5 Functional Foods Every Dog Needs

what to add to dog food

Do you know what NUTRACEUTICAL means? In a nutshell, it refers to a food that has medicinal properties. Yes … food can and should be medicine. But how do you know what to add to dog food?

In many cases, functional foods can be just as effective as drugs … without the unwanted harmful side effects. In fact, researchers have recently turned their attention to nutraceuticals for this reason. So there’s now a substantial amount of science showing what we knew all along … food is the ultimate form of healthcare!

But there are a lot of functional foods to choose from. If you’re not careful, your dog’s bowl could become an unappetizing pile of supplements. And let’s face it … those foods won’t do any good if your dog won’t eat them.

So let’s make it easy. Here are 5 simple foods that can have a substantial impact on your dog’s health. They’re inexpensive, easy to get … and most dogs don’t mind the taste.

Let’s get your dog’s food working harder for him!

1. Chlorella: The Detoxifier

Chlorella is a sea algae that’s related to spirulina … but it packs a much bigger punch.

Both spirulina and chlorella are major antioxidants. In human studies, chlorella increased antioxidant levels in smokers and protected against DNA damage (1).

Chlorella is also a major source of vitamin A, magnesium and especially zinc, which is often deficient in dogs. 

But chlorella makes our Top 5 List because of its ability to remove harmful toxins and heavy metals from your dog’s body. It’s a potent detoxifier.

Heavy metals, like mercury, aluminum and lead, are a problem for most dogs. If your dog has been vaccinated for rabies, then he’s been injected with aluminum and even mercury. Your dog is exposed to other heavy metals from his flea, tick and heartworm meds, food, pesticides, herbicides and pollution.

Over time, your dog can develop heavy metal toxicity … and his liver, kidneys and brain function will start to decline. This is one reason why liver and kidney disease are so common in older dogs. So it’s important to remove heavy metals and other toxins from the body. 

Chlorella is one of the best natural detoxifiers. It’s been shown in multiple animal studies to bind to and help remove heavy metals and toxins (2, 3). 


Chlorella is especially important for dogs with yeast problems since yeast loves to eat heavy metals. 


To chelate heavy metals, chlorella works well at lower doses. Give about 50 mg per 25 pounds of body weight once or twice a day.

RELATED: Chlorella for dogs: Help your dog detox with this green machine …

2. Blueberries: The Brain Protectors

A major cause of aging and degeneration of all organs is oxidative stress. This is the build up of metabolic byproducts called free radicals. Free radicals are reactive … they quickly build up in large amounts by turning neighbouring molecules into free radicals. This harms cell membranes and even DNA. The result is age-related diseases such as arthritis, kidney disease and even cancer. 

Your dog’s immune system has no protection against free radicals. The only way to control them is through diet. Nutrients that fight free radical damage, like vitamins C and E, are called antioxidants.  

No other food scores higher for its antioxidant properties than the blueberry. Blueberries are also well researched for their anti-inflammatory effects on the brain and nervous system.

The brain uses more oxygen than any other body tissue … and this makes it especially vulnerable to oxidative stress. Blueberries contain a unique antioxidant called anthocyanin … and they contain more than any other food. Anthocyanins can cross the blood-brain barrier, making blueberries a potent protector of the brain and nervous system. 

In one study, dogs eating blueberries had lower markers of oxidative stress and a significant reduction of oxidative stress (4). And in other animal studies, mice eating blueberries were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease (5).

RELATED: Learn more about how blueberries can help your dog …

How To Feed Blueberries

Since blueberries are food, there’s no “dose” for dogs. You could safely add blueberries as up to 5% of your dog’s diet. If your dog is eating kibble, you’ll want to double that amount. 

You can also add other berries, including raspberries, cranberries and blackberries. Unlike other fruits, berries are low in sugar and have a low glycemic load.


Make sure your dog’s blueberries are wild and organic. Wild blueberries contain more anthocyanins. And organic blueberries won’t load up your dog with more pesticides. 

