It is estimated that around 90 million dogs are kept as pets in the United States alone, making them the third most popular animals, after freshwater fish, and cats. However, looking after a dog requires a significant amount of time and financial resources so you need to find out more about it before bringing one into your home. One interesting fact is that digestive problems are quite common in dogs, affecting around 60% of individuals of all breeds, ages, and weights.
A healthy digestive system is essential if you want your canine friend to live a long and happy life. The digestive system serves many functions such as absorbing the necessary nutrients, maintaining fluids inside the body, and getting rid of waste.
Contrary to many of those who think that the digestive system strictly refers to the stomach, it covers anything from the oral cavity (including teeth, tongue, and salivary glands) to the esophagus, stomach, large and small intestine, pancreas, liver, anus, and rectum.
Understanding how each of these organs works is the key to keeping your pet healthy and strong. Here are some of the most interesting facts that might help you identify certain health problems and treat your furry friend.
Digestive problems are quite common in dogs
About 10% of all the vet visits are justified by gastrointestinal diseases. Diarrhea, abnormal stool, and severe constipation are the most common symptoms that determine humans to understand there is something wrong with their pets and seek professional medical advice and guidance.
Vomiting represents another strong sign that your dog suffers from a digestive problem of some sort and should require medical assistance. Although vomiting cases usually resolve on their own after a day or two, many vets recommend a short fasting period of about 12 hours to allow the entire digestive system to rest.
Last but not least, a kidney or a liver affection can also cause gastrointestinal problems, including abdominal pain. And, since you and your dog don’t speak a common language, we strongly recommend a visit to the vet at least once a year for shots and general blood tests to rule out more dangerous affections and diseases.
The canine and human digestive systems are similar
According to vets, dogs have small intestines that occupy about a quarter of the total gastrointestinal volume, a feature shared with other omnivorous animals, including humans. By comparison, the small intestine of a cat, a carnivore by nature, only occupies 15%.
The gastrointestinal transit time in dogs lasts between 6 and 8 hours, while in people it lasts up to 30 hours. This is mainly because human food moves slower through the intestines. Besides, humans are closer to herbivores in this field, while dogs share most of their features with their wolf ancestors, carnivores by excellence.
Nevertheless, the digestive systems of men and dogs are quite similar, which means that both species are prone to the same health problems in the future.
Dogs also get heartburns
According to specialists, stomach acids are similar in humans and dogs in the fasted state. However, dogs tend to produce more acid after eating than their fellow human companions. But this doesn’t mean that you should give your pup antacid pills or other over-the-counter medication when there is no sign of affection.
Even if they produce more acid, dogs are still prone to food poisoning and bacterial contamination. They do have slightly more sensitive tummies than people and this is why you should never feed them raw meat or raw eggs. These foods can easily be contaminated with salmonella or other bacteria which could cause severe health problems to your pets.
Most dogs have no problem digesting and absorbing carbs
Another interesting fact about your fellow canine companions is that they can easily absorb carbohydrates, just like all other omnivorous animals. Canis lupus familiaris or domestic dogs are considered a subspecies of the wolves, which were mainly carnivorous.
However, having spent thousands of years alongside humans and feeding on anything, dogs have evolved into omnivorous animals which can also digest grains and other plant-based nutrients.
True carnivores have a higher nutritional requirement for certain vitamins, arachidonic acid, and taurine, elements that can usually be found in meat and animal fat. However, omnivorous animals, like modern domestic dogs and humans can create their own arachidonic acid derived from vegetable oils.
Therefore, most dogs can easily digest and absorb carbs that boost their energy levels and help them become more active. And, while there aren’t too many benefits in feeding your pet grain-free foods, these should be avoided if your dog is suffering from irritable bowel syndrome or has other digestive problems.
Consumed in small amounts, carbs are beneficial for dogs as they help them exercise and stay active, reducing the risk of obesity, cardiac problems, and diabetes.
Cholesterol doesn’t have the same impact on dogs either
If you’ve had a routine medical checkup lately, chances are you heard your doctor telling you to reduce your cholesterol levels by adopting a healthier diet, based on lean meat, fish, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Cholesterol can negatively impact your heart and digestive system, leading to clogged arteries, heart diseases, and others.
Saturated fats or “bad” fats come from fried, unhealthy foods, as well as ingredients like butter, palm oil, cheese or red meat. These foods should be consumed in small amounts and always combined with healthier choices such as fish, avocado, and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
If your cholesterol level is way above the superior limit of 300, chances are you are already overweight or fighting obesity. In time, high cholesterol levels could lead to a series of heart and kidney affections.
However, cholesterol doesn’t have the same effect on your pup’s heart or arteries, as its digestive system is designed to accommodate animal fat.
Another interesting fact is that dogs don’t seem to have too many problems with colon cancer either. Thus, the idea that consuming foods that are low in saturated and trans fats and rich in soluble fiber will promote a healthier body shouldn’t be taken too serious.
However, there might be some benefits to introducing your dog to high-fiber foods such as healthier stools and preventing constipation but other than that, more studies need to be conducted.
There is a correlation between high cholesterol levels and obesity, and this is where dog owners should interfere. Some breeds like French bulldogs and Golden retrievers are more prone to weight problems, so owners should be more careful when it comes to their pets’ feeding schedule.
As a general rule, dog food should contain real meat as the number one ingredient and shouldn’t be rich in fats or starch, corn, wheat or grains. Some brands offer a variety of food selections according to your pet’s breed, age, weight, and health problems, so look for products rich in legumes, vegetables, fish oils, and lean meat.
Dog feces can tell a lot about its health
Studying your dog’s poop is an unpleasant but necessary task. Abnormal stool color and consistency can be caused by a variety of factors, including bacteria, viruses, parasites, and health problems.
Diarrhea is usually caused by stress, a sudden change in your dog’s diet, bacterial infections or food poisoning. On the other hand, constipation or straining to defecate may indicate serious health problems, especially if it lasts for more than two days.
Even short episodes of constipation or diarrhea that occur periodically, in combination with other signs like vomiting, lack of appetite, and weight loss, can indicate something is wrong with your pet and you should take it to the vet as soon as possible.
Traces of mucus or blood in stools can be caused by severe digestive problems such as colitis. As unpleasant as this may be, dog owners should monitor their pet’s pooping behavior and the consistency of stools to determine what can be considered normal and abnormal. Some pooches have naturally softer stools, so, after a while, you should know if there is anything wrong with your pet by examining its feces.
Many digestive problems can be easily solved by small episodes of fasting and changes in diet. Switching from an all-kibble diet to a combination of dry and moist food has proved beneficial to many dogs. Besides, foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibers, and proteins can lower the risk of constipation, diarrhea, and health problems.