A meta-analysis of functional foods research summarized 17 peer-reviewed studies on dog and cat food ingredients, including rice bran, mushrooms, turmeric and plant components like inulin and fructooligosaccharides (FOS). The journal Research in Veterinary Science published the meta-analysis of research on pet food ingredients.

Although the US Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have a legal definition for functional foods, the Mayo Clinic defines them as “foods that have a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition.” Functional ingredients in pet foods often are marketed to address specific health concerns such as digestion, joint and cartilage function, immune system strength or dental health. 

Functional foods in dog nutrition and health

In the functional foods studies, scientists found that some ingredients seem to benefit pet health. For example, several studies provided evidence that FOS, which are present in blue agave, chicory root, bananas and other plants, may reduce Clostridium perfringens bacterial concentrations in dogs’ feces or improve gut health in other ways.

Similarly, another study examined what happens to dogs after six months of eating food enriched with FOS, amino acids and a mixture of functional ingredients: hen-of-the-woods mushrooms (Grifola frondosa), turmeric (Curcuma longa), papaya (Carica papaya), pomegranate (Punica granatum), aloe (Aloe vera), knotweed (Polygonum L.), red algae (Haematococcus pluvialis), tomato (Solanum licopersicum) and grapes (Vitis vinifera). After the six months, the dogs eating the functional food diet had lower levels…

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