There are plenty of reasons to feed your dog pasture-raised, grass-fed beef and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is one of the most important ones. Studies reveal that naturally occurring CLA can aid in the breakdown of body fat and reduce the risk of various diseases, so it’s valuable for your dog’s long-term health.
What Is Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)?
CLA is a polyunsaturated, omega-6 fatty acid that is naturally produced by grazing animals like cows, goats, sheep and deer. It’s found in the meat and dairy products of these animals. These pastured ruminants (animals with a digestive system that ferments their food) have an enzyme that converts the omega-6 fatty acids in grassy plants to CLA.
CLA is derived from linoleic acid. Linoleic acid (without the “conjugated”) is an essential omega-6 fatty acid, found mostly in vegetable oils but in smaller amounts in other foods. CLA is an isoform of linoleic acid … meaning it’s different in its structure and function. Technically CLA is a trans fat — but a natural version that occurs in healthy foods.
There are 28 forms of CLA but the 2 important ones, C9, t11, are the naturally occurring ones found in the meat and dairy products of grazing animals. The “conjugated” refers to the double bonds in the fatty acid molecule. The various forms have double bonds arranged in various ways. But something as simple as this can make a world of difference to the cells of the body. That’s why it’s important to stick with meat and natural food sources to obtain this form of CLA for your dog.
Benefits Of CLA For Dogs
The unique structure of CLA offers a list of health benefits including:
- Immune and inflammatory system support
- Improved lean muscle mass
- Increased bone mass and bone mineralization
- Regulating blood sugar
CLA can strengthen health in other important ways too …
- Studies in countries where grass (not grain) is the mainstay of the bovine diet show that people with the most CLA and related vitamins have a lower risk of heart disease.
- CLA is an antioxidant. CLA from foods lowers the risk of various diseases, including type 2 diabetes and cancer. However, because of the various forms of CLA, a supplement form might not deliver the same anti-cancer benefits. Read more about this in the next section.
There’s a lot of research that shows CLA can lead to reduced body fat:
- CLA lowers body fat in animals as it increases the amount of specific enzymes and proteins involved in fat breakdown.
- One study of mice found that giving a CLA supplement for 6 weeks created a 70% body fat reduction. Another study showed it prevented fat gain. Others found CLA reduced food intake, increased fat burning, stimulated fat breakdown and inhibited fat production.
- It’s been shown CLA can encourage weight loss by reducing fatty acid deposits into existing fat tissue and improve immune function. It also stimulates thermogenesis (the burning of fatty acids for energy).
CLA has become a popular dietary supplement but there are no definitive studies that show supplements perform better than food sourced CLA.
And it’s also worth noting that dogs fed a meat-based diet are on a low-carbohydrate diet so they’re consuming less carbs and sugars than they would on a kibble diet. That leads to better weight control in your dog. Better overall diet leads to better body weight, body composition and body fat mass. And portion control always leads to better body condition.
Do Dogs Need CLA?
Dogs can definitely use CLA for its anti-inflammatory properties and its body-building benefits listed earlier, as well as reduced heart disease and diabetes risk.
In its natural food form, CLA may lower cancer risk. Where it becomes a problem is when pet owners give CLA supplements to manage cancer in their dogs … and those supplements aren’t the right form of CLA. The wrong CLA in supplements can do more damage than good and lead to adverse effects.
Demian Dressler DVM, aka The Dog Cancer Vet, and author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, is not a fan of using CLA in supplement form for cancer. In his words …
“Just for the record, I don’t care for the stuff. The forms of CLA are all mixed together usually. At some point, they will separate the forms of CLA in the mixture, and then we can re-assess…”
Let’s be clear, he’s criticizing the use of CLA supplements … NOT CLA that naturally occurs in a dog’s meat-based diet.
“One thing I really do not care for is that CLA lowers cancer-fighting adiponectin levels in the body. It also increases blood sugar (sugar is cancer food) and promotes weight loss (bad in dogs losing weight already due to cancer). It also causes the release of inflammatory signals in the body. Inflammation is linked to cancer progression.”
So there are better options to manage canine cancer risk than using CLA supplements.
Can Dogs Get Too Much CLA?
Yes … if it’s in supplement form. But your dog will certainly benefit from getting CLA from his food, ideally from grass-fed meat. He’ll get it in the right amounts and in the form that his body will recognize and metabolize.
CLA supplements are usually made by chemically altering linoleic acid from vegetable oils, often safflower oil. And that’s different from the CLA found naturally in your dog’s meat and food. These supplements contain types of CLA that never occur in large amounts in nature.
A CLA supplement can be dosed at higher amounts than your dog would get in his meat or food sources. And that’s problematic. Studies show large doses can increase fat accumulation in the liver. And that can lead to metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
Studies using high doses of CLA supplements show that CLA can cause inflammation, increased blood pressure, insulin resistance and lower “good” HDL cholesterol. They can affect how your dog’s body metabolizes and absorbs carbohydrates and sugar. Other studies using reasonable doses show that CLA supplements can still cause mild or moderate side effects, including upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea, insulin resistance and oxidative stress.
Food Sources Of CLA For Dogs
It’s clear that food sources are better for your dog than manufactured supplements.
That said, grass-fed, pasture-raised beef is your best source. That’s because CLA is 4 to 5 times higher in grass-fed beef than in grain-fed beef. CLA content varies with the season and diet of the animal. Milk samples have the lowest amounts of CLA in March and the highest amounts in August.
In addition to CLA, there’s a fatty acid called vaccenic acid in grass-fed beef. Bacteria in the digestive tract can convert vaccenic acid into CLA to further increase the amount of CLA from grass-fed animals.
How To Feed CLA To Dogs
CLA content is expressed as milligrams per gram of fat. There’s about 500-800 mg of CLA in 4 ounces of grass-fed beef. Or about .5 to 1g of CLA per 4 ounces. And this is about 2 to 3 times more than there is in grain-fed beef.
As you saw earlier, it’s safest not to use CLA supplements, which have some side effects, especially at high doses. Instead, try to feed your dog meat from ruminants such as cows, goats and sheep to provide him with CLA.
Here are foods with the highest amounts of CLA for your dog. Of course, make sure they’re from grass-fed animals:
- Butter: 6.0 mg/g fat
- Lamb: 5.6 mg/g fat
- Plain yogurt: 4.8 mg/g fat
- Ground beef: 4.3 mg/g fat
- Beef round steak: 2.9 mg/g fat
So … CLA is another nutrient that can benefit your dog, and he can get it without too much effort. Just follow a whole food, raw meat diet and try to make sure some of his meat is from grass-fed, pasture-raised animals. Or keep your dog’s overall fat low so you can add some butter or ghee from grass-fed cows!
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