Fresh meat early diet reduces risk of dog digestive issues later in life – study

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A diet of non-processed meat, human leftovers and raw bones during puppyhood and adolescence may protect dogs against digestive issues later in life, a study has found.

A highly processed carbohydrate-based kibble diet and regular rawhide chews were associated with increased risk of gastrointestinal problems, the research suggests.

Scientists say these findings could have implications for gut health in pet dogs.

Kristiina Vuori, from the University of Helsinki, and colleagues used data from the DogRisk food frequency questionnaire, established in 2009 at the university.

They explored the link between dogs’ diets in early life and incidence of chronic enteropathy (CE) – an ongoing gastrointestinal disorder characterised by diarrhoea, vomiting and weight loss – later in life.

Researchers then looked at if the diets were associated with whether the dogs developed chronic CE later in life or not.

The study looked at 4,681 diets of puppies and 3,926 diets of adolescent dogs, of which owners later reported CE symptoms in 1,016 (21.7%) from the puppy and 699 (17.8%) from the adolescent diet group pets.

The researchers found that, compared with a highly processed kibble diet, dogs fed a non-processed meat-based diet – including raw red meat, organs, fish, eggs and bones, but also vegetables and berries – or human leftovers and table scraps such as cooked potatoes and cooked fish in puppyhood or adolescence were significantly less likely to experience CE symptoms later in life.

According to the data, non-processed diets and leftover foods in puppyhood reduced associated CE risk by 22.3% and 22.7% respectively.

Whereas associated CE risk was 28.7% greater with a highly processed diet.

In adolescence, non-processed diets and leftovers saw reduced risks of 12.7% and 24% respectively, compared with 14.6% greater risk of CE with a highly processed diet.

Looking at specific foods, the researchers found that feeding puppies raw bones or cartilage a couple of times a week was associated with a 33.2% reduced risk of CE, while feeding berries a couple of times a year saw a reduced risk of 28.7%.

However, giving puppies processed and chemically treated rawhides daily was linked to a 117.2% increased risk of CE.

The findings suggest providing puppies with a variety of non-processed and whole foods early in life may reduce the risk of future incidences of CE, the scientists say.

However, further studies are needed to confirm the results.

Writing in Scientific Reports, the authors say: “Our study provides proactive dog owners with information on healthy diets and of what food items to use and to avoid.

“The key findings from the present study confirm the tested hypothesis as we found a significant association between companion dog puppyhood and adolescence diet and the tendency to develop CE in adulthood.”

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