Just like humans, the digestive system is responsible for the majority (70-80%) of a dog’s immune system. So an upset gut can result in reduced immunity which potentially puts our dogs at risk of falling ill. That’s why it’s so important to make sure your dog’s gut is healthy to keep them strong and happy.
Your dog's gut is responsible for a lot more than just waste disposal. In fact, it's the longest and largest part of their body — and it has many responsibilities to maintain a healthy digestive system. In this mini guide, we'll take you on a brief journey into what your dog's gut does for them and how you can ensure your dog's gut is as healthy as it can be. But first, let's discuss what role the gut plays in your dog's health.
Your dog's gut is mainly responsible for breaking down carbohydrates, proteins, and fats consumed from their food. It's also where vitamins and mineral supplements are broken down and absorbed into the body. Pretty important, right?
So how does your dog's gut achieve this? A dog stomach can hold up to 3 litres of food at one time and just like humans, our dog's gut can suffer problems such as constipation, digestive problems, and colitis - these conditions are often categorised is IBD (irritable bowel disease) or IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). It's because of this that it's important to feed your dog a high-quality diet containing the best quality ingredients. But, just as important, it's about finding the type of food that is most harmonious for your specific dog. Not your specific dog breed, but your individual, unique dog.
One of the most immediate concerns you may have when it comes to your dog's gut is worms. If you own a dog, there's a good chance that you've heard about the prevalence of intestinal parasites in dogs. This guide presumes your dog is wormed regularly. No amount of quality food will ever overcome the health damage done to your dog if they have internal parasites.
Read more: How often should I worm my dog?
K9 Magazine spoke with Katy Horner of cold pressed dog food specialists Cobbydog about how your dog’s diet plays a key role in their overall health, state of mind and wellbeing and how you can take some simple steps to improve your dog's gut health.
How to spot the signs of gut problems in dogs
Some of the most common signs that a dog may need help improving their gut health include weight loss, a dull coat, frequent infections and a leaky gut. Symptoms of a leaky gut include inflammation, sickness and an upset stomach.
Here are five of the best ways to improve your dog's gut health through nutrition.
1. Take note of changes in your dog
If you are noticing your dog's habits changing, the best thing to do is to start making a record of what they are eating. Katy explains why this is the best first step.
“All dog owners should keep a keen eye on what their dog is actually eating. Dogs are curious creatures and when out walking can often scavenge and eat things that could be affecting their stomach. If you are sure this hasn’t happened then the next step would be to look at your dog's food.
“If introducing a new food, it is wise to do this gradually. The main thing is to take it a step at a time, increasing slowly over the course of a week or so.”
Katy adds some extra advice with one of their own diets in mind to give an example on how to slowly change a dog’s food. She did this with her rescue Whippet, Pepper, last year.
“We recommend starting with a mixture of a quarter of our food and three-quarters of the dog's current food each meal. Increase the amounts to half and then three-quarters of our food, until eventually, you are sure that your dog’s digestion is fine. Remember, the slower the transition the less chance there will be of upsetting a dog’s stomach.
“We also advise dog owners to talk to either talk with us, their local pet shops or to a vet, regarding which ingredients are beneficial for their dogs. Remember dogs are individuals just like humans.
“With any real concerns, a dog owner should always consult their vets.”
Pay attention to ingredients
We all know the importance of ingredients. But when reading pet food labels, it can sometimes be difficult to know exactly what’s included and what percentage breakdown there is of high quality ingredients when trying to work out if a dog food is balanced.
Katy explains what some of the best ingredients are for gut health and some good basics rules of thumb for reading pet food labels.
“Dogs are omnivores and not only do they enjoy meat, it is really good for their digestion. Animal meat is not only high in protein, but it is also relatively easy for dogs to digest. Therefore, try and choose a food with a higher meat protein content. Check to make sure that the first ingredient in your dog’s food is a meat protein. Animal fat is also very important for a dog’s healthy digestion process. It gives them a lovely healthy and shiny coat too!
