The thought of kelp might evoke magical images of underwater forests gently swayed by coastal currents. Forest imagery aside, did you know that kelp is not actually a plant? Kelp is a brown alga that is classified in the kingdom Protista, a kingdom composed primarily of single-celled organisms. However, kelp brings some complexity to the Protista kingdom. In fact, giant kelp (one of many kelp varieties and shown above) stands out as the biggest protist on Earth . Kelp is also a prolific grower, capable of growing as much as eighteen inches in a single day . Like plants, kelp gathers energy from the sun via photosynthesis. But unlike plants, kelp does not draw in nutrients through a root structure, instead absorbing nutrients from the ocean-water directly through their fronds . Kelp is incredibly nutrient-dense, offering ten times the mineral content found in land-plants. It actually provides the highest concentration of calcium found naturally in any food product. In addition to calcium, kelp provides the minerals copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc and is also a natural source of vitamins A, B1, B2, C, D and E .
Given the diversity and density of nutrients it offers and its status as an easily replenishable resource, it is no wonder that kelp has become a buzzword in holistic nutrition circles recently. It certainly does have potential to be a powerhouse dietary supplement - but is it something you should consider adding to your dog’s diet? The Innovative Veterinary Care (IVC) Journal reports that kelp “is recommended by leading holistic veterinarians as a supplement in homemade diets for dogs and cats, and by large animal vets as a nutritional supplement for poultry, cattle, goats, alpacas and horses” . A kelp supplement might be right for your dog whether you are providing them a homemade diet or a commercial diet - but in either case, there are some important considerations to take into account.
Remember how kelp absorbs nutrients directly from the water it is immersed in? While this mechanism is largely responsible for the rich nutrient-density of kelp, it can backfire if the kelp is harvested from polluted waters. Harvest and processing methods can also affect the final nutrition profile of kelp supplements, so it is important to obtain supplements from a trusted source. The IVC Journal recommends looking for kelp that was harvested in remote locations known to have clean, cold waters. Checking products for certifications such as Kosher or USDA Organic is another way to ensure that purity has been verified by a third party .
Nutrient-density is both a major plus and a cause for caution when considering a kelp supplement for your canine companion. As with humans, iodine plays an important role in a dog’s diet. Iodine is needed for the thyroid gland to properly support the many functions it has a hand in - including brain development, body temperature, hormonal balances, metabolism, and even quality of fur. However, too much iodine can also lead to serious complications . If you are feeding your dog a commercial diet, it is important to verify the amount of iodine and other trace nutrients your dog is already receiving to determine how much kelp (if any) is appropriate to add to their diet. Producers of commercial kibble often include the recommended daily allowance of many nutrients, generally sourced synthetically. It is also possible that your dog is already receiving a kelp supplement at mealtimes, since more companies are incorporating kelp in their formulations to balance them naturally. If you are feeding your dog a homemade diet, it is quite likely that an appropriate dosage of kelp would round out their diet with much-needed nutrients [4, 6].
So, is kelp good for dogs? It packs a punch in the nutrition department, and when the dosage is synced appropriately with the rest of their diet, it is a great natural way to provide vital support for many of the systems that keep your canine happy and healthy.