Saturday, December 6, 2008

Canine Protein Requirements Part 4b: Too much or not enough?

In Part 4a of my mini series “Protein in Pet Food” I asked “Canine Protein Requirements Too much or not enough?” My intent is bringing different opinions for discussion to the round table. Today let’s see today how Sabine Contreras in her “Dog Food Project” addresses the issue. I quote her comment titled “Is too much protein harmful?”:
“Old wives tales about dry dog foods high in protein causing kidney disease run rampant both on and off the internet and many people deprive their dogs of what they crave most for fear of damaging their health.
Unfortunately the whole protein thing is not easily explained in just a few sentences, so bear with me if I ramble on for a while. I'll try to keep it as simple and straightforward as possible without going too much into scientific terms.
First of all, it is important that we understand that protein isn't only a nutrient - the amino acids it is made up of (think lego bricks forming a bigger structure) also serve as building blocks for body tissues, organs, enzymes, hormones, antibodies and so on - roughly half of the dry body mass of a dog consists of protein. Knowing this it is easy to understand that growing puppies need protein to build above mentioned body tissues, organs, enzymes, hormones, antibodies and both adults and growing puppies constantly need to replace and rebuild these as well. The body recycles amino acids to some extent, but part of them need to be replaced, just like you can't endlessly recycle paper or plastic.
Protein is processed in the liver and any waste materials are filtered and excreted by the kidneys. High quality protein does not generate large amounts of waste that needs to be removed from the body, but poor quality protein which is difficult to digest does and thus puts stress on the kidneys. The liver needs water to process protein and as a medium to carry waste products to the kidneys, where they are filtered out and most of the water is reabsorbed. The less concentrated the waste products in this primary filtrate are, the easier it is for the kidneys to do their filtering work - that's why it is unhealthy to feed dry food only and so critical that dogs eating mostly or exclusively dry food and dogs with liver disease get lots of extra water. Dogs who eat mostly canned food or a home prepared diet automatically take in more moisture and do not need to compensate as much by drinking. Contrary to what many people think and pet food companies claim, dogs (and cats) do not know instinctively how much extra water they have to drink to make up for what is lacking in the dry food. This is why I so highly recommend that people always add water to the kibble at feeding time.
Now that we have the basics laid out, we can return to the protein in the food. Many people cite old, outdated research that claims high protein percentages in the food are harmful to dogs and do all kinds of damage, especially to the liver. Fact is that these studies were conducted by feeding dogs foods that were made from poor quality, hard to digest protein sources, such as soy, corn, byproducts, blood meal and so on. From my explanation above, you now already know that it is a question of protein quality that affects the kidneys. Consider a wolf in the wild, who will eat relatively little else but meat if they can help it - these animals don't get kidney diseases on the same scale domestic dogs do. Their protein comes in the form of quality muscle and organ meat though, not processed leftovers from human food processing. It also contains around 70% moisture, whereas most commercial dry foods contain a maximum of 10%. Dogs and other "dog like" animals (canids) evolved eating a diet that consists primarily of meat, fat and bones, which they have been eating for hundreds of thousands of years. Commercial foods, especially dry food, has only been widely available for the past 60 years and we are still learning how much damage certain aspects of it can do. Things have improved quite a bit from hitting rock bottom in the 70s and 80s, but the majority of pet food manufacturers still produce bad foods from poor quality ingredients.
Just to digress for a moment, when I went to the grocery store yesterday, I saw that Purina Dog Chow was on sale, $8 for a 22 pound bag. That's a little over 36 cents per pound, including the profit the supermarket makes on it, cost for the pretty, colorful packaging, advertising and all. On top of that, of course the manufacturer (Nestle/Purina) wants to make a profit too. How much do you think the food actually costs them just to make, without any profits? The answer is pennies per pound, which also reflects the ingredient quality. If I calculate a 40% profit margin for each the supermarket and the manufacturer, it comes to about 13 cents per pound. That's $260 per ton of food. Yikes.
