PROBLEMS OF THE DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
It goes without saying that all
organ systems are important to the continued well-being of the
body as a whole. But the role of the digestive system is probably
the most important.
A healthy digestive system underpins
the function of the whole system by digesting and absorbing nutrients,
neutralising toxins and infective agents and eliminating waste
and unwanted products.
Along with skin disease the digestive
tract is the organ system most frequently affected by dietary
intolerance. This means correct dietary choice is one of the most
effective ways of treating and avoiding digestive disorders.
The common symptoms of digestive
loose bowel motions; occasional vomiting; abdominal discomfort;
straining; passing blood or mucus; flatulence.
The most dramatic and frightening
manifestation of a disordered digestive system must surely be
gastric bloat and its partner gastric torsion. These affect the
large, deep-chested breeds such as German Shepherd and Great Dane.
An affected dog will often collapse and die of shock before treatment
can be given.
Whether the diagnosis is colitis,
enteritis, gastro-enteritis, indigestion, allergy, infection etc
the problem can usually be attributed to one cause – Improper
Traditionally, a high-fibre diet
is usually recommended for treating most digestive disorders.
My experience does not bear this out. A few diseases e.g. constipation
may be better managed by higher fibre diet but I find that most
cases benefit from a highly digestible diet. This is digested
and absorbed in the small intestine so that a minimum of material
reaches the lower end of the gut. Not only does this promote the
health of the digestive system it means that less faeces are produced
which is more convenient to the owner and beneficial to the environment.
Digestive upset is often blamed on
a diet being “too rich”. This is a myth which some
manufacturers are happy to perpetuate because it implies that
their food is of a very high quality. The reality is generally
the reverse of this. Low quality foods containing indigestible
or unsuitable ingredients are more likely to cause problems than
foods which contain easily digested materials.
For example, many pet foods use soya
or other vegetable proteins which are difficult to digest, rather
than animal proteins which are more easily digested. Wheat is
much more difficult to digest than rice, and many dogs seem to
be intolerant of wheat. Flaked foods consist of hot-rolled cereals,
which are only partly cooked and are therefore more difficult
The best food to promote healthy
digestive function should be easily digested, high in complex
carbohydrate with moderate levels of protein and fat. This is
best achieved by a diet based on cooked whole, unrefined cereal
grains, with a fairly low meat and fat content.
Feeding amounts should be kept to
the minimum necessary to satisfy requirements. Excessive food
intake is the surest way of ruining the health and effective function
of the digestive tract.
Common pet health problems
John Burns Pet Health Management