One of the most common things I come across in clinic is pets with upset tummies; I’m talking diarrhea. Despite it being one of the most common reasons for presenting, it’s also often where I see the biggest nutrition mistakes being made.
Chicken and rice
This ‘bland’ diet recommendation is the age-old adage that is a huge no-no and I beg you to stop doing it! Why? Chicken and rice is not complete and balanced; it is deficient in 17 essential vitamins and minerals. You are giving an already compromised patient a diet that is lacking in energy and the necessary nutrients it needs to bounce back from illness! It also is severely lacking in calories and is not highly digestible, meaning your pet needs to expend more energy to digest the food than the food actually provides. To feed chicken and rice, you would need to feed a very large amount to actually meet the pet’s requirements…and what pet (or person) when they are feeling unwell, is going to want to eat a huge meal? On top of all that, there is a chance of food poisoning to occur if the chicken is not correctly prepared, potentially making an already sick animal, even sicker. The best option, instead of chicken and rice, is to feed a complete and balanced commercial gastrointestinal diet, either in the short or long term, that is approved for acute and chronic diarrhea. Some examples would include Royal Canin Gastrointestinal or Recovery, Hills I/d and ProPlan EN.
Probiotics, without prebiotics
I am not saying probiotics aren’t effective, they certainly can be. However on their own, they aren’t as useful. Let me explain why. Adding more ‘good bacteria’ into the gut, while in a compromised state, isn’t always effective – the microbes still need to eat something otherwise they will die off and be quickly overwhelmed by the bad bacteria already present. The other problem with some probiotics is that they aren’t host-specific; every person or animal has their own unique microbiome that lives in their gut, so adding a probiotic might not contain bacteria that is native to your gut, thus not providing any benefit to you. To promote the growth of host-specific microbes, you need to provide prebiotics that selectively feed your unique microbes. This then allows the good bacteria to produce beneficial post-biotics; the healthy by-products produced by bacteria that nourish the gut and can be used by the colonic cells to heal. To improve gut health, we need to maintain that colony of healthy microbes long term to keep the balance of good and bad bacteria just right by continuing to provide prebiotic fibre (read more here). Some veterinary probiotics on the market do now contain prebiotics or prebiotic fibre, which I’d suggest as the best option if you or your client are not going to change the pet’s diet, but still want to improve and support gut health. Alternatively, use a veterinary (not human) probiotic such as FortiFlora or Protexin with a prebiotic fibre included/supplemented, and/or a change in diet that contains a good prebiotic fibre blend.
Too many treats
The most common cause of diarrhea that I have seen is an inconsistent, highly variable diet. By this I mean rapidly changing to new diets without transition, trying lots of new flavours/varieties/brands and introducing different treats suddenly. In many cases, stopping treats and returning to the pet’s usual diet with no other changes will see the diarrhea resolve. If it doesn’t, worsens, or there has been no recent change in diet, always seek veterinary attention.
So next time you come across a pet with an upset stomach, leave the chicken and rice behind and help nurse that patient back to health the right way. What do you find helpful when treating stomach upsets?