Anyway, back to the protein. Protein in dog food can come from either plant or meat sources. Logically, plant sources are cheaper, especially considering that corn gluten meal, the most popular, cheap protein booster, is a byproduct of the human food processing industry, left over from making corn starch and corn syrup. It has a crude protein content of 60%, so theoretically even if your food recipe contained no other protein sources at all, you could make a food with a 20% crude protein content by mixing it 1:2 with some cheap carb source.
It is critical to stress that the term "crude protein" is used in the guaranteed analysis, which means there is no statement whatsoever as to its digestibility. Protein comes in many forms, even shoe leather, chicken feathers or cow hooves have a fairly high crude protein content, but the body is only able to extract and process very little of it, at the price of a lot of work and stress to do so.
Due to this labeling issue (only one of many, many others), the percentage of protein in a food by itself doesn't say anything at all. Ingredient lists are not 100% straightforward and truthful either, but at least you can somewhat gauge if there's even any quality protein in there at all.
Just to illustrate once again by example, let's say we have two foods which have the same percentages of protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber and moisture. Food A contains 25% protein that is 60% digestible and food B contains 25% protein that is 85% digestible. That means of food A the body is able to utilize 15% of the protein content, but of food B 21.25%. Logically, to meet the body's requirement of protein, you'd have to feed more of food A than of food B, and the body of the dog eating food B will have to work less to utilize it.
I guess in really simple terms you can compare it to the engine of a car and the type of fuel you use. Just because you use high octane gas in a car that doesn't need it, it's not going to do any damage, but if you use poor quality fuel, regardless whether it is high or low octane, there will be buildup in the engine that hampers performance and will eventually lead to damage.”

Well, I think Susan drifted away from her original intention, which was to talk about too much protein. This is more about general issues on protein. However I figured, as my entire series is about protein, the comment has a place here, just not on the particular subchapter. We didn’t really learn what we wanted to find out. The comment contains a couple good attempts to make the subject easier understandable, everybody can relate to lego bricks and car engines. The digestibility issue is another good point. Her excursion into pricing has to be evaluated, I will do that at another time as it is in itself a different topic. Just so much: Don’t look at pet food prices per pound, that is totally meaning less and most of the times also reflecting a totally wrong picture. Instead, look at what it costs you to feed. Stay tuned for more, this is another very interesting topic I am going to address soon. Related to protein, the only time I see protein affecting our wallet is as Steve Brown says in Part 4a, “…protein is a very high priced ingredient and you don’t want to spend more than you have to….”
Stay tuned as I am going to bring more opinions to the table soon. Let’s see what other “authorities” have to say. For easier reference, here is a list of previously published blog comments on this subject:
Canine Protein Requirements Part1 Introduction
Canine Protein Requirements Part 2a Definitions
Canine Protein Requirements Part 2b Definitions
Canine Protein Requirements Part 3: Evaluating Protein sources
Canine Protein Requirements Part 4a: Too much or not enough?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Challenging vets to look at nutrition playing a larger role in our pet’s health

A recent report from the Royal Veterinary College in London, Professor D.L. Chan, pointed out that veterinarians should begin to look at nutrition to play a larger role in the health of pets. Similar to human doctors, most veterinarians don’t write ‘prescriptions’ of nutritional supplements for their pet patients. However, Professor Chan believes nutritional therapies need further veterinary exploration. The very first sentence of his paper explains it all; “Nutrition plays a critical role in the proper development and maintenance of optimal health in animals.” Dr. Chan not only acknowledges the power of nutrition in maintaining optimal health in animals, but he cites many clinical studies showing that nutrition actually improves and eliminates disease. Wiley Interscience, the publisher of the Journal of Small Animal Practice, which is where the paper was introduced, describes Dr. Chan’s work in an abstract as follows:
“The role of nutrition in the management of diseases has often centered on correcting apparent nutrient deficiencies or meeting estimated nutritional requirements of patients” (humans and animals). “Nutrition has traditionally been considered a supportive measure akin to fluid therapy and rarely has been considered a primary means of ameliorating diseases. Recently, however, further understanding of the underlying mechanisms of various disease processes and how certain nutrients possess pharmacological properties have fuelled an interest in exploring how nutritional therapies themselves could modify the behavior of various conditions. Nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and certain amino acids such as arginine and glutamine have all been demonstrated to have at least the potential to modulate diseases. Developments in the area of critical care nutrition have been particularly exciting as nutritional therapies utilizing a combination of approaches have been shown to positively impact outcome beyond simply proving substrate for synthesis and energy. Application of certain nutrients for the modulation of diseases in veterinary patients is still in early stages, but apparent successes have already been demonstrated, and future studies are warranted to establish optimal approaches.”
