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5 Myths About Your Dog’s Digestive Tract

You might think that your dog’s gastrointestinal tract is a lot like yours. But what types of food are actually safe for dogs to eat? And do they really digest food the same way we do? Keep reading to find out!

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1. It’s unhealthy for dogs to eat diets with grain.

Grain-free diets are one of the largest growing segments of the pet food market. More and more pet owners are choosing these diets, which are billed as more natural and less likely to cause health problems and allergies. It all sounds great - except that those claims aren’t true.

Dogs are omnivores and grains are a healthy part of their diet. Whole grains contain valuable dietary nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and fiber. In addition, the vast majority of dogs and cats are very efficient at digesting and using more than 90 percent of the nutrients from grains. While food allergies in pets are uncommon, allergies to grains are even rarer. The small number of pets that have allergies are most often allergic to animal proteins, such as chicken, beef, and dairy.

Furthermore, the FDA has found a link between grain-free diets and heart disease in dogs called canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). They concluded that 90 percent of dog foods connected with DCM cases were grain-free and 93 percent of those foods contained peas or lentils (42 percent consisted of potatoes).

The bottom line is that “grain-free” is a marketing concept designed to sell pet food, not an evidence-based solution for helping your pet live a long, healthy life.

2. It’s dangerous for dogs to eat chicken bones.

The fear is that a dog can easily crush a chicken bone with his teeth, causing it to splinter and then perforate the intestine. “But it’s largely an urban myth,” Dr. John Berg, Tufts Cummings School surgeon says. “Chicken bone will almost inevitably dissolve in the stomach.”

“Still, I would not make a point of letting a dog chew chicken bones,” he says. “I have had maybe two dogs in my career who swallowed pieces of chicken bone that then perforated the lining of their mouth or esophagus. So why take a chance? But don’t get hysterical if your dog gets some chicken bone before you have a chance to take it out of reach. Probably nothing’s going to happen.”

That said, some bones can cause dogs serious GI problems or fracture teeth.

3. The canine and human digestive systems are similar.

The gastrointestinal transit time in dogs lasts between 6 and 8 hours, while in people it lasts up to 30 hours. This is mainly because human food moves slower through the intestines. According to the Innovative Veterinary Care Journal, human beings and dogs have their ingestion storage reversed; dogs contain 70% of their ingesta in their stomach and only 30% in their intestinal tract. Whereas humans reverse that construct and keep 30% in their stomachs and 70% in their intestinal tract.

Also, cholesterol does not have the same negative effects on dogs as it does on humans. Your doctor may advise you to lower your cholesterol level, but you won’t hear the same concerns echoed at the vet’s office. Cholesterol does not have the same effect on their heart, and their digestive systems are designed to accommodate animal fat.

4. Prescription medication is the only way to manage diseases in cats and dogs.

There are now a variety of therapeutic diets that have been specially formulated to help animals with specific illnesses, which can be used on their own or with medications. They are only available from your vet and must be fed according to veterinary advice, just like medication.

There are prescription diets for a variety of different illnesses, including but not limited to: kidney disease, food allergies, gastrointestinal issues or constipation, bladder stones or crystals, joint disease, and obesity.

If your vet suggests a prescription diet for your dog or cat, know that in some cases, it may only be necessary for a short time. Keep in touch with your so he or she can monitor the efficacy of the diet and determine if and when it’s appropriate to transition back to your pet’s regular food.

5. Home-cooked diets are healthier and less expensive than commercial diets.

Pet owners decide to feed their pet a home-cooked diet for many reasons including pet health problems, distrust of the commercial pet food industry, the belief that home-cooked food is healthier, or a desire to use or avoid certain ingredients.

The reality is that feeding a home-cooked diet is often significantly more expensive in time and money than feeding a good quality commercial diet, and there is no evidence that feeding a home-cooked diet provides nutritional or health benefits for most pets when compared to commercial diets.

Creating and maintaining a nutritionally complete home-cooked diet can be challenging and many pet owners inadvertently make mistakes that could lead to their pet not getting adequate nutrition. Most vitamin and mineral supplements marketed for pets are not sufficient to bring the nutrients in a home-cooked diet up to the levels to meet pet requirements, so specific veterinary supplements or multiple human supplements are typically needed to ensure that all essential nutrients are included in appropriate amounts.

If you’d like to try cooking for your pet, the best way to ensure that your pet’s diet is meeting all of his nutritional needs is to obtain your recipe from a vet with board certification in veterinary nutrition.

Read more:

How to Choose the Right Food for Your Dog

Choosing the Right Prescription Diet for Your Dog

Have more questions about your pet’s intestinal health?

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