Supporting agility dogs with specialist lifetime cover


The spice of life...

As agility owners, we are especially tuned in to our dogs’ healthcare needs and are always on the lookout for the very best ways to ensure we are meeting those needs and promoting their health and well-being. Whether it’s providing the best nutrition we can afford to maintain optimum health, avoiding, as far as possible, any issues that may impact their day to day wellbeing, or simply supporting our beloved dogs as they age, agility people are very adept at researching, sharing information and even producing new products for the benefit of our dogs. As such, a large number of us have recently discovered turmeric and its apparently miraculous healing abilities and lots of us are asking, 'Is it too good to be true?' Carol Hunkin, a former agility competitor who lives with two elderly agility dogs who have benefited from taking turmeric, explains why the golden paste is taking the agility community by storm.

I started making Green Dog Deli's 'TLC' Turmeric Paste especially for our old dog Spike, using the best ingredients I could identify and find, and hoping that this would help to keep him well for as long as possible. Even with a steadfast belief in the power of good nutrition and the use of herbs for health, I could never have predicted the results we have seen.

We are all familiar with turmeric and its common culinary use as an ingredient of curry powder, but its wider uses are not new.

Curcuma longa (turmeric root to us) has been a staple of traditional Indian - and Chinese - medicine for thousands of years. These ancient forms of medicine follow a holistic approach, prioritising a good understanding of the causes of disease and focusing on prevention by paying attention to nutrition and lifestyle, including exercise. How remarkably similar that is to what we as a community are already doing for our dogs. No wonder turmeric is proving such a hit with animal guardians everywhere!

Traditional uses for turmeric root include:-

  • Purifying blood

  • Detoxifying the liver

  • Stimulating a sluggish and soothing an irritated digestive system

  • Disinfecting wounds

  • Treating fungal infections

This spice boosts the body’s ability to metabolise fats and contains a host of vitamins and minerals. It has also been used as a dye. We will come back to this later!

Turmeric today
Modern Western medicine has provided significant research into the composition, safety and effects of turmeric and its constituent ingredients and, as more and more benefits are being discovered, this research is continuing. The whole root is now known to contain several active substances with therapeutic benefits specifically pigments (including curcumin – noted particularly for its anti-arthritic effects), volatile oils and complex sugars.

These active substances are being used to prevent and even treat various cancers, to combat the inflammation associated with degenerative and rheumatoid arthritis, IBD and surgical procedures, to reduce the build-up of unhealthy cholesterol, preventing arteriosclerosis and to prevent and treat both chronic and acute liver disease.

Some of its protective and therapeutic mechanisms are already understood such as the various ways it protects us from damage that could be caused by reactive molecules and poisonous chemicals. It also has the therapeutic effects of slowing progression of tumours by inhibiting the production of enzymes and shutting down blood flow to tumour cells. In addition, it boosts a specific action of the immune system and has incredible natural anti-inflammatory effects.

Further clinical trials are underway to determine the safety and efficacy of various doses, administration routes and isolated chemicals derived from the natural root.

Practical use for our dogs
It is the anti-inflammatory effects that make turmeric particularly of interest to the agility community. In our canine athletes - as in all active bodies - accidental injuries and wear and tear take their toll on muscles, joints and associated tissues and the resulting inflammation can lead to loss of function, restriction, discomfort and lasting pain. Finding a conveniently available, apparently very safe, potent natural anti-inflammatory that comes with such a wide variety of other great benefits might just seem too good to be true – and it almost is!

So what is the downside?

While the active ingredients in turmeric do indeed offer all these fabulous effects, turmeric is not well absorbed by the human or the canine body.

In addition, if we do find a safe way to get it into our blood stream, our liver, as part of its role in detoxification, will mark it for immediate dispatch and it will soon be eliminated again!

So how do you feed it?
However, all is not lost and there are various things we can do to make sure we are getting the full benefit from eating our turmeric. And let’s face it, as those of you who have tried it will know, it tastes pretty awful if not part of a delicious, indulgent takeaway.

To ensure a high curcumin content, use a good quality, preferably organic, turmeric root powder. As turmeric is fat soluble, the powder will not dissolve well in water and this is one of the factors limiting its potential for absorption. Before it became so popular as part of a homemade nutritional supplement, those in the know used lecithin as a fat to make a slurry-like paste and thus aid digestibility. Now, if you intend to make (or buy) your own turmeric paste to promote health, it is commonly taken with a good quality, healthy and nutritious oil – such as coconut oil, linseed oil or olive oil.

There may be reasons why one or other of these will be more suitable for you or your dog, but, as far as turmeric efficacy goes, taking the powdered root with any one of these oils will overcome the first hurdle to optimum bio-availability.

The next thing you can do to make sure you get the maximum benefit from consuming turmeric is to take it alongside freshly ground black pepper. It is important to use a good quality, preferably organic, black pepper, stored as whole corns and freshly ground when needed. This is because piperine, an active ingredient in black pepper, will lose its potency fairly rapidly once the pepper is ground and it is this substance that is effective in preventing the liver accelerating the removal of the turmeric from the body. Indeed, including piperine when taking turmeric has been found to increase the bioavailability of curcumin by up to 2000%.

