Diet should be the first consideration in maintaining digestive health in the dog. Diet is the cornerstone of health, providing the necessary nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that the dog needs to survive, thrive, and fuel their bodily processes. If a dog cannot sufficiently digest their food, then all body systems will suffer.
As we saw in the last blog, dogs have the basic digestive anatomy and physiology of a carnivore. Thus, any diet for a dog should be based on meat. Given the canine digestive system, the most appropriate and most digestible diet for dogs is a diet based on raw meat and raw bones. Multiple studies have supported the assertion that raw meat is more digestible than the cooked and processed meat meal used in kibble. In the most recent study, raw meat demonstrated a 15% increase in digestibility compared to the processed meat meal. This is quite a difference, particularly since all the diets used in the study were considered “highly digestible” to begin with! We also have written extensively about raw diets before, and have seen its benefits proven time and time again in maintaining not only the digestive health of our trained German Shepherd Dogs, but also their overall health. For more information feeding a raw diet, please visit these links below:
- Feeding Your German Shepherd Dog a Raw Diet
- Basic Guidelines for Feeding a Raw Diet
- Raw Diets: An Overview (including a discussion of the Salmonella issue)
While raw diets provide greater digestibility and improved bowel function, many pet owners cannot or will not feed their dogs this diet. At the bare minimum, the dog should be fed a grain-free, meat-based commercial food, supplemented with real food whenever possible. Avoid commercial foods containing corn, wheat, soy, rice, and other grains like oats and barley (as well as fillers like beet pulp and ground peanut hulls). Dogs are not equipped to digest a grain-based diet for a long period of time; this places undue strain on their digestive system. Many health problems seen in dogs today (particularly intestinal troubles along with skin problems and allergies) can be greatly improved by switching to a grain-free or raw diet.
Why are carbohydrate-rich diets inappropriate for dogs? Carbohydrate-rich diets can slow and inhibit digestion in carnivores, whose digestive systems are designed to push food through quickly without allowing fermentation to occur. The canine digestive system is also primarily prepared for the digestion of protein and fats, not carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates spike blood sugar, leading to insulin resistance, diabetes, and obesity. Complex carbohydrates cannot be effectively utilized by dogs, and result in large sloppy stools. These soft, loose stools often are not effective at squeezing out the anal glands, resulting in impacted anal sacs that must be manually expressed to ease the discomfort.
Carbohydrate-rich, processed diets can also promote systemic inflammation, aggravating joints, skin, intestines, and more. Irritated cells in the intestines create a mucousy protective lining that further inhibits digestion and also promotes continued inflammation of the GI tract. Carbohydrates can promote the growth of bad bacteria in the intestines by slowing the transit of food and by providing a food source and home for the bacteria. Carbohydrate-rich diets also require a more basic pH level to be digested efficiently, which can create an overall change in the natural pH balance of the dog. This can disrupt the normal intestinal flora (microorganisms, or beneficial bacteria), and promote the growth of yeast. Yeast (as well as many cancers) also thrive on the carb-rich diet, which provides them with an easy food source. Yeast overgrowth results in chronic ear and skin infections as well as urinary tract infections and excessive flatulence.
The conclusion is plain and simple: dogs do not have the digestive anatomy for a carb-rich, grain-based diet. If you want to keep your dog’s digestive system at its optimal health, then feed a food designed specifically for their unique digestion. This means raw meat, raw bones, raw organ meats, or at the very minimum a grain-free commercial food.