Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.
Antioxidants are substances that may reduce the cellular damage done by free radicals in our bodies. A lot of us are concerned about aging changes in our dogs and there is a lot of good research showing that antioxidants can slow down degenerative changes to a dog's DNA. Antioxidants have been recommended for allergies, skin diseases, eye diseases, respiratory and cardiac disease.
There is a lot of ignorance about this subject for humans and dealing with the situation is even worse. You can make a difference by giving your dog antioxidants. Which ones should you be giving?
Antioxidant Sources for Your Dog
- Coconut oil
- Grape seed extract
- Palm oil
- Sweet potatoes
Açai is a type of fruit found on a palm tree originally from the Amazon region. The berry has generated a lot of interest for several reasons and one of them is its antioxidant properties. The açai fruit contains beta-carotene, Vitamin C, and vitamin E: the berries are supposed to slow oxidation in the body and in that way prevent damage to cells.
Açai does contain some theobromine. I searched in several languages but cannot find any sources with the exact amount. Are the potential benefits greater than the potential risks? I guess that depends on what and how you are using the fruit. If you have the product available, and your dog is at risk of cancer and arthritis, there are holistic veterinarians who believe in it and are using it in therapy. There have never been any reported cases of poisoning, and the ASPCA poison control center does not consider açai to be a threat in poisoning your dog.
Acerola and Other Sources of Vitamin C
Dogs produce Vitamin C so some veterinarians say that they do not need supplements. Others point out the benefits of megadoses if it is used properly. Vitamin C in effective doses will make the skin healthier, strengthen blood vessels, and make the immune system stronger.
If you want to give your dog plenty of Vitamin C and are also trying to maintain your dog on natural supplements, he can be given pulp or fresh acerola, also known as acerola cherries. Acerola is even higher in Vitamin C than citrus fruits like the orange. It can also be purchased in powder form for those who have no access to the fresh fruit.
There is not much information about the positive effects of Vitamin C supplements in dogs but plenty of information about the bad effects. Vitamin C does tend to lower the urine pH and will dissolve struvite stones. It will not dissolve calcium oxalate stones so it is important to have a urinalysis done periodically to make sure there is not going to be a problem.
If your dog needs the benefits of Vitamin C (for example in his skin and immune system) this is one of the antioxidants you should be using.
Other Helpful Antioxidant Sources
- Palm oil and carrots both provide a lot of vitamin A. Vitamin A is used by the body in keeping the skin healthy, protecting mucus membranes, helping eyesight, and making the immune system strong. If your dog eats a small piece of liver once a week, has sweet potato or carrot snacks, or even eats an egg a few times a week, he will not become deficient in this vitamin. Besides night blindness, a rough skin, and weakness, a deficiency of Vitamin A can make your dog more susceptible to infections.
- Almonds and sunflower seed oil are great sources of vitamin E. Vitamin E is a fat soluble antioxidant. Besides slowing cellular aging it is helpful in heart disease, cancer, and allergies. I recommend natural sources because there is still a lot we do not know about this subject and processed products might be missing out on some things, but if your dog does not like the vegetable sources of vitamin E you can always give her the capsules or put a teaspoon of sunflower oil on her food.
- Astaxanthin is an antioxidant found in shrimp, crabs, and red trout. It is even more potent than the older vitamins that we are familiar with and crosses the blood-brain barrier so can have even more effect on senile dogs.
- Beef, eggs, and chicken all contain the antioxidant selenium. It is the only mineral on this list. It may be the best antioxidant to slow down aging changes since it keeps the tissue more elastic. It may be helpful in cancer cases or dogs that are being treated with chronic steroid doses but it is toxic if given incorrectly so should only be used if your dog is under medical care for a separate condition.
- Milk Thistle contains an antioxidant that seems to limit free radical damage in the liver. It protects liver cell membranes, makes the bile flow freer, and seems to even protect the liver from any new damage.
