Does your canine companion have a sensitive tummy? Perhaps its recovering from illness, a skin allergy, or has bowel problems? When a dog has a health issue, special care often needs to be given to its diet. Carrol Baker investigates the diet for sensitive dogs: what to feed your pooch if hes a fussy eater, or if injury or illness has laid him low.
Veterinarian Dr Scott Campbell is a senior lecturer in Clinical Nutrition at the University of Queensland. He says diet can be a complex issue for dogs with a sensitive stomach. Your dog might be sensitive to individual ingredients in a food or to a specific nutrient like fat, or it might have an inability or reduced ability to digest food. All three of these things need consideration, he says.
General sensitivity to diet
If your dog shows a general sensitivity to different foods, try to minimise the amount of ingredients in your dogs diet. Cut down on foods that are common allergens, such as beef and dairy, and stay away from highly processed doggie treats, suggests Campbell.
There are commercial diets specifically formulated for pets with sensitive stomachs. They are developed with a mild formula that contains egg protein and rice to make them highly digestible. They also contain a blend of natural fibre and antioxidants to support your dogs immune system.
If you choose a home-cooked diet, foods should include easily digested proteins, such as chicken, with rice, corn or pasta to provide some carbs.
If the problem persists, even when dietary changes have been made, visit your vet. You might need to pursue additional testing to discover what the underlying cause of the sensitivity is; whether its an allergy or an absorption issue, Campbell tells Dogs Life.
Offsetting dietary dilemmas
Whatever you feed your dog as a puppy will shape its dietary preferences as it matures. Veterinarian Dr Angus Ross from Ku-ring-gai Animal Hospital says that if your dog only eats one or two types of food, try harder to encourage it to eat a range of healthy foods for a more balanced diet. Offering variety is important, not only for the nutritional benefits, but also because it helps if you need to alter your dogs diet in the event of allergy, illness, or other health issues.
Dogs are just like humans when they are unwell, they usually don’t want to eat. Ross explains that if your dog is recuperating from an illness, he or she will generally have a much higher calorie requirement because it needs more energy to fight the illness. You also need to increase protein and fat content to help its body through the healing process, he says. Dogs recovering from illness need to be fed more frequently around four times each day.
Encourage the reluctant dog to eat by making sure its food is fresh and served at least at room temperature. If your dog still wont eat, try heating the food to increase the aroma. The more aromatic the food is, the more palatable it will seem to the dog, Ross explains. You can also experiment with different types of easily digestible nutritional food you might not have offered your dog before.
If a dog refuses food for over 48 hours take it to the vet, adds Ross.
As your dog approaches its senior years, you may need to make some dietary adjustments, but not always. A lot depends on the individual dog. Even though your dog may be classed as senior, don’t automatically switch to senior brands of dog food, says Campbell. Think more about your dogs physiological age than its chronological age. Some dogs are true geriatrics at seven, others are still sprightly at 16, he says.
The most important factor is the general health of your senior dog. Are there existing medical conditions? Monitor for age-related conditions such as arthritis, so you can adjust the dogs diet when needed, Campbell tells Dogs Life.
Food sensitivities can cause allergies, itchiness and discomfort in your canine. Some of the most common culprits are beef, chicken and dairy all the ingredients that are quite often part of a dogs diet, says Campbell. And in some cases an allergy isnt caused by introducing a new food to the dogs diet. Some dogs can develop an allergy to foods theyve previously eaten without showing any adverse reaction.
If your canine suffers from food allergy, avoidance is the best strategy. But how can you isolate the particular food? Tracking down the source can be a challenge, says Campbell. Food allergies are hard to determine without conducting a dietary elimination and challenge trial, he says.
This means putting the dog on a novel ingredient diet (only feeding a protein and carbohydrate source its never eaten before, such as duck and potato). The diet should be fed exclusively for 12 weeks, then foods the dog has eaten previously can be reintroduced to track down the source.
Alternatively, your vet might suggest a commercial hydrolysed protein diet. This means a conventional protein source is used, but proteins in the diet are broken down into very small fragments so the molecules are too small to affect the immune system. For more information, see your vet.
Vomiting or diarrhoea
If your canine has vomiting or diarrhoea, Campbell says gut rest is recommended. Ensure there is ample fresh water on hand if your pooch needs it.
After 24 hours, reintroduce a diet that is moderate in fats, highly digestible and not processed. Boiled chicken and rice or cottage cheese and rice are ideal, but only for the short-term, as this diet is not nutritionally sustainable. If your dog is suffering from diarrhoea, the diet needs to be higher in fibre.
Perhaps most importantly, these symptoms are not a condition they’re a symptom of an underlying cause, explains Campbell. If vomiting or diarrhoea persists for more than 24 hours, consult your veterinarian.
Healthy homemade diets
A healthy diet for dogs with sensitive health or gastro-intestinal problems should include several key components, says natural animal practitioner Susan Scott.
Your dog should be eating acidophilus yoghurt which, as well as containing essential gastro-intestinal bacteria, is rich in protein, B vitamins including B12, potassium and calcium. It also strengthens and stabilises the immune system, Scott says. Combine this with slippery elm, a herb that soothes and repairs the gastro-intestinal tract and is easily digestible, she adds.
For a small dog, offer a dessert spoon of yoghurt and half a teaspoon of slippery elm. A large dog will need a cup of yogurt with two or three teaspoons of slippery elm powder. As the dog starts to recover, add fruit and vegetables that have been pulped in a blender apple, carrot, celery, beetroot and parsley, she suggests. You can also try to tempt your dog with other easily digestible fruits, such as soft bananas and pears.
If the dogs digestive system is very compromised, pawpaw is great. It has an enzyme in it called papain that helps to break down other food, particularly meat, Scott explains.
When feeding fruit to your dog, there’s one vital rule of thumb. The fruit should always be very ripe, if not overripe. In the wild, dogs would only eat fruit when it had fallen to the ground and was decomposing, Scott says. If you do feed your canine unripened fruit, it will give them colic.
You can also add a little raw meat such as chicken, fish or lamb if it isnt too fatty. If your dog isnt used to raw meats, lightly cook the meat or pour boiling water over it to kill the bacteria in it, Scott tells Dogs Life.
If your dog suffers from skin allergies, the best way to help is to eliminate cooked grains from its diet. In my experience, dogs react badly to the heating properties of cooked grains, Scott relates. Their whole body feels overheated, and this contributes to skin allergies. Switch to a raw, natural diet of fruit, vegetables and meat, and you’ll reduce the amount of toxicity and food producing heat it will make a big difference. If your dog suffers from skin allergies, also give it sheeps sorrel, burdock or yellow dock to purify the blood, and chickweed or horsetail for the skin irritation.
As well as using herbal remedies, all of these conditions can be treated effectively with homeopathy, Scott adds.