(Dr. Iulia Mihai, DVM) There is a close connection between the food we eat and the way we feel, and this also applies to pets.
A diet based on quality ingredients, variety, and balance, is fundamental for your furry baby's health. Although we all know this theory, there are few who manage to apply the rules to provide an adequate nutritional balance for their pet.
Pet owners who have a limited budget often choose foods based on their price without looking at the ingredients they contain. This thing can affect your pet's health in the long term. In other words, a bad or improper diet could lead to various illnesses, and all the money you saved buying cheap food you will spend on visits to the vet, and they are pretty expensive.
Some owners pick their pet’s food from hundreds of diets with diverse recipes and formulas, while others choose to prepare it at home from scratch with fresh ingredients. But no matter what type of food you choose, you must pay special attention to how these foods and ingredients affect the daily life of your beloved pet.
6 Diseases That Are Closely Related to Pet Food
Obesity among pets is a big problem, especially because there is an upward trend regarding this matter. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA), up to 35% of pets worldwide suffer from obesity (approximately 55% of dogs and 60% of cats).
Most of the time, this condition is due to the sedentary lifestyle and the unhealthy diet the owners give their pets, although they know how harmful obesity can be for them.
Obesity, in turn, causes diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, hypertension, or cancer and is one of the main reasons for the decrease in life expectancy among pets.
What is even more worrying is that for the majority of pets that were classified as obese, their owners believed they had a normal weight.
To avoid your pet becoming overweight or obese, you must pay more attention to its diet, the type of food you choose, and its daily portions. In addition, every pet needs a minimum of daily physical effort, in order to stay healthy and at an ideal weight.
Allergies and Skin Conditions
Many pet owners are looking for grain-free or filler-free food. These types of diets do not contain corn, wheat, or soy - ingredients that make your pet feel full without providing any nutritional value.
Food that contains grains can be contaminated with mold spores, harvest insects, dust mites, etc. These contaminants can be found in almost all dog and cat foods and can cause allergy-related symptoms such as:
- Irritated skin
- Red, watery eyes
- Skin crusts
- Itching and scratching
- Hair loss or thinning of the fur
- Ear infections (rarely)
In other situations, the food can trigger an immune response, causing an allergy. A food allergy is simply each pet's immune system overreacting to a normal food ingredient, causing various adverse symptoms:
- Hair loss
- Excessive itching and scratching
- Rubbing the face against the carpet
- Excessive paw licking
- Dry and flaky skin
- Sneezing and nasal secretions
- Breathing difficulties (rarely)
Common food allergens in pets have been documented to be proteins generally fed in the diet, such as beef, dairy products, chicken, lamb, wheat, and eggs, although pets can be affected by any dietary ingredient that acts as an allergen.
In this case, it is important to remember that the diet is not to blame (other pets can eat the same diet without problems) and that your pet's immune system is hyper-reactive to some of the ingredients that are found in its diet.
Acute pancreatitis is a medical condition frequently encountered in dogs. It usually occurs after pets consume meals rich in fats (such as pork-based diets). The pet's pancreas becomes inflamed and can no longer perform its normal functions.
This inflammation is closely related to pets' diet - when pets receive an inadequate diet with forbidden foods, which have a high-fat content, their body becomes overworked.
Pancreatitis in pets is accompanied by the following clinical signs:
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Clay-colored stools
Acute pancreatitis starts suddenly and is often treatable. If it is not treated properly, it can become chronic, which means it can become a continuous inflammatory condition. The pathology of chronic pancreatitis is irreversible.
Severe episodes of pancreatitis can lead to diabetes. So pay close attention to the food you give your pet.
An unbalanced diet can cause various heart diseases. In this case, the influencing factor is sodium intake (salt). High salt consumption causes water retention and increases blood pressure (hypertension).
Long-term hypertension can have dangerous side effects because it affects several organs. It can even lead to death. Here are the lesions high blood pressure can cause:
- Ophthalmic: blindness, glaucoma, hemorrhages, or retinal detachment.
- Neurological: cerebrovascular hemorrhage, seizures, dementia, or neurological deficit.
