A Guide to Inflammation in Pets

When we talk about inflammation, we generally see it as something bad and something we need to get rid of.  But like all things ours and our pet’s body does, it serves a purpose.  Despite this, there is a difference between acute and chronic inflammation.  So, let’s get to grips with the purpose of inflammation, what causes it and when it becomes problematic.  We’ll also take a look at some nutrition tips to help modulate this response.

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is part of the body’s defence mechanism. It is the process by which the immune system recognises and removes harmful and foreign stimuli and begins the healing process.

The immune system senses something is wrong and sends its soldier immune cells to tackle the issue, which is why the hallmark signs of inflammation; heat, redness, swelling and pain occur.

Inflammation can be either acute or chronic.

Acute Inflammation

Tissue damage due to trauma, microbial invasion, or noxious compounds can induce acute inflammation. It starts rapidly, becomes severe in a short time and symptoms may last for a few days, an example is bacterial infection.

Chronic Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is also referred to as slow, long-term inflammation lasting for prolonged periods of several months to years. Generally, the extent and effects of chronic inflammation vary with the cause of the injury and the ability of the body to repair and overcome the damage.

For the most part, acute inflammation serves a purpose, and the issue is resolved.  Chronic inflammation is what becomes the issue.

Chronic inflammation can be a result of the following:

  1. Failure of eliminating the agent causing an acute inflammation like a recurrent infection or exposure to an allergen.
  2. Exposure to a low level of a particular irritant or foreign material that cannot be eliminated by enzymatic breakdown or phagocytosis in the body.
  3. An autoimmune disorder in which the immune system recognizes the normal component of the body as a foreign antigen and attacks healthy tissue.
  4. A defect in the cells responsible for mediating inflammation leading to persistent or recurrent inflammation.
  5. Inflammatory and biochemical inducers resulting in oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction such as increased production of free radical molecules, advanced glycation end products (AGEs), uric acid (urate) crystals, oxidized lipoproteins, and homocysteine.

Factors that may increase the risk of chronic inflammation include:


Increasing age is associated with elevated levels of inflammatory markers – this could be due to mitochondrial dysfunction or free radical accumulation over time.


Fat tissue is often described as an endocrine organ.  It secretes multiple adipokines and inflammatory mediators.  There is increasing data showing that the adiposity correlates with levels of pro- inflammatory markers.

Diets high in saturated fats

This is increased further in those who are obese.

Low sex hormones

Data has indicated that testosterone and oestrogen can suppress the production of pro-inflammatory markers – so when there are low levels (in the case of neutered pets) inflammation can increase.

Findings Here


Physical and emotional stress is associated with inflammatory cytokine release – which is why the modulator of the stress response, cortisol is deemed anti-inflammatory.  However, prolonged stress can result in cortisol dysfunction.  It is thought that cortisol binding is downregulated, and it fails to function.   In humans, stress-induced inflammation has been linked to a range of chronic conditions like osteoporosis, myopathy, sciatica and more.

Findings Here

Poor sleep/recovery

Again, cortisol plays a role here.  There is a natural diurnal cortisol in dogs.  You will see a natural rise in cortisol in the morning, with it progressively dropping throughout the day.  Dogs are similar to humans in this respect.  If sleep is disrupted or our dogs are unable to follow their diurnal rhythms, cortisol levels can become dysfunctional.

Study after study have highlighted that poor sleep is associated with higher levels of inflammatory biomarkers.

Findings Here

The Importance of Sleep

Dietary sensitivities/allergens

What goes on in the gut doesn’t always stay in the gut and translocation can occur across the gut wall.  This means that particles end up in places they shouldn’t, calling the immune system to action.

7 steps to Optimal Gut Health in Pets

Signs of Chronic Inflammation:

  • Body pain
  • Anxiety/depression
  • Gastrointestinal issues like constipation, diarrhoea, and acid reflux
  • Unintended weight gain/loss
  • Frequent infections

It is crucial to understand the driver of chronic inflammation, and assessment from a qualified practitioner will be necessary here.  But in managing chronic inflammation there are some beneficial changes that can be made:

Top Tips:

  • limit intake of ultra-processed foods
  • ensure an appropriate body weight

Obesity in Pets

Part One

Part Two

– high intake of dietary fibre is associated with lower inflammatory markers

– increase intake of fruits and vegetables – blueberries, apples, brussels sprouts, and broccoli are all high in natural antioxidants and polyphenols which may help protect against inflammation.

Does My Dog Need Antioxidants?

– Curcumin – significant improvements are noted in inflammatory models in animals when administered turmeric.

– Omega-3s – increased intake of omega-3 is associated with lower levels of many inflammatory markers.

Essential Fats For My Dog’s Diet

– Micronutrients – magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin E, zinc and selenium levels are all associated with inflammatory markers.  They all exert inflammatory modulating effects in the body.

The Importance of Vitamin D for Cats and Dogs

Why Does My Dog Need Minerals?

Why Zinc is Important for Your Dog

Acute inflammation is necessary, and it is a process by which the body returns to homeostasis.  The issue is when inflammation becomes chronic, and we know there are several reasons why this may occur.  It’s essential to understand the contributing factors to chronic inflammation, but there are lifestyle changes that can help.

Check out our services if you’d like to see how we can help.

Thanks for reading,

MPN Team

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