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2019 Update: While I continue to add phytoplankton to my dogs' diet for the chlorophyll, I no longer add it as an alternative to fish or fish oil. You can learn more in my blog post: Phytoplankton, an Expensive Alternative to Fish Oil.
In June 2017, phytoplankton was a hot topic in many raw feeding groups. I did some research and wasn't convinced that I needed to spend money on yet another supplement for my dogs. I also chose to be open to new information that may change my mind. Well, folks, I've changed my mind and had to rewrite this blog post. A reader reached out to me about a phytoplankton supplement that cured her dog's itching. Around the same time, Rodrigo had started licking his paws again, something that happens at the change of seasons (Spring and Fall) when the ground is wet. This year, he was obsessive with the licking, his paws were turning pink, and the white hair of his paws was a rust color. This was not good and I needed a solution fast, so I ordered the phytoplankton recommended.
Within 48 hours, I noticed that Rodrigo's paws were white again. I've been adding phytoplankton to my dogs' raw meals for a month and Rodrigo itchy paws have decreased dramatically. He still licks his paws on occasion, but it's not a daily thing for an hour. I'm blown away.
What is Phytoplankton?
Before I add something to my dogs' diet, I need to find out what it is…
“Phytoplankton are photosynthesizing microscopic organisms that inhabit the upper sunlit layer of almost all oceans and bodies of fresh water on Earth. They are agents for “primary production,” the creation of organic compounds from carbon dioxide dissolved in the water, a process that sustains the aquatic food web.” ~ Wikipedia
Is Phytoplankton the Same as Kelp/Seaweed?
At first, I thought phytoplankton was the same as kelp or seaweed. It's not. Then I wondered if they contained the same benefits. I give my dogs kelp for their metabolism health and as a natural source of iodine (also found in sardines). They don't have the same benefits.
Phytoplankton and seaweed are similar in that they aren't plants – they're algae; phytoplankton are also a type of plankton (kelp is not plankton) which are teeny tiny sea creatures that can't swim against the current (they're too small and weak) so they just float around in the ocean.
- I order Lifeline oceanic kelp for my dogs.
- Learn more about the similarities and differences between seaweed, kelp, and phytoplankton.
Benefits of Organic Kelp for Dogs
I add organic kelp to my dogs' diet because it's their main source of iodine and supports thyroid health. But that's not all. Organic kelp also…
- supports healthy teach and gums by reducing the build-up of plaque and tartar on teeth
- supports gut and digestive health while increasing metabolism
- supports skin and coat health while reducing shedding
What are the Benefits of Phytoplankton for Dogs?
- A source of essential fatty acids
- Acts as a natural detox
- Improves the immune system
- Boosts heart health
- Boosts liver health
- Encourages the system to regenerate cells and create healthy cells
- Cancer-fighting benefits
Is Phytoplankton the Same as Spirulina?
Because the colors are similar, I wondered if phytoplankton was the same as spirulina (or had similar benefits). Phytoplankton is a micro-algae and spirulina is blue-green algae and freshwater plant. While phytoplankton and spirulina aren't the same, they offer many of the same benefits. But they aren't exactly the same.
Benefits of Phytoplankton for Dogs
- essential fatty acids (great alternative for fish oil)
- natural detox
- improves immune system
- sparks cellular regeneration (healthy, new cells)
- boosts heart health
- boosts liver health
- supports eye health
- boosts cell regeneration
- cancer-fighting benefits
- a source of minerals
- a source of chlorophyll (reduces grass eating) and vitamins
- healthy protein source
Benefits of Spirulina for Dogs
- improves the digestive system
- natural detox
- improves immune system
- keeps eyes healthy
- a source of iron (which supports the liver)
- reduces inflammation
- superior source of antioxidants
- source of B1, B2, B3, B6, B9, B12, E, K1 K2
- healthy protein source
I've been adding spirulina to my dogs' diet for several years. Earlier this year, I switched to Spirugreen by Mercola, because it contains the microalgae spirulina and astaxanthin (fights cancer) containing microalgae. When I was reading about it, it just sounded like spirulina on steroids and that sounded good to me.
- I order Spirugreen for dogs from Mercola on Amazon.com.
Phytoplankton or Bonnie & Clyde Fish Oil
So, what about fish oil? When I started to feed my dogs a raw diet, the importance of fish oil was drummed into me. But over the past year, I've seen more discussions warning against the use of fish oil due to overfishing and the toxins in the water. Toxins are stored in the fat and skin of the fish our dogs consume (and are used to make fish oil). This is why I feed my dogs sardines, mackerel, and carp burgers. And it's also why I alternate between two fish oil brands that I trust:
I chose brands that make oil from sustainably sourced fish, offer a superior source of EHA and DHA, and have fewer heavy metals. Based on my research, phytoplankton isn't just an alternative to fish oil; it's better.
Is Phytoplankton Sustainable?
One of the reasons I was interested in phytoplankton was the environmental impact. We're overfishing our oceans, maybe phytoplankton can serve as an alternative source of essential fatty acids while also providing us with many more benefits. But it looks like some believe that global warming is decreasing the population of phytoplankton.
“A 2010 study published in Nature reported that marine phytoplankton had declined substantially in the world's oceans over the past century. Phytoplankton concentrations in surface waters were estimated to have decreased by about 40% since 1950, at a rate of around 1% per year, possibly in response to ocean warming. The study generated debate among scientists and led to several communications and criticisms, also published in Nature. In a 2014 follow-up study, the authors used a larger database of measurements and revised their analysis methods to account for several of the published criticisms, but ultimately reached similar conclusions to the original Nature study. These studies and the need to understand the phytoplankton in the ocean led to the creation of the Secchi Disk Citizen Science study in 2013.“
While I don't doubt the reduction in phytoplankton in our oceans, I don't think that it relates to my dogs and their diet because the phytoplankton I'm currently sourcing for my dogs isn't sourced from the open ocean to avoid the pollution; it's cultured and grown under controlled/purified conditions.
Dangers of Phytoplankton Supplements
And like with everything, I'm certain too much of a good thing can go array. With the popularity of phytoplankton supplements, some companies are growing it in manmade ponds and lakes – while this is done in an attempt to reduce or remove the toxins we're finding in polluted oceans, these bodies of water are still subject to toxins. There are many quality sources for phytoplankton, it's important to check the brand out before buying.
How Often I Add Phytoplankton
If you order the Mr. Ros Marine Phytoplankton for Dogs and Cats, you may be surprised by the size of the bag that arrives. If didn't buy this product based on a recommendation, I would have felt cheated. It's small! But reading the instructions, I saw that I only add 1/4 teaspoon to my dogs' meals. And because I feed my dogs sardines, carp, oysters, and spirulina, I don't add phytoplankton every day. I've had the bag for a month and I've barely made a dent in it.
I add phytoplankton three days per week, but even if I added it five days per week, I would still be working my way slowly through the bag. It's a great deal!
Why I Still Feed Fish
As stated above, I like to alternate ingredients in my dogs' diet. I do this because I don't like to eat the same thing daily and I tell myself that my dogs love to alternate too. I'm beginning to study the nutrients my dogs need in their diet and believe that alternating ingredients makes it easier for me to meet their nutritional needs. But this is a learning process so this may change. For now, phytoplankton is a valuable supplement that I feed to my dogs a few days a week and I can see the difference in Rodrigo so I'll continue.