One of the most promising nutritional supplements discussed by Dr. Chan are Omega-3 fatty acids. Probably the best known source of Omega-3 is fish oil. Research in existence for years has covered the topic of maintaining good health by adding fish oil supplement to an animal’s diet. Mainly related to humans Dr. Chan quotes some very interesting research of Omega-3 actually treating and/or curing disease. He talks about a landmark study demonstrating a diet enriched with Omega-3 greatly improved the health conditions of patients suffering from respiratory and lung disease.
Dr, Chan mentions one amazing example of the power of fish oil, which is the brain recovery of Randal McCloy Jr. He is the only surviving coal miner in the 2006 Sage Mine disaster in West Virginia. After more than 40 hours being exposed to carbon monoxide, McCloy “had a massive heart attack from the carbon monoxide exposure, he was in kidney failure, liver failure, he was dehydrated, he was hypothermic, and he was in the deepest of coma.” Neurosurgeon Dr. Julian Bailes together with other doctors were “uncertain if his brain would recover from its extensive injuries.” Randal was given extremely high doses of fish oil, and his brain functions started to improve. The case was featured on the Oprah show earlier this year in June.
Dr. Barry Sears, a leading U.S. researcher of Omega-3 states that fish oil is so remarkable because of its ability to reduce inflammation, especially ‘silent inflammation’, which is “below the perception of pain.” According to Dr. Sears, silent inflammation is the first clinical sign that you are no longer well. On his website he claims that “if fish oil is used as a nutritional way to reduce silent inflammation, then the state of wellness could be extended indefinitely.” Like I said, all the above incidents and reports address the effects of Omega 3 on humans. Unfortunately for pet owners, Dr. Chan’s paper says, very few studies are available for veterinarians researching diets enriched with fish oils treating critically ill pets. He believes human studies suggest “a great potential to benefit such patients.”(i.e. pets)
I for my part would say there is plenty of research readily available sufficiently explaining the health maintenance benefits of fish oil pets. Maybe it is not good and scientific enough for the veterinarian community, but it will do for me.
As so often I like to refer to Dr. Wysong, who states in his book “Lipid Nutrition” under the head line “NEW MEDICAL HOPE”: “The diet is directly responsible for the lipid make-up of the body in both the anatomical and physiological sense. The ubiquitous nature of lipids in living tissue and their integral role in all life processes make them a fundamental concern and a logical target in health and disease. It has been demonstrated through controlled scientific studies that several degenerative diseases are linked to improper nutrition resulting in improper fatty acid composition of the body. It is likely that this light is only a glimmer of that which will shine to reveal the far reaching consequences that tampering with our food supply has caused. The clinician and patient who become aware of the fundamental importance of natural balanced lipid and overall nutrition are given powerful new means to deal with disease as well as maintain and optimize health. Beneficial results will come over time as the diet is changed and fatty acid turnover in the body occurs. This approach does not mean a quick fix. It does not hold the sensationalism of organ transplants or a cure-all vaccine or drug. It means lifestyle modification, it means intelligent foresight, it means taking responsibility and emphasizing prevention. It will take active participation and work, but this approach is the "medicine" of the future and offers real hope for reversing many of the devastating degenerative diseases which strike modern populations.”

