So table scraps are good for your pup after all
“Feeding Your Puppy Table Scraps Might Help In Preventing Stomach Disorders Later In Life,” according to American business Magazine, Forbes. I just love headlines like that, and they seem to be coming thick and fast right now. The world seems finally to be waking up to the importance of feeding a dog a healthy, non-processed, fresh food diet.
Forbes is just one of a number of publications currently focusing on the important subject of the benefits of feeding a puppy table scraps. Newsweek too has carried articles about the benefits of feeding a dog fresh food. And since it was announced that the world’s oldest dog, Bobi, a Rafeiro do Alentejo, had reached the grand old age of thirty plus on fresh food, just about every newspaper in the world has carried articles about the benefits of feeding man’s best friend fresh food. In this particularly case, feeding a puppy table scraps.
According to a new study published in research journal Nature Portfolio, feeding your puppy a non-processed, meat-based diet including table scraps and leftover food from your own meals, might help in protecting your furry companion against gastrointestinal disorders at a later stage in the dog’s life. Whereas puppies who regularly ate rawhide chews and a carbohydrates-based processed kibble diet were at an increased risk of suffering from gastrointestinal diseases like chronic enteropathies as adult dogs.
“Canine chronic enteropathy (CE) and human infammatory bowel diseases (IBD) share many similarities,” the researchers say. “Symptoms include persistent and/or recurrent vomiting, diarrhea, intestinal sounds and gas, decreased appetite, abdominal pain, nausea and/or weight loss which last longer than three weeks. The symptoms have severe and stressful impacts on the dog’s life and increase the caregiver burden of the owner”.
While the factors which contribute to the development of CE in dogs and IBD in adults are still unknown, studies have found that causes include:
Low diversity in gut microbiota
Consuming highly processed diets
“In humans, the Western diet which contains ultra-processed foods and high amounts of sugar has been connected to IBD risk. Thus a greater understanding of dietary choices and dietary components that are a risk or can have a protective effect can help in preventing the disease. As early dietary exposures are modifiable, the dog owners would then have a chance to act proactively and have an impact on their dog’s health,” researchers say.
The study data is provided via an owner-reported cross-sectional questionnaire named DogRisk. DogRisk entails thousands of pet parents documenting their pet’s feeding regime and its outcome. It enables researchers to compare the feeding of different foodstuffs to the dog at three different life stages. Puppyhood, adolescence and adult.
DogRisk is a research group based in the department of equine and small animal medicine at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Helsinki. Established in 2009, the group carries out independent research “on the associations between dogs’ nutrition and their diseases”, with a view to preventing those diseases.
In this particular study, researchers isolated the results of just three diagnoses (out of the 117 diagnoses in the DogRisk questionnaire database). They studied the result of diet in relation to canine atopic dermatitis, hip dysplasia and hypothyroidism.
The collated 16,607 results included the type of food and how often it was fed, together with the lifestage of the dog. While 4,681 diets were of puppies aged 2 to 6 months of age, the study also included 3,926 diets of adolescent dogs who were 6 to 18 months old at the time.
Fresh lowers risk
The team observed that dogs who were regularly fed non-processed diets which included raw red meat, fish, eggs, bones, vegetables and berries, were at lower risk of suffering from digestive problems during adulthood. It may seem surprising to some, but even feeding puppies table scraps or leftovers from human meals such as cooked potatoes and fish were associated with a healthy gut and areduced risk of digestive problems later in life. Raw bones or cartilage being fed to puppies a few times a week was linked to a 33% reduced risk.
“Dry dog food is ultra-processed by heat treatment, rendering, milling, and/or extrusion and contains food additives such as emulsifiers, colouring agents and palatability enhancers. In contrast, meat-based non-processed foods for dogs are composed of fresh ingredients which may be chopped, mixed, and frozen and the only additives they might contain are minerals and vitamins if needed for balancing,” the researchers noted.
The researchers are aware that, partly because of our shared environment, dogs and humans tend to suffer from the same non-communicable diseases. We tend to be exposed to the same toxins, share the same drinking water, and, increasingly, even share the same food.
In terms of our evolutionary relationship, dogs and humans are much closer than most people think. It’s precisely because of our similarities that we know so much about ourselves and our own dietary needs. It is therefore entirely logical that man and dog should share the same digestive problems, but no one had previously proved it.
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We knew already that diet plays a key role in both gut and overall health. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about dogs or human beings. The same thing applies.
But the researchers felt that there was too little available information regarding the influence of diet in puppyhood, on gastrointestinal problems later in a dog’s life. So they set out to determine just what impact a puppy’s diet had on the health of the adult dog, in particular, its digestive health.
The researchers found that, “feeding a non-processed meat-based diet and giving the dog human meal leftovers and table scraps during puppyhood (2–6 months) and adolescence (6–18 months) were protective against CE later in life. Especially raw bones and cartilage as well as leftovers and table scraps during puppyhood and adolescence, and berries during puppyhood were associated with less CE. In contrast, feeding an ultra-processed carbohydrate-based diet, namely dry dog food or “kibble” during puppyhood and adolescence, and rawhides during puppyhood were significant risk factors for CE later in life”.
In other words, in terms of both digestive and overall health, puppies fed fresh food stood a considerably better chance of remaining health!
“Canine CE gastrointestinal symptoms include persistent and/or recurrent vomiting, diarrhea, intestinal sounds and gas, decreased appetite, abdominal pain, nausea and/or weight loss which last longer than three weeks,” researchers noted. “The symptoms have severe and stressful impacts on the dog’s life and increase the caregiver burden of the owner”.
While the causes of both canine digestive problems and human IBD remain unknown, it’s currently believed that contributory factors include genetic predisposition, poor microbial diversity of the gut, and eating a diet containing high amounts of processed food.
