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Pet Nutrition and Illnesses: How Do They Work Together?

Urinary Health

Cats are prone to urinary tract issues. Sometimes, minerals build up in the urinary tract, causing crystals or stones to form. These are extremely painful, and can usually be identified because  the cat is urinating way more frequently than normal. Some cats even start going to the bathroom outside of the litter box. Veterinarians do not know for sure what causes crystals to occur. Cats evolved from their ancestors who lived in the desert. In order for them to survive in a dry climate, cats developed the ability to concentrate their urine in their bodies so that they could absorb the extra water for hydration. Some vets believe that when cats’ bodies go through this process, it can cause urinary crystals or infections. Hydration is the key to avoiding urinary tract issues. In general, cats should have plenty of water available at all times, but cats who suffer from crystals or frequent urinary tract infections especially require a constant supply of clean water available to them all the time. It has also been suggested that cats that struggle with urinary issues should be fed wet food formulas because they have a higher moisture content than dry foods.

A healthy dog, is one that can pee without worry

If you feed your cat a high-quality premium food, chances are that the food already includes nutrients that support a healthy urinary tract. Some cat food brands have a specific urinary health formula to help improve any urinary tract issues. Those foods have ingredients that are meant to support healthy urine PH levels and have lower levels of minerals known to increase the likelihood of crystals, such as calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous. Many foods also contain cranberries, because they are rich in antioxidants that help prevent issues in the urinary tract. Sometimes urinary tract formula foods do not have a great First Five because many of them are manufactured by large name brands. Even if your cat has urinary issues, you cannot simply pick the first urinary health formula off the shelf. You still have to check the label and make sure that it is a nutritious food. In some cases, it might be more beneficial to choose a complete health formula or raw food, which inherently contain the components that support urinary tract health.

Dental Health

Your pet’s dental health is more important than you might think. Oral care is crucial to to the overall health of your pet because the condition of your pet’s teeth and gums often indicates how the rest of their body is functioning. Bad breath is often ignored, but can be a symptom of a number of more serious issues. For example when combined with other symptoms, such as increased urination and thirst, sweet smelling breath can indicate diabetes. If your pet’s breath smells like urine, it could be an indicator of kidney disease. Yellow-tinted eyes and foul-smelling breath can indicate liver issues.

More often than not, bad breath is caused by the overgrowth of bacteria in the mouth, also known as periodontal disease. These bacteria release toxins that damage teeth and gums, which can lead to pain and tooth loss. If the bacteria reaches any cuts or wounds in the mouth, your pet can develop many different types of infections, including, but not limited to, an infected jaw bone, which requires surgery to fix.

Healthy dogs and cats have white teeth, pink gums, and moderately non-smelly breath (let’s face it, it’s never going to smell like roses in there!) The best way for you to keep your pet’s mouth healthy is to brush their teeth on a regular basis. Everyday brushing may seem like a lot, but it would be ideal to avoid any future dental issues. If that frequency is not manageable for you, then brushing every other day or at least three times a week would be acceptable. Most pets do not particularly enjoy getting their teeth brushed right from the start. It feels strange and it tickles and requires them to sit still. As humans, we are taught from a young age to understand why it is so important to maintain strong teeth and healthy gums, but for dogs and cats it is very hard for them to figure out what is going on during the teeth brushing process. With a little perseverance, practice, and training, tooth brushing can become a quick and easy process.

A nice happy and healthy dog smile

In an effort to make the tooth brushing process easier for pet parents, some companies now make dental gels and sprays which do not require any brushing. They are not quite as effective as regular, thorough brushing, but they can be useful for pets who will absolutely not tolerate getting their teeth brushed. Most of the gel products have a minty flavor and are very easy to apply to your dog or cat’s gum line. They work because they contain enzymes that kill bacteria without the use of toothbrush. Upon application to the gum line, your dog or cat will then lick at the gel, and their tongues essentially act as a toothbrush. 

If you are struggling with the condition of your pet’s teeth, there are also foods formulated specifically for dental health. These foods have tough, textured kibble in unique shapes, which rub against your pet’s teeth when they chew, scraping off plaque and tartar. Some kibble is also made with special vegetable fibers so that it has a firm composition and stays together longer, which encourages more chewing. This gives the special kibble shape a better chance to reach and eliminate plaque and tartar. In general, the reduced levels of calcium and protein in dental foods help to prevent plaque from hardening into tartar.

