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The Importance of a Healthy Gut

The first question I ask any customer who calls to ask advice about their itchy dog is: what do you feed them, including treats?

I can’t tell you how often what they are feeding their dog is what’s causing the itchy issue.

Now, that’s not their fault. We barely know how to feed ourselves properly these days, let alone our dogs! If they got a puppy it probably came with a bag of food. Or the vet recommended a food when they first went in for the itchy skin problem, or another dog owner swore by a grain free, hypoallergenic, knitted by nanas, oven baked wonder brand. And you knowall dog owners (including myself) have an opinion. Also, somewhere along the line it has become acceptable to feed our dogs the same food, day in day out, for years.

If your dog is thriving on it, maintaining a healthy weight, bouncy and bright, with no digestive or skin issues to speak of, marvellous, keep doing what you’re doing. But maybe vary the protein a bit if for nothing else other than boredom’s sake.

What I’ve found over the years, however, is that the state of your dog’s gut will determine how healthy they are and how often they’ll pick up niggling ailments which gradually erode your holiday fund because the cost of treatment either comes under the excess or isn’t covered by insurance.

These can include:

  • Room clearing wind
  • Bad breath
  • Allergies
  • Blocked anal glands
  • Loose stools
  • Constipation
  • Poor coat condition
  • A leaky gut
  • Itchy skin
  • Lack of energy
  • Too much twitchy energy
  • That classic doggy smell
  • Obesity

Think of your dog’s gut as a pipeline: food, treats, water, bits of paper, glitter go in: numbers 1 and 2 come out. I kid you not, I had a customer once whose dog ate a pot of glitter when they were wrapping cards and presents and the dog pooped glitter all Christmas. A truly festive family experience.

Refined recipes

Some foods are so over processed your dog is getting more of a sugar type hit because the carbohydrates either are, or have become refined. Their sugar levels go up after eating then plummet soon after, leaving them begging for more food.

White rice, grain and vegetable derivatives, and not enough meat or fish in the recipe (or too much, see below) can cause some dogs to experience one or many of the issues above.

Uncooked carbohydrate

If there’s one thing that will aggravate and damage a healthy gut it is raw starch. You might think it’s absent from your dog’s diet but it hides in uncooked carbohydrate.

Raw starch can be harmful to your dog because the bad bacteria in the gut thrive off it and these then overwhelm the good bacteria, leading to all sorts of problems, from bad breath and wind to colitis and skin problems.

The cooking process uses friction to generate heat. It cooks the carbohydrates turning them from raw starch rice for instance, into a digestible gelatinised form.

However, these days some customers prefer a higher meat to carb ratio. In some recipes this can mean the carbohydrate isn’t cooked as thoroughly as it should be because the higher levels of fat from the higher meat and fish content means there is less friction, so less heat to cook the carbs, which remain only partly gelatinised.

Most producers aim for a 95% cook but if you get below 80% - meaning 20% of the starch remains raw – this can have a significant impact on your dog’s gut. Not least a leaky gut which causes digestive issues, joint pain and lethargy among other things.

The problem is, you don’t know which food contains uncooked starch just by looking at it.

My dog, Nikita, came to me as a rescue with a really bad skin condition. Also, she’s prone to bouts of gastro enteritis, very painful and distressing for her. Since I’ve changed her diet her gut only flares up when she’s incredibly stressed (when our cat, Pearl died earlier this year for example.)

My favourite food to feed her is Natural Instinct raw. She gets Natural Instinct Tripe, and Country Banquet Chicken or Turkey. Those last two are my favourite because they’ve got a good mix of fruit and veg so I don’t worry about supplementing.

I find she doesn’t moult as much on raw and she sleeps better (I have no idea what that’s about). She has better energy, keeps her weight down and has poo that is almost (I said almost) a pleasure to pick up. There’s not much of it and it doesn’t stick to the grass!

I like the fact that it’s not processed either, unless you count chopping up fresh meat and veg as processing, making it a raw version of what I would cook myself. Meat and veg. Plus the added advantage of bone for calcium.

Don’t be afraid to give raw a go for a while. Let their gut settle down for a couple of weeks while their gut flora readjusts to the new diet and the refined carbohydrates melt away, and go from there.

You really don’t have anything to lose and you may actually see your holiday fund gaining ground again.

Find out more from Kate here.

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