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Lately, I have been really interested in researching oxidative stress and how it can affect our dogs. There are two terms I am going to outline below when discussing oxidative stress- a free radical and an antioxidant.
- First, what is oxidative stress? Put simply, oxidative stress is an imbalance in the body between free radicals and antioxidants.
- What is a free radical? Free radicals are unstable atoms that can damage the body's cells and lead to illness, disease, and aging.
- What is an antioxidant? An antioxidant works inside and outside of the body's cells to protect cell membranes from the damages of highly reactive molecules aka free radicals.
Oxidative stress can make your dog's body go haywire in many ways. My last post about food and nutrients ties in a bit with oxidative stress because many nutrients required by dogs are there to inhibit and fight free radicals. For example, Vitamin E is a free radical fighter and a diet not meeting nutrient requirements of Vitamin E can start to produce oxidative damage in a dog.
There are multiple causes of oxidative stress in dogs (and humans). Here is a list of some of them:
- Chronic inflammation - whether the source is from pro-inflammatory foods or lifestyle choices that encourage inflammation like staying sedentary
- Diets high in sugar, fat, and processed foods
- Pollutions, pesticides and industrial chemicals
- Chronic stress
Aside from keeping our dogs in a bubble (which is not realistic) - taking what I call a 'holistic wellness lifestyle' approach is how you can reduce oxidative damage in your dog, and even yourself.
What health coaches have been preaching to us since the beginning of time about the right diet, exercise, rest and stress is accurate and proven to help inhibit and alleviate free radicals. From a holistic perspective, the list above of oxidative stress causes just means we can fully incorporate a 'whole' / whol-istic life to counteract the damages that oxidative stress could cause our furry friends.
So how do we conquer oxidative stress in our dogs?
- Chronic inflammation - feed a diet that has low-inflammatory foods and uses fatty acids (omega-3's) to further bring down inflammation. There are also fabulous herbs to reduce inflammation, a popular one is turmeric. You can also boost antioxidants in your dog by feeding high antioxidant foods like blueberries and blackberries. Vitamin C is not a nutrient requirement for dogs but I give it to my dogs when 1. I know they will be going through a stressful event and 2. when they get vaccines (though we avoid that) or have to be put under anesthesia. Basically, anytime outside chemicals enter their bodies I will give them an appropriate dose of Vitamin C to fight off the free radicals entering their bodies.
- Obesity - Do not let your dog become obese and sedentary. He/she NEEDS to move for so many reasons. When you move your body, you are literally changing the chemical composition in the body for the better. Regular exercise is best. Too much exercise can actually cause cells to struggle and become free radicals so it is important to ensure your dog has a good balanced approach to exercise.
- Diets high in sugar, fat, and processed foods- Again, minimize diets that are pro-inflammation. Dogs shouldn't be consuming sugar, like ever, and you can avoid foods that spike a dog's blood sugar by researching foods that are low on the glycemic index. Fat is a tricky one because I do feel dogs can benefit from fat, particularly in certain therapeutic diets and if they are a very active dog. The key is not to overdo it and have a balance between all areas of diet, exercise, rest and general lifestyle which we will get to next.
- Pollutions, pesticides and industrial chemicals - avoid, avoid, avoid. Stop spraying your lawns! Stop buying toxic cleaning solutions! Reduce the amount of fumes from cars your dog could be exposed to! This is critical as the chemicals from everything I've mentioned will damage your dog, not only in the form of free radicals but through cancers, allergies, and more. Pesticides and herbicides literally equal death for plants, animals, insects and our companion animals.
- Chronic stress - If you haven't already seen an article floating around social media about how our dog's pick up and mirror their owners stress, then it is worth looking into. A simple google search and you'll find that this is proven that dogs take on our stress. Stress causes major damage to our cells every time we let stress consume us. I am in no way immune to stress and it is something I struggle with daily but a way to think about it is to work through not being stressed specifically for your dog's own sake.
OK, so how do we take ALL of this and bring it full circle - well, you basically need to just start. Start with one thing on the list above and make it a habit, then start with the next, and on from there. All these things on the list are doable and can dramatically make a difference in not only our dog's lives, but our human lives!
There is SO much more information, science, and help on preventing and fighting oxidative stress and those nasty free radicals. I plan to include more but wanted to introduce this subject and get people thinking about this and give you tips to fight free radicals asap.