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The Importance of Greens for Canine Health

July 6, 2015pet health

Why does my dog eat grass?

Dogs are technically classified as carnivores; but in practice they are what is called “facultative omnivores,” meaning that they can and do derive nutrition from non-animal sources, such as fruits, herbs, and grasses. All of our dogs’ wild cousins eat plants; but among the many canine species, foxes are the biggest fans of green foods, and love to eat fruits and veggies whenever they’re available.

Canines certainly can thrive on an entirely animal-based diet, so what advantages do plants provide that entices dogs to eat them? It turns out that plants and grasses are a great source of many important nutrients:

Fiber: An indigestible carbohydrate made only by plants, fiber helps regulate the digestive system and its functions; and it nourishes the friendly bacteria and lining cells in the colon to promote healthy elimination of wastes. Dogs have no minimum dietary requirement for fiber, but they can still benefit greatly from it. Wheatgrass is a superior source of natural fiber.

Vitamins: Wheatgrass contains important B vitamins (vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B5, vitamin B6, vitamin B7, and related compounds inositol and choline; as well as vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin K.

Minerals: Plants such as wheatgrass contain many vital trace minerals, including copper, iron,  magnesium, selenium, zinc, and sulfur. A minimum requirement for sulfur has not been established, but it is essential for connective tissue formation, which in turn affects joint function. Since sulfur reserves in the body become depleted with age, it is important to supplement sulfur as our dogs get older.

Amino acids: These are the building blocks of proteins; there are 22 “standard” amino acids. Wheatgrass contains 17 amino acids, including 7 of the 10 that are essential for dogs.

Enzymes: Wheatgrass contains a full array of the digestive enzymes that help your dog get the most nutritional value from food; as well as many other functional enzymes.

Antioxidants: While everyone has heard of antioxidants, most people don’t really understand what they do and why they are so important. So let’s take a closer look inside the cell to find out (but it’s okay, there’s no quiz at the end!).

Every living cell, from the tiniest bacterium to the biggest elephant, uses energy for maintenance and repair, as well as to perform its particular function—such as muscle contraction in a cardiac cell, or hormone production in an endocrine cell. The universal molecule of energy is called ATP. The cellular engine that produces ATP is the mitochondrion, a tiny organ (organelle) deep inside the cell; a “high-octane” (very active) cell may have thousdands of them.

The fuel this little engine burns is oxygen; and the last step in ATP production is called oxidation. Just like a car engine, when fuel is burned, not only is energy created, but other by-products are also produced. And just like gasoline, some of the by-products of the cellular engine are toxic. Some of these by-products are highly reactive molecules called “oxygen free radicals.” Internal processes that increase metabolism, such as fever or inflammation; and external influences such air pollution; chemicals in yards, carpets, and furniture; medications; and vaccinations; can cause an increase in free radical production.

Of course, free radicals aren’t all bad. They are essential tools used by the immune system to attack and kill invading organisms. However, excess free radicals can be harmful. They can damage DNA, enzymes, fats, and other molecules. The accumulation of free radical damage over time contributes to many of the ailments associated with aging, such as heart disease, hypothyroidism, arthritis, and cognitive dysfunction (senility).

Dogs can and do produce their own natural antioxidants; but they don’t produce enough to combat the extraordinary stresses of modern life. This is a large part of why we’re seeing such an increase in degenerative diseases and cancer. It’s very important to supplement your dog with natural antioxidants; and it’s even better if they come from whole foods, such as wheatgrass isntead of being synthesized in a laboratory.

Vitamins C and E are the most well-known antioxidants, but there are untold hundreds of others. Wheatgrass contains not only vitamins C and E, but also carotenes, glutathione, chlorophyll, lecithin, lutein, several antioxidant amino acids, and other flavonoids and tocopherols.

Cancer- and Tumor-Fighting Compounds: Experts believe that one of the major causes of cancer is oxidative damage to DNA—which can be decreased by antioxidants. Additionally, the immune system is responsible for identifying and destroying abnormal cells such as cancer cells; cancer occurs when the immune system fails in this task. Supplementing with antioxidants supports the dog’s immune system, and may directly reduce the formation of tumors.

Wheatgrass contains not only a broad spectrum of antioxidants, but also other compounds that research suggests have anti-cancer or anti-tumor actions. These include: ascorbic acid, alpha and gamma tocopherol, apigenin, beta-carotene, ergosterol, lecithin, lutein, phytic acid, plant fiber, quercitin, and vanillic acid. Wheatgrass is currently being studied as a potential adjunctive therapy for human cancer patients.

So, that’s why green nutrition is so important for our canine pals. If your dog is a fan of fresh grass, make sure you have wholesome wheatgrass growing at home, or use green snacks for that daily dose of vital green nutrition!

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