Antioxidants are important nutrients that help maintain health by slowing the destructive aging process of cellular molecules. They also can be important in improving immune responses and vaccine recognition in dogs. This might be especially critical for young animals that are being vaccinated while their immune systems are still developing. Antioxidants also can reverse decreases in immune-cell function for mature dogs.

Why Your Dog Needs Antioxidants

Where Are Antioxidants Found?

Antioxidants are nutrients found naturally in the body and in plants such as fruits and vegetables. Common antioxidants include vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and certain compounds called carotenoids (like lutein and beta-carotene).

How Antioxidants Work

As cells function normally in the body, they produce damaged molecules called free radicals. These free radicals are highly unstable and steal components from other cellular molecules, such as fat, protein, or DNA, thereby spreading the damage.

This damage continues in a chain reaction, and entire cells soon become damaged and die. This process is called peroxidation. Peroxidation is useful because it helps the body destroy cells that have outlived their usefulness and kills germs and parasites. However, peroxidation, when left unchecked, also destroys or damages healthy cells.

Antioxidants help prevent widespread cellular destruction by stabilizing free radicals. More important, antioxidants return to the surface of the cell to stabilize, rather than damage, other cellular components.

When there are not enough antioxidants to keep peroxidation in check, free radicals begin damaging healthy cells, which, in turn, can lead to problems. For example, free-radical damage to cells of the immune system can lead to an increased risk of infections.

Antioxidants and Immune Response

Because antioxidants play a key role in minimizing damage to human cells, such as those that make up the immune system, research examined the benefits of certain antioxidants on the immune response of dogs. The results of these studies indicated that antioxidants are important in helping dogs maintain a healthy immune system.

Vitamin EPlant-oil extract, tocopherolsOptimizes immune system's T-cell activation
LuteinMarigold extractOptimizes immune system's B-cell activation and helps vaccine recognition by dogs and cats
Beta-caroteneVitamin premix, corn meal, chicken by-product meal, and chicken fatOptimizes types of cells present in the blood, increases antibody levels in the blood, and optimizes vaccine recognition by dogs.

Antioxidants and Puppy Health

Nutritionally supporting the immune system might be especially critical for puppies. Their immune system is still developing at the time it's being challenged with vaccinations and exposure to disease-causing agents. With the addition of antioxidants, a high-quality puppy diet can support the development of a strong immune system to help maintain good health and protect against viruses, bacteria, and parasites.

Antioxidants and Aging

Recent research also examined the effect of aging on immune responses. The findings indicate that as dogs age, immune-cell responses might decline. Including antioxidants in the diet can reverse the age-related decrease in immune-cell function.