Of course it is true that a good curry will probably include turmeric, oil and pepper, but, unfortunately, even when all these boxes are ticked the turmeric will still leave our bodies fairly rapidly, taking all its benefits along with it, and for that reason it is best to take small amounts at several intervals throughout the day.

For our dogs, this means either adding the individual ingredients (or a readymade mix) to their meals or, if your dog will tolerate it, offering the mixture direct from a spoon several times daily.

At this stage it is very important to revisit one of the traditional uses of turmeric: its role as a vegetable dye. Unless you want to have vibrantly yellow hands for a very long time, wear gloves when mixing it. Unless you have a very effective power washer (or a very licky dog) don’t feed it on a pristine patio and NEVER place a bowl containing turmeric paste on a pale coloured carpet… you have been warned!

How much to give?

Start with a ¼ to ½ teaspoon and work up to a maximum of 4 level teaspoons/one tablespoon a day if feeding the popular paste made from tumeric, water, oil and pepper or up to 1.5 – 4g a day of the powdered herb.

Important things to consider
As with any food supplement used for therapeutic dosing or any herbal remedy, do keep an eye out for any adverse reactions (e.g. allergies or digestive upset) and ALWAYS talk it through with your vet if your dog is being treated for pre-existing conditions.

Ensure plenty of fresh drinking water is available for your dog at all times.

Turmeric itself is contra-indicated where there is a gallbladder or bile duct obstruction - as one of its effects is to increase the production of bile in the liver - and should be used with caution in acute liver disease, for the same reason. Using piperine to increase bioavailability will also potentially effect absorption of other drugs and even toxins, so keep this in mind and talk it over with your prescribing veterinary surgeon.

It is also very important to bear in mind, in keeping with the holistic approach to health, that inflammation itself is often a symptom and not a cause of disease. Inflammation is an important part of the recovery process when tissues are damaged, and for this reason turmeric is often used alongside other herbs and spices that promote healthy blood flow and promote tissue healing.

If your dog is suffering from recurrent injury or joint degeneration that cannot be attributed to a simple accident or the aging process then management changes are also likely to be needed. Good nutrition, appropriate exercise and mental stimulation will also ensure your dog retains optimum health as he or she ages - dealing with symptoms alone is not enough.

A holistic veterinarian, veterinary herbalist or canine nutritionist may be able to offer additional advice in all these areas.

Spikey's Story
Spikey is our 11 year old rescue dog (second from left in picture below.) He had a troubled start in life and was already the veteran of two homes and three different rescue centres before he came to us at three months. Despite numerous empty threats to return him to the Blue Cross, we made it through the challenging early days and he became the centre of our family and beloved by all with the possible exception of the neighbours who were attempting to make a film of their daughter's prom, but that's another story...

During his eleven years, Spikey has worked as a PAT dog and trained and competed in agility with my elder daughter Ceri. This gave us many years of happy weekends spent together, and for this I will always be most grateful.

Over the last two or three years our little comfort seeker became less and less likely to leave his bean bag. He sometimes looked as though he was struggling to get up and we noticed his shape was changing as he was compensating for some obvious discomfort. He was diagnosed with osteoarthritis and, although he remained well and happy, it looked as though his rabbit chasing days were over. Good nutrition, close attention to his weight and regular physical and laser therapy from an holistic vet were keeping Spikey comfortable most of the time but his muscles were wasting and his hips were starting to 'click' when he moved faster than a walk.

Spikey now accompanies us on all the family walks and outings - often for hours over the fields at a time. He is no longer having the manipulations or laser therapy and is symmetrical again with good muscle tone. A couple of nights ago he ended a three hour foray over the horse paddocks with a sudden burst of energy after a rather foolish rabbit! He suffered no ill effects the next day and was even able to leap off his beanbag to greet my elder son who came to visit. We definitely have our old Spikey back, and we are all absolutely over the moon. We're planning a camping trip to Cornwall for later this summer and taking ALL the dogs with us. I didn't think this would be possible again and firmly believe I have the effects of the turmeric paste to thank. It's truly amazing.

I will just add that it is thanks to Spikey that I am aware of the potential for staining when using the paste! He is a very reluctant subject and has it smeared on his tongue each day. Never one to make things easy is our Spike but we're looking forward to many more challenging years ahead!

Green Dog DeliAbout the author...
Carol Hunkin
is a complementary therapist and canine nutritionist who has been working in the pet food industry for eight years. She is the founder and director of Green Dog Deli, a consultant nutritionist and has recently opened Raw Planet, an eco-friendly dog deli dedicated to providing top class nutrition and holistic healthcare in an ethical and sustainable manner.

Visit Raw Planet at 9 & 10 Cornmarket, Faringdon, Oxfordshire SN7 7HH or buy Green Dog Deli’s readymade turmeric paste online on BigBarn

First published 21 August 2015


© Copyright Agilitynet