- Cardiovascular: hypertrophy of the left ventricle, changes in the arteries and arterioles.
- Renal: glomerulosclerosis, glomerular atrophy, tubular degeneration, etc.
Pets with primary hypertension do not always have symptoms, while those with secondary hypertension (the most common case) may have one or more of the following:
- Eyeball bleeding
- Dilated pupils
- Detachment of the retina
- Nystagmus (abnormal and frequent movement of the eyeball)
- Blood and/or proteins in the urine
- Kidneys of abnormal size (enlarged or reduced)
- Loss of movement coordination
- Partial paralysis of the limbs
- Heart murmur
- Enlarged thyroid gland
If your dog often eats leftovers from your table, sausages, ham, and other unhealthy snacks, or has a diet rich in salt, you should know that this behavior contributes actively to the possibility of developing heart disease.
Alkaline urine leads to bladder or kidney stones in pets. Foods rich in carbohydrates (potatoes and cereal) contribute to the alkalinization of urine, and in the long term, stones may form in the urinary bladder. If your pet's diet is high in sodium, salt increases the amount of calcium in the urine, and over time stones can form.
Bladder stones are of several types, each type having a different composition. It usually starts with one small stone but over time, they multiply and grow in size, causing various problems:
- Urinary incontinence
- Pain when urinating
- Urine with blood
- Yelping or meowing when urinating
- Discoloration of urine
The veterinarian will apply the necessary treatment, whether it is a veterinary diet to dissolve them or surgical intervention to remove them.
Even if your pet does not currently have bladder stones, you can prevent their development by feeding a diet low in potassium and calcium.
One of the biggest causes of cancer in pets is poor-quality food.
Poor-quality food has a high level of processing, low-quality control, and low or non-existent sanitary practices. Foods that lack quality control may contain high levels of:
Mold spores - some fungi produce mycotoxins - poisonous substances that can easily make people and animals sick. Mold with mycotoxins invades cereals and nuts but is also found in some vegetables and fruits. Of all mycotoxins, the most widespread and dangerous is aflatoxin. This toxin encourages cancer growth. Researchers believe this is the cause of most premature death and cancer in dogs.
Pesticides - many of the grains used in pet foods are sprayed with pesticides to repel pests, but these chemical substances don't just disappear. Pesticides have been linked to brain tumors and bone cancer in mice in a number of studies.
Food colorings and additives - foods colored with blue no. 1 (brilliant blue) and no. 2 (indigotin) have been correlated with an increased rate of tumoral development.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) – this ingredient can cause severe reactions in humans. In dogs, it has been found that the more food rich in glutamate is consumed, the higher the rates of tumor development.
Although the occurrence of cancer is influenced by many factors, it does not hurt to look carefully at the ingredients on the pet food package when choosing your pet's diet.
Once a pet is diagnosed with cancer, it is already far too late for it.
When it comes to feeding our pets, we don't have to look in our wallets. In the long term, we gain more than money. We gain a healthy and happy pet!
Quality food can be bought or cooked at home; it is strictly your choice. Regardless of the type of food you choose, make sure it is made only with quality ingredients and provides your pet with all the nutrients it needs to lead a healthy life.
Food made with low-quality ingredients can lead to health problems over time, such as obesity, diabetes, pancreatitis, cancer, bladder stones, cardiovascular diseases, and others. So please pay attention to what ingredients are in your dog's or cat's diet to ensure them a long and healthy life!
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You wouldn’t feed your dog french fries every day. Neither would we. Pets today face the highest ever rates of pet obesity, diabetes and heart disease because of highly processed, mass-produced pet food.
Dr. Iuliana Mihai, DVM, Masters In Small Animals And Equines Pathology
Iuliana graduated from the University of Agronomical Sciences and Veterinary Medicine in 2012, Romania. She has a Master’s degree in Small Animal and Equines Pathology and a strong affinity for Veterinary Parasitology and Laboratory. In 2013 she started her Ph.D. in epithelial cancer in dogs and cats. She volunteered at the faculty’s clinic in her 3rd year of study, and continued her career in small animal pathology and laboratory. She has one cat and eleven rats. Her interests outside of work include traveling, writing, and crafting.