Digestion issues are a common problem in dogs these days and a topic that arises when discussing dogs and diet. I often hear people tell me their dogs have a 'sensitive stomach' and react negatively to certain foods. This can mean a variety of things depending on the owner's perception and the history of the dog's health. The most common story is that the dog started out fine as puppy, but as they grew up diarrhea would occur, maybe with occasional vomiting; and over time the dog developed into a 'fussy eater'. If this sounds familiar to your dog's story, it is very important to look at both the history of the dog's diet and health.
Some common questions I ask include:
1) What did this dog eat as a puppy?
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2) When did the digestion problems begin?
3) What did you do to try to improve the situation?
4) What changed as time went on?
5) What did your veterinarian suggest and what methods were tried to help?
It is important to know what the dog's diet consisted of as a puppy because nutrition in the early years can make a difference in the development of digestion health. While many dogs can appear to do well on dry commercial dog foods, it irritates the dog's digestive tract the most. Commercial dry foods are high in carbohydrates, which create bulk and fiber. The bulk and fiber irritates and stresses the digestive tract. This irritation creates inflammation in the small intestine. Long term feeding of commercial dog foods can lead to chronic digestive problems. Additionally, the high heat used to process the dog food kills off many of the nutrients necessary for maintaining your dog's good health, specifically l-taurine and l-carnitine. These amino acids are found in animal-based proteins and are essential for good organ health and maintaining your dog's immune system. Lastly, dogs can only utilize iron from animal-based foods and dogs that develop long-term diarrhea and inflammation of the digestive tract can develop anemia.
As this inflammation continues, the dog may have trouble digesting fats. This causes mucus in the stool and gastric distress including gas, burping and stomachaches. Oftentimes, dogs who are in pain will rush to eat or chew grass or other materials to try to settle their stomach or promote vomiting.
Veterinarians will oftentimes prescribe prescription gastric diets. These appear to work well on the surface as they contain reduced fat. These diets also contain increased fiber. And, why is that? High fiber diets will absorb moisture in the large intestine, which gives stools better form. However, while the symptoms seem to go away, these high fiber diets continue to increase the irritation and inflammation in the small intestine. Therefore, the condition continues. Over time, this affects the dog's immune system.
As time goes by, dogs may lose their appetite and interest in food. One reason for this is dog owners frequently switch foods hoping to find a food their dog will like. Owners hover over their dogs and worry about whether they will eat or not. Dogs readily react to this behavior. They pick up on the fact that feeding time is an anxious time and one that upsets their owner. This coupled with the fact they have inflammation and pain going on inside, they are not that hungry and the food they are eating causes nausea and discomfort. Dogs do not quit eating to upset us or because they are stubborn. It generally means they do not feel well. And . . . our worrisome reactions and insistence that they eat may be prompting them not to eat!
Veterinarians may also offer medications to help stop diarrhea and nausea. Like the low fat, high fiber diets prescribed, these medications may work in the beginning, however if the underlying condition of a chronically inflamed digestive tract lining is not addressed, they will quit working after a few weeks. The same occurs with changing diets from one dry food to another. One food may make it better for a while but within a few weeks or months, the problem returns.
So what is the answer? The best answer is to fix the problem rather than mask the symptoms of the problem! When the symptoms are masked, the dog will exhibit other health issues because they are not getting the nutrients they need and their immune system is affected. Some of these conditions include poor skin, loss of hair and/or good condition of the coat, bad breath, brown discharge in ears, itchy skin, face and/or feet, weight loss and continued gas and reflux. (Reflux is burping or regurgitating bile).
To address the problem head-on, I suggest an easily digestible diet and specific supplements that support the digestive system.
Let's start with diet. Since many of these dogs appear to have difficulty digesting fat and labor with digesting carbohydrates, I suggest a natural diet that is low fat and low fiber. This can be a raw diet (ground or regular) or a home-cooked diet. For a raw diet, use low fat meats. This means no lamb, trimming excess fats from other meats, removing the skin from chicken, and rinsing and draining any canned fish that is used. For home-cooked meals, I suggest feeding my low glycemic, low fat diets. These diets and recipes can be found in my book, Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs! They can also be found in the newsletter section of the B-Naturals website.
