Turmeric could be the next new joint health additive for pet food if the

necessary research were conducted.

Turmeric has been finding its way into pet foods with increasing frequency inthe past few years. There are dozens of websites and online news outletsdescribing many positive attributes of turmeric for pets. It is purported tohave a wide variety of health benefits.

In folk medicine, turmeric has been prescribed for rheumatism, pain, fatigue,arthritis, gastritis, dermatitis and liver issues. It has been described aspreventive and adjunctive treatment for cancer and may even have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Almost too good to be true.

Interestingly, there are a fair number of studies published in the alternativeand mainstream medical journals in human and laboratory animals that validatesome of these effects. There are a few short-term studies with dogs showingeither limited effects or small improvements in markers of reducedosteoarthritis. However, longer-term and larger studies are lacking. Littleinformation is available regarding efficacy, safety or proper preparation anddosage for dogs and cats. Perhaps digging a bit deeper will help determinewhether turmeric belongs in pet food and how it might best be used.

Spice for human food, color for pet food

Turmeric ( Curcuma longa ) is a flowering perennial plant that grows toapproximately 1 meter. It is related to ginger and is native to India andAsia, with some cultivated in Central America as well. It requires warmgrowing conditions with plenty of rainfall. Turmeric rhizomes (roots) areharvested and the “fingers” are removed from the “mother” root. The motherroot is saved for seed and the separated fingers are cured in hot water, thendried; and the outer layer is cleaned in a process called “polishing” beforebeing milled into a powder.

Turmeric is commonly considered a spice and is permitted in pet food for useas a coloring additive. It provides a rich orange-yellow color that wecommonly associate with French’s mustard. It has also been used to colorcheese, salad dressing, butter and margarine. But it’s probably best known asthe key component in curry powder, a spice palate used in Indian and Asiancuisine. In this capacity, it has been used in food preparation for centuries.Estimates for consumption by humans in these regions puts daily intake at2,000-2,500 mg/day without signs of toxicity or adverse effect.

The active component in turmeric is composed of a variety of phenoliccompounds and terpenoids. The most active are described as the curcuminoids,which include curcumin, demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin. Curcumincontains antioxidant activity. It comprises about 2-8% of the turmeric and isresponsible for the yellow color and flavor. For pharmacological purposes,curcumin is prepared by solvent extraction of the milled turmeric with acetoneor methanol, and then solids are filtered off and solvent is removed undervacuum. The resulting oleoresin is crystallized and then ground into a powder.

Turmeric powder more effective for pets?

There are several nutraceutical studies with curcumin and modifications thathave demonstrated a pharmacological response in dogs, so the active elementseems to have an effect. However, the bigger question for pet food relates toturmeric powder rather than purified curcumin extract.

Interestingly, in some animal studies, turmeric powder has been more effectivethan the extracts; but bioavailability of the active element can be low. Inhuman foods and supplements, it is recommended that turmeric be taken withpepper (piperine) to aid bioavailability. Emulsifiers (e.g., lecithin) and(or) vegetable oils may improve absorption. Further, preparation of turmericpowder can be modified to enhance potency through enzymatic hydrolysis and(or) fermentation.

Digestibility, palatability or other acceptability measures for pet foodssupplemented with turmeric have not been reported. Generally, pet foodmanufacturers are adding small amounts (0.05 to 0.25%) to the food as part ofan antioxidant or anti-inflammatory package to imply a health benefit. Detailsregarding optimal dose that might impart benefit to osteoarthritis in senior-type diets have not been described.

An interesting side note regarding turmeric relates to its potential as apreservative for fats to retard oxidation. In one study with a blend of fishoil and flaxseed oil treated with curcumin (0.1 and 0.2% food dry basis) andapplied to a pet food, the turmeric-treated foods performed equal to or betterthan BHA in a short-term oxidation study (12 weeks).

Supply chain shared with human food and supplements

The supply chain for turmeric is the same as that for the human foodingredient and supplements market. There is no separate pet supply channel forthis ingredient. Thus, prices may be much higher than for standard commodityingredients typically encountered in the pet food trade. Therein lies thechallenge of determining the amount to include in the formula – finding thatright mix between effective dose, palatability effects (if any), impact oncolor of the finished product and cost relative to the expectations of the petfood purchaser.

Given turmeric will likely be used at relatively small amounts, it may benefitfrom being delivered to the diet in a premix along with other small inclusionadditives (e.g., vitamins, trace minerals, antioxidant blends). Further,sequencing in the manufacturing plant may be necessary as the yellow color hasthe potential to bleed over into foods that follow in the production schedule.

While the anecdotal information regarding the uses and benefits of turmericseem very interesting, especially considering the increasing population ofaging animals, the reality is that we don’t have enough information about thisingredient in dogs and cats to responsibly use it at doses beyond what ispermitted today for a food color additive. Future work should focus ondocumenting any adverse reactions, measurement of active compounds, markers ofosteoarthritis and other anti-inflammatory intermediates. Further, the area ofantioxidant capacity and anti-microbial potential should be explored toprovide a better picture of where turmeric might play a role in pet foods.

Top 5 takeaways

  1. Turmeric is approved as a coloring additive for pet foods. The most active components are curcuminoids, including curcumin, which contains antioxidant activity.
  2. In some animal studies, turmeric powder has been more effective than extracts, but bioavailability of the active element can be low.
  3. Digestibility, palatability or other acceptability measures for pet foods have not been reported, nor has optimal dose for osteoarthritis benefit.
  4. Generally, pet food manufacturers are adding small amounts of turmeric as part of an antioxidant or anti-inflammatory package to imply a health benefit.
  5. The supply chain is the same as that for the human food ingredient and supplements market, so prices may be much higher than for standard pet food ingredients.

Image: Bigstock

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