With regards to both dental diets and dental treats, it’s still very important to read the labels on these products. Since dental diets and treats are focused specifically on their benefits for your pet’s mouth, it is possible that the food will lose some of its other important nutritional value. In many cases, a high quality food, a raw food, or quality treat would still be a better nutritional selection than a lower-quality food that is designed for dental health. Many premium foods already have your pet’s dental health in mind, so, if your pet is healthy, and you maintain their oral hygiene, it is not necessary to seek a special dental food recipe.

Allergy Formulas

Allergies are just as common in pets as they are in people- if not more so. Food allergies in pets often manifest themselves as rashes, itching, hair loss, paw chewing, and skin licking. Studies have shown that food allergies account for 20% of all vet visits related to pets with excessive itchiness.

Food allergies in pets can also cause ear infections, vomiting, diarrhea, breathing issues, and runny eyes. If your pet exhibits any of these symptoms, it is recommended that you seek medical attention from your vet. While the allergy itself might seem insignificant to a pet owner, your pet’s allergies are very uncomfortable to them, and can cause pain and a lot of health complications. For example, pets who scratch a lot at itchy skin can cut themselves and develop skin infections, animals with severe diarrhea can become dehydrated, and frequent untreated ear infections can lead to hearing loss.

If your vet does determine that the trouble is caused by a food allergy, you will most likely be instructed to feed your pet an elimination diet. This method is often used by vets to determine what food ingredient is causing the issue for your pet. In order to accurately identify your pet’s allergy trigger, your vet will likely recommend a new food with very few ingredients and unique proteins. It could have an unusual meat source such as kangaroo, venison, bison, or even rabbit. Since these proteins are not used in most pet foods, your pet’s digestive system will likely have never encountered them before, and the allergy symptoms will most likely begin to subside. Introducing these novel proteins to your pet may decrease the likelihood of any negative reactions and health complications due to untreated allergies.

Roughly 10% of all allergies treated by vets are related to the pet’s food contents. Chicken, corn, wheat, and soy are some of the most common allergens for pets. Interestingly, those are also some of the more common ingredients found in pet foods. Even if your pet has never shown signs of food allergies, adverse effects can develop later in your pet’s life. You should always be aware of any changes in the health, appearance, and behavior of your dog or cat. Often, over time, pets can build intolerances to foods they have eaten their entire lives. 70% of your pet’s immune system lives in its gastrointestinal system. If your pet’s intestinal tract becomes imbalanced due to malnutrition, disease, or aging, its body might decide to treat a once-familiar food as a foreign substance. Now, every time you pet eats that food it can continuously cause inflammation and uncomfortable symptoms until they are treated. Upon identifying the issue, the animal’s system will need to recover from the ingredients that are causing the upset.

In general, pets who are fed premium foods with high-quality ingredients tend to have many fewer allergies than pets who are fed cheaper, less-wholesome foods. Because holistic diets are comprised of healthful, more natural components, your pet’s body is able to absorb more of the nutritional value and can maintain a stronger immune system, enabling them to defend against allergy attacks.

Skin and Coat

For your pet, having a healthy coat is about more than just looking good. Many times, the reason that a dog or cat emits a foul smell, has flaky skin, or sheds all over the place is because the animal’s skin and coat are not in optimal condition. In many ways, the condition of a pet’s skin and coat can be an indicator of the overall health of the pet. It is rare to find a dog or cat in perfect health whose fur is falling out and whose skin has rough scaly patches. Generally, when a pet has a skin condition it is a visible, outward sign that there is something hidden and problematic happening on the inside.

Many pets on diets without enough healthy fat suffer from dry, flaky skin. Sometimes this occurs when  a dog is on a low-fat diet to lose weight, or if the food that a dog is eating has the incorrect percentage of fat in it. Low-fat diets can lack important vitamins and minerals that the skin and coat need to prosper. While obesity is an issue for a lot of animals, there are common skin and coat issues that are consequences of feeding a low-fat diet on a long term basis. If your pet is eating less than the recommended daily amount of healthy fats, you should likely consider providing them with supplements to make sure their skin and coat do not  suffer.

