The relationship between diet and disease is more significant than you can imagine. In fact, your dog's health depends greatly on what you feed them.
Here are 10 common health problems that are directly caused or affected by diet.
Obesity is probably the most commonly seen nutritional disorder in companion animals. Obese dogs are more likely to suffer from degenerative diseases and have a shorter life expectancy.
The problem occurs when there's a chronic mismatch between energy intake and energy requirements. This means your dog is consuming more calories than they need and can use regularly. Over some time, this can result in weight and fat gain.
Most of the time, parents do not necessarily recognize that their pets are overweight or obese until the problem is severe. Older pets are more likely to suffer from obesity problems. Still, weight issues can affect all dogs regardless of their breed and sex. As a rule of thumb, a dog that's 10% over his ideal body weight can be considered at the beginning stages of obesity, while those 20% over their ideal weight are already suffering from significant obesity.
Body fat levels can vary extensively between breeds. Dogs at a normal weight usually have body fat concentrations around 10-20%, but this number can reach up to 40% in obese individuals. This increased body fat concentration can negatively affect mobility, organ function, body biochemistry and life expectancy. Pet obesity has received some public attention in the last few years and is now recognized as a severe animal welfare issue in many countries.
The most common treatment for pet obesity is switching to a low-fat, high-fiber diet lower in calories. To achieve even better results, it's important to incorporate enough physical activity – and sometimes physiotherapy – into the mix as well. As a rule of thumb, energy allowances should be adjusted to 60% of the maintenance requirements at the target weight. Vets recommend aiming for a weight loss of around 1% per week.
Many commercial dog food brands available (canned, semi-moist and dry) are similar to humans’ fast foods. You can reduce the risk of obesity in your dog drastically by feeding him the right food. The best way is feeding fresh food that has been individually balanced for your dog.
2- Bone Disorders
Calcium and phosphorous are the "bricks" (the building foundation) of the bones. Nutritional imbalances, particularly deficiencies or imbalances of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D in your dog's diet, can lead to bone disorders. These, in turn, cause serious and permanent problems, especially in young dogs.
If you want your dog to develop and maintain strong and healthy bones and teeth, a well-balanced diet is vital. Your dog's diet must be carefully balanced to provide both adequate levels and a proper ratio of calcium to phosphorus. For example, feeding adequate calcium without the correct amount of phosphorous can prevent sufficient calcium absorption and utilization.
On the other hand, you cannot just add massive amounts of calcium and phosphorus to your dog's food and hope you are providing the right amount. Your dog needs balanced nutrition and not a mountain of nutrients. Too much of a good thing can be just as bad as providing too little – and here is why:
3. Bladder Stones
Bladder stones appear when certain minerals concentrate and then crystallize in the dog's urinary bladder.
What your dog eats can play an important role in both the prevention and treatment of bladder stones. A well-balanced diet with the right proportions of macro and micro minerals can help, while an imbalance or excess of certain minerals in the diet can cause bladder stones. Even diets with calcium deficiency have been known to cause bladder stones.
The pancreas is an organ located in the abdomen, next to the stomach. It plays a vital role in food digestion and converting it into fuel.
The most common health problem associated with the pancreas is pancreatitis - an inflammation that can be triggered by high-fat foods, obesity, food allergies and some toxins. Pancreatitis symptoms can vary from mild to very serious and often start suddenly. Vomiting is one of the most common symptoms. Once a dog develops pancreatitis, early intervention is critical to prevent complications.
After visiting a vet, the next most crucial thing you can do is adjust your dog's nutrition. You'll need to switch to a low-fat diet and make sure you feed your dog frequent small portions rather than a couple of big ones a day. This makes digestion easier and puts less of a burden on the pancreas. Some dogs must eat a low-fat diet for their entire life after developing pancreatitis, while others can return to a regular diet once the inflammation has subsided.
Like with obesity, you can reduce the risk of pancreatitis by feeding your dog a healthy, well-balanced diet right from the very beginning – and the best way to do this is by choosing a fresh and balanced diet.
