Just like inflammatory foods can wreak havoc with chronic medical conditions in people, the same goes for pets. Inflammation is a natural response to an injury, virus, bacteria or irritant to the body. It’s the body’s way to help heal an area by increasing blood flow to the area. The symptoms of inflammation include heat, redness, pain and, of course, swelling. When inflammation becomes chronic—which can happen when diets are high in inflammatory foods—it leads to many illnesses including, but not limited to inflammatory bowel disease, heart conditions, joint pain, autoimmune disease, gum disease, diabetes, psoriasis, kidney failure and even cancer. Chronic inflammation puts undue stress on the body. In simpler terms, it wears down the body, putting it at risk for chronic medical conditions.
One way to help reduce risk is to avoid foods that contribute to inflammation responses. Common culprits are highly processed meats, such as in those found in deli meats and hot dogs. Other common inflammatory foods are poor quality proteins found in cheaper pet foods, potatoes, pasta, white rice, dairy, omega 6 oils, carbohydrates, sugars, processed grains and fruits.
There are foods to add to a pet’s diet that may reduce inflammation, such as cloves, ginger, rosemary, turmeric, paprika, omega 3 oils, berries, leafy greens and vegetables. Foods with a high moisture content, such as a raw diet and canned, are preferred. While honey is mildly inflammatory, the benefits can outweigh the risks depending on the pet and situation.
Feeding habits also play a pivotal role. When pets overeat, cells become stressed, which leads to inflammation, especially when overeating is the norm. On the flip side, rapid weight loss can also lead to inflammation, so it is best to go slow when changing a feeding routine.
Adding good gut bacteria such as prebiotics and probiotics helps keep bad bacteria at bay, thereby reducing inflammation. This is particularly important if a pet is on antibiotics.
Please note, a gluten or grain-free diet in and of itself may not a good change depending on the particulars. Sometimes these foods are actually higher in carbohydrates because sugars added for taste will also boost the carbohydrates in any given food.
The Difference Food Can Make
Hunter’s story is example of the changing effect of food as told by his owner, Paul Gallant of Paul’s Custom Pet Food in New Milford.
“It began in 2010 when Hunter’s groomer discovered a lump the size of a walnut below his jaw. It was biopsied and we learned it was malignant: Hunter had cancer. Our traditional veterinarian recommended we see a veterinary oncologist right away. We were informed that his cancer was aggressive, and he had six months to live. Our options were surgery, followed by chemotherapy and radiation. At the time, Hunter was just over three years old.
“After much discussion, we decided not to take the recommended action. We shared the news with friends and family. One friend insisted we see Dr. Hannah Wells, a former chief of staff and practitioner of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine at Health & Wellness Animal Hospital (HealthandWellnessAnimalHosp.com) in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire.
“Dr. Wells studied Hunter’s history, biopsy results, oncology report, and conducted a thorough examination of him, including analysis of his chi. She explained that as a young and energetic Golden Retriever, he ran hot, and that the tumor and cancer were also hot. She indicated he would need cool foods and herbs to fight the cancer. She asked if we were willing to switch him from processed to whole foods.
“Dr. Wells prescribed a mix of Chinese herbal medicines and a recipe for Hunter. She explained the differences between cool foods and hot foods; the importance of whole, chemical- and processed-free pet food; and the fundamental way that food interacts with each pet’s unique body.
“Eight years later, Hunter is as energetic as a puppy. Although the basic recipe for his diet remains the same, his owners have made adjustments along the way pursuant to Hunter’s changing dietary needs and as he has aged. Despite a little white around his nose and eyes, Hunter shows no signs of slowing down. And the lump below his jaw is gone,” his owner concluded.
Chronic inflammation causes pain as well as contributes to life-threatening medical conditions in humans as well as pets. As fantastical as it may seem, a change in diet can possibly eliminate or reduce that risk for our pets.