Essential Amino Acids for Dogs

In my previous post, I talked about protein, and touched on what amino acids are.  Essentially, amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, or enzymes.  Each protein has to have a very specific shape in order to work, and this is created by a specific sequence of amino acids.  There are 22 amino acids in most living things, and all mammals use the same set.

The full collection of amino acids - collect all 22!

Because every protein has to have a specific amino acid sequence, it is very important for every cell to have an abundant amount of amino acids.  Because of this, a cell has evolved different mechanisms for converting certain amino acids into others.  For example, Alanin can be produced by the cell, so there is no dietary need to eat it.

However, there are about 10 amino acids that dogs can not produce themselves.  These amino acids need to be in a dog’s food, or serious deficiencies will result.  Hence the word “essential”.   These amino acids are absolutely essential to a dogs diet.

How do you ensure that a dog in getting the proper amount?  Most meat will contain all the necessary amino acids that your dog needs. A lot of plant protein is missing one or two of the essential amino acids.  I supplement Tsuki’s food with both Spirulina and Bee Pollen, which I’ll talk about in later posts, to ensure that everything she needs is there. Spirulina and Bee Pollen are both “complete proteins”, meaning that they have all the essential amino acids available.



Protein – What is it Really?

Protein is extremely important for a dog.  In fact, it’s pretty important for all life.  Many people take the importance of it for granted but I always like to ask the question: OK, but Why?

Protein is also Tsuki's favorite food

To answer that question, we have to go back a little bit to the chemistry of the cell.  Each cell of your body is going through thousands of chemical reactions every second.  Most of these reactions will not work if just left on their own.  For example, sugar gets converted to energy in a cell.   To do this it has to undergo a number of chemical changes.  But if you just let sugar sit in water, nothing happens.  To push the reaction forward, it needs a catalyst.

The definition of a catalyst is something that helps a chemical reaction along, but remains unchanged.  In synthetic chemistry, we use other chemicals, and even metals, to complete the reactions.  What do cells use? They use enzymes.

Every reaction in your cells has a unique enzyme.  There are different types of enzymes, and millions of enzymes in each cell.  Each enzyme has a very specific shape that only works for the compound that it is the catalyst for.  Enzymes get this shape because they have a specific amino acid sequence.  Hundreds and thousands of amino acids fold in a certain way to get their unique shape.

The Hexokinase enzyme, one of the many that turns sugar into energy. Like all enzmes, it is made up of amino acids.

Enzymes are fairly fragile though.  They break down fairly easily outside the cell.  When a enzyme breaks down it unfolds and can no longer work.  This is what protein is.  I usually use the word protein and enzyme interchangeably, but the technically all protein is an enzyme that is either working or unraveled.

Protein is important because it contains the amino acids that are necessary to create new enzymes for your dog.  During the digestion process, the protein is broken down into amino acids and redistributed to the body by red blood cells and blood plasma.  Once inside the cell the amino acids are reconfigured to create whatever protein your dog’s cells needs.

So protein is important because of the amino acids that it contains.  These get reconfigured by your dogs’ cell to make… more protein.


The Power Of Garlic

My past posts have focused on onions, but now I’d like to talk about a distant cousin: garlic.  I say distant cousin, but they are taxonomically very similar.  But if they are similar, why is onion bad and garlic good?  I don’t think anyone is quite sure, actually.  They both have similar chemistry, but garlic has a lot less of the chemicals that cause Heinz-body anemia.

So garlic isn’t bad.  But why do I think its good?  There are many great things about garlic – it is a great natural antibiotic, antiviral, its great to treat fleas and parasites, and has vitamins and minerals to boot.

But does garlic have all of these great qualities?

This plant smells better than Garlic, but isn't as healthy...

Garlic has some of the most sulfur compounds of any food, but the main active compound in garlic is called Allicin:

On it’s own, Allicin has been shown to have a great amount of the antibacterial properties that has been shown in raw garlic.  However, the mystery deepens.  You see, Aliicin isn’t actually in a clove of Garlic.  How is this so?

The compound that is in garlic is called Aliin.  You can tell by the name that its a close relative.

So here is the interesting thing.  When garlic is crushed, an enzyme in the garlic called Alliinase converts Alliin into Allicin.  So one of the compounds that is most important in garlic doesn’t actually exist in garlic.

I haven’t really been able to find any scientific journals supporting this, but I have a theory. Maybe if you let garlic sit for a couple minutes after crushing it, it will be a more powerful antibiotic? It would let the Allinase enzyme produce more of the Allicin that has been effective.  Again, just a theory, but it would make sense.

As I mentioned before, Garlic has many, many, many benefits, each with, presumably, a chemical constituent that is responsible for its effects.   I’m sure I’ll come back to the wonders of Garlic in future articles!

Why are onions bad for dogs? Part two

So yes, onions are bad for dogs.

