As responsible pet owners, we always want to keep our dogs in the best of health, and the right nutrition is essential for this. When your dog’s digestive system is disturbed or out of balance, he or she may not only experience loss of energy and seem to be less interested in normal activities, it may be painful and even become dangerous over time.
Typical warning signs that your dog may have a gastric upset include, constipation, flatulence, pale gums, or breathing difficulties. Obese pets are likely to have good digestive health. While there are precautions you can take to prevent issues arising if the symptoms persist it is essential to have your pet checked by a veterinarian. If your dog is vomiting or has diarrhea, these symptoms should be investigated immediately as these could indicate some serious issues.
Here are several tips to keep your dog’s digestive system in great condition.
A balanced diet
Dogs are omnivores and do best on a diet in which protein, carbohydrates, and fats are balanced. A healthy adult dog will typically require around 18-25% of their diet to consist of protein, although this will vary according to age, amount of exercise, and other factors. Too much protein can lead to obesity and other health issues.
Carbohydrates should account for 30-70% of the calories in the food. Vegetables and grains like rice, corn, and oats provide essential vitamins and are a great source of fiber to keep the gut healthy.
Fats are also essential, not least to keep your dog’s skin healthy and coat in great condition. Fats also help your pet feel satiated after eating, so reduce the craving for snacks. Around 10-20% of the calories (not the volume) of your dog’s food should come from fats. Less than 10% and the skin will become dry and flaky. More than 20% and the absorption of essential vitamins may be blocked.
Many dog foods claim to provide ‘complete’ and ‘balanced’ nutrition, which in the USA means that they comply with the requirements of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). However, this does not guarantee that all pets will tolerate them.
Kibble and other highly-processed foods that contain a high proportion of grain, may be difficult for some dogs to digest and lead to recurring problems. In these cases, the best dog food for sensitive stomach is one that contains limited or only easy-to-digest grains such as rice. Whenever possible, look for natural foods that use organic ingredients, and in which colorings, preservatives, and artificial flavorings are minimized.
What about feeding your dog only on raw food? This approach certainly has its fans, who claim that dogs thrive on this natural way of eating. However, dogs aren’t wolves, who would typically eat freshly killed meat, including the bones (an important source of calcium) and organs, to gain a balance of protein, fats, and essential minerals. The most recent advice from The American Veterinary Medical Association is that any animal protein fed to pets must be treated (ie cooked) to reduce the possibility of illness in dogs.
Plenty of exercise
As humans, we appreciate that a walk after a heavy meal can help us to digest our food and prevent uncomfortable bloating. If your pet appears to be sluggish after eating, try increasing the amount of exercise, especially after mealtimes, to let them burn off some energy and let the digestive juices flow.
How many times per day do you feed your pet? If they only have one large meal per day, it may be hard for them to digest a large intake of food effectively. Likewise, if they’re snacking all day on dry food, their digestive system never gets the chance to ‘rest and digest’. Consider breaking their feeding times into several smaller meals – they’ll not only have more excitement, but the reduced volume will also help the food to process through the digestive tract quickly. The result will be less bloating and post-eating inertia.
Cut out snacks
Any discussion about the proportion of macro- and micro- nutrients required for gastric health is wasted if you’re feeding dog snacks all day long. Human snacks are especially harmful – dogs just don’t need donuts! Although it may be one of the ways that you show your love, there is simply no need for your dog to eat sugary snacks, salty treats, or even ice-cream.
If your dog is used to consuming the scraps off your plates, it will be a hard habit to break – they’ll try every cute trick in the book to wear you down! But keep in mind that all you’ll be doing, if you give in, is to give them indigestion, and store up health problems for the future, including rotten teeth.
Secure the trash
For some dogs, one of life’s greatest pleasures is finding some rotten food on the street. Perhaps a discarded fast-food container, or the disgusting remnants of a cooked chicken. That’s just one reason why your dogs shouldn’t be allowed to roam without a leash unless they’re well-trained not to pick up food from the floor.
Inside the home, if they can access your trash bin, there may be some delicious tidbits for them to enjoy whenever the coast is clear. Some dogs even enjoy consuming discarded tissue paper, while others enjoy chewing and swallowing plastic items. We can only imagine the effect of these as they pass through the digestive tract. If you notice a sudden change in your dog’s digestion, (including the evidence in their stools), make sure that he or she hasn’t discovered a new and secret food source.
Even if your dog currently has no signs of poor digestion, it may be beneficial to supplement the diet with some prebiotics. These can help ensure that your pet’s gut biome remains in balance, with the right bacteria to ensure nutrients can be effectively absorbed from their food. These are available from your local pet store, online, or your veterinarian.