We often hear of people who have suffered cancer, heart disease or other serious health issues who make changes in their lifestyle to revitalize and strengthen their immune system. Most often, a change in diet is tops on the list. They begin including more wholesome foods like fresh fruits and vegetables and less processed foods, high sodium, and high fat foods in their diet. Wouldn’t it also make sense to make these types of changes to your dog’s diet when they are fighting some type of illness or disease? If your dog is diagnosed with cancer or other serious disease, a few changes in their diet may not only help with fighting the disease but boost your dog’s overall strength and comfort while he/she is ill.
We are encouraged by publications like “Prevention” and “Health” magazines to include highly nutritious foods in our diet as a way of preventing cancer and disease. They often refer to these types of foods as “superfoods”. Many superfoods are beneficial for canines as well as humans. Superfoods include a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables and other natural foods that limit sodium, saturated fat, and refined sugar. These foods provide high levels of antioxidants to battle the cancer, while anti-inflammatory agents work to help you – and your dog – simply feel better.
Fetch a cure tells us that a suppressed or deficient immune system can increase an animal’s risk of developing cancer. Common sense tells us that cancer isn’t the only illness brought on by a poor immune system. Isn’t it logical, then, that we should focus on supporting the dog’s “suppressed or deficient” immune system with dietary changes to increase the vitamins and minerals needed for optimal health?
Our rescue is not what you’d call a “healthy” dog. He has had some untreated health problems in his past, and, among other things, is currently fighting poor eyesight and terrible allergies. We do everything we can to bolster his immune system. One of the ways we do that is by feeding fruits and vegetables in lieu of packaged treats. Rex enjoys freeze-dried carrots and green beans. He loves bananas, apples, strawberries, pumpkin and mangos, whether in their natural state or freeze-dried. The difference in his overall health now, as opposed to when he came to live with us, is remarkable. We are confident that we have done all we can to improve his quality of life.
Regardless of what your dog’s health status is currently, let’s talk about the nutritional changes we can make to help him/her live a long, healthy, vibrant life.
What types of foods should we add to our dog’s diet?
We should look for foods loaded with nutrients, unprocessed, clean animal and plant foods, low in sugar, high in healthy fats, optimal fiber, and good for the digestive tract. Just as important, we need to educate ourselves on what human foods our dog can and cannot eat, as not all human foods are tolerated by our dogs.
You should always check with your veterinary before making any nutritional changes to your dog’s diet. Certain health conditions could prevent your dog from eating certain foods. That being said, lets look at some of the “superfoods” we can give to our dogs, with our vet’s approval, of course! I’ll start with my dog’s favorites:
• An apple a day keeps the vet away! Apples contain antioxidant’s A and C, as well as good fiber. Antioxidants fight “free radicals”, compounds that can cause harm when they build-up in your body. Free radicals are linked to cancer, heart disease, and multiple other diseases. Fiber plays a part in preventing the overgrowth of bad bacteria in the body.
When preparing an apple for your dog, take out the seeds (apple seeds contain cyanide… eeek!) and the core (choking hazard) and cut the apple into smaller bites to make it easier for your dog to chew.
• Bananas are high in potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6, C, electrolytes and fiber. Wow. The nutritional content of a banana provides so many good things to your dog’s diet. Potassium and magnesium help keep your dog’s heart, kidneys, muscles and liver in good working order. Potassium also helps with the absorption of nutrients from the food your dog eats. B6 is responsible for healthy blood cell and nervous system function. Electrolytes are critical for the healthy functioning of all cells in your dog’s body.
Apples and bananas do contain a lot of sugar, so we have to remember to limit how much we feed our dogs.
• Pumpkin is full of antioxidants, potassium, iron and fiber. Iron is important for quite a few physiological processes in the body, particularly blood and enzymes. Pumpkin is a digestive miracle for dogs as it can help with diarrhea, and, ironically, constipation too.
Just buy a can of organic, pureed pumpkin from the grocery store. Make sure you don’t buy pumpkin pie filling, but only 100% pure pumpkin.
• Eggs. Our dog’s body manufactures about half the amino acids they need. The remaining amino acids must come from the food he eats. Eggs are a great source of amino acids. Eggs also contain riboflavin (a B vitamin) and the mineral, selenium. They are so good for the heart, eyes, and brain. Unfortunately, my dog has a sensitivity to eggs. I wish he didn’t because they would be great for his waning eyesight.
• Carrots are not only good for your dog, but as easy to feed as any treat. A bag of sliced or baby carrots from your fridge is a special treat. Carrots have a ton of vitamin A and offer great chewing satisfaction.
• Cooked Salmon is a super source of omega-3 fatty acids which is highly recommended to strengthen your dog’s immune system. The healthy fats, vitamins A, D and B, plus minerals can greatly enhance your dog’s skin and coat. The fats help with joint mobility too.
We haven’t talked about the importance of vitamin D to your dog. Vitamin D is important for healthy muscles and nerve functioning (among other things), but high amounts of Vitamin D is dangerously toxic to your dog. Something I learned while researching for this blog is that dogs do not absorb Vitamin D from the sun like we do. Isn’t that interesting? It has to do with their fur covering and the oil in their skin.
Regardless, salmon is simply a powerhouse of great nutrition.
• Greens. Mom always said to eat your veggies, but I don’t think she was talking to the dog. If you can add broccoli, spinach, and kale to your dog’s food, they will benefit from it as well. Rex likes raw broccoli (although it took some “encouragement” in the beginning). Chop up raw broccoli, spinach and kale and mix in with your dog’s food. Greens are full of antioxidants, and spinach, particularly, contains flavonoids and carotenoids, two key elements in preventing inflammation.
• Plain yogurt or kefir is so good for a dog’s digestive system, plus it has a good amount of calcium and protein. Look for plain Greek yogurt, no sugar added, and no artificial sweeteners and add only a small spoonful to your dog’s food. Be aware that not all dogs can process lactose in dairy products. Start with about a half-teaspoon for a couple of days to make sure your dog can tolerate it.
Your dog’s daily food is important too
In addition to supplementing our dog’s food with delicious, nutritious food, we should make sure that his core diet is highly nutritious as well. It’s difficult to choose. As we stated in our blog, “How to choose a pet food”, there are so many different brands of foods and despite what the label may claim, many are not a superior source of nutrition. Pet foods can be wrapped in all sorts of fancy labels, but may contain cheap ingredients that will lead, over time, to deficiencies in your pet’s health. Always look for “Complete and Balanced” on the pet food label. That designation by the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) tells us that the diet contains the minimum amount of nutrients your dog needs. But don’t stop there. “Minimum is not necessarily “enough”, especially when your dog is fighting disease.
There are so many things to take into consideration when changing your dog’s diet. For example, if your dog has diabetes, the sugar in fruit may not be the best idea. If your dog has pancreatitis, cooked salmon could be a no-no, depending on your particular dog’s condition. One dog may have trouble digesting apples but could eat a carrot with no problem. As we mentioned, talk to your veterinary before making any changes to your dog’s diet. Then add new foods slowly to gauge his body’s reaction.
A reminder… If your dog is vacationing with us at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts, be sure to pack his delicious fruits and veggies! We are happy to provide him with his very own super treats during his stay!