According to a new study led by the University of Helsinki in Finland, puppyhood and adolescence diet can have a significant influence on the incidence of canine chronic gastrointestinal problems later in life. More specifically, the experts found that feeding young dogs a non-processed-meat diet (raw food) and giving them human meal leftovers and table scraps could protect against chronic enteropathy (CE) – a chronic condition involving persistent and/or recurrent diarrhea, vomiting, decreased appetite, abdominal pain, and weight loss – in their adulthood.
The scientists used data collected from an online feeding frequency survey consisting of answers from thousands of Finnish dog owners about what they fed their dogs at three different timepoints in life, what diseases their dogs have or had, and a variety of environmental factors.
“A large proportion of chronic gastrointestinal ailments can be treated with diet. That is why we wanted to look at the connection between puppyhood and adolescent diet and chronic enteropathy incidence later in life,” explained study senior author Anna Hielm-Björkman, an expert in Equine and Small Animal Medicine at Helsinki.
The analysis revealed that feeding dogs mainly or exclusively an ultra-processed carbohydrate-based diet (dog food or “kibble”) during puppyhood and young age are significant potential risk factors for CE in adulthood, while feeding them raw foods such as raw meats, raw organ meats, raw fish, raw eggs, bones, cartilage, or berries protected them later in life against chronic gastrointestinal problems.
“We could see an association between puppyhood and adolescent diet and the prevalence of chronic gastrointestinal symptoms later in life. Thus, proactive owners can influence their dogs’ gut health by providing a variety of fresh, “real” foods for the puppies and young dogs, even as an addition to a kibble-based diet,” said study lead author Kristiina Vuori, a researcher in Veterinary Medicine at Helsinki.
“However, the study only suggests an association. Finding out detailed mechanisms and confirming the causal relationship would require diet intervention studies. We have these under way,” she concluded.
The study is published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.
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