Benefits of high-fiber dog food?

posted: 05/15/12
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What are the benefits of high-fiber dog food?
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Mmm, fiber. Just what your dog is craving, right? OK, maybe not. After all, we humans don't really think of fiber as being particularly delicious, but we know that it's something we need in our diets. Most of the time, we get all we need from our regular diet. The same is true for our dogs: Fiber isn't considered an essential nutrient for them, but it's found to some degree in all commercial dog foods. Occasionally, we need a little more fiber to help keep things moving, and so do our canine companions. A diet high in fiber can even help with other health problems, as well as promote overall colon well-being for both you and your pet.

Let's back up a second, though. What exactly is fiber? It's a term used to describe plant material that isn't digested by our bodies, also known as roughage. There are two different kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber absorbs water, breaks down into a stringy, mucilaginous (mucus-like) material and ferments, releasing gases as it passes through the colon. Insoluble fiber also absorbs water, but it doesn't ferment. Soluble fiber also ferments at different rates -- slow-fermenting fiber sources include peanut hulls and cellulose, while bran, pectin and soy fiber ferment more quickly. Beet pulp, a common source of fiber in dog food, is somewhere in the middle. A mixture of different types of soluble fiber is best; too much fast-moving fiber can cause diarrhea, while slow-fermenting sources may not make a difference.

If your dog needs more fiber than what he's getting from his regular food, it can be a little more challenging than when you hit the fiber supplement aisle at the pharmacy. That's why there are high-fiber dog foods available on the market. Most contain a mix of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Not all of them are created equal, though. Some inexpensive dog foods could contain sources of fiber that you may not be happy feeding your dog, such as shredded paper. Of course, the label won't use those words, but ingredients like cellulose, for example, can come from a wide variety of sources. Your best bet is to do your research. All dog foods have ingredient lists, which will list the amount of crude fiber (a general term for any kind of fiber) as a percentage. Look for specific sources of fiber (like those mentioned above), and ask your veterinarian what he or she recommends.

Now that you know all about fiber, read on to learn exactly how a high-fiber diet can benefit your dog.

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Why Dogs Need Fiber
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Typically when we think of high-fiber foods, we think of constipation. High-fiber dog food can help treat constipation because insoluble fiber absorbs water, creating softer, larger stools. Larger stools stimulate the colon's muscle contractions. There are many conditions that can cause constipation in dogs, so if it's a chronic problem, you should get him checked out by the vet.

It might surprise you to know that high-fiber food can also help dogs that have diarrhea. Insoluble fiber absorbs excess water in the colon, while the fermenting action of soluble fiber can balance acidity levels in the colon and create more friendly bacteria. Again, chronic diarrhea may be a sign of a more serious problem, so just switching to a high-fiber food isn't necessarily the answer.

All dogs have scent glands located on either side of their anus, which secrete oils when they defecate. These anal glands give their feces a unique scent -- yet another way for dogs to mark their territory. Unfortunately, these glands can get clogged, which can be very painful for your dog and can result in anal gland disease. The bulking action of high-fiber foods creates larger stools that press against impacted glands, releasing them.

If your dog is overweight, he may need to go on a weight-control dog food.  When you read the ingredient list, you'll probably notice that "diet" dog foods are also high in fiber. Fiber makes your dog feel full without adding a lot of calories, so it can help him shed those extra pounds.

Dogs who have been diagnosed with diabetes can also benefit from a high-fiber dog food. The bulk of insoluble fiber slows digestion, which keeps blood sugar levels from spiking. According to veterinarian Denise Elliot, fermenting soluble fiber may also influence the release of hormones that affect a diabetic dog's sensitivity to insulin (making him less sensitive to it), although research doesn't yet show exactly how this works.

Finally, high-fiber dog foods can reduce your dog's risk of contracting colon cancer. Fiber speeds elimination, which means less time for the carcinogens your dog may have consumed to hang out in his intestinal tract. When soluble fiber ferments, one of the byproducts is a short-chain fatty acid. These fatty acids provide needed fuel for cells lining the walls of the intestine, which aid in repairing the cells of the intestine.

Now you may be gung-ho about switching your dog to a high-fiber food, but it's imperative that you consult with his vet first. Too much fiber can cause frequent stools, diarrhea and gas, and it can even interfere with the absorption of vitamins and minerals. So listen to your vet and take it slow!

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Luxury Items Your Dog Will Love
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Maybe that plain doggy bed isn't cutting it for your canine companion. If not, you can give your dog a seriously comfy sleeping spot such as a Tempur-pedic dog bed, made of the same viscoelastic memory foam they use in mattresses. Dogs that are short-haired or have joint problems may especially enjoy heated dog beds. Some have microwaveable inserts, while others plug into the wall.

For dogs that have to spend a lot of time outdoors, you can buy an insulated doghouse; some even come with heaters or have cooling beds built in. When your dog does have to leave the confines of home, a down coat or wool jacket can make winters more bearable, while booties on his feet can keep ice and snow from hurting his paws in the winter and hot asphalt from burning them in the summer. You don't have to sacrifice style, either; plenty of companies, from Juicy Couture to Burberry, make designer doggy duds.

What if you want to take your doggie out on the town? Many restaurants with outdoor seating welcome dogs, and some even have special, dog-friendly events. Hotel Indigo in Atlanta, for example, hosts a Canine Cocktail Hour on Tuesdays in the summer. The Lowes chain of hotels and resorts provides pet guests with room service, beds, snacks and pet-walking services. Check out to learn about more restaurants and hotels that are happy to have dogs as guests.

Sometimes, you just can't take your dog with you. If the idea of having him spend most of his time in a small kennel is just too upsetting, maybe a luxury pet resort will ease your mind? At these resorts, your dog can have his own room with a comfy bed, go for a swim, take long walks, watch TV and even get massages. He may not want to come home! Speaking of massage, there are certified canine massage therapists who study how massage techniques can be applied to dog anatomy and physiology. In addition to pet resorts, there may also be one on staff at your local groomer's or veterinarian's office.

If you'd rather be more hands-on, you can take a workshop in dog massage as well. Consider working it into a weekly brushing routine and trying out special shampoos and conditioners when grooming your dog (for those times when you can't get him to the salon, of course).

Pampering your dog is a wonderful way to show him how much you care, but ultimately, the best way to do that is to spend some quality time with him. He loves you unconditionally and that's all he asks for in return.

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