In a world plagued by lifestyle disease, more and more we are understanding the critical role nutrition plays in our overall health and wellbeing. Of particular interest are 'functional foods', whose phytochemicals and bioactive molecules deliver physiological benefits as well as help to prevent disease. Flaxseeds are one such food; consumed since ancient times, they are widely regarded in the human world as a nutritional powerhouse. These superb little offerings from the flax plant are an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids; provide significant amounts of both soluble and insoluble fibre; and are the richest dietary source of lignans - polyphenols known for their anti-cancer and antioxidant properties. Conferring such significant health benefits, they are a staple ingredient in my family's daily smoothies.
Naturally, this prompts the question as to whether my first (and furry) baby, Albus, would also benefit from flaxseed in his diet and whether in fact everyone's canine and feline family members would as well? In short, the answer is YES but let's explore this a little more.
Flaxseeds are the richest food source of the short chain Omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Whilst different in structure to the marine based Omega-3s you are likely familiar with, ALA is an essential fatty acid for our pups and kitty cats, meaning they must get it from their diet.
This Omega-3 plays a significant role in both skin and hair health, helping to maintain the luscious coats of your fur babies. In addition, combined with the lignans also found in flaxseeds, ALA is thought to bestow compelling anti-inflammatory effects and reduce skin inflammatory responses. Its supplementation is therefore often recommended as a tool in the skin maintenance programs of pets with atopic dermatitis, an all too common and uncomfortable affliction.
Not limited to Omega-3s and polyphenols, flaxseeds are also a terrific source of both soluble and insoluble fibre. Considered by some as the 'Fourth Macro nutrient', fibre is crucial for gut health and the symbiosis of our four-legged family members' all-important microbiome. This combination of soluble and insoluble fibre helps to increase faecal bulk and moisture, improve regularity, and crucially provides a food source for the gut microbiota. Keeping their gut bugs happy and fed is critical in maintaining optimal health for our furry friends. An example of this is the production of Butyrate, a by-product of the fermentation (consumption) of fibre by healthy gut bugs.
Butyrate is a short chain fatty acid (SCFA) that helps to inhibit the growth of disease-causing gut bacteria; assists in maintaining the intestinal barrier and intestinal immune system; and has anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties... some hefty health promoting properties right there catalysed by the inclusion of fibre in dog and cat diets!
Now, it would be remiss of me not to discuss the confusion surrounding fibre for our feline friends. As obligate carnivores, some argue fibre has no place in the diet as they would not consume it in the wild. However, we need to remember that wild felids devour their prey whole, including the hair, bone, scales and skin and these components are believed to act as a source of valuable dietary fibre. Whilst the evidence is still mounting, it therefore makes sense that our domesticated felines would also benefit from some fibre in their food.
So, should we all just be sprinkling some flaxseed over our pet's dinner? In essence, NO. In its whole form, flaxseeds are poorly digested and are likely to go in one end and out the other. They need a little TLC to unlock their nutritional prowess.
Here's how it works - once the raw flaxseed have been cold pressed to reap the Omega-3 heavy oil, the remaining product is gently heated to form flaxseed flakes.
Flaxseed flakes are a nutritional superstar, providing the fibre, lignans and that decent measure of protein we were talking about. These flaxseed flakes are added to all the core K9 Natural and Feline Natural diets.
Importantly however, you don't want to overdo fibre as it can reduce the digestibility of the food. Luckily, the team K9 Natural and Feline Natural have you covered with the fibre provided only -1 % on a dry matter basis which means the digestibility remains high and your furry family members still glean all the nutritional benefits from their food.
You'll be happy to hear that the cold-pressed Omega-3 heavy oils, the concentrated form of ALA, are also included in food products such as K9 Natural and Feline Natural pet milks, and act as a superpower ingredient for skin and coat health. All these products contain flaxseed oil from New Zealand grown and cold pressed flaxseed.
Alternatively, the oil can be supplemented to elevate your dog's daily feeding routine in a more targeted approach with K9 Natural Oils, including Brain & Eye Oil, Hip & Joint Oil and Skin & Coat Oil. Simply drizzle over your dog's existing diet for a nutritious boost. Its palatable flavour profile means most dogs will have no trouble eating it... In Albus' case he licks up his Hip and Joint Health Oil (and the K9 Natural Dog Milk) straight from the bottle!!
This has been a bit of a deep dive so thanks for hanging in there! Hopefully, I've helped convey the brilliance of the humble flaxseed and not only will you be excited to have them included in your fur baby's diet but perhaps your family's diet too!
Written by Dr. Josie Gollan.