You may want to modify your puppy’s menu. Giving your puppy or dog table scraps and the occasional bone or raw meat may actually make them healthier, new research suggests.
A new study from the University of Helsinki, Finland, published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports suggests that a diet for puppies and young dogs including non-processed meat, dinner table leftovers and raw bones could protect your pet from stomach disorders later in life.
Conversely, a diet of processed dog food could lead to a higher risk of gastrointestinal problems. “Proactive owners can provide a variety of whole foods and species-appropriate leftovers for the puppies and young dogs, even as an addition to a kibble-based diet,” one of the study’s authors Anna Hielm‑Björkman told USA TODAY.
The researchers analyzed pet owners’ details about the diets of 4,681 puppies and 3,926 adolescent dogs from the DogRisk food frequency questionnaire, established at the university in 2009. Overall, owners reported symptoms of chronic enteropathy (CE), or gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss and loss of appetite, in 1,016 (21.7%) of the puppies and 699 (17.8%) of the adolescent dogs.
Dog owners were asked about what their pets were fed – and where they were fed – during various times of their pets’ lives. They were also asked about health issues their dog might have experienced, as well as at what ages and how often.
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Here’s what researchers found when they looked at dogs’ diets and outcomes
- Non-processed meat-based diet. This diet included raw red meat, organs, fish, eggs, and bones, but also vegetables and berries. When puppies were fed the diet a couple times a month or more, they were 22% less likely to develop the digestive problems (CE) later in life, as adult dogs. As adolescent dogs, they were 12.7% less likely, researchers found.
- Leftovers and table scraps from dog owners’ plates (not spoiled food). Owners who said they gave their puppies leftovers regularly were 23% less likely to report CE development, researchers found. When young dogs were given leftovers that also led to a 24% less likelihood of CE development in adolescent years and as older dogs.
- Ultra-processed carbohydrate dog food. Puppies fed a diet of highly processed dried kibble food were 29% more likely to have developed CE later in life. When young and adolescent dogs were given the diet, they were 15% more likely to have developed CE then and as they aged, researchers said.
- Rawhides. Rawhide chews are often made from dried animal skins, according to the American Kennel Club. When the chews were given to puppies, they were associated with a 117% increased risk of CE in adult dogs, researchers said.
- Berries. Feeding berries to puppies, especially wild blueberries, for example, decreased CE risk later in life by 29%, researchers said.
The researchers note that dog owners’ responses about their pets were not confirmed by subsequent veterinary diagnosis. However, the combined responses of 21.7% of puppies and 17.8% of adolescent dogs with gastrointestinal issues tracked with veterinarians’ experiences with the frequency of real-world diagnoses, researchers said.
The study design doesn’t prove causality – that the non-processed and leftovers diet is directly responsible for chronic gut problems in dogs, Hielm‑Björkman said.
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Should I feed my puppy or dog leftovers, table scraps and raw meat?
But the research findings are strong enough that pet owners could try the diet with their dogs, she said. “We also recommend taking it slow when you transit from one diet to another (a week) as it takes a minimum of 3 weeks for the gut microbiota to be able to adjust to a new diet,” Hielm‑Björkman said.
A good rule of thumb: previous research on inflammatory skin diseases and atopic dermatitis in dogs showed a “protecting effect” starts with using 20% raw foods, whereas the risk of getting the disease starts if eating more than 80% of the food as dry food,” she said.
The findings make sense because dogs “used to be hunters before they were domesticated, Athena Gaffud, a doctor of veterinary medicine at research group Veterinarians.org. But modern dogs are domesticated, which “makes it risky to feed raw food to some dogs,” she said.
“Modern dog breeds are more sensitive and are predisposed to bacterial diseases if fed uncooked food, especially puppies because their immune system is not yet well developed,” Gaffud said. But the study found when dogs were fed non-processed meat, leftovers, and raw bones during their early life it “stimulated the growth of a balanced gastrointestinal microbiome,” she said.
“While this study looks promising, more studies are needed to outweigh the risks of feeding non-processed food,” Gaffud said. “Nonetheless, to reap the benefits of this discovery, a gradual introduction of non-processed meat, dinner table leftovers, and raw bones during the early life of dogs can be tried by owners interested in doing so.”
She recommends pet owners confer with a veterinarian to make sure dogs get a balanced diet.
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.
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