Foods for Health
The best thing we can do for our dogs is to provide them with healthy nutrition. There are many foods that fulfill basic nutritional needs, but what about foods that actually improve health? Specific foods can have a positive impact on many health conditions. You can feed these foods in addition to your dog’s regular food, or, if you are feeding homemade food, you can incorporate these foods into your dog’s meals.
Here are a dozen health-related conditions that your dog may experience and suggested foods for combatting them.
Flaky skin. Skin is an important protective barrier that prevents bacteria, viruses, and fungi from entering the body and prevents fluid from escaping. The skin’s strength will determine how well it protects the body. Strong, flexible skin with good moisture balance is resistant to foreign invaders. Weak, dry, and flaky skin has microscopic tears or holes in the top layers, making it easier for foreign invaders to get past the outer layers of skin and cause local inflammation and itching. To keep skin healthy, we need to make sure that our dogs consume enough omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids help improve the integrity of skin and reduce inflammation. Omega 3 fat can be found in trout and salmon (mackerel and herring are very good sources but they are higher in mercury than farm-raised fish). Other sources of omega 3 fat include fish oil capsules, flaxseed oil, or flax meal and walnuts. Vitamin E can also be very beneficial to skin health. The body can store large amounts of Vitamin E, so it is important not to oversupplement. Wheat germ and corn have the highest sources of vitamin E, but other sources include peanuts, eggs, fish (many fish oil capsules contain added vitamin E) and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
Tooth plaque. Your dog’s mouth is the gateway to her body. Plaque and tartar build-up on your dog’s teeth can lead to gingivitis and periodontitis. Bacterial infections in her mouth can lead to septicaemia (blood infection) which, in turn, can cause infections in other areas of the body. The best way to prevent this is with regular brushing, but you can also help your dog keep her teeth clean by feeding her treats that promote chewing. The best treats are gently abrasive to your dog’s teeth, just like a tooth brush. Vegetables that are low in sugar are the best choice for these types of treats. Carrots, broccoli stalks, cauliflower, and rutabaga are all good choices.
Stiff joints. Stiff joints are a natural part of aging in dogs. Some dogs with hip dysplasia or osteochondrosis (cartilage malformation during growth) will suffer joint pain and stiffness at a young age. Without a doubt, the best thing to do with dogs with joint pain is to keep them lean and fit to minimize the stress on the affected joints. However, we can also provide some nutritional support for these dogs. Feeding diets high in omega 3 fat will help reduce inflammation. In addition, glucosamine HCL, vitamin C (in fruit), and vitamin E can also be beneficial in helping to maintain joint health.
Reduced eyesight. A number of diseases, including progressive retinal atrophy, cataracts, and glaucoma, affect sight. Recent research has suggested that omega 3 fat can help reduce age-related changes to human eyes. It is possible that dogs may get the same benefit. In young puppies, the omega 3 fat called DHA is important in proper development of the retina. So, if you breed dogs, consider making sure the puppy’s mom has additional sources of fish oil to enhance the development of the puppies’ retinas. To help your adult dog make the best of his sight, supplement his diet with carrots (or other orange vegetables), which are an excellent source of provitamin A. Other sources of vitamin A include eggs and liver.
Inflammation. Current research has implicated inflammation as a contributing factor to premature aging. Lifetime obesity can result in whole-body, low-grade inflammation. To avoid this, keep you dog at a healthy weight, and feed foods high in antioxidants, such as raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, and cranberries. Broccoli is also thought to be a good source of antioxidants.
Anxiety. There are a number of herbal remedies you can add to your dog’s diet to help her cope when she is anxious. Look for something with valerian root, chamomile, or L-tryptophan in it.
Dull coat. A shiny coat is a sign of a healthy dog. Help your dog’s coat shine by adding the B vitamin biotin to his diet. Biotin is involved in making the building blocks of healthy hair and skin. A good source of B vitamins is brewers yeast (NOT active baking yeast) which can be purchased at most health food stores.
Depressed immunity. A good balanced diet is the best recipe for supporting a healthy immune system; however, adding foods that are high in antioxidants has been proposed to enhance some types of immunity. Foods such raspberries and blueberries are high in antioxidant ability.
Cancer. Cancer can occur in any type of cell. It happens when a mistake in the DNA of the cell allows the cell to grow uncontrollably. There has been a lot of press on foods that can prevent cancer but there is little research available on dogs. In human research, diets high in fruits and vegetables have been linked with a low incidence of cancer. So adding fruit and vegetables to your dog’s meals may be beneficial in preventing cancer. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, berries, and citrus fruits are all thought to have anticancer properties.
Upset stomach. In most cases, dogs that have an upset stomach do not want to eat. This self-enforced fast helps rest the stomach and intestines allowing them to return to normal. If your dog seems to have an upset stomach but is still eating, ginger, dill, and anise can all help soothe a troubled tummy.
Poor appetite. While poor appetite can be a sign of illness, some dogs just get a little bored with their everyday food. Mix it up for them by adding a cooked egg, some cottage cheese, or a little of last night’s chicken to their bowl. Just remember, keep it to small amounts and make sure that it is lean and not high in fat.
Overweight or underweight. Some dogs are harder to keep weight on than others. If your dog sheds the pounds easily, try supplementing his food with some extra protein and fat. A bit of extra fat can be added by using peanut butter or flaxseed oil, while meat and cooked eggs are always good sources of protein. If you are feeding eggs more than once a week, the eggs should be cooked because raw eggs contain a protein that prevents the intestines from absorbing biotin (a B vitamin). Other sources of protein and fat include yogurt (not fat-free), cottage cheese, meat, chicken, and fish.
On the other hand, older dogs with a tendency toward plumpness may need fewer calories, so you can supplement their diets with extra lean protein and a little extra fibre in the form of pumpkin or green beans to avoid packing on pounds.
Many health conditions can be relatively benign but others can be a symptom of a serious disease that cannot be managed with diet alone. For example, if your dog has poor coat condition and is lethargic and overweight, he may have hypothyroidism. Attempting to treat the dull coat and weight problem with diet will not solve the underlying illness; medical intervention is required. So if your dog has multiple symptoms or if a symptom persists despite your best efforts, have the dog examined by a veterinarian. Nutrition and health food are only able to support the body; they are not a medical treatment.