Sadly, at some point in our dog’s lives they may get poorly, or need an operation. Whilst the most nutritionally demanding phase post weaning, is growth, recovery also has its own set of nutrient demands.
So, let’s take a look at this in a little more detail.
Recovery generally takes the same form, no matter the trauma. If us or our dogs are exposed to an infection, our immune system springs to action to engulf and destroy the threat. The same occurs during trauma – in the case of a wound, immune cells rally to the damaged tissue to prevent any infection from taking hold and encourage growth factors to replace the damaged cells.
These immune cells need certain nutrients to do their jobs, and so when they are working overtime, they want to get paid for it!
But a similar mechanism occurs during work. Not only do we have the energy needs of work, but damage can occur to muscles; at a low level, they repair, and come back stronger next time (this is the premise of training). But again, they need materials to rebuild and repair.
We can think of the body like a bank account. It is always withdrawing through daily tasks. Providing we fuel it well; we remain in the black. During recovery and recuperation, it takes a little more, and if we don’t deposit enough, we end up in the red.
So, what do we need to include in the diet for a healthy recovery?
Let’s take a look.
Whilst carbohydrates are demonised in the dog world, they do posses a protein sparing effect. What this means is that if carbohydrates are utilised for energy, protein can be directed to what it does best – build and repair! In their cooked form, carbohydrates can be an easily digested source of energy for the recovering dog. Complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes are a great source of fibre, vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium and B vitamins.
Protein is of course top of the list for the recovering dog. Protein is from the Greek meaning “of prime importance” and it really is. The body is built from protein.
Once it is ingested, it makes its way through the digestive system and the liver reassembles amino acids into other structures to be used throughout the body.
- Antibody proteins – these bind to viruses and bacteria to protect the body,
- Enzyme proteins – enzymes carry out almost all of the chemical reactions that occur in the body. They also assist in the formation of new molecules or cells.
- Messenger proteins – these include hormones that transmit signals throughout the body, coordinating biological processes between cells, tissues and organs.
- Structural proteins – these provide structure and support for cells; they also allow the body to move.
- Transport/storage proteins – these proteins bind and carry atoms and small molecules within cells throughout the body.
Genes are what tell amino acids what structure they will be, and therefore what function they will have.
So, as you can see, when we’re asking the body to do a lot of these things, they need protein to do the job.
Most foods contain either animal or plant cells and will therefore naturally contain protein. But the processing of foods may change the amounts and proportions of some amino acids; for example the Maillard reaction and the associated browning that occurs when foods are baked reduces the available amino acid lysine.
The quality of the protein is also important and depends on the amino acids that are present. Proteins from animal sources have a higher biological value than proteins from plant sources. This is because the pattern of amino acids in animal cells is comparable. This difference has led to a concept of first-class and second-class proteins, for animal and plant foods, respectively.
For the canine, a fresh-food diet containing animal sources of protein will contain the range of amino acids that they need.
Fat is also a necessary macronutrient for the dog – they have an improved capacity to utilise fat as energy, but essential fatty acids also play a role in modulating the inflammatory response. Inflammation is a necessary evil in the body – it is part of the immune system, but it needs to be managed – like Goldilocks – we need just enough.
Essential Fatty Acids and Inflammation
In dogs, the body has a requirement for two distinct EFA families. The Omega-6 and Omega-3 series.
- Linoleic Acid (LA)
- Arachidonic Acid (AA)
- Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA)
- Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
Eicosanoids are products of the oxidation of the omega families; they are collectively known as prostaglandins, thromboxanes and leukotrienes.
Prostaglandins – these are a group of lipids made at sites of tissue damage or infection. They control inflammation, blood flow and the formation of blood clots.
Thromboxane is a substance made by platelets which causes blood clotting and constriction of blood vessels.
Leukotrienes are proinflammatory molecules; more commonly noticed for their role in allergy response. They are released when the body encounters an allergen or trigger; they cause tightening of airway muscles and the production of excess mucus and fluid.
The amount and type of eicosanoids synthesised, depends on the availability and type of fatty acid found in cell membranes.
Eicosanoids play an important role in the body, they modulate many processes including reproduction, blood pressure, haemostasis (the process to prevent and stop bleeding) and inflammation.
They can be synthesised from AA, GLA and EPA, however, those synthesised from AA are proinflammatory compared to those derived from GLA and EPA and it is believed that those derived from AA in high amounts can result in disease.
Tthe number of eicosanoids synthesised depends on the availability and type of fatty acid found in cell membranes. Human studies have demonstrated that the supplementation EPA significantly alters the ratio of EPA (omega-3) to AA (omega-6) in cell membranes which has been beneficial in inflammatory conditions.
In short, consumption of omega 3, replaces AA. The result is fewer AA derived eicosanoids and more EPA or GLA eicosanoids, and therefore managing the inflammatory response.
There are also many micronutrients that play a role in immune function and response:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
Whilst supplementation should only be attempted under the guidance of a qualified practitioner, offering a fresh-food diet to your dog will provide these nutrients in a more bioavailable form.
Include foods like:
- Leafy greens
- Bell peppers
- Oily fish
- Seafood – mussels
- Red meat
For the recovering dog, specific circumstance will dictate the most appropriate blend, but the following may be supportive in their healing journey.
Use a specific supplement for your dogs individual needs. This could be extra immune support, digestive support, calming support, or complete support for the older dog.