4 ways changing your dog’s diet can improve its health

Nutrition plays an integral role in treating disease. Many serious conditions are directly related to the diet that is being fed to the animal, and changing the diet can have an immediate and positive effect on the health of the animal. Here are four disease states that can improve dramatically with the right diet.

Bladder stones

We don’t fully understand what causes most animals to get bladder (and sometimes kidney) stones. Some dogs, like Dalmatians, are genetically predisposed to having liver problems that create an excess amount of uric acid in the blood, and subsequently in the urine. The uric acid precipitates out of the urine in the bladder and forms urate stones. In these patients addressing the primary liver disease will usually stop or slow the formation of stones.

But most dogs get either struvite or oxalate stones, and while we don’t completely understand why, we do feel that diet plays a role. The most reliable research tells us that the pH of the urine, whether acidic or alkaline, contributes to stone formation. Another factor is likely to be water consumption, since animals that drink less water have more concentrated (or strong) urine, and the solids in the urine are more likely to cause stone formation while the urine is in the bladder.

If all of this is a little confusing, think back to 4th grade science class, when you did that experiment involving putting a string into a container of sugar-water. After a few days, sugar crystals started to form on the string, remember? The process of forming stones is similar.

Urinary prescription diets work by neutralizing the pH of the urine, or encouraging it to be not so acidic and not so alkaline, but more neutral. They also tend to be higher in salt, and you don’t have to be a chemist to understand how that will encourage a dog or cat to drink more water, making the urine more dilute.


Pancreatitis is a painful and often serious conditio causing excruciating abdominal pain. Dogs often requiring extensive hospitalization. Dogs can have either acute or chronic pancreatitis.

Dietary therapy is a mainstay of treatment for pancreatitis, and since it’s a disease that can continually flare up, it’s critical to keep these patients on the right food. Research shows that feeding a diet that is extremely low in fat keeps the pancreas, that tiny little organ that produces both hormones and digestive enzymes, from becoming inflamed.

Food allergies

When veterinarians first started realizing that both dogs and cats could be allergic to the foods that they are fed, they looked around for diets that didn’t contain any of the most common ingredients in pet food, since the theory was that these patients develop allergic responses to commonly-fed ingredients such as beef and chicken. Unfortunately, at that time, there was nothing like that on the pet food market, so owners were forced to make diets at home containing unusual sources of protein, such as kangaroo (not kidding) and venison.

Because these animals got better on these diets, eventually pet food companies got on board and started manufacturing diets with „novel” proteins and „novel” carbohydrates. This means that the proteins and carbohydrates in these diets are not typically found in pet foods, so allergic animals don’t react to them, and don’t have the symptoms associated with food allergies.

Special hypoallergenic foods are now a mainstay of therapy for dogs and cats with food allergies, and often it’s the only therapy they need to stay symptom-free. Because the ingredients in these diets, like duck and venison, tend to be rather expensive, we are starting to turn to hydrolyzed diets for treating allergic disease. These diets work, but for a different reason. The proteins are broken into very small particles, thus sources like chicken can be used, but the animal’s immune system doesn’t detect that it’s something that would typically cause an allergic reaction.

Sometimes owners push back when they see the cost of prescription diets, but when there’s a very real possibility that feeding a food, even if it’s more expensive, can keep the pet healthy and thus out of the doctor’s office, they usually quickly get on board with the idea.

Kidney disease

When a dog is diagnosed with kidney disease, the first job is to try to find out what caused it. Sometimes we can completely reverse the disease, but many times we can’t.

When some degree of kidney failure remains after initial treatment, we know that animals do better with being fed a diet that is very low in protein. The reason for this is because the main job of the kidneys is to filter the blood of the waste products created by metabolizing protein. It makes sense that reducing the protein will reduce the amount of protein-based waste, and thus be easier on the kidneys.

Prescription diets formulated for kidney patients have a much lower protein content than commercially available foods. Because of this these diets often are less tasty than other foods, so it can be tricky getting patients to accept them. We typically try to get the cat or dog interested in eating the kidney diet when it’s feeling better, since kidney disease can cause severe nausea.

Remember that feeding a high quality diet should always be your goal regardless of your pet’s health.

Based on: Christie Long, DVM Veterinarian, Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist,  5 ways changing your pet’s diet can improve its health, via www.petcoach.co; https://www.petcoach.co/article/5-ways-changing-your-pet-s-diet-can-improve-his-health/ (08.08.2018)