For many years spirulina has been trending as a “superfood” for humans, and not so long ago it made its way into the pet industry. But why are so many dog food companies jumping on the spirulina bandwagon? Is this simply a fad, or is spirulina here to stay?
What is spirulina?
Spirulina is a blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) with big health benefits! This algae grows as a greenish scum on the surface of warm, fresh bodies of water on every continent besides Antarctica! It is among the oldest living organisms on the planet. It’s often confused with kelp and while they are both beneficial, they are not the same. Kelp is actually a type of brown seaweed grown just below the surface of saltwater.
This algae has been used since the Aztecs as a source of food, especially for people travelling long distances. After European explorers drained the lakes in Mexico for pastures, it fell off the radar for the most part until the 1960s. Botanist Jean Leonard discovered tribes in Chad using algae as a main food staple and found it to be none other than spirulina! Villagers would scrape the algae from the surface of Lake Chad and dry it into cakes they called dihe. These were then sold in markets to locals and travelers.
Today, it is commonly used as a dietary supplement, especially for vegetarians and vegans, because of its nutritional value and highexico for pastures, it fell off the radar for the most part until the 1960s. Bo protein content. It is grown either >in labsor on farms. You can even grow your own! Once harvested, it is dried either in the sun or with warm air and is sold in powder, capsule, or tablet form. It can be found in most health food stores.
Because this “superfood” is so beneficial to humans, it didn’t take long for the pet industry to take notice. Today you can find spirulina in treats, food and supplements in almost every specialty pet food store.
Considered by some to be the most nutrient rich food on earth, it contains protein, fat, carbohydrates and plenty of vitamins and minerals! It is being used to >fight malnourishment around the world and was even declared an excellent space food by NASA! It is extremely nutrient dense while being easy to digest and does not require large amounts of space (pun intended.)
Protein - Once dried it will be about 60% protein! Gram for gram spirulina has more protein than meat! Amino acids - These are the building blocks of protein. The body uses them for growth, repair, digestion and so much more. Spirulina contains 18 amino acids, including all 10 that are essential to dogs!
Chlorophyll & phycocyanin - Chlorophyll and phycocyanin are what give plants their green and blue color and lets them turn sunlight into energy. It’s also believed to replenish blood cells, improve digestion (dogs eating grass anyone?) and heal infections. Some even believe it helps with dog breath from the inside out!
Vitamins & minerals - This algae is tiny but mighty when it comes to vitamins and minerals! It is packed with thiamine, riboflavin, iron and calcium to name just a few. See the complete analysis here.
Essential fatty acids - Spirulina has all of the 5 essential fatty acids dogs need. These help fuel your pup with energy and protect their eyes and brain as well as give them a healthy coat and skin.
Who would benefit most?
Not all supplements are right for every dog and you should always supplement with intention. If your dog does not have a need for a supplement, your money could be better spent elsewhere. When the body has a sufficient amount of any vitamin it will either release the excess in the urine or store it so it could literally be going down the drain.
Here are a few situations in which spirulina may be beneficial.
Dogs that need to lose weight - The key to weight loss is feeding less calories than the body is burning. Spirulina is nutrient dense while low in calories (20 calories per tablespoon.) Adding spirulina to your dieting dog’s meals can provide a boost of energy and nutrients without added calories.
Older dogs - Aging is a contributing factor to liver inflammation which can lead to liver disease. One study finds that feeding spirulina to aging mice increases healthy gut bacteria and activates the immune system within the gut. This helped to reduce liver inflammation, which in turn can help prevent liver disease.
Diabetic dogs - Another study shows that diabetic mice fed spirulina had an increase in insulin, lower glucose levels and an improvement in liver enzyme markers.
Dogs experiencing illness or digestive issues - Because spirulina cells are not composed of cellulose, it is extremely bioavailable to humans and dogs. Its nutrients are easily absorbed right into the digestive tract. This is perfect for dogs who are sick or injured and unable to obtain the nutrients they need through food alone. Your dog’s digestive tract will use very little energy to absorb and digest all of the benefits. This will free up energy your dog needs for healing. While this won’t be a food replacement, it’s an easy way to get some valuable nutrients into them.
Dogs with allergies - This study on humans showed patients experienced significant improvements in nasal inflammation and histamines in the body when taking spirulina. This suggests that spirulina could help dogs with seasonal allergies feel relief without harsh medications as well.
Dogs with cancer - A 2016 study broke down the proteins in spirulina into individual polypeptides (chains of amino acids) and tested them against five types of cancer. Liver, lung, breast, gastric and colon. 15 polypeptides inhibited tumor growth. While there is a ways to go in research, this has inspired many pet parents to feed spirulina in addition to pursuing other cancer treatments.
Choosing safe products
Spirulina is a supplement and therefore not regulated by the FDA. This leaves a lot of room for poor quality and even fake products to be on the market, especially on sites like Amazon.
This is especially important as spirulina is a blue-green algae. This term may sound familiar to you. Every summer we hear news reports about toxic blue-green algae in lakes and ponds. This is different from spirulina but important to be aware of. Different types of blue-green algae contain neurotoxins and hemotoxins. These can and will kill a dog that ingests them. For this reason it’s important to do your due diligence and buy reputable products from brands you trust.
Here are a few things to consider when purchasing spirulina.
USP verified mark - This is a great start! This 3rd party organization verifies that the ingredients match what's on the label. They also check for contamination, absorption rates, and that it was manufactured using sanitary practices.
Very cheap products - This is not the place to cut costs. However, this doesn’t mean you have to spend an arm and a leg. Just be aware that a product that is significantly cheaper than the rest may not be safe or authentic.
No certificate of analysis. - If the information isn’t readily available on their website, ask for it. This certifies that what you think you’re buying is what you’re getting. If they cannot produce it for you, move on.
Sourcing - This ties in with the certificate of analysis. A company should be willing to tell you where they source their product. Ask them if they don’t offer it up and ask for specifics. If they tell you they source from “beautiful lakes in north America” you should pass. Vague answers are not answers and can be potentially hazardous to your dog’s health.
Here are a few suggestions to get you started. Spirulina for humans is the same product so if you have a brand you already trust you can share with your dog!
Wholistic Pet Organics - Powder
Dr. Mercola SpiruGreen - Tablets
Zesty Paws Superfood Bites - Treats
How to feed spirulina
Don’t let the safety concerns scare you away from this amazing food! Some of your favorite brands are likely already making a trustworthy product containing spirulina if you prefer to start that way. Although buying it on it’s own will be more cost effective.
A little goes a long way! If you choose to buy pure spirulina the general recommendation is ¼ teaspoon per pound of food. It does have a strong smell and flavor so your dog may not be inclined to eat it as is. It can be helpful to mix the powder with water, goat milk or bone broth. This way you can drizzle it over their food or freeze into the appropriate portion for easy feeding.
As with any new food or supplement, it’s best to start with small amounts and add more gradually to avoid digestive upset.
Pond scum or superfood?
It’s safe to say this ancient algae is more than just pond scum! It’s list of vitamins and nutrients seem almost endless. It’s as if nature created it’s very own multivitamin in a tiny blue-green slime. Adding this simple supplement to your dog’s diet may be just the boost you’re looking for!