What role do antioxidants play in commercial cat food?
Antioxidants are nutrients found naturally in the body and in plants such as fruits and vegetables. Common antioxidants include vitamin A, vitamin C, citric acids, vitamin E, and certain compounds called carotenoids (like lutein and beta-carotene). Natural vitamin E is commonly listed as “mixed tocopherols” on the pet food ingredient list. Citric acids are taken from various citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and limes.
Antioxidants help to keep us all healthy by killing free radicals, which are rogue oxygen molecules that can dangerously react with other molecules, leading to greater health problems. As a result of heightened awareness about their importance, many cat foods now include antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables.
Antioxidants slow down damage from free radicals and prevent further cell damage. They allow the immune system to function without interference from free radicals. This protection is important to prevent serious health issues from developing or worsening. In young animals, antioxidants provide a boost to the developing immune system before vaccination has a chance to be effective. In older animals, oxidative injury to cells in the brain and organs may be slowed by antioxidants, providing a longer, healthier lifespan. Because antioxidants play such a vital role in minimizing damage to cells, antioxidants can help cats and dogs maintain a healthy immune system. Two important antioxidants for cats include Vitamin E and Lutein. Vitamin E increases the immune system’s T-cell activation while Lutein boosts B-cell activation and vaccine recognition.
Antioxidants are often used as natural preservatives substances that help to keep fats and fat-soluble ingredients (including vitamins A and E) from becoming oxidized. Once a fat is oxidized, it starts to taste rancid and loses much of its nutritional value. Cat and dog foods, which often contain significant levels of fat, are especially susceptible to oxidation. Canned foods are protected because they are airtight, but dry foods need to have antioxidants added to preserve them.
If an antioxidant is used, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines require that the common name of the antioxidant must appear on the label, along with a reference to the fact that it is being used as a preservative.