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Dietary Antioxidants Are Important for Your Pet

By: Ed Kane

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Free Radicals Do the Damage

Oxygen gives your pet life but it may also behave aggressively to try to shorten it. Without sufficient oxygen your pet's tissues are in immediate jeopardy. Ironically, excess oxygen can poison the cells of Fido's body via free-radical formation – what a dichotomy.

Normal compounds are composed of atoms bonded together by sharing electrons, one from each atom. Free radicals are molecules with an unpaired electron. The unpaired electrons are highly energetic and seek out other electrons with which to pair, often stealing them in the process from normal compounds (typically oxygen). In the process, this produces a stable compound by pairing their unpaired electron; but it also alters the stable compound and creates another free radical – again short one electron – and continues the chain. This chain reaction creates havoc in the cell.

Free radicals are commonly produced as part of normal cell metabolism, but also can become excessive following injury or disease or can be caused by environmental pollutants such as UV radiation, cigarette smoke or smog. Excessive free-radical production (oxidative stress) results when the formation of free radicals overwhelms the body's defense system against them. Oxidative stress can overpower the ability to fight back and may result in cell and tissue damage, just like oxygen can brown an apple or banana, thus shortening your pet's life.

Uncontrolled free-radicals may run amuck throughout your pet's body, doing considerable damage to cells. They alter the structure of cell membranes and create havoc to poly-unsaturated fats, cell proteins and cell DNA. The more active the cell, the greater the potential risk of tissue damage. In people, this damage has recently been linked to degenerative diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disease, kidney disease, Parkinson's disease and cataracts; it may also have a deleterious affect on aging. It is thought that free-radical damage may play a similar role in certain diseases of pets and wreak havoc on the aging process.

Antioxidants to the Rescue

Antioxidants are your pet's major defense system against the scourge of free-radicals and oxidative stress, and help keep their damage to a minimum. Antioxidants, like vitamin E, scavenge and convert free radicals to relatively stable compounds and stop or prevent the chain reaction of free radical damage. Antioxidants are therefore important to protect pets from tissue damage and disease and may in the process enhance immunity.

Dietary antioxidants include vitamin E, vitamin C, taurine and the carotenoids – beta carotene, lutein, and lycopene and certain trace minerals. These antioxidants gobble up free-radicals, stopping them in their tracks. Antioxidants keep your pet's cells healthy, including lungs, heart, blood cells, muscles, nerves, GI tract and reproductive organs. It was recently demonstrated that a cocktail of such antioxidants limited cell damage in dogs and cats. Work is currently being done to show the benefits of antioxidants to older pets' ability to learn, to modify certain behavioral problems and function better in their geriatric years.

Vitamin C. Vitamin C is a powerful water-soluble antioxidant. High activity dogs – those competing in fly-ball, agility, racing and high-demand rescue work – are thought to require increased amounts of vitamin C due to the increased demand of oxidative stress. Although the dog can synthesize vitamin C, racing and other forms of high-energy exercise are thought to increase the demand for all antioxidants to combat increased oxidative stress with increased body use of oxygen. Unlike requirements for humans and guinea pigs, the dietary vitamin C requirement of cats is negligible because they can synthesize it, though their need for vitamin C as an antioxidant is unexplored. Surely the benefit of vitamin C as an antioxidant is feasible.

Carotenoids. Carotenoids are red, yellow, and orange fat-soluble pigments found in plant foods such as carrots and tomatoes. Though the dog and cat are predominantly carnivores, the value of these powerful antioxidants could be important. We don't yet know all the benefits of these compounds to dogs and cats to prevent degenerative diseases, cancer, and combat conditions of aging. Dogs and cats are living longer today, and carotenoids may benefit pets in ways yet undiscovered.

Taurine. Taurine, an amino acid, is a critically important nutrient for cats. Its benefit is successful reproduction, healthy eyesight and heart function. Though important to cats, taurine is not similarly essential to dogs. For dogs and cats taurine is beneficial as an antioxidant in protecting cell membranes from damage.

Minerals. Certain minerals, especially zinc, manganese, copper and selenium assist several enzymes that act as antioxidants. These minerals are integral parts of various antioxidant enzymes in your pet's body.

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