Any vet will tell you that your pet’s diet is directly connected to his health. This makes sense as the same applies to humans and any other species of animal. Most people tend to focus on how diet affects your pet in the short term, but its impact on your pet’s long-term health is also important.
Take a closer look at both short- and long-term ways that your pet’s health is impacted by what you feed them. We’ll also take a look at the role nutrition plays in managing your pet’s long-term health conditions.
The Basics of Nutrition and Health
Before getting into specific ways that your pet’s diet affects his long-term health, it is smart to have at least some understanding of the connection between nutrition and health.
Simply put, your pet eats in order to gain nutrients. Each of those nutrients plays a specific role in his body’s functioning. Animals need to consume water, minerals, vitamins, fats, carbohydrates, and protein. Each species has a slightly different ideal balance. The ideal balance will also depend on the age of your pet and whether they have any health conditions.
For example, a young puppy and a senior dog would have very different diets. Or an adult dog with kidney disease would follow a very different diet than one with heart disease.
Short- and Long-Term Benefits of a Healthy Diet for Your Pet
When most people think of the benefits of feeding your pet a nutritious diet, you think of things like muscle tone, digestion, and coat health. While you may be thinking of these benefits in the short term, they also affect your pet’s long-term health, regardless of species.
Ensuring your pet gets enough protein is particularly important for his muscle tone. That is because protein is a crucial part of every cell in your dog or cat’s body. Your body uses protein to make new cells and to repair damaged ones. This makes protein particularly important for pregnant pets or those that are young and growing.
Letting your pet build enough muscle affects more than just his short-term health. After all, early health can impact later health. Additionally, not getting enough protein when young and growing can lead to your pet not being large enough or facing other issues later in life.
Coat and Skin Health
Most people look at a healthy coat as a sign of overall health. Ensuring your pet has a balanced diet, along with enough omega fatty acids, can keep his coat and skin healthy. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory as well, helping to reduce irritation from allergies. While the effects of a healthy coat are mostly short-term, maintaining a healthy diet throughout your pet’s life delivers long-term results.
Carbs are such an important part of your pet’s diet because of their fiber content. As with humans, fiber helps your pets with digestion as well as elimination. Digestibility helps ensure that your pet gets all the nutrients from the food before eliminating it.
Overall, healthy digestion ensures that your dog or cat gets all the nutrients he needs. This is important as nutritional deficiencies can lead to long-term side effects.
Immunity is one of the benefits for which it is easier to see the long-term benefits. A balanced diet helps your pet maintain a healthy immune system. That, in turn, helps your pet fight off disease. That strong immunity should continue throughout his life, especially if you continue to feed him a healthy diet.
This helps your pet prevent immediate issues. It also boosts his protection against diseases that could have long-term consequences.
You may not realize it, but some research shows that an animal’s diet and behavior are linked. For example, eating a diet with a lot of carbohydrates can lead to spikes in blood sugar. That leads to hyperactivity.
The other common connection is high protein consumption and anxiety or aggression. This comes from the fact that high-protein diets may not include enough tryptophan. This amino acid regulates serotonin production, which is a mood-regulation hormone.
The Importance for Allergies, Intolerances, and Sensitivities
Most of the immediate effects of feeding your dog or cat foods that they are sensitive or allergic to are short-term. These include issues like irritated, dry, flakey, or itchy skin. It can also come with weight loss, digestive issues, and a risk of ear or skin infections.
While these effects are short-term, ignoring them can easily turn them into long-term effects. After all, as long as you feed your pet the allergen or irritant, the symptoms will continue. This means that adjusting your pet’s diet for allergies and sensitivities is crucial to ensuring his long-term health and comfort, including preventing infections, digestive issues, and skin irritation.
Nutrition and Oral Health
Some aspects of your pet’s oral health, like bad breath, are short-term issues that you can resolve by making changes or with treatment. Others, however, such as losing teeth, are long-term and cannot be reversed. There aren’t implants or fake teeth for dogs or cats. So, if your pet loses some teeth, he will never replace them. Instead, he will have to live without them. This can affect eating as well as his ability to protect himself.
The main concern for long-term health would be periodontal disease. This is when your pet’s gums and teeth are unhealthy. As with humans, if it progresses far enough, your pet may lose teeth.
But what role does your pet’s diet play? Some recent studies show that dry kibble that is high in carbohydrates may cause plaque buildup. Given that carbs convert to sugar and sugar is bad for teeth, this makes sense. On the other hand, some research shows that feeding your pet a raw diet (that is appropriate for his species) can be the ideal method of preventing plaque.
Malnutrition and Chronic Diseases
Likely the biggest impact that diet has on your pet’s long-term health comes from malnourishment. If your dog or cat doesn’t get the proper balance of nutrients, he may be more likely to develop diseases in the future. These can include chronic problems.
Just like in humans, diabetes can develop in animals that consume too much sugar. Since animals don’t typically eat sugar, this mostly comes in the form of carbohydrates for them. Remember that carbs become sugar in the body.
