Much like in humans, chronic inflammation is a problem that can lead to health complications in our furry, four-legged counterparts. Although inflammatory immune responses are normal, chronic inflammation is not, and mitigating it starting when your pet is young may help them live a longer and more comfortable life.
There are numerous ways we as pet parents can help our pet’s bodies fight off unnecessary inflammation, from diet and supplements to regular exercise.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is a natural response from the immune system that helps heal injured tissues and fight off foreign invaders within the body. It can be triggered by many things, but it is most often a result of an injury or the presence of a harmful pathogen.
When the immune system detects a problem in the body, it releases chemicals and dispatches white blood cells to the area to repair damaged tissue or fight off bacteria, viruses and toxins. The result may include swelling, redness and heat in the affected body part.
Unfortunately, inflammation doesn’t only occur when there is a true threat to the body. In some cases, inflammation can persist in our pet’s bodies for much longer than necessary. In others, inflammation may be present for no reason at all. This is what is called chronic inflammation, and it can be very dangerous to both cats and dogs.
Risks associated with inflammation in pets
A heightened inflammatory response for extended periods of time is never a good thing for our pets. Persistent, needless inflammation can lead to attacks on your furry friend’s healthy tissues. Chronic inflammation has actually been linked to a wide range of health problems and diseases, including cancer.
Here are some of the biggest risks when it comes to chronic inflammation in pets:
- Digestive problems: Chronic inflammation occurring in the digestive tract—particularly in your pet’s intestines—may result in a host of gastrointestinal issues. This may cause your dog to experience vomiting, diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease, rapid weight loss and nutritional deficiencies.
- Heart disease: Persistent inflammation within the body can begin to affect your pet’s heart and blood vessels. Over time, this may put your pet at risk for heart disease.
- Arthritis: Inflammation can be a result of an autoimmune disorder that attacks your pet’s joints and causes them to wear down, resulting in arthritis. Inflamed joints can reduce your pet’s mobility and make movement very painful and difficult for them.
- Cognitive dysfunction: Chronic inflammation can not only affect the body, but also your pet’s brain! Inflammation may take its toll on your pet’s mind as they age, potentially leading to cognitive dysfunction and mental problems that can cause them significant distress.
How to reduce pet inflammation
In order to help your pet fight off a number of potential health problems, you should make a point to reduce your furry friend’s inflammation. Curbing inflammation does not have to be a direct response to noticeable inflammation—in fact, you may not be able to tell when your cat or dog is experiencing an internal inflammatory response at all!
Instead, take steps to keep your pet healthy and reduce inflammation throughout their entire life with these tips:
- Omega-3 fatty acids: One of the best ways to help minimize inflammation in pets is to provide them with omega-3 fatty acid supplements. These essential fatty acids are great at reducing inflammation and even have a host of other health benefits for your pet! Because pets tend to be given too many omega-6 fatty acids—another type of fat that promotes inflammation—providing omega-3 supplements can keep your pet’s body in balance.
- Healthy diet: Certain foods are known for increasing inflammation in pets, including processed carbohydrates and meats. Certain meats contain high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, while refined carbohydrates can lead to obesity and promote inflammatory responses, as well as disturb the bacterial balance in the gut. You don’t need to completely remove certain ingredients from your pet’s diet, but it’s important to find a healthy balance. However, if your pet has an allergy or sensitivity to its food, you should work to identify and eliminate the allergen to reduce inflammation in the gut. Consult your veterinarian before making changes to your furry friend’s food.
- Exercise: Exercise is another great way to help your pet keep inflammation at bay, but only when it is performed gradually between periods of rest! Routine, gentle exercise can reduce chronic inflammation, but exercise performed too often can lead to inflammation in the muscles and joints. It’s important to find a delicate balance to avoid pushing your pet too hard.
Over time, chronic inflammation can have harmful effects on your cat or dog. Fortunately, with extra attention given to your pet’s diet, exercise and lifestyle, you can help minimize inflammation and reduce its effects on your pet’s life.