Coming back to Dr. Chan, antioxidants are his next topic. His report suggests for veterinarians to incorporate antioxidants into animal health maintenance and treatments of disease. “With the depletion of normal antioxidant defenses, the host is more vulnerable to free radical species and prone to cellular and sub-cellular damage (for example, DNA and mitochondrial damage). Replenishment of antioxidant defenses attempts to less the intensity of the signals that eventually leads to multiple organ dysfunction.” Various studies of companion animals benefiting from antioxidants include positive improvement of congestive heart failure, pancreatitis, gastric and renal diseases. The USDA publishes a list of the top 20 food sources of antioxidants. Of those I have seen only the five following being used in various pet foods: Blueberries, cranberries, artichokes, apples, and potatoes. Lastly, the veterinarian directed paper of Dr. Chan’s reports on the importance of amino acids. “Certain amino acids also serve as an energy source for certain cells; perhaps the most pertinent example being glutamine, which is the preferred fuel source for enterocytes and cells of the immune system.” Studies have shown that in response to stress, ‘there may be a dramatic increase in demand of particular amino acids and they must be obtained by the diet’. Recent studies have shown positive responses of the amino acid glutamine including cellular expression of ‘heat shock proteins, which enable cells to withstand a great deal of injury and remain viable and functional.” Dietary sources of L-glutamine include beef, chicken, fish, eggs, milk, dairy products, wheat, and parsley (to name only the ones I have seen being used in various pet foods. Dr. Chan continues on the importance of glutamine, “As the gastrointestinal tract is in fact the largest immune organ, dysregulation of the immune response further compromises the host and leads to multiple organ dysfunction. Given the relationship between critical illness and gut atrophy, supplementation with the gastrointestinal tract’s preferred energy source, glutamine, is an attempt at restoring the integrity and function of this vital organ system.” I think it is more than likely that it will be years in the future before vet as a group begin utilizing nutritional therapies to treat disease and illness in our pets. Before that happens many boundaries have to be eliminated, an entire world, i.e. the one of vets and mass producing pet food manufacturers.
However, I believe what we have learned today from Dr. Chan (and so many others following his lead) and the research described can be utilized by pet owners to maintain the good health of their pets. Health promoting diets fed to our companion animals have to include quality meats, supplemented with Omega-3 and antioxidants. When searching for food and making your selections look for health promoting high quality, ideally several different meat proteins, for berries and other antioxidant providing ingredients and fish meal or fish oil ingredients. Make sure you follow the same guidelines when choosing treats. There is quite a large selection of these types of diets available to you.
Nutrition is a serious health matter. I would say that research done during the last let’s say 100 years, by now has proven beyond any doubt that food is fundamental to both health and disease. Unfortunately, nutrition is not usually taken the way it should be taken: Seriously. Many consumers see it as a form of recreation and manufacturers with their sales representatives as a profitable opportunity. While all this is going on, health of our companion animals is declining at an alarming rate. It is time for a major change. Science has proven the tremendous benefits of these foods and food supplements. Now it is up to us to let our pet show us how well they work!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Myths surrounding diabetes

Another illness in animals, which unfortunately by now too made it into the top list of diseases is diabetes.
According to a press release form Hill’s Pet Nutrition published early November in the Scoop Independent News NZ, “Pets are increasingly diagnosed with Diabetes.” In it the pet food manufacturer states that “Diabetes affects more cats and dogs each year especially overweight animals and certain breeds. And just like human diabetes, if left untreated the condition may become life threatening.
Veterinarian Dr Mike Gething of Howick Vets says this serious disease is becoming more common in today's pet population. But he says prompt diagnosis and the introduction of a healthy diet will help pets enjoy a good quality of life.
"We operate a large vet clinic with four vets. At the moment we have four cats and 10 dogs diagnosed with diabetes and on insulin," says Gething.
