Pet lovers, start your grinders!
Seeds can be important sources of fresh pet nutrition.
Why seeds as an addition to a pet’s diet? Seeds are nature’s little package of everything necessary to survive early stages of growth and development. Many different kinds of seeds provide a little powerhouse of nutrition in a teensy package, but there are perhaps half a dozen that are extra-good for most dogs and cats. Here are the top three seeds that I use for my own pets and that I recommend:
The way you prepare seeds and the dose you use can have profound benefits for your pet - or can cause harm. Most seeds are best when they are finely ground. You can use a coffee grinder, but it’s best to have a separate grinder for seeds. Otherwise, your coffee can taste funny and the grinder blades can rust with higher-moisture seeds. While a good seed grinder can be purchased for under $20, I prefer a simple mortar and pestle as pictured at the start of this article. It’s easy, fast, and is less work to clean. Forget about a fancy wooden one that will pick up odors. You’ll want a ceramic, glass, or stone one with a bowl big enough to hold the seeds, with a smooth surface to the bowl and a big enough pestle so that you don’t shoot seeds all over the kitchen while you’re trying to grind them.
Pumpkin seeds are a natural source of unsaturated fatty acids, protein, carbohydrates, and vitamins (C, D, E, K and most of the Bs). They are loaded with protein - 5 grams in just one ounce. They’re a rich source of amino acids, fiber, iron, copper, and magnesium; they also contain calcium, phosphorus and potassium. Pumpkin seeds contain an especially high amount of tryptophan, the amino acid that enhances serotonin production in the body.
While it is often stated that one particular amino acid in pumpkin seeds, cucurbitin, paralyzes intestinal worms and helps eliminate them, the level of this amino acid is actually quite low in seeds and the mechanism by which pumpkin seeds can help aid parasite removal is not well understood. That’s why I recommend pumpkin seeds for their nutritional benefits, not as an effective means of parasite control.
I recommend raw organic seeds, finely ground. Only a small amount is generally needed; 1/4 tsp per 10 pound of dog once daily for 3-5 days each week is adequate, not to exceed 2 tsp per dog per day. "More is better" definitely does not apply here, since overuse can cause diarrhea and heart changes.
Flax seeds are a wonderful addition to any pet's diet! Flax seed (ground or oil) is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids (O-3FAs) and also contain omega-6 FAs, both essential fatty acids that benefit the skin and coat. But that's not all: one specific O3-FA, alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), offers benefits to your pet's immune system. Flax seeds also contain lignans, which can improve cardiovascular health and may help fight cancer. The documented anti-inflammatory properties of flax seed help improve comfort in arthritic pets, and can help lower blood pressure and improve kidney function.
A word of caution: The ALA in flaxseeds is similar to the omega-3 fatty acids that are in fish oil, called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). However, while ALA can be converted within the body to EPA and DHA, there's documentation that many species of animals cannot efficiently convert ALA to the more active non-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA). As a result, the anti-inflammatory effects of flax seed oil may not be as strong as the anti-inflammatory effects of fish oil. in some pets. If you don’t mind the fishy smell of many fish oil products, such products can bring even faster results, especially in ill pets. But if you prefer a vegetarian source, flax seeds can be your pet’s best new friend! Flax seeds contain more ALA than almost any other seed, averaging 23% ALA as compared to chia seed (18%) and sunflower seed (1%). They should be freshly ground or purchased as a cold-pressed oil. Any processing can cause them to go rancid quickly though, so fresh grinding is best. Don't feed them whole, as they will pass largely undigested.
How much flaxseed to feed a dog or cat? If using an oil, follow label directions, remembering that pressed oils contain roughly twice as much ALA as ground seeds per teaspoon. If using ground seeds, which I recommend, start low, with no more than 1/2 tsp of ground seed per 10 pounds of weight, not to exceed 2 tbsp per day. If this is well accepted, gradually add more, topping off at 1 tsp per 10 pounds of weight per day.
Chia seeds, despite their lower ALA content, are little powerhouses of nutrition, too: in the Mayan language, chia means “strength”. Chia seeds are a rich source of B vitamins, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, protein and zinc. They’re also an excellent source of antioxidants. These tiny seeds help boost the immune system, making them very useful in heavily worked or campaigned dogs and cats. They even support electrolyte balance, which makes them a great choice for any sporting dog in which endurance training is utilized.
Another benefit of chia seeds? They can absorb 10 times their own weight in water and generate a gel coating. The gel slows the conversion of carbohydrates into sugars. Stable blood sugar levels contribute to naturally high levels of energy and can help stabilize weight by reducing over-eating - they can actually make a pet feel more "full" after a meal!.
As with most seeds, fresh grinding is best, although chia seeds do have a much longer half life such that the seeds can be ground in advance. Since they are odorless and tasteless, they are a good choice for picky pets. Chia dosing is usually low, no more than 1/4 tsp for 10 pounds of pet per day.
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Current Knollwood Hospital for Pets clients (that means, you were either referred to us by your primary care veterinarian for a specific medical issue or that WE are your primary care vet and you see us for ALL of your pet’s needs, including vaccines, medications, and blood tests) can schedule a complimentary (yes, free) Nutritional Consult with one of our Veterinary Nurses. Either Diane or Stefanee can review what you are feeding now, and then get to work to develop a better, healthier, easy-to-prepare complete diet or supplement to your diet to improve your pet’s health.