We tend to talk frequently about digestive issues in dogs and cats, namely constipation and diarrhea. We're not obsessed with poo; we just understand how healthy it is to be regular. Digestive issues are the gate that leads to further complications later in life. Digestive concerns such as diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, and nausea are the front-line, primary signs that exhibit something is amiss. Dismiss these signs now and serious health complications are just around the corner.
Now, it is common knowledge among raw feeders that canned and dry food will cause digestive upsets, but what about the raw diet? A number of our readers ask why their dog or cat still experiences constipation/diarrhea even on a raw diet. We will address the topic of 'constipation and the raw diet' in this article and discuss 'diarrhea and the raw diet' in the next one.
Of course, this is not all-inclusive list and various illnesses/medications may lead to intestinal and digestive complications. The reasons we discuss here are primarily for healthy animals that are not on any medications and do not suffer from serious or chronic health conditions.
Causes for Constipation on the Raw Diet:
1. Anal Gland Impaction: Constipation may cause anal gland impaction (from improper emptying) and anal gland impaction may cause constipation (inflamed and filled sacs don't allow the anus to fully open). Some domesticated carnivores will require periodic anal sac expression at the veterinarian's office to prevent impaction and further complications. We wrote an article on anal gland impaction that you may want to read for further information. The raw diet will not cause anal gland clogging and animals predisposed to sac fluid thickening and improper gland function will suffer from impaction on any type of diet unless the issue is addressed directly.
What can you do: Proper supplementation and care.
Fiber Supplementation: Fiber will bulk up bowel movements and propel fecal matter down the intestines, causing anal gland emptying. Pumpkin puree is a great natural source of fiber, full of vitamins and minerals, and cats/dogs love its taste. You can make your own or purchase it from a grocery store.
Probiotics Supplementation: This is a great way to establish intestinal flora in the gut. Many animals eat junk or are forced to (especially recent rescues who eat trash leftovers on the streets) and need this. All cats and dogs need periodic probiotic supplementation. Every few months, do a week of daily probiotic supplementation to ensure that the intestines are supplied properly. For constipated carnivores, probiotics may need to be supplemented for a longer period of time than a week. Don't give probiotics with preservatives and fillers and don't give medications/supplements meant for human consumption to animals. The best two we've used are NWC Naturals' Total-Biotics Powder and Total-Zymes PLUS Wafers. These are blends of probiotics and activated enzymes. Another option is Ark Naturals' Gentle Digest, but it contains magnesium stearate, so this is a backup to the two NWC Naturals products.
Routinely visit the veterinarian with your feline/canine pal for proper anal gland expression.
2. Bone/Meat Ratio Imbalance: The Frankenprey diet guidelines state that 80% of the diet is raw meat, 10% is bone, 5% is liver, and 5% is a secreting organ. Too many organs in the diet will cause diarrhea; too much bone content in the diet will cause constipation. Organs are high in phosphorus and bones are high in calcium. These two minerals should never be in an imbalance. Make sure the diet doesn't have an overload of bone or an overload of organs/meat. Balance is key.
What can you do: Balance raw diet properly.
3. Dehydration: It is a common myth that cats do not require much water. Various body tissues are 75% water and all body fluids and mucous membranes require water. Kidneys need to be flushed daily to prevent mineral deposits, potential urine crystal and stone formation, and to keep the kidney filters (the nephrons) healthy. A canned food diet is high in preservatives, sodium, and dehydrating grain fillers. A dry food diet consists of only 10% water, so it doesn't actually provide water to the animal; it dehydrates the animal. Only a raw diet can supply proper moisture to cats and dogs. Most cats are not as big of water drinkers as dogs and act finicky if the bowl water is unclean, contains floating fur, etc. Keep the water bowl clean and change it daily. The best way to add water to any diet is by adding it to the food bowl. When feeding raw, add 1-2 tablespoons of water to each bowl for that meal. Add more if the cats can stand it---just don't make a mushy thing out of it. Too much water will dilute the flavor of the meal and cats need strong food odor to entice them. When water mixes in with the raw blood, it's a welcomed "gravy" treat for them. Don't let others tell you that cats and dogs don't need as much water as us. All mammals require water in great amounts for survival. Dehydration is the culprit behind heat strokes, electrolyte imbalance, urine/kidney crystal and stone formation, etc.
What can you do: Add water to meals and keep the water bowl clean and filled with fresh water daily.
4. Anxiety: Just as humans can succumb to anxiety and stress, animals can and do too. Loud noises, fireworks, loud music, thunderstorms, new people, new litter-mates, relocation, etc. can lead to constipation. Animals, just like people, need a private moment to themselves, in peace and quiet, to relax and use the "facilities". Positioning the litter box in a quiet, private area of the home, keeping loud music down, and introducing new people/companions gradually can go a long way.
What can you do: Proper supplementation and a calm environment.
Ark Naturals' Happy Traveler: A combination of chamomile, valerian root, L-tryptophan, and St. John's Wort is sure to calm down your pal. In fact, this product is highly recommended and gets positive reviews from buyers.
HomeoPet Line of Anti-Anxiety Homeopathic Drops: While I'm not a fan of HomeoPet using alcohol in its products, they seem to do the job. We have used the UTI Relief and the Digestive Upset remedies with great success.
Bach's Pet Rescue Remedy: This calming blend doesn't contain alcohol, so I like that. It uses flower essences to create a calming blend for animals. It works for people and animals alike. When purchasing this remedy, make sure you buy the Pet Rescue Remedy with the paw on the box front.
5. Meal Snacking: Ah. Who knows why some carnivores gobble food down and have a great appetite and others leisurely take a few bites, go play, come back, and repeat. These snackers can suffer from constipation. When a meal is eaten as a bulky mass, it comes out as a bulky mass. Perfect. Snacking on a meal and taking a few bites in a span of an hour or two revs up the digestive system, slows it down, and repeats. This is why leaving food out (usually canned and dry food feeders) for the entire day is such a bad and unhealthy habit.
What can you do: Isolation during feeding. Switching protein types. Feeding the animal in a calm, quiet area so attention is not diverted elsewhere.
6. Lack of Exercise and Physical Movement: An active body is healthy and functions well, so when animals play, hunt, move around, jump, etc. their body systems are working properly. Just as active people, active animals will have daily, routine bowel movements that are necessary for optimal, overall health.
What can you do: Provide daily exercise and activity. Proper weight management.