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With so many pet foods on the market, it’s easy to be lulled into complacency about your dog’s diet. If you have a puppy, you think simply reaching for the puppy food will give them everything they need.
But researchers have discovered that what your dog eats from the start of their life is critically important to one aspect of health…
Poor early-life diet can lead to skin problems in dogs
Data gathered from a food frequency questionnaire conducted by a University of Helsinki research group has revealed novel early-life risk factors, including early-life diet, that affect the prevalence of canine atopic dermatitis (CAD) in adult dogs.
CAD is an incurable inflammatory allergic skin disease prevalent in up to 10% of the dog population that usually erupts within the first 3 years of age. Atopic dermatitis in both humans and dogs is a complex disease resulting from an interaction between genetics, epigenetics, immune system and environmental exposures, including diet. Sometimes the veterinarian uses an elimination diet to see if the CAD is food-induced.
So far more than 12,000 dog owners have answered the Internet-based questionnaire from the university’s international multidisciplinary research group DogRisk. Previously identified risk factors for increased presence of atopy in adult-age dogs include the dog being from an allergy-prone breed, its mother having a history of atopy and more than 50 % of the dog’s hair coat being white.
But out of all the risk factors found by researchers, early-life diet had the strongest association with the disease.
When the mothers were fed a non-heat-processed, meat-based diet during pregnancy, and the resulting puppies were given that same diet as their first solid food at 1-2 months of age, both showed a significant protective effect from atopy when the puppies reached adulthood.
By contrast, when the mothers were fed an ultra-processed carbohydrate-based diet of commercial dry kibble during pregnancy, and the puppies received it during that period of 1-2 months old, atopy incidence increased in the adult-age dogs.
Dr. Manal Hemida from the Helsinki One Health network, the study’s main researcher, observed that since the diets were so differently processed and had such different macro-nutrient profiles, it was difficult to tell which of these aspects was responsible for the raw diet being so much better for atopy health: the lack of “cooking;” a minimal amount of carbohydrates, preservatives and coloring agents; the different quality and quantity of animal proteins and fat; or the non-sterility of the food.
Other actions associated with a significant decrease in CAD risk in adult dogs included deworming the mother during pregnancy, exposing the young puppies to sunlight for at least one hour per day, spending time on a dirt floor or lawn before six months of age, keeping the young puppies at normal body weight, and continuing to live in the same family where they were born.
“These results, however, only suggest causality, but do not prove it,” says Anna Hielm-Björkman, adjunct professor and leader of the DogRisk research group. “A prospective diet intervention during pregnancy and at young age is needed to confirm our findings.”
Healthy food for dogs
So, what should you feed your dog to keep them healthy and happy? Experts are recommending pet owners move away from dry kibble, which is heavily processed, often contains heavy amounts of grains, sugars, and other low-quality ingredients that can leave dogs dehydrated. Some also warn against giving dogs canned food, which can increase their levels of the hormone disruptor bisphenol A (BPA).
Instead, they are recommending you try feeding your dog a fresh, raw diet filled with foods like beef, chicken, lamb, peas, spinach, carrots and blueberries. This type of diet can promote your dog’s heart health, increase energy level, make their coat shiny and improve their breath, eyesight and bowel movements. If you decide to go this route, it’s important to work with a veterinary nutritionist to put together recipes that are safe and healthy for your dog.
If the idea of constantly preparing food for your dog is too overwhelming, consider using a fresh pet meal delivery service like Ollie, Spot & Tango or The Farmer’s Dog. These services meet the Association of American Feed Control Officials standards for vitamin and mineral content by working with canine nutritionists to develop cooking methods and personalized formulas. They can also account for food allergies and calculate the exact number of calories your dog needs based on weight, breed, age, activity level and body composition.
Early-life diet and canine atopy can have a connection — University of Helsinki
Fresh vs. Raw vs. Kibble: What Should You Feed Your Dog? — American Kennel Club
Study Finds BPA in Canned Dog Food—and Dogs — The Bark