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder characterized by blood sugar that remains high over a prolonged period. Many factors can increase the risk of diabetes in your dog, but the most common causes are obesity and chronic pancreatitis. Diabetes in dogs cannot be completely cured, but it can be managed very successfully with the right nutrition. This includes feeding high-quality protein and adjusting the amount of fiber and carbohydrate content (to slow down glucose absorption) in the diet.
Colitis is a digestive disease characterized by inflammation of the colon. Colitis can be caused by different factors like stress and allergic reactions and infections by pathogens like Salmonella, E. Coli and Clostridium, and parasites like whipworms, Giardia and Cryptosporidium.
The appropriate treatment for colitis depends on its cause and can include anti-inflammatory medication or antimicrobial and immunosuppressive drugs). However, nutritional strategies like fasting for 24 to 48 hours, adjusting the diet's fiber content, feeding hypoallergenic food, and adding prebiotics and probiotics to the diet can significantly help.
7. Skin and Coat Problems
The skin is the largest organ in your dog's body and is metabolically active. The skin protects your dog's body from physical and infectious attacks from the outside. It also serves as a reservoir for certain nutrients and helps control body temperature.
The health of your dog's skin and coat can be affected by a variety of nutrients, including protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins A and E, and minerals like zinc. Basically, you will always harvest what you plant –if you're feeding your dog a poor diet lacking in these nutrients, he might end up with skin problems.
The good news is that this doesn't usually happen overnight (unless there is a severe allergy to something). However, if you notice skin problems, it's time to pay attention to what you're feeding your dog so you can make the necessary changes. Most dogs with skin problems respond well once you adjust their diet, even if the problem's cause is not nutritional.
8. Food Allergies
A food allergy is a reaction of your dog's immune system to a particular allergen in the diet. Like humans, dogs might have or even develop allergic reactions to certain food ingredients. The immune system of a dog with allergy produces substances known as antibodies. These antibodies identify a particular allergen in the food as harmful, even though it is usually not.
When a dog with allergies comes into contact with the allergen, the immune system's reaction can cause inflammation in the skin, sinuses, airways or digestive system. This, in turn, can lead to itching, sneezing, and other issues.
Before a food allergy can be treated, it's necessary to identify the food ingredient(s) triggering it and eliminate it.
One of the best ways to test for food allergies is by performing an elimination diet trial using a hypoallergenic diet. The trial should be conducted for at least 8 weeks but can be extended to 13 weeks. This is a slow but effective method that allows dog parents to pinpoint exactly what ingredients their dogs are allergic to.
9. Immune System
The immune system is basically the defence system of your dog – it protects him from outside threats such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, free radicals and toxins. To protect your dog well, the immune system needs to operate at maximum capacity.
Nutrition is a critical factor for a well-operating immune system since the availability and presence of many nutrients impact the immune response. Many nutrients have been identified as essential for the development, maintenance and function of the immune system, including amino acids, vitamins like C, D, E, minerals like selenium, iron, zinc, and more.
Since the gut immune system contains a major part of the body's immune system, any strategy that greatly improves the gut microbiome will benefit your dog.
Added probiotics (live microorganisms that improve or restore the gut flora), as well as the natural presence of prebiotics (compounds that induce the growth or activity of beneficial microorganisms) in your dog's food, improve the immune system by improving the health of the gut.
Diarrhea can be one of the earlier signs of some of the disorders and diseases we just mentioned. Other factors -- such as bacterial or viral infections, intestinal parasites, a sudden change in diet, environmental stress (such as travelling), and eating irritating materials (including garbage, toxins and chemicals) – can also cause diarrhea. If your dog has diarrhea, it is imperative to monitor the symptoms closely and treat it right away. It would help if you also encouraged your dog to drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
Keep an eye on how long diarrhea persists and whether other symptoms present, such as vomiting or lethargy. If your dog seems weak or is not improving, you might need to see a vet. Also, if your dog experiences diarrhea regularly, this could indicate a chronic problem that requires medical care.
You can help prevent diarrhea by minimizing stress in your dog's life and watching what he eats. Feeding your dog a healthy, well-balanced diet specifically tailored to his individual needs can improve the gut microbiome and strengthen the immune system. This can reduce the risk of diarrhea and many other common digestive disorders.