Scientists are debating whether the benefits of this superfood’s richness in vitamins and minerals can be extended to animals.
It can take years, or even decades, for human food- related health trends (such as berries and fish oil) to find their way into pet food. This is currently happening with avocado (Persea americana).
Health benefits in humans
Avocado is widely known to be rich in vitamins, minerals and healthy fats. Its unsaturated to saturated fat ratio is similar to that of olive oil, and it is a multifunctional prebiotic and viscous fiber source. It also has a low energy density and helps the absorption of carotenoids from fruits and vegetables.
These properties are responsible for health benefits in humans, such as a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease or obesity, improved cognitive function and healthier gut microbiota. So, what is good for people must also be good for their pets, right? Not necessarily!
Sensitivity to persin
Avocado is generally considered toxic for all domestic animals due to a compound called persin. Concentration levels of persin vary depending on the specific part, variety and geographical origin of the avocado. This compound is believed to cause mastitis in lactating animals, or myocardial insufficiency in nonlactating animals, resulting in lethargy and breathing difficulties.
The consequences can be severe in some animals such as birds, ruminants and horses. It seems that cats and dogs are less sensitive to persin. Also, evidence of avocado toxicity in dogs is scarce in the scientific literature. There is only one reported case of poisoning in 2 dogs from Kenya in which avocado is mentioned as the probable suspect.
Other compounds of interest
Apart from persin, avocado contains other compounds of interest such as D-Mannoheptulose and perseitol. Mannoheptulose is a glycolytic inhibitor. Several years ago, it was investigated as a novel functional dog food ingredient that could alter glucose or lipid metabolism or energy expenditure. However, studies on Labrador Retrievers did not find it to be effective.
Numerous other bioactive compounds from avocado are increasingly being studied for their antioxidant, antimicrobial, anticancer and anti-inflammatory effects. Thus, the pharma industry could regard avocado as a potential source of novel therapeutics.
The role of avocado in pet diets
Recent research by the University of Illinois analyzed the safety of avocado from the pet food industry’s perspective. A study on 9 female beagle dogs evaluated the nutritional potential of avocado meal as a source of dietary fiber in an extruded diet, by comparing its effects against the traditional fiber sources of beet pulp and cellulose.
The dogs were fed an extruded diet containing as much as 18% of avocado meal during a 2-week period. The results showed that the avocado meal affects the dog’s feces (output, score and fermentation) and the digestibility (of protein, fat and total dietary fiber) very similarly to traditional fiber sources. Like the previous study done on cats by the same team, the study concluded that no adverse health effects were observed in dogs and therefore that the avocado meal might be an acceptable dietary fiber source for extruded diets.
Interestingly, the scientists didn’t find any persin in the avocado meal. It could be that there was no persin in the variety of avocado they used in the study, or that it was degraded during processing.
More extensive research needed
Although these results are original and novel, it would be worthwhile to further study the dietary effects and safety of avocado meal on a larger number of different dog breeds over a longer period and to monitor more health parameters.
For example, it would be interesting to investigate how avocado meal in the diet affects the gut microbiome of dogs. While avocado offers plenty of health benefits for dogs, it is important to first conduct more extensive research focusing on its safety.
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