You’ve probably heard nutritionists debating the relative benefits of supplements versus “whole foods” in an attempt to answer questions like, “Is it better eat fish containing high levels of omega-3 fatty acids or take fish oil pills to protect my heart?” or, “Should I eat oranges or take vitamin C to boost my immune system?” Evidence is building in favor of whole foods. This makes sense in that healthy foods contain a whole host of important nutrients, not just the few that have been isolated in the form of supplements.
You may be wondering how this applies to the subject of dog nutrition given the fact that few people have the time, money, or inclination to prepare nutritionally balanced meals from scratch for their pets. First of all, owners can look at the ingredient lists on the labels of commercially prepared dog foods for whole foods. Diets that rely primarily on ingredients that you could pick up at the grocery store (e.g., chicken, carrots, brown rice, etc.) should provide pets with more of the benefits of whole foods.
Keep in mind, however, that some vitamins, minerals, and other supplements will always need to be added to dog food to ensure that it is nutritionally complete and balanced. Look for an AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) statement on the label that says something along the lines of “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Brand A adult dog food provides complete and balanced nutrition for maintenance of adult dogs” to ensure that the food you pick does meet all of your dog’s needs.
Don’t get me wrong, nutritional supplements can do a lot of good; particularly when scientific evidence is available that supports their use for the treatment of particular conditions. For example, a 2007 study evaluated 16 clinical trials that investigated the effectiveness of a variety of joint supplements. It found evidence in support of the following for the treatment of osteoarthritis in dogs:
- Green lipped mussels
- A combination of chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine hydrochloride, and manganese ascorbate
- Omega 3 fatty acids
- Polysulfated glycosaminoglycans
- Avocado/Soybean unsaponifiables (ASU)
- P54FP (an extract of turmeric)
- Injectable pentosan polysulphate
But even here, the whole food movement may have something to contribute. The first item on this list, green lipped mussels, is a whole food. In fact, green lipped mussels contain several of the other compounds mentioned above including chondroitin sulfate, omega 3 fatty acids, and manganese, as well as glutamine (an amino acid), minerals (zinc and copper), and vitamins E and C that may all combine to help dogs with osteoarthritis.
The dog food and supplement industry has taken note. Green lipped mussels are being included in some commercially prepared foods that are formulated to help dogs with osteoarthritis, often in combination with other ingredients, like glucosamine, that have been proven effective. Supplements containing green lipped mussel powder or extract are also widely available.
See? It’s not that hard to provide your dog with the benefits of whole foods. Of course tossing him or her the occasional raw carrot or apple slice doesn’t hurt either.
Dr. Jennifer Coates
Systematic review of clinical trials of treatments for osteoarthritis in dogs. Aragon CL, Hofmeister EH, Budsberg SC. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2007 Feb 15;230(4):514-21.