The researchers found that eating a fresh food diet protected puppies from digestive problems later in life. In the same way they confirmed that a highly processed, carbohydrate-rich diet predisposed puppies to digestive problems as they aged.
It confirmed what canine nutritionists have known all along. That pet parents can positively impact the health of their adult dog by making wise dietary choices when their pups are still young. Those choices including providing a fresh food diet. Such dogs are healthier and have a more robust digestive system with a wider variety of healthy and beneficial gut bacteria.
Amongst the interesting findings were:
That eating carcasses outside during puppyhood and adolesence was associated with a significally decreased incidence of digestive problems.
By way of contrast, giving dogs rawhide (dried animal skin chews which have undergone various mechanical, chemical and heat processing) during puppyhood was associated with increase incidence of digestive problems in adulthood. The risk increased with feeding frequency, being the highest, if rawhide chews were given more than a couple of times per week.
And rather shockingly, eating veterinary prescription dry dog food during puppyhood and adolescence was associated with future chronic enteropathy incidence during adulthood!
“Our results showed that feeding a non-processed or minimally processed meat-based diet to puppies and adolescent dogs at 2 to 18 months associated significantly with decreased CE incidence in adulthood. On the contrary, feeding an ultra-processed dry dog food (kibble) based diet associated significantly with increased CE incidence in adulthood”.
Dry dog food is ultra-processed by heat treatment, rendering, milling, and/or extrusion and contains food additives such as emulsifiers, colouring agents and palatability enhancers. By contrast, meat-based non-processed foods for dogs are composed of fresh ingredients which may be chopped, mixed and frozen and the only additives they might contain are minerals and vitamins if needed for balancing.
A whole prey-like diet including ground bone and cartilage as a source of animal fiber containing soluble and insoluble coarse may provide source substrates for gut health promoting short-chain fatty acid production by fermentation72. Mimicking an ancestral, whole-prey diet including bone and cartilage material, is also a possible explanation to the association of eating carcasses outside and less CE later in life.
“Our results also indicated a protective role of eating berries against CE later in life. The berries eaten were mainly wild blueberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) which contain a variety of flavonoids, polyphenols, phenolic acids, pyruvic acid, chlorogenic acid, and other compounds which have anti-inflammatory, immunity enhancing and chronic disease preventing properties in humans. Blueberries have been shown to have a significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity when fed to dogs. Blueberries were also shown to protect dogs against exercise-induced oxidative stress.
“Moreover, in Finland berries are very often picked from the forest and many dogs even eat them directly from the plants in the forest. Therefore, these dogs also get exposed to the diverse forest microbiota which according to the biodiversity hypothesis promotes a healthy microbiome and a balanced immune system4. Eating berries during the berry picking season is a possible explanation why the answer “a couple of times in a year” was significantly different between the control and case dogs. Gray wolves (Canis lupus) consume berries seasonally when available or abundant and may even provision pups with them”.
Human meal leftovers and table scraps offered to the puppies and young dogs were found to be significantly associated with less digestive problems later in life. The protective effect increased with feeding frequency, hence the more exposure the dogs had to leftovers, the more protection against digestive issues there was. In other words, feeding a puppy table scraps more frequently during puppyhood is a way of future-proofing pups for later life.
Rawhides fed to puppies a couple of times in a month or more often was associated with an increased risk of CE later in life. The risk increased with increased feeding frequency being highest when rawhides were given more than one time per week during PU. This may be related to low digestibility of rawhides, measured as in vitro dry matter disappearance (DMD), which may pose a risk for gastrointestinal blockage and intolerance especially if the dog tends to swallow large size rawhide pieces which remain intact during gastric and intestinal phases90. However, as rawhides are made from leather industry by-products, it is also possible that the toxic chemicals used for leather processing cause the negative effects on gut health we saw in this study. Unfortunately, there are no scientific publications on analyses of rawhide composition available and clearly requires further research. In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a voluntary recall of rawhide chews for dogs due to the use of quaternary ammonia compounds during the rawhide processing.
The current study has several strengths. The study data were obtained from a partially validated questionnaire which provides reasonable and trusted data. The study took reverse causality into account by excluding the dogs based on age criteria from analyses. A wide range of food items were covered in the questionnaire and the diet style was inferred from several food variables using multivariate methods. Single food items within the diet style and other edible items were also studied. Additionally, two age periods (puppyhood and adolescence) were included.
World-wide, companion dogs are increasingly considered as family members, and consequently there is a growing focus on the health benefits of their diets. While studies on metabolome, microbiota, etc. have started to emerge, more scientific studies are needed to evaluate the overall benefits and risks of canine diet styles, especially regarding their impact on health and lifespan. Diet choices during puppyhood and adolescence are modifiable factors which, according to our results, might lessen or increase CE incidence later in the dog’s life. Our study provides proactive dog owners with information on healthy diets and of what food items to use and to avoid. The key findings from the present study confirm the tested hypothesis as we found a significant association between companion dog puppyhood and adolescence diet and the tendency to develop CE in adulthood. Feeding NPMD, even as an addition to UPCD, and giving the dog human meal leftovers and table scraps were found to be protective against CE later in life. Especially raw bones and cartilage, berries and leftovers were found to be beneficial. Therefore, we conclude that providing a variety of fresh, “real” foods for the dog especially during puppyhood, but also at young age, was identified as a significant potential protective factor of CE incidence later in life. On the contrary, feeding mainly or exclusively UPCD, namely dry dog food or “kibble”, during puppyhood and adolescence, or rawhides at least a couple of times in a month during puppyhood were found to be significant potential risk factors for CE later in life. A home-cooked diet was not significantly associated with CE incidence later in life in this study.
To sum up all that folks – feeding a puppy table scraps is just about the best thing you can do for your young pup!