The Health Benefits Mussels Provide Canines & Felines
Dr. Patrick Mahaney
What do you give your pet for treats? Unfortunately, the commercially-available options that many owners provide their pets are highly processed, contain feed-grade ingredients, generally yield few health benefits, and can contribute to a variety of health problems.
As a society, we generally feel that pet treats are special offerings that provide our companion canines and felines a pleasurable taste experience. As a result of marketing messages and even the advice of veterinarians, owners have been lulled into the mindset that pets should never eat human food and only consume pet foods and treats. Yet, the desire to feed pets faux-meat manufactured to appear like bacon, sausage, pepperoni, and other simulations of real food has lulled us into the complacency of feeding ingredients that can be harmful on a short or long-term basis. Artificial colors and flavors, chemical preservatives (some of which are even known to be carcinogenic, which means they can cause cancer), moistening agents, and meat and grain “meals and by-products” are common ingredients you’ll find in many commercially-available dog and cat treats if you review the label.
My stance as a holistic veterinarian is to ensure that the foods and treats that my patients consume appear as close as possible to the format which nature creates. Ideally, the nutrients entering our pets’ mouths should be whole food and contain a single or a few simple and natural ingredients instead of a complex list of generally unnatural ingredients.
Fortunately, a new option from The Honest Kitchen is available that will have your canine or feline companions loving their treats seemingly straight from the sea. Nice Mussels are a healthy, whole-food option for pet treats that only have one ingredient: freeze dried, New Zealand blue and green mussels.
You may have never thought of giving your pet a mussel as a treat or as component of his meal, but there are many health benefits associated with feeding mussels. Here’s my perspective on why the mussel is a great choice for your pet.
Mussels are a high-protein food. 65% of Nice Mussels are composed protein. Additionally, mussel meat protein is highly bioavailable, which means that the body is readily able to absorb and utilize it to help build body tissues. Whole food protein is more bioavailable than processed protein like meat meals (chicken by-product meal, lamb meal, etc.) that are found in many types of treats, kibble, and canned pet foods.
Even though Nice Mussels are freeze dried, they still contain highly-bioavailable protein. If an owner wants to fully replicate nature’s creation, fresh water can be added to saturate the mussel before feeding. Providing moist foods and treats can help owners to better meet their pets’ hydration needs. After all, if a pet eats his water there will be less of a need to drink water from potentially unclean sources.
Fat and Omega Fatty Acids
Mussels are naturally rich in healthy fats, including omega fatty acids. Fat is a nutrient essential for normal cellular function. It composes cell walls and the outer lining of nervous system tissues and facilitates the absorption of certain vitamins (fat-soluble vitamins).
EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) are both types of Omega-3 Fatty Acids which are found in Nice Mussels and can have natural anti-inflammatory properties for the joints, skin, nerves, and more. Omega-6 Fatty Acids, which are found in beef, lamb, venison, and other meats can have a pro-inflammatory effect, so I recommend my patients consume diets, treats, and take supplements rich in Omega-3s instead of Omega-6s.
Fat has an appealing taste, so it’s inclusion in edible items for pets can motivate them to consume foods or treats. Unfortunately, many pet foods and treats contain rendered fat preserved with chemicals like BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanilose) and BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene), both of which are carcinogenic. For my patients, I recommend diets and treats having inherent fat sources lacking chemical preservatives.
Some pet treats have added omega fatty acids from animal (fish oil) or vegetable (coconut, flax, olive, etc.) sources which can potentially become rancid when stored at room temperature or exposed to air. Human-grade Nice Mussels don’t have added Omega Fatty Acids and are freeze-dried, so they'll be less-likely to become rancid provided they are properly stored. I suggest putting any preservative-free foods and treats in the refrigerator to reduce rancidity and extend their shelf life.
Vitamins and Minerals
Mussels are a great source of vitamins and minerals for pets. According to Canadian Cove’s The Healthful Benefits of Mussels, a 6-ounce portion of mussels has more Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorous, Potassium, and Iron than the same size portion of a T-bone steak or chicken.
