‘Inflammation’ is a word that we’re all familiar with. It goes hand in hand with a sore back, twisted ankle, grazed knee, or an upset stomach; they’re all caused by inflammation. It’s the same for your canine companion. There are different types of inflammation and in general, they help the body to repair itself. However, chronic inflammation in dogs can be harmful and it can be caused by lots of different things including the type of food you feed your dog.
What is Inflammation?
First of all, what is inflammation? Inflammation is a normal response of the body to injury or illness. It can be caused by any sort of thermal, chemical, or physical injury (trauma, infection, virus, etc.). It has three phases; acute, subacute, and chronic.
The acute phase lasts approximately 1-3 days and displays the characteristic signs of inflammation; heat, pain, redness, swelling, and loss of function (e.g. limping on a sore leg). This is due to dilation of blood vessels and an influx of cells to treat the area. The subacute phase is a phase of tissue repair and it can last from 3-4 days to 1 month. If it hasn’t resolved by then, the inflammation is then called chronic and can continue for months.
Chronic inflammation occurs when the body hasn’t healed and repaired itself from the initial injury or illness. It can continue for a long period of time, months to even years in some cases. Over time, it can cause degeneration of tissue along with causing chronic pain in our pets.
In humans, there’s a strong link between chronic inflammation and cancer. This means that chronic inflammation could predispose the body to develop cancer in the future. Chronic inflammation can also change the microbiome (the bacteria in our dog’s gut) which can have numerous side effects.
Where Can Dogs Develop Inflammation?
Inflammation can develop almost anywhere in our dog’s body; their skin and ears, muscles, joints, nervous system, gastrointestinal tract, heart and lungs, organs, eyes, and mouth. When we talk about inflammatory conditions, the word usually ends in ‘itis’. An example is ‘pancreatitis’, which is inflammation of the pancreas. Another example is ‘otitis’, inflammation of the ear canal.
Common Types of Inflammation in Dogs
As we’ve discussed already, inflammation is a normal bodily response to injury or illness. So if your dog is unwell, it’s very possible that they’re undergoing a phase of inflammation. There are many inflammatory conditions that dogs can get and these are some of the most common ones below:
Many dogs suffer from skin allergies or sensitivities these days and this is often described as ‘dermatitis’, which is inflammation of the skin. This commonly affects the paws. Ears often fall under the same category and you may have heard the term ‘otitis externa’ when your dog has an ear infection. Otitis describes inflammation of the ear.
Mobility issues are a very common reason why dogs go to the veterinary clinic. Dogs can injure themselves while playing with other dogs or running after a ball etc. and cause inflammation. They can also develop ‘osteoarthritis’ as older dogs and this can be in their legs, hips, and back.
At one stage or another, it’s likely that your dog has had an upset stomach involving diarrhea +/- vomiting. This would have involved inflammation of the stomach (gastritis) or intestines (enteritis). It may also have involved the large intestine (colitis). It’s one of the most common conditions in dogs.
A common cause of coughing in dogs is ‘bronchitis’ which is inflammation of the smaller airways in the lungs. They can also develop inflammation in their throat (laryngitis) and trachea (tracheitis).
Cystitis (inflammation of the bladder) is a frequent urinary problem in dogs. It can cause difficulty urinating and blood in the urine.
Does Food Cause Inflammation?
As the saying goes ‘You are what you eat’ and this is the same for dogs. Eating foods with lots of additives and harmful ingredients can be harmful and choosing better quality foods can lead to a healthier lifestyle. Can a poor diet cause chronic inflammation in dogs?
The simple answer is yes. It’s well known that there are links between chronic inflammation and the food that you eat in human medicine. It’s similar for dogs and there are some promising studies out there to prove this. Eating poor quality foods and overeating can lead to obesity, which can change the immune cells in your fat tissue and cause chronic inflammation. This can predispose to lots of other conditions e.g. diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
The omega levels in food are also important, with higher levels of omega 3 and lower levels of omega 6 promoting normal inflammatory responses in the body while the opposite levels could promote chronic inflammation. A diet that’s high in protein and low in carbohydrates with minimal additives and preservatives can reduce the chances of chronic inflammation.
How is Inflammation Treated?
Inflammation can be treated in many ways, naturally or through conventional medicine. These are the most common options:
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs)
NSAIDs are potent anti-inflammatories and relieve inflammation by blocking a certain part of the inflammatory pathway (cyclooxygenase inhibition). They are common anti-inflammatories that are used by vets and include drugs such as meloxicam and carprofen.
Human NSAIDs such as ibuprofen should NEVER be given to dogs. Check with your veterinarian before giving any medicine, even if it’s for dogs.
Steroid hormones are naturally occurring and steroid drugs are based on these. They block many pathways in the inflammatory pathway and are very good anti-inflammatories. However, they can have side effects and aren’t appropriate in every situation.
Fish oils containing omega-3 and turmeric have natural anti-inflammatory properties and can be included in dog food or supplemented.
CBD products have shown some promising results in reducing inflammation with minimal side effects. They can be used for treating common painful inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.
How to Avoid Chronic Inflammation in Dogs
We know what causes inflammation in dogs and how to treat it but what can we do to prevent it? Feeding a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates, with the correct amounts of omega 3 and 6 can help to prevent inflammation. Ensuring that your dog has an appropriate body weight and isn’t overweight prevents obesity, which can cause chronic inflammation.
If your dog has any food sensitivities or allergens, make sure that you get this under control and have your dog on an appropriate diet to help with this. Feeding your dog a limited ingredient diet can help with their food sensitivity and allergy issues. It would be a good idea to have your dog tested for allergies under the guidance of your veterinarian to determine what ingredients to avoid.
Any injury or illness should be treated promptly by your veterinarian. This will help to resolve the inflammation (avoiding chronic inflammation) and get your dog back to normal health.
Inflammation is a normal response of the body to injury and illness but when the inflammation becomes chronic it can be harmful to the body. Paying close attention to your dog’s nutrition and body weight (with the help of a chart such as this chihuaha weight chart) can help prevent chronic inflammation and lead to a healthier lifestyle for your pet. If your pet is unwell, book a check-up with your veterinarian.
How do you treat inflammation in dogs?
Inflammation can be treated with conventional medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and steroids. Natural options include omega-3, turmeric, along with feeding a limited ingredient diet that’s high in protein and low in carbs.
What foods cause inflammation in dogs?
Foods that contain lots of additives and preservatives along with high levels of omega-6 and carbohydrates could cause inflammation.
How long does inflammation last in a dog?
How long inflammation lasts depends on the phase of inflammation; acute, subacute, or chronic. Acute lasts 1-3 days, subacute can last up to 1 month and chronic can be for several months.
How can I reduce inflammation in my dog naturally?
You can use omega-3 oils and turmeric to help reduce inflammation in your dog naturally. Feeding a higher protein and lower carbohydrate limited ingredient diet that is of high quality and keeping your dog’s body weight optimum can help too.