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Have you ever wondered how your pet’s food can sit for so long on the shelves of the store and then a bit longer on your pantry shelf? Almost all commercially sold pet food is preserved with antioxidants and preservatives. Antioxidants prevent the active ingredients in the food from getting spoiled and they provide a lot of secondary health benefits too. They play a major role in keeping the pet food tasty and nutritious.
Oxidation refers to the process of breakdown in the fats and nutrients in a food when it is exposed to oxygen. It causes everything from rancidity to discoloration. Antioxidants work to slow down or block the rate of oxygen induced damage. They are usually added to the foods when they are processed to give more shelf life to the product. They work better when they are added early on in the production process. The combination of the antioxidants that they use in the formula also plays a big role in its efficacy. Specific types and amounts of certain antioxidants tend to work better together.
Antioxidants help in protecting the cells of the body from damage and make the immune system stronger. Every biological system is exposed to harmful free radicals everyday. They are produced when the cells are damaged due to oxidation. They are highly unstable and can cause further damage to the cells if they are left unchecked.
Antioxidants slow down the damage from the free radicals and protect the cells from further damage. They let the immune system function without any interference from the harmful free radicals. This prevents the onslaught or worsening of serious health conditions.
In young pups, antioxidants give a boost to their developing immune system. This is especially critical since their vaccinations will take time to be completely effective. In older dogs, any oxidative injury to the cells in the organs is slowed to a crawl by antioxidants, which provides them a longer and healthier lifespan.
Where do they come from?
Naturally occurring antioxidants include citric acids, vitamins C and E, and herbal sources such as rosemary. Vitamin C is obtained from common vegetables and fruits like apples, cranberries, blueberries, tomatoes and more. Naturally occurring vitamin E is usually mentioned as “mixed tocopherols” in the ingredient list. Citric acids are obtained from citrus fruits like lemons, oranges and limes.
Synthetic antioxidants include BHT, BHA and ethoxyquin. BHT and BHA are similar in their chemical structure to vitamin E and are generally used in combination in pet food as they work very well together. They are also stable at very high temperatures.
Choosing the right pet food
When scanning for ingredients in your pet’s food, remember that pet food manufacturers are mandated to list the antioxidants with their common names. You will also be able to see a notation that says that the ingredient is used for preservative purposes. It is also important to keep in mind that natural antioxidants, although healthier, tend to have a shorter shelf life than their synthetic counterparts. Regardless of the food you end up choosing, check the label to see the expiry date. Store the food in a dry and cool place, in an airtight container, away from light. Foods that are preserved with natural antioxidants lose their freshness sooner. So make sure that you buy smaller packages.