Pets: Furry, four-legged and gluten-free
Just like humans, dogs and cats can have issues digesting gluten.
Humans can communicate digestive issues and get relief from “foods with benefits.” It is harder to diagnose issues in our furry friends, but a portion of animals also experience digestive problems.
“Common causes in dogs could be from eating foreign objects, food allergies and hypersensitivity, viral infections and bacteria,” explains Dwayne Bennett, head of product development at NPIC. Symptoms include changes in appetite, stool quantity, constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, abdominal pain or fever.
Proper digestion is key
“Research indicates 70 percent of a dog’s immune system lies in the digestive tract. Proper digestion and a healthy digestive tract are essential to maintain whole body health,” says James Zhu, head of research and development at NPIC.
“To ensure your pet’s digestive tract is working properly, look for a high-quality, natural food with a digestive health support system that includes probiotics, prebiotics, dietary fiber and digestive enzymes,” he explains.
Just like people, animals can have gluten sensitivities. Grain-free diets are a good start for pets with gluten sensitivities, but pet owners should read labels and packaging information to find the right ingredients for their pet’s best daily diet.
Mediaplanet picked the brain of James Zhu, head of research and development at NPIC — the makers of natural, functional pet treats — to get a better understanding of how to protect the health of our four-legged companions.
Mediaplanet: Why are food allergies or intolerances (specifically gluten-free) an issue for pets and their owners?
James Zhu: Food allergies are the over-response of a dog’s immune system to an invading protein. In the case of a food allergy, this protein is contained in a dog’s food. Pet food or treats contain proteins, not only from animals, but from vegetables as well. Any one of these proteins has the potential to cause a food allergy. If a dog eats any food or treat that it is allergic to, this over-response of the immune system becomes greater; furthermore, the dog’s immune system can release hertamine. If the hertamine release is large enough, it may manifest as diarrhea, itchy skin, chronic skin infections and may cause long-term potential digestion and health problems.
MP: Why is it important that pet owners have gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free and other types of options to address food allergies and intolerances?
JZ: Some dogs may have allergy to gluten- or soy-based food and treats that cause digestion problems. Consumption of glutenous grains in sensitive pets may lead to diarrhea and/or constipation, vomiting, dermatitis – chronic dry and flaky skin or loss of hair. When you feed your dog a grain-free diet, you won’t have to feed your pet as much food since grain-free food has a higher nutritional content. This means that your dog can eat less, yet still get the necessary levels of protein, vitamins and other nutrients to maintain a balanced diet. The higher nutritional value of grain-free food will also give your dog a shinier coat, more energy and better overall health. Therefore, dog owners need to read the labels and packaging information to find the right ingredients for their dog’s best daily diet.
MP: How do pet owners know which type of diet is best for their pet?
JZ: When selecting pet food, pet owners need to take into account the breed, size and life stage of their pet. For different life stages in particular, the type of food and method of feeding a pet are not the same. The nutrition index, such as levels of energy, protein and fat needed in a pet’s diet, will be different for each pet based on their specific circumstances. Pet owners should also remember that dietary needs will need to be adjusted over the lifespan of their pet in order to meet their pets’ changing needs. When in doubt, a pet owner should check with their vet to ensure the food they’re feeding their pet meets the pet’s current dietary requirements. It is important for pet owners to also carefully read food packaging to ensure they’re only feeding their pets food made with quality ingredients and in the appropriate portions.
By Faye Brookman
Editor at Media Planet
Published in Gluten-Free Living Special Issue in San Francisco Chronicle