When feeding a dog with digestive issues, it is important to start by feeding 3 to 4 smaller meals per day. If your dog has reflux as well, then feed a small treat immediately upon rising in the morning and another small treat last thing at night. The smaller, more frequent, meals are to keep from overloading the digestive tract at any one time, which gives it a better chance to heal. Fresh food digests more easily than processed food and they offer better nutrition. Animal fat and animal protein are much easier for dogs to digest. The bone fed in the raw food meals is fiber and helps keep the stools firm. The low glycemic cooked diets have a small amount of easier to digest carbohydrates for fiber.
There are good supplements that help with digestion and can help heal the digestive tract. These include:
Probiotics help replenish the lost beneficial bacteria to the gut, which helps reduce gas, firm the stool and reduce their frequency. There are several types of probiotics, but the best are acidophilus, bacillis and Enterococcus Faecium. Probiotics can also help the immune system, as they keep these healthy bacteria in the gut and help keep yeast and unwanted bacteria in check. B-Natural's digestive products are ideal for dogs with digestive disorders. B-Naturals have the Berte’s Ultra Probiotics, which is a blend of these good natural bacteria to help with issues of diarrhea and is a great product to have on hand after using antibiotics, traveling with your pet or during times of stress. Another product recommended for loose stools and to support rapid gastrointestinal balance associated with food sensitivities, garbage gut, microflora imbalances and stress is Immediacare GI. If you are dealing with some troublesome diarrhea, it is beneficial to use this product for the first two weeks.
Digestive enzymes include three classes of enzymes: proteolytic enzymes needed to digest protein, lipases needed to digest fat and amylases needed to digest carbohydrates. While many digestive enzyme products can be found in health food stores, most of them contain plant enzymes. Plant enzymes are helpful for omnivores and herbivores as they help break down carbohydrates for easier digestion. However, dogs are carnivores and they need animal enzymes such as pancreatin, pancrealipase, and ox bile. These enzymes help break down fats and animal-based proteins in the stomach. With the fats and proteins broken down, digestion is easier on the small intestinal lining and makes digestion easier on the liver and pancreas, which help digest and process fats. Berte’s Zymes (editor’s note: Use Food Science All Zyme) are capsules that contain these essential animal-based enzymes. They are very beneficial for dogs having issues digesting fat or having difficulty switching diets. These enzymes are also helpful for any dog with liver or pancreas issues.
Plant enzymes can be helpful in reducing inflammation in the dog's digestive tract, if they are given separate and AWAY from food. The enzyme bromelain, which comes from the pineapple, is very beneficial in helping reduce intestinal inflammation.
L-Glutamine is an amino acid found to be helpful in healing the lining of the small intestine. It is amino acid found in muscles and plasma. It assists in metabolizing proteins and sugars, helps heal inflammation in the digestive system and is very beneficial for cases of irritable bowel syndrome, colitis and ulcers. Research has shown its usefulness in infants and cases of malnourishment and starvation. I have found 500 mg to 1,000 mg per 25 lbs of body weight twice daily to be helpful. Give with meals as needed.
B-Naturals carry a product, Berte’s Digestion Blend, which is a blend of all three of these of these very important supplements: probiotics, enzymes and l-Glutamine. It comes in a powder form that can easily mix into any type of food. It is important to start your dog on half the recommended dose and slowly increase the amount to full dose over a period of 10 to 14 days. This product is designed to help heal the entire gastrointestinal system and is very beneficial for dogs suffering from Irritable Bowel Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Colitis, GI disorders and chronic diarrhea.
Yucca is a plant that contains natural steroidal saponins, which are anti-inflammatory agents. Yucca Intensive is an herbal liquid tincture carried by B-Naturals and is beneficial in fighting inflammation associated with gastric problems. It also helps fight inflammation in dogs with arthritis. This product comes in a handy dropper top container. This product must ALWAYS BE GIVEN WITH FOOD!!
Recovery from stomach problems, diarrhea and inflammation of the digestive tract can take time, but with the diet change and use of these supplements, improvement is often seen within a week or two. Digestion should start returning to normal and in a few weeks, the dog will show improvement in weight, skin, and coat and should start showing less anxiety!
The cooler season has arrived and it is welcomed after the blazing summer heat. Be sure to take time out this Fall to walk and play with your dogs on these great cool and sunny days!
Meet Bill! He is owned by Diane Richardson and celebrating his 14th Birthday!