What does pet health look like?
Welcome to the fourth edition of our ‘We Are Animal Health’ pet owner blog series for 2019. In the run up to World Digestive Health Day on the 29 May, we thought it was the perfect calendar moment to discuss pet digestive health and the importance of keeping it in it tip-top condition.
Maintaining a healthy digestive system is essential to your pet’s overall health and wellbeing. Understanding a bit more about how your pet’s digestive system works, whether they are a dog, cat, rabbit or hamster, allows you as an owner to recognise when your pet is sick, and whether they need to be taken to a vet.
A ‘digestive disorder is any condition that prevents proper digestion or alters the rate at which food passes through’ your pet’s digestive tract. Did you know that dog digestive issues are one of the most common reasons for consulting a vet? In dogs, the symptoms usually clear up within a few days. Cats can also get digestive issues, especially vomiting, this is less likely to clear up without intervention.
There’s a wide range of symptoms when it comes to digestive problems in pets. Some common ones for pet owners to look out for include:
- Diarrhoea or soft stools
- Change of appetite
- Stomach gurgling
- Sudden inactivity or depression
What causes digestive problems in pets?
Much like the wide variety of symptoms, there is also a wide range of reasons why digestive disorders occur in pets. Some of the more common causes of digestive disorders and stomach problems in pets include food sensitivities, or infection and/or inflammation of certain parts of their digestive system. However, some other diseases which do not originate from the digestive system directly can disguise themselves as digestive disorders, diseases like Addisons in dogs and hyperthyroidism in cats.
To help keep your animal healthy it is important that the digestive system is working correctly, a well-balanced diet is vital to ensure this. Whether it’s increasing the fibre in your rabbit’s diet, or ensuring your cat is receiving a balanced diet of protein, fat, vitamins and carbohydrates, find tailored advice for your pet on our site here.
Even with your best efforts your animal may still struggle with digestive issues, this could be due to food sensitivities. These can be caused by certain ingredients in your animals’ food, your vet can help diagnose and give advice on how to manage this long-term.
Overfeeding can also affect your animal’s health. Did you know that 50% of pets seen by vets in the UK are overweight?
Although we all enjoy giving our furry friends a treat every now and then, it is best to keep these to a minimum. Sometimes it can even be helpful to give your animals regular food as a treat, to ensure that recommended daily calorie intakes aren’t exceeded. If you are unsure on how much to feed your animal, most food manufacturers will give you a general guideline on the package, but your vet or a pet care specialist can also advise you if you are unsure.
Being overweight can cause many health problems in the long term: for example, diabetes in cats is often caused by obesity. This type of diabetes is very rare in dogs (where insulin-deficiency ‘Type 1’ diabetes is much more common), however dogs often develop joint and breathing issues due to being overweight.
Some diseases, such as hypothyroidism and Cushings disease, can cause your dog to look overweight. If you notice any changes in weight, drinking and urinating behaviour, it is best to consult your vet as soon as possible.
Chronic stress can also lead to a range of digestive problems in pets, just as it does in humans. Building a close relationship with your pet means you are in a good place to spot any changes in their behaviour which reflects their wellbeing. Simple problems can become more complicated or severe if left untreated, it is important to consult your vet if you have any concerns or if your animal is acting out of sorts.
What can I do to help my pet?
Most importantly is ensuring your animal has a balanced diet, for cats and dogs this includes protein, carbohydrates, essential amino acids and minerals. Rabbits need mostly hay for fibre and small amounts of nuggets and fresh vegetables.
You can also reduce the amount of stress triggers in their environment, such as making their bed/resting place more comfortable. Get some top tips on how to improve your pet’s sleep routine here, how to reduce stress in pets here, andhow to maintain their overall positive mental health here.
If your pet does develop a digestive problem with sickness and / or diarrhoea, if otherwise happy in themselves a bland diet, such as chicken and rice for dogs, can initially help.
If there is no improvement after a couple of days, and/or if you see that your pet is in pain/suffering at any point, talk to your vet about diagnostics to try figure out the cause as soon as possible and start appropriate treatment.
We spoke to Marie, owner of adorable cat George, about what she does to make sure George’s digestive health is in good working order. Read their story below.
What does George’s diet consist of?
George's diet consists of a mixture of wet and dry food. He has dry food for breakfast and lunch if we're in - a meat, grain-free variety. For tea he has natural cat food out of a tin, either fish or chicken, with pumpkin or seaweed flavours. And some treats too!
How important do you think George’s diet is to his digestive health?
I think his diet plays an important role in keeping him healthy, he is, however, a bit rotund and quite greedy. He has a lovely coat and I think his health is testament of his wellbeing. His food isn't cheap but he's worth it!
How important do you think George’s exercise routine/amount of exercise he gets to his digestive health?
George gets let out for an hour in the morning before we go to work and he goes out for about an hour in the evening, longer in the summer. He rarely ventures out of ours and the neighbours’ gardens and he always comes when he's called. He has a disabled foot, but that doesn't stop him sprinting down the garden, especially when we shake the treats, so we do see him exercise, his lookout post is the top of the apple tree. He has several scratching posts around the home and he loves jumping up for his feather stick; we do think it's important for him to burn off some calories.
Have you got any other tips on how you keep George’s digestive health in tip-top condition that other pet owners could follow?
He gets brushed regularly to help prevent hairballs when he's cleaning himself. We also have a water fountain, which encourages him to drink more, improving is bladder health. He also has his yearly boosters and check up with the vet so we know his general health and teeth are ok. His bowls are cleaned in the dishwasher every day so he never eats out of a dirty bowl.
A guide to pet’s digestive health
Are you looking for some more information on how to ensure your pet’s digestive health is in tip-top condition? Then check out our site, here. You can also visit your vet or pet store to seek independent, expert advice on how to best monitor and manage your pet’s digestive health.
Next we will be discussing the importance of pet dental care, in line with National Smile Month running from 13 May to 13 June. This blog series will include a wide range of topics common to pets and their owners, including the mental health benefits of pet ownership, skin conditions, sleep routines and much more.