"Certain breeds both in cats and dogs are pre-disposed to diabetes. I see popular cats such as Burmese and Birmans suffering from diabetes as well as older and overweight pets of mixed breeding."
However, Gething says the news is not all bad. He says when diabetes is diagnosed the level of therapy is matched to the severity of the condition and good results are usually seen.
"While cats and dogs almost always need insulin treatment, the glucose levels of many pets on treatment returns to a normal condition. By putting pets on an appropriate clinically proven diet for diabetes the dose of long term insulin use is reduced. For example, an overweight cat may need a high-fibre, low fat calorie restricted diet," says Gething.
Tauranga veterinarian Dr Julie McCarthy says a simple blood and urine test provides an accurate analysis.
"If your pet is showing symptoms of diabetes such as increasing thirst, urinating more, eating more but appearing to be losing weight, something is wrong and it's time to seek advice from a vet. In severe cases where diabetes is left untreated, animals can go into a coma," says McCarthy.
"Following diagnosis, cats and dogs need to be treated at a vet clinic with insulin every day for approximately two weeks. Their blood glucose also has to be measured. Some cats may need insulin every day for the rest of their lives and the pet owner will have to inject insulin daily, and feed their pet a special low carbohydrate diet," says McCarthy.
Hill's Pet Nutrition's Dr Karen Johnston says the disease is one of the most common hormonal disorders in cats.
"Feline diabetes is similar to Type 2 diabetes in humans but in contrast to humans, most cats require insulin.”
I myself too am getting a great number of inquiries about diabetes and how to deal with it on a quite regular basis. This disease typically starts showing up with excessive thirst and urination, but also includes excessive appetite and weight loss as common symptoms. Let’s take a closer look into what it really is: Diabetes develops when the pancreas no longer produces adequate amounts of insulin. Without sufficient insulin, blood sugar cannot be released from the blood to reach the animal’s body tissues. As a result the blood sugar is getting trapped in the blood stream and spills over into the urine. There are actually two variations of this illness: The insulin dependent one is actually the one our companion animals are more affected by. It also can be inherited. The other one, called Type II diabetes, is often linked to obesity and can be easier controlled by simply making adjustments to your pet’s diet. Diabetes can take its toll on your animal’s vision, kidneys and heart. In some cases it even may be prove fatal.
As with anything where there is a lot of talk and discussion. Diabetes too is surrounded by a cloud of myths. Fortunately, it turns out some of them are not always turning out to be true. Today I would like to reveal some truths about diabetes. Knowing about them gives you a basic understanding if this disease unfortunately would hit home.
The most common myth is that diabetes cannot be cured. This is not true. The pancreas, one of the more important glands of the body, can often be rejuvenated and brought back to proper function through a high fiber natural diet and the correct balance of vitamins, minerals, nutraceuticals and herbs. This improved nutrition should be provided after your vet brings the disease under control with insulin. Then, over a period of time, as the body responds to improved nutrition, your vet will reduce the insulin dosage, finally stopping he injections all together. By the way, the improved nutrition should be accompanied by increased exercise.
The ultimate trick to dealing with diabetes is to catch it early and treat it both holistically and clinically (medically) if necessary. While diabetes is primarily related to a weakened pancreas, it most often results from multiple gland weakness. The pituitary, thyroid and adrenal glands are also involved in sugar metabolism and many times accompany a weakened pancreas since these glands will often have their own weaknesses and imbalances. In diabetes it is essential to support and boost all of the glands. Ask your veterinarian to perform a metabolic analysis or BNA on your animal’s blood. This test will determine inherent gland weaknesses and imbalances, and also help determine the most individually appropriate nutraceuticals to help correct the deficiencies.