3. Broccoli Sprouts: The Liver Protectors

Multiple animal and human studies show that the cruciferous veggies in the diet, the lower the cancer risk (6). That’s because all cruciferous vegetables contain a phytonutrient called sulforaphane

And no cruciferous veggie contains more sulforaphane than broccoli sprouts. They contain nearly 100 times more sulforaphane than mature broccoli and other cruciferous veggies (7). 

Sulforaphane can activate the Nrf2 pathway better than any other food-based nutrient (8). This matters, because the Nrf2 pathway reduces inflammation in your dog. Like oxidative stress, chronic inflammation is a major cause of aging, degeneration, mutations and cancer. 

Like the blueberry, sulforaphane is a potent antioxidant and fights free radical damage. And like the blueberry, sulforaphane can cross the blood-brain barrier and protect the brain. 

Sulforaphane also helps remove toxins from the body. It activates Phase II liver detoxification, which is an important process in the elimination of inflammatory toxins. It also activates enzymes that protect your dog’s cells from the DNA damage toxins can cause. 

RELATED: 3 reasons your dog needs sulforaphane …


Dogs need about 5 mg sulforaphane per 50 pounds of weight. To get that amount, feed a pinch of broccoli sprouts or a small dog to about 1/2 cup for a large-sized dog.


Because sulforaphane can activate Phase II liver detoxification, it might interact with some of your dog’s medications. So if your dog is on meds, it might be a good idea to check with your vet before giving broccoli sprouts.

4. Mushrooms: The Immune Balancers

Mushrooms are more genetically similar to animals than plants. They have cell walls like plants … but the walls contain chitin, like insects. It’s the chitin that gives mushrooms their meaty texture. 

Chitin also protects the mushroom’s nutrients … so mushrooms need to be warmed and extracted to offer your dog any real health benefits. But the benefits are unmatched when it comes to your dog’s immune function. 

Mushrooms are powerful immune modulators. This means they can balance the immune system and help your dog fight cancer cells, parasites, viruses, bacteria … and help push the reset button on allergies and autoimmune diseases. They can also boost the immune system during times of stress or exposure to toxins or infectious diseases like kennel cough. 

There are a variety of mushrooms that have potent immune benefits, including:

Mushrooms tend to work best when you give a few types together but you can also feed them individually. 

Here’s why mushrooms made our Top 5 List …

Mushrooms contain a special polysaccharide called beta-glucan. This compound is well researched for its ability to fight tumor cells (9). In fact, this polysaccharide is so effective at modulating the immune response that it’s been used as anti-cancer drugs in Japan and China. 

Mushrooms are also high in fiber … this makes them natural antioxidants and prebiotics. Mushroom polysaccharides have been shown to increase the survival of beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus casei. The triterpenoids from mushrooms also protect against pathogenic bacteria. 

RELATED: The health benefits of mushrooms for dogs 


Because the beneficial polysaccharides need to be released from the cell walls, mushrooms are often double extracted with both alcohol and steam.  If you give your dog extracted mushrooms, follow the instructions on the bottle. 

If feeding fresh mushrooms, make sure they’re cooked thoroughly. Raw mushrooms can be toxic to your dog but they’re safe when cooked.


If you buy powdered mushrooms, make sure the label doesn’t say mycelium, myceliated mass, or contains oats or other grains. These products don’t contain the whole mushroom and will be lower in beta-glucan content (whch is highest in the fruiting body).

5. Omega Fats: The Inflammation Fighters

Of all the functional foods you can give your dog, omega fatty acids are arguably the most important. Like broccoli sprouts, key omega fats are potent anti-inflammatories … and benefit not just your dog’s joints, but all of his cells and organs.

Every chronic disease is linked to chronic inflammation … so it’s important that your dog has inflammation-fighting foods in his meals every day.