They cause Heinz-body anemia, which lowers the amount of blood in their bodies, and makes them lethargic.  If they eat enough onions (but it would have to a good amount of onions), they may die.

So what is this Heinz body anemia? Let’s start with what a Heinz body is in the first place.  A Heinz-body is a lump in a red blood cell.  So onions cause these lumps on the blood cell. These lumps are very large, and can be seen under a microscope.  Red blood cells with these Heinz bodies are more likely to rupture, and get filtered out by the spleen.

So what is in onions that make it bad for dogs?  There are a couple culprits, but one of the most important seems to be this little punk: Sodium n-propylthiosulphate.

Sodium n-propylthiosulfate says "I hate dogs"

But to understand how Sodium n-propylthiosulphate works we need to back up a little bit.

A mamals blood cell is filled with a protein called Hemoglobin.  Hemoglobin has a few spots where an Iron molecule sits.  The Iron molecule will react with oxygen, and releases it when necessary.  This is how oxygen is transported.

Hemoglobin: The reason why we breath


However, Sodium N-propylsulfate reacts with the Iron in Hemoglobin to create Methemoglobin, which cannot react with Oxygen.  Not only that but the protein denatures, or falls apart, and precipitates to the membrane of the blood cell. The Precipitate then attaches to the membrane and becomes a Heinz Body.

So this is the main reason why Heinz bodies are created, and why onions are bad for dogs.  There are other compounds, and mechanisms that seem to be in play, though.  But why are dogs affected so much?  And if onions are bad, is garlic OK?  They are similar plants, but garlic seems to be much less dangerous.  I’ll discuss this next week!



Why are onions bad for dogs?

When I started cooking food for my dog Tsuki, I checked up on all of the foods that are dangerous for dogs.  One of the food that you hear time and time again, is the fearsome onion.

Tsuki, the connossier

At first I just took it for granted that everyone was right, and moved on with the onionless food that I was preparing, but eventually I started to look into a little further.  Yes, it turns out that onions are bad for dogs.  And REALLY bad for cats.  Actually, dogs, cats, horses, sheep, and monkeys all have shown adverse reactions with onions.  So in that case, what is so special about humans?

So what happens when dogs eat onions?  They’ll appear fine immediately afterwards, but the next day they will feel sluggish, and perhaps won’t get up.  Their urine will be reddish, and will smell of… onions.  It could potentially be a very serious illness, if you dog has eaten enough onions.  How much is enough? A LOT.

In one of the studies I was looking at, researchers gave onions to dogs to find out the effects.  In this study onions were the ONLY thing that the dogs ate FOR TWO DAYS.  And every single one of the dogs survived.  So unless your dog has gotten into a giant bag of onions, this isn’t going to be a life threatening illness.  However, continually feeding your dog onions will affect them, by lowering  the amount of red blood cells in their bodies.

Red blood cells are the main cells in your blood that carry oxygen from your lung to the rest of your cells.  The blood cells are similar for most mammals, with a few differences that I’ll talk about later. Onions cause an illness called Heinz-body anemia, which lowers the amount of red blood cells in the dog’s body, and makes it harder for your dog’s cells to receive oxygen.  That’s why an affected dog won’t really move, and will breath faster, because your dog is working harder to get oxygen into the blood stream.  However, if there aren’t enough blood cells to do the job, the dog is in trouble, no matter how hard she breathes.  If your dog has gotten into a large amount of onions, and is having trouble getting up, you should go to a vet.  She might need a blood transfusion.  But afterwords, everything should be fine.

The good news is that the illness goes away in a couple of days, and there are no permanent effects.   Dogs replenish their blood cells continuously, and at a faster rate then humans.  So any blood that is lost will be replaced within a couple of days, and your dog will be good as new.

But the question still remains, what exactly is a Heinz body? Why does it cause anemia?  Why are dogs affected?  And what is it about onions that cause this?  I’ll give you the answers next week!


Hello, and Welcome!

During the summer of 2009, a little puppy was born on the side of a road of a small island in Japan.

My Dog, Tsuki

My wife adopted her, and we named her Tsuki, which means “moon” in Japanese. My wife is a believer in  making fresh foods for dogs, and we became interested in which foods are good for dogs, and which ones aren’t.  But I want to go a little further.

I have worked over six years as a Medicinal chemist at a pharmaceutical company, and have a degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.  Beyond this, I have an insatiable curiosity about the science behind common dog knowledge.  We’ve been told that onions are bad for dogs, but why?  What is wrong with chocolate? Why is garlic good?

I think there is a place for traditional drug treatments, but I’ve become convinced that much of what ails us and our dogs can be prevented and even cured by natural methods.  Science is finally catching up to what people were doing in ancient times.  Time and time again, cure that has been used for centuries has been found to have scientific backing.  This is an exciting time for scientists interested in the natural world, and I want to explore it with you.