Chronic inflammation in dogs is a leading cause of pain, discomfort, and disease. It can greatly reduce your dog's quality of life, whether the inflammation is in the joints, gums, skin, gut, or organs. Some inflammation is pretty low-grade, and we often don't notice it until it develops into something serious. Therefore, we must take a proactive approach to chronic inflammation in dogs.
Luckily, just through nutrition, there is much we can do to reduce inflammation in the canine body.
Dietary guidelines to prevent and treat chronic inflammation in dogs
Inflammation is a natural and vital part of the immune system. Acute inflammation is when a dog is injured or exposed to a pathogen. The inflammatory response is the body's way of healing and destroying foreign invaders.
On the other hand, chronic inflammation is cause for concern and can lead to pain, discomfort, and disease.
Chronic inflammation can affect all areas of the body. Inflammation in the gut can lead to issues like colitis and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Inflammation in the joints leads to osteoarthritis.
In the skin tissue, chronic inflammation in dogs usually appears as dermatitis. In the ear, it is a common ear infection. It is also connected to problems like diabetes and heart disease, where inflammation of the gums due to dental disease can also play a role.
Finally, chronic inflammation in dogs can also create an environment that encourages cancer.
But what is the best way to manage inflammation in the body? First, we need to have a quick look at processing and the role it plays in inflammation.
Food Processing and chronic inflammation in dogs
Unfortunately, most of the food available today for dogs is heat-processed at high temperatures. While many premium dog foods are well formulated and contain a fantastic blend of nutrients, heat processing is still connected to chronic inflammation in dogs.
Firstly, heat-processed food like dry kibble or canned food releases glycotoxins (advanced glycation end products or AGEs is the technical term). These major inflammation causes are linked to almost every type of disease, from heart to autoimmune problems.
Secondly, extruded dry food or kibble" switches on" pro-inflammatory cytokine genes. This study points to the pro-inflammatory effect of kibble versus the anti-inflammatory effect of a raw meat-based diet.
In fact, puppyhood exposure to mixed oils and heat-processed foods might be a potential risk factor for skin allergies and inflamed skin conditions later in life. Similarly, ultra-processed carbohydrate-rich diets in puppies and pregnant bitches may increase their risk of inflammatory bowel disease as the puppies get older.
This means that a less-processed diet is generally less inflammatory, perhaps even anti-inflammatory.
Dietary guidelines for chronic inflammation in dogs.
The right fats for inflammation
One of the first steps in controlling inflammation with diets is understanding how the two essential fatty acids that dogs need in their diet work together. Firstly, it is necessary to limit saturated fat in the diet, whether from animal sources like beef or plant sources like coconut oil. Saturated fats can aggravate the stomach lining and allow bacteria into the bloodstream, causing inflammation in the body.
Of the good fats in the diet are the Omega-6 fatty acids such as linoleic acid (LA) and arachidonic acid (AA) that help the inflammatory response. The second essential fatty acids are omega-3s, specifically EPA and DHA, which reduce inflammation.
A balance between these two essential fatty acids is necessary to help the immune system respond with appropriate inflammation but not let it become chronic. A good ratio in dog food is about 4:1 or 5:1 omega-6s to omega-3s. Changing the ratio to 1:1 may help manage the problem if a dog has chronic inflammation like osteoarthritis.
Keep in mind that not all sources of essential fatty acids are equal. Linoleic acid (an essential omega-6) is disproportionately high in familiar fat sources like chicken fat and many plant oils.
This means they may be great for skin and coat but may also contribute to any existing inflammation problems.
Fish oils vs. plant oils for dogs
Good plant oils like canola oil and flaxseed have excellent omega-6 to omega-3 ratios. However, plant oil omega-3 comes in the form of ALA. While ALA is considered an antioxidant, it may be toxic in high doses. The bigger problem with ALA is that their bodies need to convert it to EPA & DHA for dogs to use it. Unfortunately, they are not very efficient at doing this.
What does this mean? Well, the most bioavailable forms of omega-3s that help with inflammation come from marine sources like fish, krill oil, or shellfish. However, do not feed cod liver oil as cod liver oil is too high in vitamin A and D and can be toxic over time.
Keep in mind, that as beneficial as fish oil is, the EPA can thin the blood and is contraindicated for some medications or dogs with blood clotting problems. Marine oils also oxidize and go rancid quickly, so freshness is critical.
The best dog food for inflammation will specify the amount of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids on the packaging and the source of the fats.
Choosing anti-inflammatory proteins for chronic inflammation in dogs
When it comes to dogs, we often think the more protein, the better. However, this is not necessarily the case with inflammation. While puppies and senior dogs generally need higher protein levels (around 30% is the norm), adult dogs may need a diet with a more moderate 25% or so.
Unfortunately, high-protein diets are associated with more chronic inflammation in dogs and kidney disease. Regarding protein sources, keeping to lean white meat such as fish and poultry is better as a staple part of the diet. Lean red meat is generally fine but beware of red meat that is not lean and is high in saturated fat, like pork and certain cuts of beef.
Many novel proteins or wildlife like venison are often less inflammatory, lacking antibiotic and drug residue in farmed animals. However, not all novel proteins have been adequately tested as part of the canine diet.
Plant proteins may be less inflammatory if a dog does not have an allergy, and sometimes plant proteins are medically necessary. But, keep in mind that plant proteins have an incomplete amino acid profile. This means they need to be properly fortified and used carefully. For the average healthy dog, they should not be a significant portion of the protein content.
In fact, the protein of legumes and pulses may have been a factor in the canine heart disease scare of grain-free diets.
Other ingredients that are helpful for chronic inflammation in dogs:
In general, avoiding artificial preservatives, flavors, and colors regarding chronic inflammation in dogs is a good idea. Some additives such as Polysorbate 80, CMC, or benzoates cause inflammation in the gut that can lead to issues later on. A better choice to control inflammation in your dog is to look for natural preservatives and antioxidants.
Some good ingredient choices to reduce inflammation are:
- Mixed tocopherols and vitamin E
- Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA
- Grape seed extract
- Green-lipped Mussel Extract
- Quality probiotics
- Vitamin C
- Boswellia Serrata
- Devil's claw
- Chondroitin Sulfate
- Rosemary extract
- Curcumin and piperine
- Squash and low-oxalate vegetables
- Yucca schidigera
- Moderate amounts of ginger, blueberries, kale, papaya, and mango.
We can do a lot to naturally reduce chronic inflammation in dogs by feeding an anti-inflammatory diet. This means feeding healthy fats, minimally processed food, white meat protein sources, and anti-inflammatory ingredients such as vitamin E. By carefully monitoring our dog's diet, we can help avoid the aches and pains that come with conditions like arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease.