Saturday, July 11, 2009

Protecting your companion's health with antioxidants as key nutrients

I am sure you too have heard about antioxidants and how important they are not just for the health of humans but also for our companion animals. It is a fact that vets prescribe antioxidants as one of the most common nutritional supplements as preventative measurement or treatment for diseases. So what is the story behind them? Why do animals need them and what should you consider once you decide to provide them to your cat or dog via supplementation? Is it even necessary to supplement with antioxidants? Up front, my take on this is, if you provide a high quality food you may not have to supplement with anything as all nutrients required will be included in your food.

Oxidation and Free Radicals
A number of specific supplements to include vitamins and minerals help to reduce oxidation in the body. Oxidation is a chemical process that occurs within the cells as a result of metabolism, detoxification and energy production. After oxidation occurs certain free radicals or reactive oxygen species (ROS) are formed. Examples for such free radicals or ROS include among others nitric oxide, superoxide, lipid peroxide and hydrogen peroxide. One of the major sources of free radicals production is inflammation in the body. Another one is environmental toxins causing cell damage.

Free radicals are toxic and damaging to cells and surrounding tissues. They damage cells by inflicting damage to membrane receptor proteins, inactivating proteins required for energy production by the body and inactivating enzymes required for regular cellular metabolism.
As a result a number of medical conditions can be linked to such cell damage caused by free radicals. They include autoimmune diseases, diabetic cataracts, inflammatory bowel disease, nutrient deficiencies, atherosclerosis, premature aging, cancer and viral infections.
The body removes free radicals by producing additional substances called antioxidants. Their purpose is to fight off the oxidizing chemicals. They neutralize oxidants and prevent or at least limit cell damage.

The body produces some antioxidants on a regular basis. Others need to be provided through the diet or supplements. Following are a few examples of naturally occurring antioxidants:
Superoxide dismutase: Breaks down the superoxide free radical into hydrogen peroxide.
Catalase: After the superoxide dismutase has broken down the superoxide, it is then, with help of the antioxidant catalase broken down into water.

Peroxidases: Break down various peroxides
Glutathione: Serving as a general detoxifying agent and regulating the internal environment of cells. Research has established a link between low levels of glutathione and immune deficiency syndrome as well as increased side effects from chemotherapy.
Coenzyme Q10: Powerful fat soluble antioxidant carrying electrons in the formation of cellular energy. Supplementing a diet with additional Q10 has proven to be beneficial for companion animals suffering from cancer, heart disease and gum disease.
Alpha lipoic acid: Scavenging a number of free radicals and helping to regenerate others including ascorbic acid, glutathione and Vitamin E.
Melatonin: Besides regulating the body’s biorhythms and sleep patterns, melatonin is also reducing oxidative damage occurring with aging. Especially this applies to the central nervous system and in cases of cognitive disorder or Alzheimer’s disease.
Older or animals with specific health conditions may show access oxidation, meaning the body’s regular antioxidant abilities are overwhelmed. This is a typical case where supplementation with antioxidants may be helpful. Providing additional antioxidants may enable the body to neutralize harmful by-products of cellular oxidation. Supplementation may include vitamins (A, C, E), minerals (selenium, manganese, zinc) and nutritional supplementation to include superoxide dismutase, glutathione, coenzyme Q10, gingko, biloba, bilberry, grape seed extract, milk thistle and various bio-flavenoids (proanthocyanidins)
Bioflavonoids, or proanthocyanidins are a class of plant metabolites they play an important role in maintaining health, vitality and well being. They have antioxidant effects against fat (lipid) peroxidation and also inhibit the enzyme cycloxygenase (which by the way is the same enzyme inhibited by Aspirin and other non steroidal medications). Cyclooxygenase converts arachidonic acid into leukotrienes and prostaglandins, i.e. chemicals that contribute to inflammation and allergic reactions. Bioflavonoids also decrease histamine release from cells by inhibiting a number of other enzymes.

Additionally, antioxidant supplementation is recommended for various inflammatory conditions to include heart, kidney and liver diseases, cancer, tooth and gum disease, allergies, asthma and arthritis.

Antioxidants as supplements:
If you want to supplement your pet’s diet with antioxidants, it is recommended to keep the following in mind:
Antioxidants, especially vitamins and minerals are most beneficial if they are used in synergy with the food rather than as a single dose application.
Make sure you use the correct dose. As example, vitamin C and E can act as pro-oxidants under certain conditions or vitamin A can even be toxic if provided at levels too high.
As always, consult your vet about supplementing with antioxidants. This is especially important if your animal is being treated for specific health conditions and may already be provided with antioxidants via other means of dietary supplementation.
Make sure you use the correct form of the supplement. As an example, vitamin E and alpha tocopherol, while often used interchangeably, are not the same. As a matter of fact, alpha tocopherol is a part of vitamin E. Vitamin E is made up of several other tocopherols and tocotrienols. Ideally you want to supplement with a natural vitamin E product containing mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols and in that case are better off than using an isolated alpha tocopherol supplement.
Use high quality products made for animals. Although there are official regulations governing supplement quality and safety, these rules are often not enforced thereby leaving many products out there, which may not be safe or effective.
As with food, “natural” does not always mean “safe”.

The “Golden rule”: Choose antioxidant supplements properly and use them along with a natural diet and other natural supplements.

Optionally, keep in mind that herbs and homeopathic remedies can assist in treating many diseases and maintaining good health in you companion.

Going against the vet: Cancerous dog 5 years later still going strong

Today’s pet corner in the Palm Beach Post caught my attention. This reader wrote to Dr. Michael Fox, the Post’s column vet:
“In March 2004 we adopted a 50 lbs mixed breed dog. Three months later our vet removed a tumor from under her tongue. When the lab report came back, it said that the she (the dog) had a malignant melanoma with “high potential for local recurrence as well as metastasis.” We were told she would likely not survive a year.
A local animal hospital recommended that they remove her lower jar along with most of her teeth, a move that they said might give her an additional nine months.
When I expressed horror at causing such stress to an animal for such short term results, they told me they routinely perform at least one of these operations a week.
Needless to say, I turned them down and our dog has been going strong for the past 5 years.
Still I wonder whether such procedures aren’t more cruel than helpful and whether they actually aimed at making a hefty profit for animal hospitals at the expense of well meaning owners.”
Dr. Fox responded as follows:
“Certain cancers are far more common in dogs than they are in humans.
Vaccines may play a significant role in immune system dysfunction, resulting in cancer.
There are many other cancer causing chemicals in our food, water and home environments, which are contaminating cats and dogs at much higher levels than people.
Potent antioxidants that neutralize free radicals and help boost the immune system, supplements like zinc, magnesium, Vitamins C and D, selenium retinoic acid (from Vitamin A), fucoidan (from brown seaweed) and herbal teas are some of the low cost nutraceuticals and herbs fro treating cancer and cancer prevention.
I prefer this approach to your dog’s type of cancer rather than radical surgery. Good for you and your dog for refusing the surgery.”
This article just happened to show up in the paper while I am contemplating to publish a number of comments on cancer in the nearest future.
For this particular case, I join the Dr. in his applause. Since he did not really get into the last question the dog owner had, I guess for political reasons, here is how I see it: Of course it has a lot, if not all to do with the hospital generating revenue. Whom are we kidding here? The profit greed doesn’t stop in front of the hospital doors. I don’t believe anymore that behind the hospital doors are all Saints having nothing but our very best on their mind. I believe all they have on their minds is our wallets, or better yet, how they can assist us in emptying it. This applies to both, people and animal hospitals. Just a couple days ago I was watching the news on BBC and a discussion they had on the health care reform our President is pushing for. They interviewed a government rep and she was quite candid: One of the major problems with the hospital bills is that many doctors are owners of hospitals and equipment. And if they don’t, they get all kinds of incentives to make sure these hospitals stay busy and profitable. This does not just apply to the hospitals, it applies to the pharmacy industry as well. That is just the factual truth in many, I am not saying all cases.
The sad thing is, we all are aware of it, from Joe Doe, the dog owner next door to the dog owner in the White House, our President (and not just our current one, every past one as well). And what happens? Absolutely, positively nothing. Whether it is people or our companion animals, let’s just keep messing them up even more so they keep generating revenues for the health care industry. Who cares about the actual health of a living creature? The problem is that the majority of health care professionals in many cases don’t consider it anymore as their responsibility to make sure they make us or our animals healthy, they have been programmed to make sure they make us come back for more. You can’t blame them either, let me repeat myself: That’s what they are being trained or programmed for.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Mosquito season in full swing: Heartworm risk, not just limited to dogs

This year, it appears as if the mosquitos are finally taking over. At least down here in Florida, I thought initially. But with record sales of pesticides at the on-line store it looks like the problem is all over the country. Related to this, the American Heartworm Society continues to remind pet owners of heartworm risk. Here is an example of their official campaign letter:

“As temperatures grow warmer, the
American Heartworm Society (AHS) wants every pet owner to be prepared for mosquito season and the heartworm disease risk it carries for pets.
Although the risk of heartworm disease is heightened in warmer months when the mosquito population increases, the AHS recommends year round prevention for both dogs and cats. By giving heartworm prevention every month, forgetful pet owners will have their pets protected when they need it most.

"Surveys show only about 75 percent of pets are given the full dosage recommended by a veterinarian," Sheldon Rubin, DVM, AHS president and Chicago practitioner, said. "With year-round prevention, if doses are accidentally skipped, the drug is still effective."
Recently, researchers discovered that respiratory signs in cats, which are often diagnosed as feline asthma or allergic bronchitis, may actually be caused by the presence of heartworms in either larval or adult stages. The acronym "HARD" is the term for this clinical presentation and stands for Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease. Heartworm preventive medications are the only option for cats, as there is no approved treatment for feline heartworm disease.
Heartworm disease treatments are available for dogs, but treating for heartworms is much more costly and dangerous to the animal than simply preventing it. Yet another reason to use year-round prevention is that many heartworm preventives also have activity against other intestinal and common parasites, such as roundworms and fleas.
Options for preventing heartworm infection in both dogs and cats include daily and monthly tablets and chewables as well as monthly topicals. These methods are effective, easy to administer and inexpensive. These medications interrupt heartworm development before larvae and adult worms reach the lungs and cause disease. When administered properly and on a timely schedule, heartworm infection can be prevented.
The American Heartworm Societyis the global resource for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of heartworm disease. It was formed during the Heartworm Symposium of 1974. The American Heartworm Society stimulates and financially supports research, which furthers knowledge and understanding of the disease. Its headquarters are located in Batavia, Ill.”

Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal condition caused by parasitic worms living in the arteries of the lungs and occasionally in the right side of the heart of dogs, cats and other species of mammals, including wolves, foxes, ferrets, sea lions and (in rare instances) humans. Heartworms are classified as nematodes (roundworms) and are filarids, one of many species of roundworms. Dogs and cats of any age or breed are susceptible to infection.
The American Heartworm Society together with the American Association of Feline Practitioners and Pfizer Animal Health has made it one of its priorities to educate and alert cat owners of this serious problem.

“Countless cat owners throughout the United States are misinformed about feline heartworm disease, posing serious risk to their feline friends. Cats may be misdiagnosed with feline asthma, or test negative for heartworm antigens and antibodies but still have heartworms in their systems. Now, due to new research, veterinarians recognize this infectious agent is doing a whole lot more damage than previously thought.

The KNOW Heartworms campaign is a public awareness campaign sponsored by the American Heartworm Society (AHS) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), and funded by an educational grant from Pfizer Animal Health. The program stresses the importance of understanding the five myths and misunderstandings about feline heartworm disease:

1. Dogs vs. Cats: Heartworm is not just a canine disease, and it affects cats differently than dogs.
2. Indoor vs. Outdoor Cats: Heartworm disease is mosquito-borne and evidence has shown indoor cats are just as susceptible to it as outdoor animals. In a North Carolina study, 28 percent of the cats diagnosed with heartworm were inside-only cats.
3. It's a Heart Disease: “Heartworm disease” is a misnomer; it mostly affects the lungs, not just the heart. The disease frequently is mistaken for asthma and other respiratory diseases.
4. Adult Heartworms vs. Larvae: New research shows that heartworm larvae at all stages, not just adult worms, can cause serious health problems.
5. Diagnosis: Accurate diagnosis can be difficult, since negative antigen and antibody tests don’t automatically rule out the presence of heartworms.

Feline Heartworm Disease
Heartworm infection takes place when a mosquito carrying infective, microscopic-size heartworm larvae, bites into a cat for a blood meal. The larvae then actively migrate into the new host and develop further as they travel through the subcutaneous tissue in the cat's body. At about 3-4 months, they usually settle into the arteries and blood vessels of the lungs, where they continue to develop to sexual mature male and female worms (Dirofilaria immitis). The average time from when the microscopic parasites enter the host until the females develop into mature worms and produce offspring is approximately eight months and is referred to as the prepatent period. This is about one month longer than in dogs.

As adults, the heartworms can mate and the females can release offspring called microfilariae (pronounced: micro-fil-ar-ee-a) into the blood stream. The cycle begins again when a mosquito takes a blood meal from the newly infected cat and draws the microfilariae into its system.

Cats are resistant hosts of heartworms, and microfilaremia, (the presence of heartworm offspring in the blood of the host animal), is uncommon (usually less than 20% of cases). When present, microfilaremia is inconsistent and short-lived. Some cats appear to be able to rid themselves of the infection spontaneously. It is assumed that such cats may have developed a strong immune response to the heartworms, which causes the death of the parasites. These heartworms may die as a result of an inability to thrive within a given cat's body.

Cats typically have fewer and smaller worms than dogs and the life span of worms is shorter, approximately two to three years, compared to five to seven years in dogs. In experimental infections of heartworm larvae in cats, the percentage of worms developing into the adult stage is low (0% to 25%) compared to dogs (40% to 90%).

However, heartworms do not need to develop into adults to cause significant pulmonary damage in cats, and consequences can still be very serious when cats are infected by mosquitoes carrying heartworm larvae. Newly arriving worms and the subsequent death of most of these same worms can result in acute pulmonary inflammation response and lung injury. This initial phase is often misdiagnosed as asthma or allergic bronchitis but in actuality is part of a syndrome now known as Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (HARD).

Which Cats Are Susceptible?
Although outdoor cats are at greater risk of being infected, a relatively high percentage of cats considered by their owners to be totally indoor pets also become infected. Overall, the distribution of feline heartworm infection in the United States seems to parallel that of dogs but with lower total numbers. There is no predictable age in cats for becoming infected with heartworms. Cases have been reported in cats from nine months to 17 years of age, the average being four years at diagnosis or death.

Clinical Signs
The clinical signs of heartworm infection in cats can be very non-specific, and may mimic many other feline diseases. Diagnosis by clinical signs alone is nearly impossible, but a cat may exhibit generic signs of illness, such as vomiting intermittently (food or foam, usually unrelated to eating), lethargy, anorexia (lack of appetite), weight loss, coughing, asthma-like signs (intermittent difficulty in breathing, panting, open-mouthed breathing), gagging, difficulty breathing (dyspnea) or rapid breathing (tachypnea).
Signs associated the first stage of heartworm disease, when the heartworms enter a blood vessel and are carried to the pulmonary arteries, are often misdiagnosed as asthma or allergic bronchitis, when in fact they are actually due to a syndrome newly defined as Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (HARD).
Some cats exhibit acute clinical signs, with disease often related to the organs where the adult heartworms are thriving. Occasionally such infected cats die quickly without allowing sufficient time to make a diagnosis or offer appropriate treatment.

Heartworm infection in cats is harder to diagnose than it is in dogs and it is easy to overlook. Diagnostic tests have limitations, so negative test results do not necessarily rule out an infection. Antigen tests, for example, only detect adult female or dying male worms. Immature or male-only worm infections are rarely detected.
The diagnostic plan for heartworm disease in cats can include, but is not limited to, a physical examination, radiography (X-ray), echocardiography (ultrasound readings of the heart), angiocardiography (X-ray of the heart with injected contrast fluid), CBC (complete blood count), serologic testing (antigen and antibody study), microfilaria testing, and necropsy (after death).

Physical Examination
The results of a physical examination may appear to be perfectly normal in cats infected with heartworms. Harsh lung sounds are a frequent abnormal finding and may be present in cats without any respiratory signs. The presence of a heart murmur or abnormal rhythm is uncommon. Only rarely, have there been reports of ascites (fluid in the abdomen), exercise intolerance and signs of right-sided heart failure. In cats, the primary response to the presence of heartworms occurs in the lungs.

Currently, there are no products in the United States approved for the treatment of feline heartworm infection. Most cats with heartworm infection that are not demonstrating clinical signs are allowed the time for a spontaneous cure to occur. If there is evidence of disease in the lungs and their blood vessels consistent with feline heartworm infection, such cases (possibly in the early stage) can be monitored with chest X-rays every six to twelve months as needed. Supportive therapy with small, gradually decreasing doses of prednisone (a cortisone-like drug) is recommended for cats with radiographic or clinical evidence of lung disease.
Cats with severe manifestations of feline heartworm disease may require additional supportive therapy, and may benefit from intravenous fluids, oxygen therapy, cage confinement, bronchodilators (which expand the air passages of the lungs), cardiovascular drugs, antibiotics and nursing care.

Heartworm extraction with various surgical devices has been performed in cats in which the worms can be visualized with ultrasound at the tricuspid valve or in the right atrium (of the heart), and especially in those rare instances of caval syndrome (obstruction of blood flow affecting the heart and the liver.

It is generally recommended that all cats be tested for both antigens and antibodies (serology) prior to administration of a heartworm preventive. There are four heartworm disease preventive products approved by the FDA for use in cats, (see your vet for details). All of these products are considered effective in preventing the development of adult heartworms when administered properly on a monthly basis relative to the period of transmission.”

Covering the same topic, however with emphasis on latest scientific research,
Veterinary Practice News recently published an article on feline heartworms. In it, Gary D. Norsworthy, DVM, Dipl. ABVP (feline) who owns and practices at Alamo Feline Health Center in San Antonio, Texas and also frequently speaks about cat health at veterinary conferences and seminar, reports of a study performed at Auburn University which has shown a new side of feline heartworms. This study, performed with financial backing from Pfizer Animal Health in NY, came to the following conclusions:
“Life CycleWhen a mosquito bites a cat, larvae (L3 stage) are deposited on the cat’s skin. Within minutes they enter the subcutaneous tissue through the bite wound. The L3 molt within a couple of days to fourth stage larvae.

L4 migrate subcutaneously in fat and muscle for two months, then molt to become a juvenile or immature adult worm. Immature adult worms enter circulation via a peripheral vein. This occurs about 60 days after infection. An antibody response begins about this time; some cats test antibody positive.

Within the next 15 to 30 days, 75 to 90 days post infection, the immature adult worms arrive in the pulmonary arteries. The vast majority of the juvenile worms die, are carried by blood flow into the lungs and cause an intense inflammatory response affecting the pulmonary arterioles, bronchi and alveoli.

It is estimated that about 3 to 4 percent of the immature adults become 6 inch long adult heartworms and live for two to four years before dying spontaneously.
Heartworm associated respiratory disease, or HARD, is unique to the cat. It is defined as vascular, airway and interstitial lung lesions caused by the death of immature adult worms, and the inflammation may last up to eight months.
The study revealed: If 100 infective larvae are administered to a dog, 75 will mature to adults. If 100 infective larvae are administered to a cat, many will become immature adult heartworms; however, only three to four will mature to adults. A very large number of immature adult worms develop but never make it to adulthood due to the effects of the cat’s immune system. Severe lung lesions are present but:
No adult worms will be present on necropsy. The immature adult worms disintegrate within the lung tissue and are very difficult to find on necropsy. Antibodies disappear very quickly. Antigen tests will be negative because there have been no adults. Radiographically, these cats may look similar to cats with allergic bronchitis. Interstitial or bronchial patterns may be present, and the caudal pulmonary arteries may be enlarged and blunted. In some cats, apparent enlargement may be due to periarterial inflammation. Repeated exposure to immature adult heartworms results in severe interstitial and bronchial disease.”

It is no wonder that this disease has eluded detection until we learned of the results of this study.

Let’s recap, in summary the 3 important points are:
1. By about three months post infection, 2 inch long immature adult heartworms are in the pulmonary arteries. .
2. Most of these are killed by the immune system, never becoming adult heartworms. They are carried by blood flow into the lungs..
3. About 3 percent to 4 percent of the immature adults become 6 inch long adult heartworms.

Dr. Norsworthy continues:
“For every 10 heartworm-infected dogs in a given locale, one cat has adult heartworms. However, it is likely that only about 10 percent of heartworm-infected cats have an adult worm. That makes the exposure and infection rates of dogs and cats about the same.

Heartworm Testing
Antibody Tests: Antibodies are produced by the presence of immature adults, and they begin to wane as the immature adult worms die. If the immature adult worms mature to adults, the adult worms suppress the immune system, causing antibodies to dissipate. Most antibody tests turn negative about four months later as long as new infections do not occur. A positive antibody test means one or more of these possibilities: A current infection with late L4.; a current infection with immature adult heartworms, a current infection with adult heartworms; a previous heartworm infection. Antibody persists about four months.

Many cats with HARD are antibody positive and antigen negative. However, many test negative on both antigen and antibody tests, making differentiation from cats with allergic bronchitis virtually impossible.

Antigen Tests: A positive antigen test means (one or both): One or more adult female heartworms and/or one or more dying adult female heartworms.

Heartworm tests are inclusionary, not exclusionary. If they are positive, they are meaningful. If they are negative, they are not meaningful.

Antigen or antibody testing is not necessary to begin heartworm prevention because there is not a reaction between current heartworm prevention products and any stage of the heartworm.

Microfilaria Testing: In contrast to dogs, very few microfilaria circulate in cats. This test has very poor sensitivity in cats. This also explains why cats are very poor reservoirs for heartworm infections to other cats or to dogs.

Positive antibody test: This cat is or has been infected with heartworms that progressed at least to the immature adult stage. It is clearly at risk of future infections
Positive antigen test: This cat is infected with adult heartworms. It is clearly at risk of future infections.

Microfilaria testing: This test has a very poor diagnostic yield.
Most cats with HARD have mild coughing, but a severe respiratory crisis can occur when a large number of immature adult heartworms die at once. These cats should be placed on a heartworm preventive product to prevent new infections.”

I know, it all sounds very scientific and can be very confusing. However, this is a topic I really want every cat owner to become familiar with. You need to know about this, heartworm is a serious problem you don’t want your pet to suffer from and have to go through the lengthy, painful treatment. What kind of surprises me is that how seemingly little we know or knew about this problem related to felines. The best site to find more details and kind of easy to understand info including graphical illustrations is the one of the
American Heartworm Society. Besides background info, the site features a lot of downloadable materials (for free) and even features an educational section “Just for Kids”.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Beware of Internet recommendations: Holistic or conventional?

I just couldn’t make up my mind on what I am going to talk about today and almost decided to take a break for the day and come back tomorrow. And while I was getting ready to log off the Internet I came across a site catching my interest. You know that I am against product and competitor bashing, so I am not going to disclose where I found it. So much only: The site is not selling any other products than animal pictures and some e-cards. I guess the idea behind it is being kind of a portal for pet owners with info on pet related topics. They have a forum, which is made looking like it has hundreds of participants (unlike this blog). And it appears as if their main objective is soliciting advertising. Though it looks like they are not too successful in doing so, I haven’t located any ads on the few pages I was looking at. What really sparked my interest was the one page they have about holistic pet nutrition. Now, just for fun, see what these guys have to say, and I quote:

“Holistic Dog Nutrition
Cancer, foreign antigens, allergies, skin disorders, and other problems result from holistic dog nutrition. Holistic dog nutrition is a topic of consternation for some and wonderful to others. No one can really agree, but there are definite rights and wrongs to a dog’s nutrition schedule. Each dog requires a certain amount of amino acids for their body type, size, and genetic code. Meats have plentiful doses of amino acids that build proteins for skin, eyes, bones, neural development, and muscular maintenance. Plant food is not recommended because dogs naturally eat this to throw up. They use it as an emetic. Therefore, dogs need a lot of meat and no vegetable foodstuffs. Holistic dog nutrition also deals with nutrient supplements like treats laced with vitamins and minerals. However, these aren’t recommended because synthetic, inorganic minerals and vitamins can become instigators to cancer. The best diet is a raw or cooked meat diet. Look at hyenas, wolves, and other wild dogs for an answer to why your dog doesn’t have a lot of energy, motivation, or enterprise. Follow the natural rules of the wild with your dog’s daily diet.
You may be thinking that by adding vitamins and exercising your dog more is enough to keep them healthy. But it isn’t enough. You may have to change your dog food as well. In order to get a full evaluation of your dogs’ health, you will need to ask the vet for a full blood work up. When the results come in and you want to switch to holistic remedies, talk to your vet about holistic dog nutrition.
Your vet may not think that your dog needs the holistic dog food but you may. Do yourself a favor and listen to what your vet has to say. Holistic dog nutrition is a new trend that people are talking about, listen to what the vet says. Some dogs because of certain healthy issues or even their weight should not be on anything but regular or special dog food. Your dog’s health should be the most important thing and not what the greatest thing in the holistic field is.
Your dog may benefit from holistic dog nutrition, but if you make the switch and change the diet, they may not get to the food right away and they may get sick from you changing their diet so fast. Try to incorporate the holistic information that you have learned and see how your dog takes to it. In the meantime, read as much as you can about holistic dog nutrition before you radically change your dog’s diet.” –end of quote

So what exactly are we supposed to do? Listen to our vets only? Granted, I always recommend to consult your vet. But that does not mean that I support the idea of that you listen to the vet exclusively. Especially not since in these days our pets are suffering from diseases and illness in pandemic dimensions. Pandemic is what I call it when over 60% of all companion animals are having health problems. That just can’t be right. And the holistic movement, if you want to call it this way, is trying to change that. While the veterinarian community obviously does not show too much interest in such a change, for obvious reasons: The way it is now is much more lucrative. Therefore, to me, the comment above does not make any sense whatsoever. Contrary, I’d say it is a very good example of what I have been warning of on this blog before: Don’t take everything you read for granted.

For the site itself, there is hope though. On another page, about dog food, they say:

“The quality of dog food varies greatly. A conscientious owner should use common sense and research to find the better products. A good start would be to select a dog food with a meaty protein source and no by-products; it shouldn't contain corn or wheat. Avoid products listing grain as the first ingredient, and avoid products that use meat by-products like bones, feet, and intestines, chemical preservatives like BHA and BHT and difficult-to-digest grains like corn, wheat, gluten and soy. These grains are sometimes listed as a protein source in place of meat. If you have to feed a kibble, choose one of the holistic brands that use human-grade ingredients.
Many health problems, like allergies that cause itchy skin, are simply caused by a poor diet and improper allocations of the wrong kinds of food. It is recommended that you switch brands, and start making note of the ingredients until you notice an improvement. Many holistic dog food brands offer hypoallergenic formulas with recommended ingredients such as duck, venison, and rabbit that are easily digested.
The dog food you choose to feed your pet should meet the nutritional needs, and it will make a difference in both you and your pet's happiness, determining how often you visit a vet. Purchase only high-quality dog food types suitable for your dogs.”

I guess it is not quite as hopeless as I thought, let’s just wait until they make up their mind.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

In Dollars and Cents: Premium pet food making sense?

This phone call received earlier today reflects a customer’s point of view on if it makes sense to pay the (high???) price for a good quality, healthy and natural dog food:

“When looking at what it costs to feed your dog, it's important to understand that not all dog foods are created equal. Quality kibble can make your dog healthier and probably doesn't cost as much as some might think.

In the 1970s when I adopted my first puppy, I knew very little about dogs and dog food. I just purchased an inexpensive brand from the grocery store while shopping for my own food. I thought buying special flavors in appetizing packages equated being good to my dog.

Wrong. My first dog, a finicky eater, was excessively thin in body and coat, not good for an Afghan Hound. She also had digestive problems.

With my second dog I decided to try a different kibble. The one I chose was a bit better and cost a little more, but I was still clueless about what constituted a healthy product. This dog had ear infections, dry itchy skin and allergies her entire life. She was the only Afghan I knew who couldn’t run without tiring easily.

I had heard from some of my friends how expensive the premium dog foods were compared to the grocery store dog foods I was buying and was reluctant to spend what seemed like more money for the same number of pounds of dog food.

So I kept feeding the same kibble to the next four dogs my husband and I adopted. Every few weeks, one of the dogs was at the veterinarian’s for flaky skin, minor skin cysts, dirty ears, heavy shedding, mild respiratory infections or low energy. All the dogs had thin, dull coats and were generally lackluster. Despite my personal inclination to healthy, balanced eating, I just assumed the dogs’ food was nutritionally sound enough, and never really made the connection. Even though these conditions can have many different causes, I eventually decided that trying better foods was the easiest solution.

Before making the switch to better food, we were told repeatedly at dog shows that our Elkhound was “out of coat.” We kept waiting for him to grow the full adult coat as he aged. Extra portions, vitamins, oils, herbs, and unusual supplements added to his inexpensive food did not make that happen.

Finally another handler asked what we fed, and suggested trying a premium food. I started researching ingredients, pet food standards and labeling practices. I realized that if you compared a premium dog food pound for pound to things we all buy in the grocery store, it's really not that expensive. Here's an example. At Walgreens a 14 ounce box of Cheerios costs $4.50, so 30 pounds of Cheerios would be about $150! Cheerios is mostly grains, corn starch and sugar. A 30 pound bag of super-premium pet food costs about starting at $40 where I live so it costs just a little more than a dollar a pound. Even if I go to my vet and buy it from him, he charges a whopping $75 for the same bag, it is still only about half of what the Cheerios cost. Over the Internet I get the same bag starting at about $35, while I don’t have to pay the sales tax I have to add shipping which is easily $15. Buying on the net has the benefit of me not having to run to the store, which translates for me into time and gas savings, quite considerable for me as my pet food retailer is 20 miles away from where I live and I still have one of these gas guzzlers.
Regardless of which route I take, either way only makes sense. A typical dog eats less than a pound a day, so feeding a premium food cost at about maximum $2.50/lbs/day way less than feeding Cheerios. This does not consider the fact that I now can pretty much forget about buying vitamins, oils, herbs, and unusual supplements and save a lot of money in veterinarian bills.

After I figured all this out for myself, I picked a premium dog food to try. It was affordable, and it also finally improved my Elkhound's fur! At the shows, we received compliments on how great our dog’s coat looked, and were asked what food we fed. My husband’s reply: “Premium dog food. It’ll grow hair on a bowling ball.”

Diet is everything; it is the foundation for good health.

In this brutal economy, it’s necessary to save money. But cutting corners on pet food won’t net any savings. That’s because less expensive products use lower quality ingredients. Pennies saved on kibble can turn into big bucks spent at the vet’s.

“Premium” in dog food means (often, but not always) a higher standard in nutrition and quality of ingredients. Pound for pound, the price of premium food is higher. But each serving contains more nutrients that are more nutritionally available than in a cheaper food, making premium kibble the better buy. With more nutrients in every bite, dogs do not need to eat as much premium food as they would a brand containing fillers and by-products.
Although no single dog food is right for every dog, premium foods make a positive difference. Remember, you get what you pay for: high quality food can equal better health.”

After she was done telling me this I was wondering who was the sales person here, her or me?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Why feeding a Raw Diet?

Jeff Baker, Founder, President and CEO of Canine Caviar Pet Foods is providing his answer to that question:

“In the last few years, there’s been a lot of interest in feeding raw meat diets to our pets. With the introduction of these new diets comes a lot of questions and confusion. Why should I feed my pet a raw meat diet? Is it safe? What makes raw meat better than cooked kibble? Raw meat diets are recommended for the following reasons:

  • Nutrition – all nutrients remain intact. Cooking breaks down nutrients
  • Digestibility – raw meat help eliminate digestive upsets
  • Allergies – proper nutrition helps alleviate allergic reactions
  • Weight Control – proper digestibility helps control obesity

The most important thing to remember when feeding your pet is that they are almost identical to their wild ancestors. "A wild wolf is genetically little more distant from the domesticated dog than a wild mustang is to a quarter horse. In actuality, a poodle, like any purebred dog, already has innumerable wolf genes since they share a close common ancestry. " Dr. Michael W. Fox, D.V.M., Ph.D., D.Sc., Vice President, Bioethics, Humane Society of the United States. Affidavit. If we want to feed our pets naturally, we need to mimic what would occur in nature.Wild dogs and cats such as wolves, coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions eat raw meat. Their digestive systems are perfectly suited for that purpose. Domestic dogs and cats possess the same digestive system. In fact, cooking meat makes it harder to digest. Raw meat also contains a high level of natural bacteria that helps the digestion process. These bacteria are called probiotics. Chronic digestive upsets can be associated with the pet’s inability to break down cooked meats and the lack of viable probiotic bacteria. When we provide meat in its natural form for our pets, their bodies are able to get all of the nutrients necessary for better health. That’s why allergies disappear, along with obesity, lethargy and a significant amount of waste. Since the meat is easier to digest, your pet’s body will use more. Therefore, there’s less waste to clean up. In addition to raw meat, wild dogs have a carbohydrate requirement. Dogs are classified as carnivores since they hunt for meat in the wild. However, wild dogs do consume vegetables, fruits and beneficial grains. When a dog consumes a wild animal, such as a rabbit, it also eats the rabbit’s stomach and contents. These stomach contents have been predigested by the rabbit and provide the perfect carbohydrate balance for the dog. It is extremely important that we duplicate this need in our domestic pets. Corn, wheat and soy do not provide the proper carbohydrate balance for dogs. These poor grains contribute to hot spots, itching, scratching, shedding, digestive upsets, and many other common problems. Beneficial grains, such as Pearl Millet, should be used to provide the proper nutritional balance for domestic dogs. Pearl Millet helps settle upset stomach issues, lowers the glycemic index, and provides an unparalleled energy supply for your pet. Its very high in protein and amino acids. It is also completely resistant to Aflatoxins which are common cancer causing fungi found in problematic corn.

Why Doesn’t Everyone Feed Raw Meat?
Most raw meat diets are available in frozen form. Frozen diets require thawing, special handling, freezer space for storage, and usually have an additional cost to the consumer. Sometimes these inconveniences prevent people from trying a raw meat diet with their pets. However, the word “Raw” should never be confused with the word “Frozen”. The definition of the word “Raw” simply means “not cooked”. We freeze raw meat in order to preserve it for shipping and storage. However, there are other ways to preserve and store meat in its raw form. Dehydration is a process that removes all of the moisture from meat without cooking it. Dehydrated meats can mimic the nutritional benefits of frozen meats because the nutritional value of the meat is preserved. Dehydration only removes water. It’s the reason foods dried foods are used by NASA. It’s a convenient storage method that doesn’t sacrifice nutritional value.

Is it Safe?
When we talk about the safety of raw meat diets, the most common concern is salmonella. Dogs and cats are extremely resistant to Salmonella infections, therefore, there is little risk that your pet could be affected by salmonella bacteria in raw meat. However, as with any raw meat product, you must take precautions when handling this product. Always clean preparation and feeding areas and utensils immediately after handling a raw frozen diet. Raw dehydrated diets are safer from the standpoint that the salmonella bacteria cannot propagate itself the same way in the raw dehydrated meat that it would in a raw frozen meat. No special handling or cleaning is required.”

Some manufacturers, including Canine Caviar, use dehydrated meat to provide all of the benefits of a raw diet without the special handling or storage concerns of a frozen diet. No freezing, no fussing, no preparation. Just dinner.”

Contribution by Jeff Baker, Founder, President and CEO of Canine Caviar

Pet nutrition in Layman’s terms: Part 2 Fat

Those readers of you who have read my first comment in this series (Pet nutrition in Layman’s terms: Part 1 Nutrients and Protein) know already about the reasons for and background behind this series of comments, please scroll right down to “Fats” (sorry, blog software does not allow me to add hyperlink, or should I better say, I don’t know how to do it?).

Does the food I’m providing meet my pet’s nutritional needs? As our knowledge of the relationship between diet and health continues to advance and as the range of foods available for our pets continues to expand, it’s more important than ever to base feeding choices on good information. This information can come from various sources. For example from “Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats”, a technical report issued by the National Research Council as part of its Animal Nutrition Series. The Food and Drug Administration relies on information in the report to regulate and ensure the safety of pet foods (Or better: is supposed to ensure, as we all know too well, pet food isn’t always safe). Scientists who study the nutritional needs of animals use the Animal Nutrition Series to guide future research. The series is also used by animal owners, caretakers, and veterinarians to develop specialized diets for individual animals.
To provide good information is one of my goals with this blog. At various I publish comments and articles about pet nutrition in general on this blog. The problem is that many of those articles sometimes get very technical and can be confusing to some of us, others again may be based on opinions or written for a certain purpose, like for example in order to sell a certain type or brand of food. What I have been missing is simple explanations, kind of written in Layman’s terms and understandable for everybody, easy to read and short and quickly getting to the bottom of things. That was until now when recently, while doing my daily research work, I came across a course, which I decided to publish here with slight modifications. The site itself looks to me like it has not been maintained for quite a while, the last time its copyright notice was updated was in 2005 and many parts of the site are no longer accessible or corrupted. We don’t have to worry about the age of the info, nothing has changed about the basics. The Australian pet food manufacturer Advance created the self study course in cooperation with the Waltham Centre for Pet Care and Nutrition. Waltham, since 1965 has contributed to the advancement of global knowledge on nutrition for companion animals and now has over 600 research and development personnel all over the world. They continuously study in detail the nutrition and behavior of companion animals in a non invasive environment. Their studies cover many specialist areas including veterinary medicine, dietetics, biochemistry, animal behavioral science and breeding science. While this initially all sounded too science oriented to me, it turned out they came up with a pretty cool “crash course” and I decided to share what I was able to salvage here on this blog. As a result I hope I will be able to come up with a simple series designed for those of you who want to learn more about pet nutrition. A series suitable for breeders, vet nurses, pet store retailers, animal trainers or any pet owner who simply wants to learn more about feeding their dog or cat. Today I am going to talk about another basic nutrient, which is “Fat”:

Fat is differentiated in two types: Animal fat, sourced from dairy produce, meats and fish and plant based fat, deriving from seed oils and nuts.

Fats consist largely of mixtures of triglycerides. Each triglyceride is made up of a backbone of glycerol, to which three fatty acids are attached. The differences between one fat and another are mostly the result of the different fatty acids in each. Fatty acids can be saturated i.e. contain no double bonds, or unsaturated with one or more double bonds. Polyunsaturated fatty acids contain two or more double bonds in their hydrocarbon backbone. Essential fatty acidsThere are two main families of polyunsaturated fatty acids: omega-6, and omega-3. Some fatty acids contain double bonds that cannot be made by animals, and therefore must be supplied in the diet. They are termed essential fatty acids. The longer chain polyunsaturated fatty acids can be made in the body through progressive elongation and de-saturation of these fatty acids.

For the scientifically adversed of you:
Structure of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
Linoleic acid (omega-6)
(18:2n6; 18-carbon backbone, two double bonds, first at sixth carbon)

Alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3)
(18:3n3;18-carbon backbone, three double bonds, first at third carbon)

Essential fatty acid (EFA) requirements in dogs can be met by linoleic acid (omega-6). Cats, on the other hand, lack a key enzyme needed for the production of the longer chain omega-6 fatty acids from linoleic acid, and therefore need arachidonic acid in their diet as well.

The functions of fat can be defined as

  • Playing a key role in the absorption, transport and storage of the fat soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K)
  • Being an energy source (containing 2½ times more energy per gram than either proteins or carbohydrates)
  • Providing essential fatty acids, necessary for cell membranes, kidney function and reproduction
  • Increasing palatability of foods, particularly dry complete products

What happens if fat is not supplied in sufficient volume? Essential fatty acid deficiency may occur in animals eating diets low in fat or poor quality commercial dry food for long periods. On rare occasions, animals develop fatty acid deficiency in association with liver disease, biliary disease, chronic pancreatitis or mal-absorption problems. Signs of EFA deficiency in dogs and cats include dull, scurfy coat, fatty liver, anaemia and impaired fertility. Changes in the lipid film of the skin can alter the normal bacterial flora of the skin, and predispose the animal to secondary bacterial infection, a condition also known as fat deficiency seborrhea.

On the other hand, excessive fat in the diet can result in an excess calorie intake. In the long term this can lead to obesity and/or growth abnormalities in young growing animals. As animals usually eat to satisfy their energy requirements, a high fat diet may not be balanced with respect to other essential nutrients. Diets high in polyunsaturated fatty acids can become rancid through oxidation. Inadequate amounts of antioxidant in dry foods or prolonged storage of food, especially at high temperatures, may cause the fat in the food to become rancid. As fats are oxidized, the essential fatty acids are destroyed, as are vitamin D, vitamin E and biotin. In general, dry foods should be kept at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, in non-lipid-permeable or non-absorbing containers and not stored open for longer than a month.

Summarizing all this, these are the key points to remember about fat:

  • They provide a concentrated energy source
  • Dogs need the essential fatty acid, linoleic acid
  • Cats also require arachidonic acid in their diet
  • A long term EFA deficiency can cause skin lesions, poor coat condition and reproductive failure

The concentrations of saturated fatty acids, and monounsaturated fatty acids present in the diet affect the minimum dietary requirement for EFA. Based on data obtained from studies of rodents, it has been suggested that high intakes of saturated fatty acids, trans fatty acids or oleic acid, compete with the metabolism of EFA and thereby increase the body's EFA requirements. (*1, *2) Because of this dependence on the fat content of the diet, any minimum nutrient requirement for linoleic acid, or other members of the omega-6 family of fatty acids for dogs has not been precisely determined.

*1: Mead, J. F. (1980). Nutrients with special functions: Essential fatty acids. Chap.8, In Human Nutrition: A Comprehensive Treatise. Eds. R.B. Alfin-Slater and D. Kritchevsky, Vol. 3A, Plenum Press: New York.
*2: Holman, R. T. (1981). Effect of dietary trans fatty acids upon prostaglandin precursors, In Nutritional Factors: Modulating Effects on Metabolic Processes. Eds R.F. Beers and E.G. Bassett, Raven Press, New York.