You’ve probably heard that antioxidants are part of a healthy, balanced diet. Humans aren’t the only ones who need antioxidants, though—our furry companions benefit from their healing powers, too.
In fact, antioxidants might be one of the easiest ways to fortify your pet’s body against dangerous cat or dog cancer later in life. Here’s how eating a couple antioxidant-rich foods or supplements every day might prevent your pet from developing serious health issues.
Can antioxidants reduce cancer risk?
High levels of free radicals in the body have been linked to a greater risk of cancer. Free radicals are unstable oxygen-containing molecules that attack normal, healthy cells, causing oxidative stress.
Free radicals are prone to triggering a chemical reaction, which causes them to steal electrons from cells throughout a pet’s body. When free radicals steal electrons, they damage DNA and membranes in healthy cells. Those damaged cells can mutate and eventually turn into a cancerous tumor.
Antioxidants may prevent all that from happening. These compounds neutralize free radicals and reduce the damage they cause in your pet. Antioxidants don’t get rid of free radicals; rather, they give them a stable number of electrons, eliminating their need to attack healthy cells.
While there’s no guarantee, it’s believed that animals have a reduced risk of developing cancer when their bodies maintain a balance of antioxidants and free radicals.
Pet-friendly foods rich in antioxidants
Pets’ bodies naturally produce antioxidants, but they still have to eat antioxidant-rich foods and take supplements in order to fulfill their daily recommended intake. Pet foods are often fortified with several different types of antioxidants because their combined powers are more effective than ingesting only one. However, many fruits and vegetables are safe sources of antioxidants for pets, too.
There are many different kinds of antioxidants, including the usual ones like vitamins C and E. Some other, lesser-known antioxidants include:
- Beta-carotene: If the food is orange, chances are it’s packed with beta-carotene. Dogs love a can of 100-percent pumpkin puree. Other pet-safe options include carrots, sweet potatoes, squash and mangoes and apricots.
- Vitamin A: Cooked carrots and sweet potatoes contain both beta-carotene and vitamin A. Some dairy products like milk, eggs and cheese also contain vitamin A, but those are best saved for humans because they can upset your pet’s stomach. If you have a cat, give them a piece of liver, which is also rich in vitamin A. It’s the tastiest treat of all, and your kitty is sure to thank you for it!
- Selenium: Selenium isn’t technically an antioxidant. Rather, it’s a mineral that helps form antioxidant enzymes. Your pet can stock up on their daily dose of selenium by eating meat and plant-based foods. The quality of meat matters, as grass-fed cows contain higher traces of selenium when their food grows from selenium-rich soil. This mineral is found in crops like rice, which also helps soothe tummy troubles.
Feeding your pet antioxidant-rich treats in addition to meals fortified with antioxidants will ensure they’re getting their daily dose and that their bodies are well-equipped to prevent cancer.
Antioxidants in cancer patients
Antioxidants might not only be a preventative measure to protect your furry friend from cancer. Initial studies have demonstrated that some antioxidants may help pets battle cancer, as well. However, pet parents must use extreme caution and speak to a veterinarian before adding more antioxidants to their sick pet’s diet. Some antioxidants may stunt the growth of cancerous cells, while others can actually make matters worse.
One human study showed that a daily dose of beta-carotene shortened the lifespan of cancer patients. Once antioxidants completed their jobs, they turned into a pro-oxidant form and needed cofactors to turn back into antioxidants. Cancer patients were unable to complete this process, resulting in dangerously high levels of pro-oxidant forms of beta-carotene. The pro-oxidant form increased inflammation, making it harder to battle cancerous cells.
Although more research is needed, scientists predict that a combination of naturally occurring antioxidants may work better in cancer patients than administering just one type. For example, another study showed that vitamin E alone increased mortality among cancer patients. Vitamin E alongside other antioxidants didn’t show any benefits, but the combination didn’t result in harm, either.
It’s worth noting that these studies were done on humans. Scientists aren’t quite sure how antioxidants will affect pets undergoing chemotherapy. Therefore, pets receiving cancer treatments should never be given extra antioxidants until you speak with a vet about potential side effects.
Prevention is key to a long life
As with any disease, the best form of cancer treatment is prevention. Antioxidants might not eliminate the threat of cancer entirely, but they could significantly reduce the risk of developing cancer in the first place. Natural foods rich in antioxidants neutralize free radicals, which reduces damage to normal cells and ensures your furry friend lives a long, healthy life.
The healing properties of antioxidants look promising, but remember to always speak with a vet before altering your pet’s diet. Antioxidants must be given the right away in order for them to work well and keep your pet healthy.