Mussels are also high in Selenium, which is a mineral that the National Institute of Health (NIH) reports that it composes “more than two dozen selenoproteins that play critical roles in reproduction, thyroid hormone metabolism, DNA synthesis, and protection from oxidative damage and infection."
SFGate’s What Are the Benefits of Mussels? indicates mussels are a good source of Vitamin A, which benefits the “eyes, skin and immune system, and aids in the production of new red blood cells.”
Vitamins and minerals in whole-food form are better absorbed than their synthetic counterparts as the natural structure more-ideally fits into the body’s receptors. So, having your pet get his vitamins and minerals from whole food sources is generally a better health plan than relying upon synthetic vitamins added to meals and treats.
Low Calorie Count
When choosing a snack for your pets, it's important to provide treats having low calorie counts. In 2014, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) conducted its annual National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Survey which concluded that 53% of dogs and 58% of cats are overweight or obese. That’s an unacceptable 100 million pets potentially having health problems associated with being too heavy that are directly related to their owners’ provision of excess calories.
Nice Mussels only have 8 kilocalories per treat (when reading a pet food label owners can consider a kilocalorie to be the same as a calorie). So, giving one per day according to the label’s recommendation will only provide a minimal number of calories in addition to diverse nutritional benefits.
Lack of Unhealthy Additives
If pet owners better understood the negative health consequences associated with artificial colors and flavors, moistening agents, and chemical preservatives they would likely think twice before feeding their pets commercially-available diets and treats containing such unnatural ingredients.
Some foods and treats contain caramel color to lend the appearance of real meat. Caramel color contains 4-methylimidazole (4-MIE), which studies have found causes lung cancer in mice and is included on California’s list of Chemicals Known to the State to Cause Cancer or Reproductive Toxicity.
Propylene glycol serves as a moistening agent and food preservative that provides no health benefits. Propylene glycol is widely known as pet-safe antifreeze which can be used to in your car in replacement of highly-toxic ethylene glycol.
This 1989 study, appearing in Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA), factored into propylene glycol’s removal from commercially-available cat foods and treats. Yet, propylene glycol is still included in some dog foods and treats, especially foods having a soft or crumbly (“burger-like”) consistency and treats that are simulations of real meat.
Pet Poison Helpline lists propylene glycol as a substance toxic for both dogs and cats having a toxicity being “generally mild to moderate, depending on the amount ingested.” Clinical signs of propylene glycol toxicity include (but not limited to): “severe sedation, walking drunk, seizures, tremors, panting, anemia, and lethargy.” Therefore, I don’t recommend propylene glycol ever enters your pet’s body.
BHA and BHT are common chemical fat preservatives. The National Institute of Health (NIH) reports that “dietary exposure to BHA caused benign and malignant tumors of the forestomach (papilloma and squamous-cell carcinoma) in rats of both sexes and in male mice and hamsters (IARC 1986, Masui et al. 1986).” BHT is also a known carcinogen, causes kidney and liver damage in rats, and has been banned as a human-food preservative in Australia, Japan, Romania, and Sweden.
Freeze drying foods helps to maintain freshness and structural integrity without adding dangerous chemical preservatives. Mother Jones reports “once rehydrated, freeze-dried food is similar in nutritional value to fresh food” according to Diane Barrett, a professor of food science and technology at UC-Davis.
So, what treats are you planning to give your pets? My suggestion is to consider Nice Mussels (and any other Honest Kitchen treats) due to their nutritional value, human-grade quality, and overall lack of unhealthy food additives.
Nice Mussels and The Honest Kitchen’s other new Joyful Jerky treats are coming soon and will be available to order in mid-October.
Dr. Patrick Mahaney
Dr. Patrick Mahaney VMD, CVA, CVJ is a veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist providing services to Los Angeles-based clients both on a house call and in-clinic basis. Dr. Mahaney’s unique approach integrating eastern and western medical perspectives has evolved into a concierge house call practice, California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness (CPAW), Inc. Additionally, Dr. Mahaney offers holistic treatment for canine and feline cancer patients at the Veterinary Cancer Group (Culver City, CA).