This month we continue discussing supplements that may help your pets with rickettsial diseases, which most commonly are caused by ticks.

Fish Oils
Since fish oils can easily oxidize and become rancid, some manufacturers add vitamin E to fish oil capsules and liquid products to keep the oil from spoiling, while others remove the oxygen from the capsule.

Since processed foods have increased omega-6 fatty acids, supplementing the diets of all pets with omega-3 fatty acids seems warranted and will not harm your pet. The bottom line is there are many questions regarding the use of fatty acid therapy. More research is needed to determine the effectiveness of the fatty acids in the treatment of various medical problems, as well as the proper doses needed to achieve clinical results. Until definitive answers are obtained, you will need to work with your doctors (knowing the limitations of our current research) to determine the use of these supplements for your pet.

Fish oil appears to be safe. The most common side effect seen in people and pets is a fish odor to the breath or the skin. Because fish oil has a mild "blood thinning" effect, it should not be combined with powerful blood-thinning mediations, such as Coumadin (warfarin) or heparin, except on a veterinarian's advice. Fish oil does not seem to cause bleeding problems when it is taken by itself at commonly recommended dosages. Also, fish oil does not appear to raise blood sugar levels in people or pets with diabetes.

Flaxseed Oil
Flaxseed oil is derived from the seeds of the flax plant and has been proposed as a less smelly alternative to fish oil. Flaxseed oil contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 that is ultimately converted to EPA and DHA. In fact, flaxseed oil contains higher levels of omega-3s (ALA) than fish oil. It also contains omega-6 fatty acids.

As mentioned, many species of pets (probably including dogs and cats) and some people cannot convert ALA to these other more active noninflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. In one study in people, flaxseed oil has been suggested as a substitute for fish oil, there is no evidence it is effective when used for the same therapeutic purposes as fish oil. Unlike the case for fish oil, there is little evidence that flaxseed oil is effective for any specific therapeutic purpose.

Therefore, supplementation with EPA and DHA is important, and this is the reason flaxseed oil is not recommended as the sole fatty acid supplement for pets. Flaxseed oil can be used to provide ALA and as a coat conditioner.

The essential fatty acids in flax can be damaged by exposure to heat, light, and oxygen (essentially, they become rancid). For this reason, you shouldn't cook flaxseed oil. A good product should be sold in an opaque container, and the manufacturing process should keep the temperature under 100 degrees F. Some manufacturers combine the product with vitamin E because it helps prevent rancidity.

The best use of flaxseed oil is as a general nutritional supplement to provide essential fatty acids. It appears to be a safe supplement when used as recommended.

Antioxidants
Certain vitamins and minerals function in the body to reduce oxidation. Oxidation is a chemical process that occurs within the body's cells. After oxidation occurs, certain by-products such as peroxides and "free radicals" accumulate. These cellular by-products are toxic to the cells and surrounding tissue. The body removes these by-products by producing additional chemicals called antioxidants that combat these oxidizing chemicals. In disease, excess oxidation can occur and the body's normal antioxidant abilities are overwhelmed. This is where supplying antioxidants can help. By giving your pet extra antioxidants, it may be possible to neutralize the harmful by-products of cellular oxidation.

Several antioxidants can be used to supplement pets. Most commonly, vitamins A, C, E, and the minerals selenium, manganese, and zinc are prescribed. Other antioxidants, including N-acetylcysteine, Coenzyme Q10, Ginkgo biloba, bilberry, grape seed extract and pycnogenol may also be helpful.

Dosages vary with the specific antioxidant chosen. And there is no one correct antioxidant.

Proanthocyanidins
Proanthocyanidins also called pycnogenols or bioflavonoids may not be essential to life, but it's likely people and pets need them for optimal health. Most often products containing proanthocyanidins are made from grape seed or pine bark. These compounds are used for their antioxidant effects against lipid (fat) peroxidation. Proanthocyanidins also inhibit the enzyme cyclooxygenase (the same enzyme inhibited by aspirin and other non-steroidal medications). Cyclooxygenase converts arachidonic acid into chemicals, which contribute to inflammation and allergic reactions. Proanthocyanidins also decrease histamine release from cells by inhibiting several enzymes.

Some research suggests pycnogenol seems to work by enhancing the effects of another antioxidant, vitamin C. Other research suggests the bioflavonoids can work independently of other antioxidants; as is the case with many supplements, there probably is an additive effect when multiple antioxidants are combined. People taking pycnogenol often report feeling better and having more energy; this "side effect" may possibly occur in our pets as well.

Quercetin is a natural antioxidant bioflavonoid found in red wine, grapefruit, onions, apples, black tea, and in less amounts, leafy green vegetables and beans. Quercetin protects cells in the body from damage by free radicals and stabilizes collagen in blood vessels. Quercetin supplements are available in pill and tablet form. One problem with them, however, is they don't seem to be well absorbed by the body. A special form called quercetin chalcone appears to be better absorbed. Quercetin appears to be quite safe.

Maximum safe dosages for young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with serious liver or kidney disease have not been established; similar precautions are probably warranted in pets.

In people, a typical dosage of proanthocyanidins is 200 to 400 mg three time daily. Quercetin may be better absorbed if taken on an empty stomach. The suggested dosage of proanthocyanidins complex in pets is 10 to 200 mg given daily, divided in two to three doses. The suggested dosage of bioflavonoid complex in pets is 200 to 1500 mg per day, divided into two to three doses. The actual dosage of each product will vary with the product and the pet's weight and disease condition.

While there is no specific research showing benefit in specific rickettsial diseases, the use of antioxidants is widely recommended by holistic veterinarians to reduce oxidative damage to tissues that may occur. More research on antioxidants and other complementary therapies in the treatment of rickettsial diseases is needed.

Other Natural Treatments For Rickettsial Diseases

The following herbs may be helpful: alfalfa, aloe vera, astragalus, burdock, dandelion leaf, dandelion root, echinacea, garlic, ginseng, goldenseal, hawthorn, licorice, marshmallow, milk thistle, nettle, red clover, St. John's wort, turmeric, and yellow dock. Also the glycoprotein acemannan and homeopathic nosodes may be helpful.

These can be used in conjunction with conventional therapies, as they are unlikely to be effective by themselves in most patients. The natural treatments are widely used with variable success, as many have not been proven at this time. As with any condition, the most healthful natural diet will improve the pet's overall health.

Conventional Therapy For Rickettsial Diseases

Tetracycline's such as doxycycline are the treatment of choice and generally will cure most cases. For pets that are critically ill, hospitalization with intravenous fluid therapy, transfusions, and force-feeding are necessary.

Shawn Messonnier, DVM

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Shawn Messonnier DVM Past Supporting Member, Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians Author, the award-winning The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats, The Natural Vet’s Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs, and Breast Choices for the Best Chances: Your Breasts, Your Life, and How YOU Can Win The Battle!

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