choose a meal for your pet that contains antioxidants to avoid the need to supplement additional antioxidants in your pet’s diet.
If you have any additional questions about antioxidants, or nutrition for your pet, do not hesitate to reach out to us!
Article written by:
BSc.H. | MSc. | PhD. Student in Animal Nutrition
- Ginter E., Panakova V. 2014. Antioxidants in health and disease. Bratisl Lek Listy, 115(10):603-606.
- Sagols E., Priymenko N. 2011. Oxidative stress in dog with heart failure: the role of dietary fatty acids and antioxidants. Vet Med International.
- Schlieck TMM. et al. 2021. Addition of a blend of essential oils (cloves, rosemary and oregano) and vitamin E to replace conventional chemical antioxidants in dog feed: effects on food quality and health of beagles. Archive Anim Nutr.