There are 2 main types of omega fatty acids that are important for your dog:

Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Linoleic acid (LA)
Gamma linolenic acid (GLA)
Dihomo linoleic acid (DGLA)
Arachidonic acid (AA)

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Alpha linoleic acid (ALA)
Stearidonic acid (SDA)
Eicosatetraenoic acid (ETA)
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
Docosapentaenoic acid (DPA)
Docoxahexaenoic acid (DHA)

When we think of fatty acids, we tend to think about fish oil, which is a good source of EPA and DHA. But fish oil ONLY contains EPA and DHA, so you may want to add other forms of fat. And your dog will get extra benefits if you add oils that are sustainable, which fish, krill and calamari oil aren’t. 

RELATED: Read about the pros and cons of fish oil …

Here are some common sources of omega fatty acids to consider:

Brains and Eyes

Brain and eyes are not only a good source of EPA and DHA, but they’re also rich in trace minerals and other fatty acids.

Green Lipped Mussels

Green lipped mussels are a good source of EPA and DHA. Unlike fish oil, they also contain potent anti-inflammatory fats including ETA and SDA. And they can also be sustainably grown in clean New Zealand waters.

Hemp Seed Oil

Not to be confused with hemp oil, hemp seed oil is a decent and sustainable choice for dietary fats. It’s rich in trace minerals and a good source of GLA … but your dog won’t get much DHA from it.


Phytoplankton feed the entire ocean and are considered a whole food. It’s rich in trace minerals but contains only a small amount of omega fats. Green lipped mussels feed on phytoplankton and can give your dog the same benefits as phytoplankton … but in much larger quantities.

Ahiflower Oil

The newest player in the omega fat space, Ahiflower is rich in SDA and GLA and converts well to ETA, DGLA, EPA, and DHA … so it shoes a lot of promise for it’s anti-inflammatory properties.

Food can be the purest form of medicine. Try adding these 5 functional foods to your dog’s meals and watch him reap the benefits.

  1. Lee SH, Kang HJ, Lee HJ, Kang MH, Park YK. Six-week supplementation with Chlorella has favorable impact on antioxidant status in Korean male smokers. Nutrition. 2010 Feb;26(2):175-83. 
  2. Queiroz ML, Rodrigues AP, Bincoletto C, Figueirêdo CA, Malacrida S. Protective effects of Chlorella vulgaris in lead-exposed mice infected with Listeria monocytogenes. Int Immunopharmacol. 2003 Jun;3(6):889-900. 
  3. Saavedra R, Muñoz R, Taboada ME, Bolado S. Influence of organic matter and CO2 supply on bioremediation of heavy metals by Chlorella vulgaris and Scenedesmus almeriensis in a multimetallic matrix. Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2019 Oct 30;182:109393. 
  4. Sechi S, Fiore F, Chiavolelli F, Dimauro C, Nudda A, Cocco R. Oxidative stress and food supplementation with antioxidants in therapy dogs. Can J Vet Res. 2017;81(3):206-216.
  5. Joseph JA, Denisova NA, et al. Blueberry supplementation enhances signaling and prevents behavioral deficits in an Alzheimer disease model. Nutr Neurosci. 2003 Jun;6(3):153-62.
  6. Murillo G, Mehta RG. Cruciferous vegetables and cancer prevention. Nutr Cancer. 2001;41(1-2):17-28. 
  7. Fahey JW, Zhang Y, Talalay P. Broccoli sprouts: an exceptionally rich source of inducers of enzymes that protect against chemical carcinogensProc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1997;94(19):10367-10372.
  8. Rajendran, P, Dashwood, WM, Li, L. et al. Nrf2 status affects tumor growth, HDAC3 gene promoter associations, and the response to sulforaphane in the colonClin Epigenet7, 102 (2015).
  9. Barbieri A, Quagliariello V, Del Vecchio V, et al. Anticancer and Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Ganoderma lucidum Extract Effects on Melanoma and Triple-Negative Breast Cancer TreatmentNutrients. 2017;9(3):210. Published 2017 Feb 28. doi:10.3390/nu9030210

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