As most readers are well aware, I am a major advocate of proper nutrition for animals. What you may not know is that there are many factors that can go into deciding which foods are best for your dogs and cats. Selecting the best food is not always a blanket choice for every cat or every dog. Aside from the usual elements of Traditional Chinese medicine with respect to appropriate types of proteins that I often discuss, there are several other important elements to note when setting out to improve an animal’s longevity and quality of life.

It is paramount that we explore a species appropriate diet for our animal companions. Not only does every species (dog/cat) have its own dietary needs but so does every individual. Depending on genetics, environment and sensitivity of an animal, we may encounter unique dietary needs for each.

Ideally, cats and dogs would consume diets that are similar to what they would eat in nature. Cats would subsist on mice and dogs would subsist on organ meats. However, because many cats and dogs live in urban environments, they are unable to hunt for themselves. Therefore it is our roles as their guardians to find the best quality food for them.

Often consumers will find that feeding processed foods are the most convenient. It is my hope that none of us is buying cat and dog food at human grocery stores anymore- we will want to buy any cat and dog food at a cat and dog food specific store. If any readers do buy their animal’s food at human grocery stores, I urge you strongly to research the ingredients, where the food was produced as well as how many recalls due to deaths have been associated with the brand and manufacturing plant. What readers may not be aware of is that many lower grade animal food companies will outsource their foods to countries where the nutritional standard for cat and dog foods is lower. They will then fudge the ingredients list to make them more marketable for North Americans. On top of that, many of these processing plants are overseas and the food spends weeks in transit to arrive here to spend more weeks on the shelf. This is often where we find preservatives high on the ingredients list. Ordinarily, this is a topic all on its own. However, it is relevant to why animals may require digestive enzymes or probiotics.

When we feed animals lower quality food, we are robbing them of the nutrients that they require to live a healthy quality of life. Sadly, even when fed higher quality processed foods, our animal friends may still not be ingesting all of the nutrients they need for their bodies to function optimally. The bottom line is that all store bought foods are processed. By definition, this means that they are no longer whole foods. There is a misconception that consumers have that cats and dogs do not have the same basic dietary needs that humans do. While the details of the dietary requirements may differ from one species to another, one commonality is clear. Humans, cats and dogs all require whole foods in order to promote good health and longevity.

Often, whole foods are difficult to come by when seeking a convenient means of feeding our animal friends.  It may be unrealistic for some (including myself!) to cook our animal companions wholly nutritious meals several times per day. So we opt for higher quality processed foods. While this is noble and far more beneficial than simply buying “what’s on sale” at the local human grocery store, we still may run into a few digestive issues had by our furry friends.

Many readers are aware that animal care professionals often discuss canine and feline digestive enzymes and probiotics for assistance digestive health. I have found, however, that most of my clients and colleagues are unaware of the difference between the two. We have already touched on why they may be necessary for our animal friends’ digestive health. It is now important to outline the differences between digestive enzymes and probiotics.

There are many, many reasons why cats and dogs have indigestion, as we discussed earlier. However, nausea and indigestion may originate in one of two areas of the GI system. The first area where indigestion can occur is within the stomach. The role of the stomach in the digestive system is to break down food particles to be passed down through the small intestine to the large intestine. On the way, various toxins get processed in the gall bladder and liver and then make their way through the kidneys and bladder. The food particles, however, need a precise balance of digestive enzymes to adequately break them down. When we are dealing with whole foods, the enzymes will have an easier time breaking down the food because- well, they are food. Conversely, when we feed our animals processed foods with preservatives, the digestive enzymes may have a bigger challenge ahead of themselves because they will be attempting to break down non-food particles. This is often where sensitive animals will have difficulty retaining the food in their stomach and vomit.

Additionally, cats and dogs with genetically weaker stomachs may still vomit if the eat whole foods. This is likely because they were born without adequate digestive enzymes. Or, it could be because their enzyme function has developed poorly. As a common example, if a kitten or puppy is weaned too early from her mother, she may not have received adequate nutrients from mother’s milk to develop a healthy balance of digestive enzymes. Whether a cat or dog is vomiting because of poor quality food, environment or genetics, adding digestive enzymes can have a huge impact on rebalancing the animal’s stomach. It is important to research high quality enzymes (High quality does not have to mean high price!) Be sure to seek out a brand that is reputable. Foremost, be sure to seek out a brand where EVERY ingredient is a whole food extract or naturally occurring enzyme. Be aware that major cat and dog foods brands effectively market their products to consumers through emotional manipulation. Do not fall victim to these schemes. Visit your holistic veterinarian or a well-reputed dog and cat food store to find out more about which enzymes are right for your animals.

The second area where indigestion can occur within our furry friends is within the intestines. Akin to humans, cats and dogs need positive flora in their guts. If this flora is unbalanced, the animal may exhibit chronic nausea or chronic diarrhea. This is because nutrients are unable to be absorbed into the intestinal tract.

In addition to poor digestion, low grade food can also affect the intestinal health of our animal friends. When animals are eating lower quality foods, the non-food ingredients pass right through the GI system into the animal’s bodily waste. This is cause for health concern because if the animal is not retaining adequate nutrients from food, there is great risk for malnutrition.

Another factor in intestinal health is genetics. When there are not enough living microorganisms in an animal’s intestines, there may be many additional symptoms to nausea or diarrhea. The animal may become prone to inflammatory diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease for example. It is also interesting to note that an animal’s intestinal flora can change over the course of time. This means that if an animal as a youngster has a healthy flora count, within several years this may change.

When it comes to intestinal indigestion, probiotics are often the answer. As opposed to digestive enzymes that help stomach acids to break down food particles, probiotics help to increase positive gut flora. Probiotics take many forms; goat’s milk, acidophilus, etc. When selecting an appropriate probiotic it is important to read the label. There are several food companies that create probiotics for cats and dogs that contain ingredients such as salts, preservatives and other harmful additives. Be sure that when you set out to purchase a probiotic that it’s only ingredients are microorganism counts.

In essence, enzymes are for the stomach and probiotics are for the intestines. Gauging which area is affecting an animal can be a tricky process. However, through careful observation the answer will become clear. There are several signs and symptoms to watch out for that will exhibit which of the two, if any, are right for a cat or dog. If you are unsure of which one your animal companion may need to feel healthy, contact your local holistic veterinarian or animal communicator.



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