By now, most of us have heard something about the many benefits of a more plant-based diet, including one of the smallest plant forms on the planet: algae. Spirulina is a microscopic, spiral-shaped, fresh water, blue-green algae packed with nutritional value, immune function support and detoxification benefits, among other things. As we learn more about the variety and potency of the health benefits associated with consuming algae, nutritional supplements made from this ‘super green food’ are becoming increasingly popular around the world, both for humans and their animal companions. So, should you add spirulina to your pup’s daily diet? Read on to find out!
Algae?? Give me the details!
First things first: Spirulina, like all algae, is one of the oldest life forms on Earth and was – and is – responsible for producing much of the oxygen we need for survival. We could say that spirulina is the world’s first super food and we know, based on numerous studies done on both humans and animals, that it is also one of the most nutrient-rich food sources we know of.
Specifically, according to Body Ecology, Spirulina includes all of the following:
- Beta-carotene: 10 times the beta-carotene of carrots
- Protein: Spirulina is between 55% and 77% pure protein (more than soy products and animal meat, like beef and chicken) and contains all nine essential amino acids.
- Essential Fatty Acids: Gamma linolenic acid (GLA), a key essential fatty acid
- Vitamins: Vitamins B, C and E
- Minerals: potassium, as well as calcium, phosphorus, chromium, copper, iron and magnesium
- Phytonutrients: powerful plant-based nutrients including chlorophyll, polysaccharides, sulfolipids, glycolipids and phycocyanin, found only in blue-green algae.
Commercially produced spirulina is normally grown in fresh water ponds so you will want to buy products that source the spirulina from areas with low environmental toxicity (e.g. not from ponds near nuclear reactor sites or where there is run-off from surrounding agricultural lands). If you use spirulina powder it should smell like seaweed, be a dark, matte green, and have the consistency of fine flour. If it smells rancid, looks wet or is clumpy, discard it.
Now that we know exactly what’s in spirulina, we need to know if it’s OK to give to our precious canine fur babies.
OK for our Canine Fur Babies?
There are many studies showing that spirulina is safe for human consumption but that does not necessarily mean something is safe for canine or feline consumption. However, in the case of spirulina, there is not only plenty of anecdotal evidence that spirulina is safe – and beneficial –for animals but there are scientific studies on specific conditions which may benefit from sprirulina ingestion. Studies have shown that spirulina fed to mice and rats can “enhance components within both the mucosal and systemic immune systems”; combat the effects of radiation poisoning; and be used to treat leukemia and anemia caused by lead and cadmium poisoning.
A 2013 study on the effects of spirulina on Canine Demodicosis (CD), a non-contagious but parasitic skin disease causing painful inflammation and caused by excessive proliferation in hair follicles and sebaceous glands, involved two groups of dogs: the control group which received no spirulina, and the second group which was treated with spirulina. The study found that “The dogs of the Spirulina group (100%) had complete remission of clinical signs in an average of 52 days and parasitological cure obtained at 70±5 days, with no history of relapses over a year. In the control group dogs had only three parasitologic cure within described in method (80±5 days) while healing was clinically observed in 80% of the dogs at an average time of 64 days.”
While spirulina can cause temporary stomach upset when you initially add it to your pup’s food, it appears to be both safe and beneficial for our canine companions.
What are the benefits?
Let’s dig into the benefits of spirulina supplementation for our canine fur babies. Potential benefits of supplementation with this powerful little algae include the following:
- Improving the immune system and healing, preventing and speeding recovery from illness and injury. It can promote greater activity in essential components of the immune system, including bone marrow stem cells, T-cells, macrophages, the spleen, the thymus gland and new blood cell production.
- High nutritional value
- Detoxifying the digestive tract, liver, and body as a whole
- Treating gastrointestinal disorders and discomfort
- Reducing allergic responses and conditions
- Freshening breath
- Enhancing coat appearance and health and treating certain dermatological issues
- Improving blood sugar regulation to help manage canine diabetes
- Delivering nutritional support for liver, kidney, and skin disorders
- Preventing and treating certain types of cancer
- Slowing the effects of aging
What to look for when reviewing Spirulina products
Spirulina is available in a concentrated dried powder form, in tablets, in treats and even dental chews. All forms of Spirulina are frequently found as part of a general nutritional supplement along with other supplements so be sure to read the label carefully to find out exactly how much spirulina is included in the product. Also note that when sourced from polluted waters, spirulina and other algae supplements can contain considerable levels of heavy metals, pesticides, and other environmental toxins. Research the product and the company you’re buying from to determine the source of the algae and learn about the producer’s track record for quality assurance and maintaining high safety standards. Don’t be afraid to contact the producing company directly with any questions you have about their products and ask for the Certificate of Analysis (COA) for the product you are considering. The COA will tell you where the company sourced the Spirulina and what percentage of pure spirulina is contained in the product.
If the spirulina is being offered by a third company, chances are they don’t produce their own and may not be doing the due diligence required to ensure that the product is free of undesirable components. You may want to get products that are tested by independent third parties and have seals of approval like the National Sanitation Foundation or the US Pharmacopeial Convention seal.
Note that good quality spirulina doesn’t come cheap so be wary of inexpensive products that include a lot of additives, colors, fillers and/or preservatives. There is some debate as to whether the spirulina should be organic or not (Peter Dobias, DVM argues not but also has a Spirulina product line that includes non-organic Chilean Spirulina) but if you carefully consider all the other elements we’ve discussed, you should be able to find a good product which will enhance your pup’s overall health and well-being.
Giving Your Dog Spirulina
To avoid temporary but unpleasant digestive side effects when starting your pup on a new spirulina supplementation regimen, begin by giving your dog a small amount once daily and gradually build up to the full dose. You should also always provide unrestricted access to fresh water. Spirulina can be very concentrated so a little goes a long way and you may want to add it only every other day to your dog’s food. Begin by add ¼ teaspoon of powdered sprirulina per pound of food and follow the instructions on the package for other forms of supplementation. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian before adding spirulina to your dog’s diet.
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