According to surveys of 7000 owners, dogs that ate mostly dog food were 29 per cent more likely to develop gastrointestinal problems compared to dogs that mostly ate raw foods
Puppies that mainly eat dog food are more likely to have problems with their gut health in later life compared with those given a diet of leftovers or raw meat.
Anna Hielm-Björkman at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and her colleagues surveyed more than 7000 dog owners in Finland about what they fed their pets between 2009 and 2019.
The researchers surveyed each dog owner multiple times in this period and also asked them whether their dog had experienced any gastrointestinal problems that lasted three weeks or more – also known as chronic enteropathy (CE).
The team wanted to determine the effect that a dog’s diet at an early age had on its gut health in adulthood. According to Hielm-Björkman, dog diets in Finland can largely be split into three categories: dog food, their owners’ cooked leftovers and non-processed food such as raw meat, fish and berries.
The researchers found that 22 per cent of dogs developed CE in adulthood, typically at age 1 and a half.
Their diet as a puppy (aged between 2 months and 6 months) was found to correlate strongly with whether it developed CE in later life or not. Those that were mostly fed dog food were 29 per cent more likely to develop the condition compared with dogs that mostly ate raw foods. However, this type of study can’t establish whether the dogs’ diets were responsible for the higher rates of illness.
Hielm-Björkman says it is unclear why dog food might lead to gut health problems. Dog food consists mainly of carbohydrates, she says, which dogs don’t need a large amount of. “It might have the same effect that eating plain sugar has on humans – it causes low-grade inflammation,” she says.
“A lot of people are taught that dog food constitutes a balanced diet, but when you start using other foods in a dog’s diet, you see that a lot of diseases disappear,” she says.
Dogs’ microbiomes may simply be better suited to eating non-processed food, says Hielm-Björkman.
She advises owners to try to ensure that their dog’s diet is as varied as possible, with at least 20 per cent made up of raw food.
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