Robustly nutritional foods often contain B vitamins, zinc, healthy fats, omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids, and essential oils. Many premium holistic-style brands do not have specific food formulas to improve skin and coat because their food already contains all the right ingredients to promote good skin and shiny fur. Omega-6 fatty acids, which are highly concentrated in ingredients like safflower oil, sunflower oil, and fish oil, create a barrier on your pet’s skin to help lock in moisture. This prevents dryness and unsightly, flaky dandruff. Sometimes, when an animal is suffering from extremely dry skin their bodies will attempt to overcompensate for this dryness by producing more oil on its skin. This worsens the issue by making the animal’s coat greasy while still having flaky, dry skin and dandruff. Some types of pet fur are also more prone to getting matted when the coat is excessively oily. Biotin, a B vitamin, which is found in fish, liver, avocado, and egg ingredients, promotes healthy sweat glands, skin and coat in your pet. Biotin is necessary for the body to support and generate healthy and strong skin and coat cells. Niacin, another B vitamin which is found in sweet potatoes, fish, peas, and turkey, helps keep these skin cells hydrated so that they can stay strong and healthy.

A shiny coat can indicate whether or not your pet is healthy

Typically, a dog’s skin and coat should be in good condition if they are fed a decent food. However, there are also external factors that can lead to skin and coat issues. Changes in weather, such as the drier air in winter, can lead to skin dryness and therefore dandruff. Rolling in the grass, mud, or dirt is also going to add grease, film, and filth to your dog’s coat as well. To avoid non-medical skin problems, regular baths should become part of your pet’s maintenance routine. In general a dog should be bathed no more than once a week because over bathing can strip essential oils from the coat and also cause dryness on the surface of your pet’s skin. Once a month is a favorable frequency at which to bring your dog to a groomer or to be bathed at home. A thorough bath and brushing helps keep your pet’s skin and coat healthy on the outside, while a premium food formula helps keep your dog healthy on the inside!

Cats, on the other hand, tend to be obsessive self-bathers. Cats who are in good health rarely, if ever, need to be bathed by anyone but themselves. Sometimes of course, there are extenuating situations in which  kitties can get themselves into something sticky, disgusting, or smelly, which would certainly warrant a trip to the groomer.  Healthy cats should not have an excess of grease or dander on their coat and they need not be given a bath by humans on a regular basis. As an aside, some cats stop grooming themselves from time to time. This is most often an indicator that something is not quite right, and that your cat may be struggling with a health issue. For example, a pet with severe mouth or jaw pain from dental disease, or other oral health issues, might suddenly stop giving itself baths. Very obese animals are also not often able to groom themselves because they cannot bend correctly to reach the areas in need of cleaning. This would require a trip to the vet and a program to shed a few pounds so that your cat can return to its independent hygiene routine. Many senior cats stop bathing themselves as well. Sometimes, this is merely because they are no longer lithe enough to bend and stretch accordingly. At this point, it is the owner’s duty to step in and brush their cat daily, whether it has long or short hair. The act of brushing will stimulate blood flow, remove dander, break up mats, and provide quiet bonding time between you and your cat.

It can be said that pets with soft, shiny fur are far more fun to cuddle with than ones with greasy skin or brittle hair. When a pet is being fed an adequate diet, their skin and coat should be in great condition. If they are not, taking a closer look at the ingredients list on your pet food bag and exploring your food’s nutritional value, might help you figure out what is lacking in your pet’s diet. No matter what a food claims to do for your pet’s health, it is important to make sure that the nutritional information and guaranteed analysis support said claims. There are a lot of statistics, percentages, and numbers on a pet food label, but once you know what to look for, it becomes easier to navigate all the facts and figures.

There are many people who strictly advocate that pets should eat 100% dry food solely because of the potential dental benefits. There are others who feed their pets a 100% wet food diet because of the health benefits and importance of keeping their pets hydrated. In the end, neither dry food nor wet food are “right” or “wrong,” and both have pros and and cons when it comes to balancing your pet’s diet. Many vets and pet nutrition experts recommend that feeding both wet and dry food is the solution for achieving optimal pet nutrition. Some people feed their pets controlled portions of dry food with a dollop of wet food on top, covering, and storing the rest of the wet food can in the refrigerator between meals. Others choose to separate the meals by feeding a serving of dry food in the morning, and a serving of canned food at night. Your pet’s feeding schedule and breakdown of meals is entirely up you you, and as discussed above, there are no real rights or wrongs. Now that you understand the various benefits of both types of food, you can make an educated decision that works for both you and your pet.