Other than questions regarding various skin issues, the most common questions I am asked by dog owners are ones that pertain to digestion problems. The questions range anywhere from chronic diarrhea issues to poorly formed stools and digestive issues resulting from diet changes to concerns about whether their dog is allergic to chicken, beef or other foods.
When I am asked these questions, the first thing I ask the dog owner is 'what diet are you feeding your dog?' The most common answer I hear is 'dry commercial dog food (with a quick reassurance that the food is a premium, grain free brand).'
In many cases, these owners have already taken their dogs to their veterinarian on numerous occasions and have been prescribed medications, such as metronidazole (flagyl) and steroids, for their dog's condition. While I certainly recommended you take your dog to the veterinarian when chronic digestive issues are present, I also suggest applying some common sense. Both metronidazole and steroids will help the irritation and inflammation that accompanies digestive issues, but all too often the same problems reoccur after the medication is gone. This tends to start a cycle. When the symptoms return, it's another trip to the veterinarian to accept another round of medication. If the cycle persists, the possibility of food allergies gets addressed. At this point, a new food regime gets introduced, as well as more medications, and more frustration!
When I get these calls, I suggest a change in diet, but not to another commercial dry food. Many dogs who subsist on a dry dog food diet have digestion issues. Dry dog food is processed and the formula remains the same with no variation. This causes the dog to be 'locked in' to the same fixed ingredients over and over; year after year. Dogs need a variety of foods, just like we do, to obtain the wide spectrum of nutrients needed for good health. Dogs are carnivores and need a variety of animal based foods such as beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, wild game, fish and organ meat (kidney and liver). Additionally, dogs assimilate and digest fresh foods more easily than processed foods, making the nutrients more available for the dog's body to use.
Dry, processed dog foods are irritating to a dog's digestive tract not only because it is dry, but because they are made with high amounts of carbohydrates (fiber and sugar) and preservatives – most often sodium or salt. Dry food expands in the stomach and intestines and the sodium in the food makes the dogs thirstier. Dog food manufacturers add high amounts of carbohydrates because the ingredients are less expensive and they allow for a longer shelf life, not because they are essential to good canine health. Not only do carbohydrates offer little, if any, nutrients your dog can use, they are very difficult for your dog to digest because their digestive system is short and simple. Food stays in the stomach for a long time and then it moves through the intestines quickly making dogs unable to ferment and process fiber. Additionally, the sugar contained in the carbohydrates (grains, potatoes, peas, carrots, fruit, etc.) causes tooth decay, bad breath, weight gain, and they can affect the thyroid, adrenals and internal organs.
My diet change recommendation is one to a fresh food diet. Once you convert your dog to fresh food (raw or home cooked) diet you may see some loose stools in the beginning as your dog gets used to the fresh protein and fat. You can keep this to a minimum by simply starting with small, frequent meals and adding in Berte's Digestion Blend to each meal. The Digestion Blend contains probiotics needed for proper digestion, digestive enzymes to help predigest fats in the stomach before they reach the intestines so the liver and pancreas are not over-loaded, and l-glutamine, which helps heal the irritated digestive tract lining which is often the cause of chronic diarrhea. This formula helps heal the digestive tract, eases any gas or bloating, and helps the dog more productively utilize and digest the food. In a few weeks, or even a few days, you will notice smaller stools and less digestive upset. This is because your dog is able to utilize more of the food in the diet and your dog does not have to pass large amounts of fiber out in its stool. Healing the digestive tract is the best pro-active way to get your dog on a healthy path.
Food allergies are rare in dogs and it is important to understand that allergy tests are only about 50% accurate. Dogs may develop some 'intolerance' to the dry, processed commercial dog food they have been 'stuck' with because they have had to eat the same food day in and day out for a very long time. Most people find that when they switch to a fresh food diet their dog shows no reaction or allergic response to the fresh food. This could be because fresh food is moist, easier to digest and bioavailable and dry processed food contains lower quality ingredients and the processing required denatures most of the proteins and ingredients needed for good health.
The most common reasons for diarrhea are:
1) Too much food! It is tempting to overfill the food bowl to see a satisfied face, but over feeding is the number one cause of diarrhea in dogs. If you are feeding a fresh food raw or home cooked diet, your dog only needs about 2% to 3% of their body weight in food daily. If you are overfeeding, reduce the diet by no more than 10% to start.
2) Too much fat! Too much fat, which is often the problem when first starting a fresh food diet, can cause mucous in the stools. Simply trim excess fat off meat or use lower fat meats, remove the skin from chicken, and use low or non-fat yogurt.
3) Too much fiber! People tend to add too many carbohydrates when feeding a home-cooked diet. Carbohydrates are not needed in raw diets because the raw meaty bones provide the needed fiber. Vegetables are used in home-cooked diets to add the needed fiber, but please, no more than 25% of the total diet! Any more than that and your dog will get gas, have large, loose stools, stomach rumblings and a bellyache. The dog's digestive tract is simply not designed to handle large amounts of carbohydrates and fiber!
Remember, a fresh food diet contains more bioavailable nutrients, is easy to digest and easier on the digestive tract, and will help the dog become healthier and happier on the inside and out! Start with small, frequent meals and add in Berte's Digestion Blend to help promote digestive healing. Take care NOT to overfeed! Be easy with the fat content to start and do NOT go crazy with the carbohydrate amounts in the diet!
Any size dog can eat a raw or home cooked diet – From the smallest toy breeds to the largest giant breeds! Please note, because the food is moist and contains far less salt than a processed diet, you may notice your dog will drink less water. Don't worry, this is normal and healthy!
For further information, I recommend my book, "Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs". This book contains information on the nutritional needs of dogs and it includes detailed recipes for preparing raw and home cooked diets for your dogs. Both you and your dog will be grateful for the better health and digestion that will result with this new diet!
From all of us at B-Naturals, we wish you a safe and happy New Year!