Understanding Chronic Inflammation in Dogs and Cats - The Trupanion Blog
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Understanding Chronic Inflammation in Dogs and Cats

The following guest post comes to us from Jennifer Febel. Jennifer works for Avivagen Animal Health as their Marketing and Communications associate. Prior to joining the Avivagen team, Jennifer spent 7 years working in and managing veterinary hospitals.  

Dog in HomeYou get a paper cut and within minutes you experience pain, redness and swelling.

Not very pleasant, but you can thank your immune system for mounting the proper response to keep your body safe from harmful bacteria.

Unpleasant as it might be, this physiological response is a critical part of the body’s immune process. Underneath that red, sore skin is a complex biological reaction that is aimed at keeping you safe and harmful pathogens out of your body.

When it comes to inflammation, our pet’s bodies are not much different from our own. The same telltale signs of inflammation seen in ourselves can also be seen in our furry companions.

Is your pet’s body sending out an S.O.S?

When the body detects harmful pathogens, the damaged or injured cells in the immediate area send out distress signals that set the inflammatory response into action.

Nearby cells also get involved, releasing a series of biochemical signals, known as cytokines, which radiate from the site of inflammation and form an important road map to allow immune cells (such as macrophages) to locate the site of injury.

Once on the scene these white blood cells go to work engulfing and destroying the harmful pathogens and eliminating the associated threats.

Do you know the difference between Acute and Chronic inflammation?

In acute inflammation, such as our paper cut, the immune system will mount an appropriate response, send out white blood cells and destroy any harmful microbes.

Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is the result of an immune system that has run amok and continues to send out distress signals even in the absence of any pathogens.

Chronic inflammation is a sign your pet’s immune system is out of control

In chronic inflammation there is a faulty distress signal causing the body to continue to release cytokines and the immune system to send out white blood cells unnecessarily.

In the absence of any actual pathogens, the white blood cells will start to attack healthy tissue, which then prompts the release of more cytokines. And the cycle continues, wreaking havoc on healthy cells and causing widespread damage to tissue.

Excess fat and environmental pollution may trigger chronic inflammation

An important potential trigger for chronic inflammation is excess weight.  In the past, fat was thought to be an inert tissue that didn’t have any specific biological significance other than to provide insulation and quick energy. New research suggests that fat plays a larger role than once believed.

In fact, fat is now considered to be an active part of the endocrine system and has direct influence over the release and regulation of hormones. It is for this reason that overweight pets (as well as humans) will develop insulin resistance.

Environmental pollutants are another potential common cause of chronic inflammation, constantly bombarding the body with harmful substances that may send the immune system into overdrive.

Chronic inflammation: the silent disease that might be hurting your pet from the inside out

When there is acute inflammation it is easy to spot: redness, swelling, heat and pain are all telltale signs that an acute inflammatory response is underway.

Identifying chronic inflammation, however, can be trickier as there are often no specific symptoms present.

In some cases, the chronic inflammation can cause specific diseases, such as arthritis and allergies; however, in many cases the symptoms of chronic inflammation can be too subtle to detect.

In fact, often the only way to detect chronic inflammation is using in vitro methods to detect the presence of certain proteins.

But while chronic inflammation might not be outwardly apparent, on a cellular level the damage can be severe.

Fighting the invisible killer by strengthening your pet’s immune system

Since chronic inflammation causes very few outward signs at first, how can we fight it?

The key, it seems, may lie in altering the balance of the immune system, including helping regulate the inflammatory response to prevent it from spiraling out of control.

Five ways to help ward off chronic inflammation and keep your pet happy and healthy:

1. Feed your pet a healthy diet that is balanced and appropriate for their age and lifestyle.  Beware of “All Life Stages” food which are formulated to meet the nutritional needs of puppies and kittens and can be too high in calories and certain minerals for adult or senior pets.

2. Keep your pet fit and active – daily exercise is the key

3. If you pet is overweight speak with your veterinarian and devise a weight loss program that is specific to your dog or cat

4. Consider giving you pet supplements that boost and support immune function.  There are many great products on the market that are designed specifically to keep your pet’s body functioning optimally.

5. Be sure to take your pet to their veterinarian for their annual physical checkups.  These appointments are not just about “getting their needles” but are an important part of keeping your pet healthy.

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