Chia seeds are an ancient food native to Mexico and Guatemala that have been consumed ever since they were first cultivated around 5,500 years ago.1 Prehistoric Mesoamericans regarded chia seeds highly because of their vast applications for food, medicine and religious uses.2
Today, chia seeds are renowned as a superfood among humans,3 but can your pet also reap the benefits if you add this food to their meals or healthy treats?
Did You Know?
Historians believe the word "chia," which means "oily," comes from the Nahuatl language. Interestingly, Nahuatl is still spoken by over a million people in Mexico today.4
Chia Seeds Are Known for Their Alpha-Linoleic Acid
Chia seeds have been praised for their plant-based omega-3 fatty acid content (not to be confused with EPA or DHA, which must also be supplied to pets in their diet). According to a study published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology, about 65% of the oil found in chia seeds is made of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA).5 In fact, one study stated that the seeds are some of the best sources of plant-based omega-3 fats you can find,6 with a total of 5.06 grams per ounce.7
The problem is pets can't convert ALA to the much needed DHA or EPA, so chia is not a substitute for marine or ocean sources of the essential fats. Studies indicate that ALA8 may have some positive effects on animals, same as with humans. In one example that used rats as test subjects, ALA hampered "hepatic steatosis and dyslipidemia by inhibiting lipogenesis and increasing insulin sensitivity."9 In another study, again in rat test subjects, ALA helped manage systolic blood pressure elevation.10
Antioxidant and Phytochemical Activity in Chia Seeds
Aside from ALA, chia seeds have gained a reputation for being rich in antioxidants, including chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, myricetin, quercetin and kaempferol. According to a study published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology, these may have therapeutic benefits for the cardiovascular and hepatic systems of humans.11 However, they may benefit animals as well.
According to a study published in 2018, chlorogenic acid may be helpful against nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Researchers tested chlorogenic acid on rats with NAFLD and discovered that it helped promote crucial health processes such as autophagy and lowered insulin resistance.12
Meanwhile, caffeic acid exhibited antitumor abilities, according to a study published in 2004. Experimental animals were treated with 5 milligrams per kilogram of caffeic acid thrice a week and tumor sizes were measured afterward. Results indicated that caffeic acid and its derivative caffeic acid phenetyl ester have antitumor capabilities through suppressing certain enzymatic pathways and downregulating NF-kB and MMP-9 catalytic activity.13
Kaempferol, on the other hand, has been observed to be beneficial on tested animals.14 In one instance, a study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences indicated that this antioxidant may have a neuroprotective potential through its anti-inflammatory properties, as well as protecting blood-brain barrier integrity in test mice.15
In the case of quercetin, a 2020 meta-analysis showed that it may have protective effects against Alzheimer's disease. Notable pharmacological activities of quercetin include protection against cognitive impairment, improved memory and an anti-inflammatory effect on the CA1 hippocampal region.16
Last but not the least is myricetin, which is known for its ability to protect lipids against oxidation.17 Animal studies indicate that this antioxidant may also help boost mitochondrial activity, muscle strength and resistance to cold temperatures.18
Where Do Chia Seeds Grow?
According to a report from Statista, China is the world's top producer of chia seeds with a total export valued at $160 million in 2018. The U.S. ($95.77M), Sudan ($86.26M), Kazakhstan ($82M) and the Netherlands ($68.31M) take up the next four spots.
Chia Seeds Contain Dietary Fiber for Your Pet
A tablespoon of chia seeds can provide 2.43 grams of dietary fiber, which is important to helping maintain your pet's digestive health. Studies have shown that fiber may help:
- Improve stool frequency — Consuming enough fiber helps increase the frequency of stool excretion, as well as improve the weight of the feces.19
- Maintain weight management — A study found that increasing dietary fiber may decrease food intake in animals, which may help control their weight and help with obesity.20
- Control blood sugar levels — Pets with diabetes may benefit from increasing their fiber intake. A study showed that a high-fiber diet helped improve glycemic control in diabetic dogs.21
If your pet is producing narrow, loose stools, they can benefit from the additional fiber from chia seeds. Note, however, that you should not rely on chia seeds as a crutch to boost your pet's fiber intake. Typically, wild cats and dogs only get about 4% fiber in their diet, and that's from whole food sources.
A well-rounded, species-appropriate diet with the right amount of fiber from low-glycemic vegetables (along with proper supplementation) is typically enough to produce small, firm stools. If your pet's stools do not meet this criteria, chia seeds may be used to improve quality, but don't go overboard when feeding this food. Chia seeds are best when used as "real food toppers" because of their minute size.
Fun Fact About Chia Seeds
Chia seeds have a significant place in the culture of the Aztecs. Aside from food, these seeds were used for cosmetics and religious rituals.22
Tips for Preparing Chia Seeds for Your Pet
Misinformation about many healthy fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds abounds on the internet. This is because websites have labeled all risks (such as the risk of over-consumption causing gastrointestinal issues, or choking on too large pieces or pits) as "toxicities," which isn't true but has managed to confuse millions of pet lovers, nonetheless.
In the case of chia seeds, people assume that because they contain vegetable omega-3s they are meeting their pets' DHA and EPA omega-3 requirements, which isn't the case. Pets can't convert vegetable sources of omega-3s to DHA or EPA, so if you supply chia in a homemade diet to meet ALA requirements, you'll still need to supply a source of DHA and EPA.
"Ideally, purchase chia seeds that are not grown using genetic engineering. Authentic chia seeds are available in most health stores, so take the time in researching the best one that fits your needs and budget."
Most importantly, pick chia seeds that are speckled black or white, as a uniformly brown color indicates an immature product with a bitter taste.23 Serving chia seeds by themselves isn't really practical because of their very small size, so a better suggestion is to use them as "real food toppers," meaning they are incorporated with other ingredients to create a nutritionally diverse treat.
Remember to control the servings accordingly as well. Treats that use food toppers like chia seeds should comprise less than 10% of your pet's daily food intake.
Ready to Give Chia Seeds a Try?
One of the easiest ways to give your pets chia seeds is to sprinkle it over their homemade dog food, but if you want to incorporate it in their snacks instead, try this "Chia Chunks Pet Treats Recipe," which your pet may like.
Chia Chunks Pet Treats Recipe
✓ Chia seeds
✓ Free-range, grass fed meat, such as chicken and bison
- Cut meat into bite-sized pieces.
- Roll the meat in chia seeds.
- Place the food on an ungreased baking sheet.
- Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes.
- Let the food cool before serving. They can last a week in the refrigerator or a month when placed in the freezer.