“There are many ingredients to think about regarding good gut health and digestion. There are some fabulous ingredients being introduced to dog foods and our to cold pressed range.
"Yucca is just one of the ingredients that's good for the gut and for digestion. Prebiotic, which is also included in our cold pressed food, encourages the growth of 'friendly bacteria' in the large intestine and promotes overall gastrointestinal health.”
She gives an example of extra ingredients that add value to a dog's diet and one rising nutritional star.
“All our cold press products contain Tumeraid, a specialised blend of Tumeric, Linseed Oil, Black Pepper, Apple Cider Vinegar and Yucca. It has been specially formulated to optimise the bioavailability of key functional ingredients. It aids digestion and has positive effects on the microflora that occurs naturally in the stomach.
“Here at Cobbydog we are constantly researching into different ingredients, our latest is looking at the benefits of Fenugreek. It is becoming popular with humans, helping with digestive problems such as loss of appetite, upset stomach, constipation and inflammation of the stomach.”
3. Consider grain free dog food
Over the last few years, grain free and cold pressed dog foods have emerged as diets dog owners are investigating in larger numbers year on year. Katy has over 20 years experience in the nutrition world. She explains what dog owners should know about grains and how to tell if a dog may be allergic to them.
“The truth is that grains have a purpose in dog foods to provide a variety of important nutrients that dogs need. Bottom line, grain-free dog food isn't necessarily better for your pup. Some dogs, however, can be intolerant of grains. If there is grain in your dog’s food and they are showing signs of having an allergy, please get some advice.
“Symptoms include vomiting or diarrhoea, flatulence, frequent scratching or hair loss, red, inflamed skin, chronic ear problems, poor growth in young dogs, coughing, wheezing and sneezing.”
What makes cold pressed food better for a dog’s gut health?
It's all about digestion, apparently.
Katy explains how cold pressed dog food is generally easier for dogs to digest and can help dogs avoid bloating.
“Cobbydog cold pressed dog food is grain free and made at a lower temperature than an extruded product. This helps to preserve the natural goodness of the ingredients. Each piece of the food dissolves from the outside in which also helps dogs to avoid bloating. Cold pressed dog food does not sit in the gut for long periods like extruded does, which makes it better for your dog’s digestion and gut health.”
4. Reduce stress
Stress can impact on a dog’s behaviour as well as their gut health. Katy shares some of the most common signs to help owners spot the link between stress and a dog’s digestive system.
“Many dogs show sign of stress through chewing or displaying destructive behaviour. It is our responsibility as dog owners to make sure digestion isn’t the cause of this. Just like humans, dogs thrive on a well balanced natural diet. When we eat too much of the wrong foods, it upset our digestive system. The same goes for our dogs too.”
5. Research probiotics
As dogs' age and go through their various life stages, we often add supplements into their diet to help them stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible. We asked Katy to explain some of the main benefits of supplements for a dog's gut health.
“Prebiotics support the growth of good bacteria (probiotics), which help keep bad bacteria under control in your dog’s stomach.
"Prebiotics improve digestion and the absorption of vitamins and minerals. By supporting the good bacteria, prebiotics help to prevent disease, improve digestion and nutrient absorption (especially minerals), and enhance the immune system.”
Summary: how to improve your dog's gut health
- Find a food that your dog finds easiest to digest
- Dogs can thrive on different types of protein such as meat & fish
- Signs of allergies should be investigated by your vet
- Keeping your dog stress-free can help their gut health
- Consider cold pressed dog food if your dog struggles with digestion or bloating
- Investigate whether grain free dog food suits your dog better
- Make absolutely certain your dog is being treated for fleas and worms regularly
- When switching dog food, do it slowly and monitor for changes (good or bad)
- Be prepared to experiment. All dogs are individuals, so finding the right food for your specific dog may take some trial and error