The word makes it sound like they’d be healthy, right? But apart from having a vague notion that healthy foods are a good thing, what do you really understand about antioxidants?
Let’s take a quick romp through the world of antioxidants to learn what they are, how they work and how pets (and people) have the most to gain from them. Indeed, we’ll also discover where you find antioxidants naturally and in pet food, and supplements, so that you can decide if your best buddy could do with a little extra.
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What Is an “Antioxidant”?
An antioxidant isn’t a single item; it’s an umbrella term for substances that have a shared property.
Clear as mud? OK, in the same way apples, oranges and pears are all fruits, certain vitamins, minerals, herbs and nutraceuticals are all antioxidants.
What do antioxidants have in common? It is the ability to protect the body’s cells from damage done by free radicals, which cause oxidative change.
Still not clear?
What Is Oxidation?
When you cut an apple in half and leave it in the air for half a day, the cut surfaces go brown.
Free radicals in the air have attacked the exposed cells, which make them go brown. This is oxidation on a scale you can see, but it also happens at a microscopic level inside cells.
What Are Free Radicals?
Did you spot another strange term creep in, like “free radicals”?
Without getting too technical, free radicals are baddies. They are unstable molecules with an electron missing. These unbalanced molecules crash around, like a bull in the proverbial china shop, trying to steal an electron from the cells around them to become balanced again.
Free radicals have been around since time began. However, the modern world encourages the formation of free radicals. Factors that contribute include:
How Do Antioxidant Supplements Help?
Antioxidants are “hero” molecules because they sacrifice themselves to donate an electron and protect cells.
Mother Nature knows about free radicals and has a plan to deal with them. She equips the body with supplies of antioxidants (from food stuffs) to protect against damage, but when the attack is sustained, these reserves become depleted.
By taking extra antioxidants on board, such as eating foods rich in them or giving a supplement, this refuels the body’s defenses.
Giving Pets Antioxidant Supplements
The great thing about antioxidants is that giving a supplement is unlikely to do harm. If the pet doesn’t need the extra, the worst that happens is you waste your money, with little to no harm to the pet (within reason — after all, you can drown in too much water).
For a healthy dog or cat who eats a good, balanced diet, then they take in a good level of antioxidants. They either source them from fresh fruit and veg (on a raw food diet) or from pet food, which is supplemented with them. Indeed, even if you read the label, you might not recognize the antioxidants because they often have chemical-sounding names, such as:
- Sodium ascorbate (Vitamin C)
- Retinyl palmitate (Vitamin A)
- Alpha tocopherol (Vitamin E)
The best sources of natural antioxidants are fruit or veg that have rich, deep colors, such as:
- Ruby red grapefruit
- Dark leafy vegetables
- Green beans
However, if your pet has a health problem or is exposed to high levels of pollution, then an antioxidant supplement over and above this is a good idea.
Health Conditions That Benefit the Most
Those problems that definitely benefit from an antioxidant supplement include:
What these 3 have in common is inflammation. Basically, inflammation gobbles up antioxidants, meaning the body rapidly becomes depleted. Also, conditions such as cognitive dysfunction and pets with an impaired immune system can benefit because of natural wear and tear depleting reserves.
Where to Find Antioxidant Supplements
From big box stores to vet clinics, antioxidant supplements are easy to find. But a word of caution: Antioxidants as a food supplement are not “regulated,” meaning the levels claimed on the label can be a work of fiction.
For the best, buy through a vet clinic or a vet pharmacy. Certain manufacturers for the veterinary market have taken the bold step of subjecting their supplements to rigorous quality control to prove that what they say on the box matches the product.
So although you may pay more at the vet’s, the payback is a better product that definitely works.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed June 23, 2017.