- Grape Seed Extract is found in some of the antioxidants for humans. It is supposed to be highly bioavailable and especially useful in cancer and heart disease. Many readers will be aware of the danger of feeding grapes to their dogs but the most current research indicates the toxin is in the flesh of the raisin. The seed is safe and there have been no reported problems. There are so many available antioxidants that personally I would not choose to use this product. If your dog is suffering from cancer and this is one of the alternatives, however, it would be worth trying.
There are other antioxidants useful in dogs that we are not even aware of at this time.
I give my dogs açai each week on her dog food so that I can see the results myself. The problem with this type of experiment is that the results are only anecdotal. My dog is already in great shape and has a glossy and healthy coat. She is of mixed breed heritage and both of her parents are healthy so I do not expect her to have any genetic diseases. I live in an isolated area so she is exposed to few environmental toxins. Even if she lives to fifteen or twenty, what does that prove? I can claim it is because of the antioxidants, another person will claim it is because of the lack of environmental poisons, another person will claim that it is because I give her raw food several times a week.
Antioxidants are available in a lot of foods available fresh in the US and Europe. If you do not have access to the sources I have described, then blueberries are one of the best. Most whole foods with deep red, purple or blue colors are high in antioxidants, and some research indicates that the antioxidant levels in wild blueberries are even higher than açai. These antioxidants may not be as bioavailable, though, and a lot of research is being done in that area. In one article I found the researchers were trying to investigate a link between fiber levels and the availability of the antioxidants. It is still not clear which of these foods is really better, especially for your dog. All I can recommend at this time is that you give antioxidants. I cannot prove all of the benefits, but the available research backs me up.
They will help your dog.
You can watch a dog eating açai, just in case this is too serious!
References and Links
- Brain aging in the canine: a diet enriched in antioxidants reduces cognitive dysfunction, Cotman et al, Neurobiology and Aging, 2002 Sep-Oct;23(5):809-18.<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12392784>.
- Oxidative stress and food supplementation with antioxidants in therapy dogs, Sechi et al, Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research, 2017 Jul; 81(3): 206–216.<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5508397/>.
- Role of dietary antioxidants to protect against DNA damage in adult dogs, Heaton et al, Journal of Nutrition, 2002 Jun;132(6 Suppl 2):1720S-4S. doi: 10.1093/jn/132.6.1720S. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12042506>.
- Vitamin E supplementation in canine atopic dermatitis: improvement of clinical signs and effects on oxidative stress markers, Capun et al, Veterinary Record 2014 Dec 6;175(22):560 <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25205675>.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 22, 2014:
That is a definite possibility, Marilyn, but she definitely has clinical signs of a problem.
I feed my dogs raw, and would not subject them to vitamins and antioxidants destroyed by heat, so in my mind cooking, even a homemade diet, is not a good solution.
Marilyn on March 22, 2014:
The dog with the crusty nose in the photo is probably just in need of a real food diet (not commercial dog food). Not knowing better, I fed my first dog commercial dog food and she had chronic problems with a dry and cracked nose. Later in her life I switched to home made cooked dog food, and raised all of my other dogs on real food. None of them ever had problems with their noses or skin.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 26, 2012:
It is that orange liquid product in the Ebay ad up above. I buy it locally (I even have one of the palms in my yard but I just give the fruit to my chickens) but in the local markets it is for sale in liquid form for humans. Neighbors always comment about how glossy my dogs coat is and I think (but cannot prove) that it is from the extra Vitamin E that she gets in her diet. If you don't want to get it from Ebay I am sure many exotic food stores in AL will carry it also. Hope it helps!
wetnosedogs from Alabama on July 26, 2012:
I'd like to hear more about the palm oil you give your dog, please. How much do you give and where do you get it? Sounds like something that would benefit my dogs.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 26, 2012:
I really wish I had better info to put out there since it might help a lot of people. Thanks for the comment.
Bob Bamberg on July 26, 2012:
Thumbs up, useful, interesting. There is a lot of conflicting info out there and this hub is a useful, one-stop resource for dazed pet owners who just want to keep their dogs healthy.