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Obesity & Diarrhoea in Dogs and Cats: Inappropriate Diets Part 1


If you're wondering why getting your pet onto a BARF diet or Species Appropriate diet is so important, we've created this ultimate guide of the problems your pet is likely to suffer from when feed a poor diet. Dr Nick give's us the low down.

I'm often asked for reasons for going onto a raw diet. It's easy - almost all health markers in our pets improve quickly and permanently when on a raw food diet. 

But how about we look at diet from the other perspective? What problems do we see when you feed a pet inappropriate food? There are hundreds to choose from, but here 's my top ten:

1. Obesity

2. Diarrhoea

3. Itch, or Cutaneous Adverse Food Reactions

4. Anal gland problems

5. Recurrent ear infections

6. Poor teeth and gums

7. Morning vomiting

8. Inappetance

9. Pancreatitis

10. Epilepsy

1. Obesity in Pets

Obesity is defined in humans as excessive white adipose tissue. Human epidemiologic data show increased morbidity and mortality with increasing body fat mass. The most commonly used measure of body fat in people is the body mass index (BMI: weight [kg] divided by height2 [m]). 

People are defined as:

Underweight (BMI < 18.5)

Normal (BMI = 18.5 to 24.9)

Overweight (BMI = 25 to 29.9)

Obese (BMI = 30 to 39.9)

Extremely obese (BMI above 40).

Individuals who are overweight or obese have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers and overall mortality.

Data from our pets are more limited, and the definition of obesity is more arbitrary. Dogs are considered overweight when their weight is more than 15% above ideal and are obese when their weight is in excess of over 30% of ideal. 

However, these criteria have not been confirmed with rigorous epidemiologic studies, and limited data exists on the definition of optimal body weight - yes, that means we don't know exactly what the ideal weight for your pet is! But bear with me.

In vet medicine, we use weighing scales and 'ideal' body weight tables depending on the breed of dog. We are also increasingly using Body Condition Scoring - that is, measuring how much body fat the dog has, as well as merely measuring how many kilos they weigh. 

This makes a lot of sense. If you have a well muscled and tall Labrador in perfect body condition weighing 40kg, this is very different from the short-backed, small, obese Lab who also weighs 40kg - this illustrates the limitations of just using scales.

Body Condition Score tables have been designed and published by Royal Canin

In the UK, over 60% of dogs are considered to be obese or overweight. Obesity used to be considered an inconvenience and somehow cuddly and 'well, he's just got big bones' and other excuses. At a recent World Small Animal Veterinary Association One Health meeting, canine obesity was officially classified as a disease, which is consistent with its classification in people. It is considered a chronic illness - that is, a long term issue that needs to be addressed for the health and welfare of the pet.

In dogs, obesity is associated with osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart and respiratory disease, kidney disease, cancer and more. This is really serious stuff if you want a healthy dog to live out their full life potential! And 6/10 dogs have this disease of obesity, mainly due to inappropriate diet. Obese pets are 15-30% more expensive to care for over their lifetime.

When I talk to owners about obesity, they will often say 'Oh, yes, well, he hasn't been getting as much exercise recently'. This may be so, but science tells us that exercise is only a small part of body weight control, perhaps as little as five per cent, depressingly. Human nutritionists are known to warn, 'you can't outrun a bad diet'.

But all is not lost. Changing diet can influence body fat. Using conventional diets, unfortunately, the success rate, even with the most qualified university vets in the UK, is only 50% of dogs reaching target weight on any given diet and of those, only half remaining at that weight!

Our experience with feeding a species appropriate fresh or raw diet is much better. We don't have official figures, but most raw feeding vets will assure you that they have a much much better success rate in combating obesity in pets when using a raw food diet in both the short and long term, with the weight staying off.

2. Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea is almost as common as obesity and frequently (but not always) associated with diet. All dogs can get loose stools (the definition of diarrhoea) after 'dietary indiscretion' (also known as raiding the bins or picking up offensive material off the floor on walks!). This short-term looseness usually sorts itself out with bland food for a few days. It can happen to raw and kibble fed dogs, alike. 

The more worrying issue is when the runny poos go on for some time - anything over two weeks or so is considered to be 'chronic' or long-term. You may be surprised to hear that a remarkably high number of dogs produce less than perfect stools, sometimes for years and years. Their owners are so used to seeing a sticky mess coming out of their dog. They assume it's normal. It's not.

At my practice, we use the Thompson Stool Score system to assess, note and communicate about stool quality. Click here to read the full article or here's a quick overview: 

The Thompson Stool Stool Score for Dogs and Cats

0 - Water/Soup

3 - Thin, but will hold together on the ground without dribbling everywhere — uncooked thin cookie dough.

5 - Blancmange - neither liquid or solid. Scoopable, but leaves a mess.

7 - Formed but soft. Very soft sponge cake. Not pickupable, but perhaps cleanly scoopable.

10 - Perfect cigar or torpedo. Pickupable between two fingers.

It's that simple.  You can add helpful detail like colour, smell and uniformity (lumpiness) for added information. Beware of making things too complicated.

The most common cause of chronic diarrhoea and the easiest to fix is due to dietary intolerance to one or more components in the diet. 

If you're feeding a kibble or a tinned formula, there are usually ten or more ingredients, and you can't separate them. If you feed a home-prepared or complete raw food, you are more in control of what you feed your pet. You can strip the diet down to one protein source (meat) at a time and see what effect this has on stool quality. It's a straightforward, but effective way to investigate these things yourself.

Wheat, beef and chicken are the most common foods that cause intolerances and therefore loose stools/diarrhoea. 

Why? They are the most commonly used ingredients in foods and have been for decades as they are the cheapest ingredients, maximising profits for the processed food corporations but causing an ever increasing number of pets diagnosised with intolerances to these ingredients.

If your dog or cat produces a 7/10 stool, you might be ok with this, but if you think about it, they are 30% down on a perfect poo (if the poos were 5/10, they'd be 50% down on perfect). 

This either means they have a degree of inflammation in the gut, (read all about IBS symptoms in your pet here) so the absorption of water from the stool is impaired, or their microbiome (the bugs that are essential to health and gut vitality) is disordered. 

There are also diseases like cancer, hepatitis and worms that can also give poor stool quality, so if you have any concerns, contact your vet who can run some tests to rule these more severe diseases out.

A simple consequence of loose or imperfect stools is that the anal glands tend not to be emptied and, when full, can cause your dog to 'scoot' or 'sledge' on their anus to relieve the itch/pain in the glands. We will cover this in more detail in section 4, in the next blog.

Finally - if your dog is producing stools with mucus, some pain or some streaks of blood, then colitis, inflammation of the colon, is most likely. This is common and is usually associated with exposure to inappropriate food for your particular pet. 

For example, if your cat is fine on beef, but they get mucus if fed even a little lamb, then they most likely have a mild lamb intolerance, and this meat should be avoided for at least six months.

Click here to read the second part on Itch, or Cutaneous Adverse Food Reactions and anal gland problems

Click here for Poor teeth and gums, Morning vomiting, Inappetance.

NOW, we'd love to hear your feedback so LEAVE A COMMENT and feel free to share this with people you think will love it.

Natural lifestyle, naturally health, naturally thriving!!
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Thursday, December 08 2022

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