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Microalgae and its benefits for pets

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Microalgae and its benefits for pets
What are Microalgae and what are its benefits for Pets

The petfood industry is currently experiencing a boom, due to the changes and processes that have sped up following 2020. Pet owners no longer want the cheapest food – on the contrary, they choose the food that provides increased nutrition, health and wellness to their four-legged friends.

Microalgae defined

Microalgae are photosynthetic, polyphyletic and eukaryotic unicellular aquatic organisms, which can grow autotrophically (they synthesise all essential substances for their metabolism from inorganic substances and do not need other living beings) or heterotrophic (they feed on other carbon sources organic, mainly plant or animal matter).

They are generally highly efficient in fixing CO2 (the conversion of inorganic carbon into organic compounds) and in using solar energy to produce biomass. They grow and develop in open pond or closed tank systems.

Their uses

Currently, microalgae are used mainly as additives, both in balanced food and in supplements or snacks in petfood for dogs and cats.

Main benefits for petfood

Microalgae are a great source of protein, fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fibre.

They contribute:

  • Essential nutrients, such as proteins, fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins, fibre and minerals (phosphorus, iron, zinc and magnesium, to name a few)
  • Superior quality nutrition, as it is a natural product, free of metals, pesticides, microbes and other contaminants
  • An improvement in intestinal health, as it is proven that microalgae improve intestinal health and activate animals’ immune systems
  • An improvement in general health since they increase oral hygiene and the shine and strength of the coat
  • For brain development, some microalgae burn macronutrients as a source of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which contributes to brain development. Its consumption in puppies, pregnant and lactating animals is essential

Most common microalgae used in petfood

  • Spirulina and Chlorella: these microalgae absorb light. They are currently used in supplements, treats, and whole foods for dogs and cats
  • Spirulina is very rich in nutrients, and it is said to improve the health of the skin and the immune system, although there are still no studies that have been carried out exclusively to test this effect in dogs and cats
  • In a study carried out in rats, it was discovered that thanks to its intake (incorporated in 0.2 to 1.3% in dry food), the production of immunoglobulin A improved
  • Chlorella is considered to detoxify and purify the body systems of pets, although there is no current scientific evidence on its effects
  • In rodents, oral administration of a chlorella extract (between 0.9% and 2.8%) increased resistance against an intraperitoneal infection with Escherichia coli or Listeria
  • In addition, a small-scale study suggests that incorporating chlorella powder into dry food by 0.6% can reduce the consequences of canine dermatitis

Currently, products that contain microalgae in their formulas come in the form of:

• Seaweed flakes, of different sizes and thicknesses, which are suitable for use in croquettes and chews

• Seaweed powder, easily mixed powder used for granules and specialty products

• Seaweed paste, easily soluble and used in dry food or feed

• Small croquettes, easy to process once defrosted

Algae is rich in DHA

Green algae are characterized by having a higher percentage of DHA than other algae, such as Shizochytrium sp.

The intake of Omega 3 EPA and DHA can improve atopic dermatitis and osteoarthritis and some indicators of modular immunity in dogs.

  • It was found that the inclusion of 0.4% DHA-rich algae in dry foods increases the apparent protein
  • A small-scale study with 3 dogs fed a diet that included 0.4% DHA-rich algae for 30 days showed that DHA produces beneficial changes in canine electroretinography

However, cognitive tests were performed with elderly dogs and the incorporation of 0.4% dehydrated whole cells of Schizochytrium sp in dry food did not show strong improvements in their group.

Composition of the microalgae most used in petfood

Dried seaweed, oil and seaweed extract and meal are included in the European catalogue of feed materials. Some approximate numbers of the composition of each can be given:

  • Spirulina and autotrophic chlorella contain 57 percent crude protein in dry matter, 11 percent crude fat, 8 percent ash, 6 percent crude fibre, and 18 percent soluble carbohydrates
  • Dried spirulina and chlorella contain about 1 percent chlorophylls and 0.1 percent carotenoids (although these numbers can vary widely). Both algae have a negligible content of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA, and have a high molecular weight polysaccharide, which comprises approximately 0.75% of the dry weight of microalgae; it differs in composition from a glycosyl group but shares the high solubility in water
  • Spirulina also has 10 percent phycocyanin as a photosynthetic pigment and 2 percent GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), absent in chlorella. The soluble polysaccharides in spirulina are mainly glucose and rhamnose, but there are some differences between species
  • Dried algae rich in DHA contain approximately 22 percent DHA, and less than 0.6% EPA
  • For Schizochytrium sp, the heterotrophic DHA vehicle, the values ​​are: 11% of crude protein in dry matter, 51 percent of crude fat, 9 percent of ash, 2 percent of crude fibre and 27 percent of soluble carbohydrates

Summary

Currently, the use of microalgae in Latin America is much more widespread exclusively for human consumption, with Brazil being the country with the most companies producing food based on microalgae, followed then by Mexico, Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Cuba.

While studies and experiments continue to ensure the benefits of these components in pets, we can conduct our own research and come to conclusions on how to take advantage of these discoveries and create new formulas with more nutrition and benefits to improve the quality of the petfood industry.

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