Diabetes will affect your pet for the rest of his life, so this is always a long-term issue if it develops. To make matters worse, pets with diabetes have a higher risk of developing pancreatitis, kidney disease, and other health problems.
Heart disease is one of the potential long-term effects of feeding your pet the wrong diet. Recent research shows that grain-free diets that give pets too many potatoes, peas, legume seeds, and lentils may increase the risk of heart disease. This comes from the lack of taurine in the diet.
For cats, in particular, eating a diet that is just made up of dry food may increase the risk of kidney disease. The issue here comes down to hydration. Every species of pet needs to stay properly hydrated, and sometimes, just giving them access to water is not enough. Without enough water, the kidneys can’t flush themselves out regularly.
Kidney disease can also affect dogs and even cats that aren’t on a dry-food-only diet. In many cases, the issue is the salt found in table scraps. Reconsider giving your pet that scrap the next time he begs for a bite.
If your dog or cat eats a diet that has too much fat, this can lead to his pancreas becoming inflamed. Long-term, this can become pancreatitis, which is when the pancreas doesn’t function properly.
Anorexia and Malnourishment
Before looking at the issues of overeating, it is important to mention that pets can suffer from anorexia. They may not like their food or may have pain when eating from an underlying illness. Anorexia could lead to malnutrition and all of the other issues associated with it.
Overeating, Obesity, and Its Effects
Obesity is one health issue that comes with its own set of additional problems. Obesity may be due to feeding your dog too much. It can also come from giving your pet too many table scraps. The most common source of these is table scraps.
The following are just some of the potential long-term health problems that can come from your pet being obese.
Being overweight is connected to heart disease in pets. It can also connect to their windpipe collapsing. There is also a connection to reduced respiratory function. Experts haven’t determined if this is a direct cause-and-effect relationship, but the chances do increase. Being overweight also makes those resulting conditions harder to treat.
Diabetes and Other Endocrine Diseases
Diabetes is a common complication for overweight pets of various species. To put it in perspective, consider obese cats. They have four times the chance of developing type 2 diabetes. In diabetic dogs, treatment becomes harder if they are obese.
Having excess fat can lead to inflammation in your pets. Unfortunately, you can’t see the inflammation, which makes it harder to diagnose. It can, however, increase your pet’s risk of other diseases.
Joint and Orthopedic Issues
Carrying more weight can lead to orthopedic issues, such as back problems or arthritis. Experts believe that the problems arise from the fact that the joints have to carry additional weight. The extra fatty tissue may also increase inflammation.
Reduced Life Span
Although it is just one study, a lifetime study followed Labrador Retrievers. It found that dogs that were about 15 percent overweight lived about two years less than their trim counterparts.
Urinary Tract Issues
Being overweight can increase the risk of your pet forming kidney stones, which are painful and potentially harmful. There may also be an increased risk of infection.
Research Confirms the Connection Between Diet and Long-Term Health
The book “Beyond the 120 Year Diet” by Dr. Roy Walford provides research supporting the connection between diet and long-term health. Many people do not realize this because the book is written regarding human nutrition, but the research was actually all done on animals.
The result of the research in the book shows that following a diet that is low in calories and high in nutrients is directly correlated with longevity, anti-aging, and good health. The earliest research on the benefits of restricting calories and boosting nutrition was in 1935 on rats, and later research included monkeys as well. Walford began researching this type of diet in animals during the 1960s, gathering plenty of scientific evidence supporting his findings.
Diet Changes to Control Health Problems in Pets
Yet another area in which diet can affect your pet’s long-term health comes from using changes in their diet to control their health problems. If your pet has an issue, whether kidney disease, heart disease, diabetes, or something else, your vet will likely suggest some dietary changes to help manage the symptoms.
Dietary Changes With Age
For senior pets, the diet typically focuses on reducing calories and improving fiber. This helps prevent obesity and boosts gastrointestinal health.
Diet for Hyperthyroidism
Overactive thyroids are very common in older cats and can lead to hunger and unexplained weight loss. Part of managing it involves feeding your cat a diet with low amounts of iodine, along with medicine.
Diet for Obesity
The solution for overweight pets is somewhat straightforward – you simply feed them less and help them get more exercise. This may involve feeding a specially formulated diet food. The only concern is that in some species, like cats, losing weight too quickly can be harmful to the internal organs.
Diet for Heart Disease
In animals with heart disease, many vets will suggest reducing your pet’s salt intake. Research in the ideal diet for heart disease is still in progress, so your vet may suggest other changes as well.
Diet for Liver Shunts
If your pet has a liver shunt, then you will partly manage it by reducing his protein intake. His body can’t get rid of the waste products from breaking down protein. This means that eating too much protein can lead to seizures, behavioral changes, difficulty walking, and more.
With a clearer idea of how important your pet’s diet is, you are on your way to making smart decisions that will set him up for a long, healthy life. Feeding him a high-quality diet rich in the nutrients he needs, you can prevent disease, reduce discomfort, and even potentially expand his life span.