Some people say diabetes is hereditary and cannot be prevented. This again is not true. Nothing exhausts a pancreas more than junk food. However, as we (should) today, many dogs and cats exist on a processed food that is high in refined carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates basically add up to a serving of sugar. Certain pet foods contain up to 25 to 35% refined carbohydrates in the form of white flour, milled rice and corn sweeteners. The rapid burning off of these carbohydrates results in a speedy elevation and depression of blood sugar levels, which can tire out the pancreas as it tries to meet the insulin needs in a rapidly changing environment. To avoid this problem I recommend feeding a diet with complex carbohydrates like for example whole grains such as brown rice.
How about once on insulin, always on insulin? There is good news in response to this statement. An intelligent holistic program combined with appropriately, vet directed, dosed and monitored insulin will help to control the condition. It can eventually reduce the amounts of insulin or even totally eliminate any dependency on it. Such a program should include a well balanced whole food high fiber diet, appropriately dosed vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and herbs, as well as an increased exercise program. Your vet will also instruct you on how to closely monitor the blood levels of sugar by frequently checking the urine. Please remember that injected insulin, while essential in regulating the blood sugar levels, can actually trick the body into thinking that adequate levels are being produced, often times affecting the body’s own production of insulin. When the pituitary detects adequate levels of insulin, it will actually tell the pancreas to slow production. Consequently, your animal’s body will become insulin dependent. So it’s important at this point to ignore the propaganda that your animal will need injections for the rest of his or her life. In fact, once your animal’s blood levels stabilize on injected insulin, you should make it your goal to introduce a proper nutritional program to slowly replace injections.
Sugar “highs” go with the territory and there is nothing that you can do to help control them. Untrue! If need be and if your pet is acting ravenously, serve a bowel of freshly cooked oatmeal. Oats, along with green beans and sprouts, contain vitamins, minerals and enzymes with insulin like activity. Additionally, oats are also rich in beneficial fiber.
And finally, the last one for today, you will just have to live with frequent “accidents” in the house. Don’t buy into this grim prognosis. The serious side effects of excessive thirst and urination can often be temporary if efforts are made to bring the diabetes under control. Initially, you can accomplish this with insulin injections. Simultaneously, the proper feeding and nourishment of the pancreas and other important glands of the body will start the process of re-establishing gland balance and function. Combined with increased exercise this will help to bring the condition under control and diminish all adverse symptoms associated with diabetes.
Nobody wants to hear bad news from the vet. This includes diabetes. However, now since you know a little more of the truth about some existing myths, arm yourself with good holistic information, surround yourself with an open minded vet and your animal’s future can actually be quite bright.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Kidney disease, also known as Chronic Renal Failure (CRF) in cats or Canine Kidney Failure (CIN) in dogs

Kidney failure, just as any other type of disease, is becoming more and more common in our pets. This is due to a number of factors. Not surprisingly to me, one reason is the diet which we are feeding and have fed to our companion animals over the course of their lives. By the way, as I always say, all comes as a courtesy of our commercial mass producing pet food makers. That is because they have absolutely no concern for our pets’ health. All they have on their mind are their own profits. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with that and it’s a substantial part of doing business. But I do have a problem with the fact that it comes at the expense of our pets’ health.
Kidney disease is also known as Chronic Renal Failure (CRF) in cats or Canine Kidney Failure (CIN) in dogs. It is one of the more common problems seen in aging pets. While chronic renal failure is more common in cats, it is certainly a problem we see in dogs as well. Acute kidney failure is generally the result of poisoning or external toxins of some type. Chronic kidney failure is usually a slowly progressive disease that unfortunately often goes unnoticed for quite some time until it typically is too late.
The kidneys function is to filter out and excrete toxins from the body through the urine. One of the first indications of the illness is an increase in thirst and urination. A healthy kidney can concentrate toxins into a smaller amount of liquid to be urinated away. When the kidneys are damaged and become less able to concentrate the urine, more fluid is used by the body. As the kidneys become less efficient and the disease progresses, other signs of chronic renal failure such as such as weight loss, nausea, constipation, low energy or fatigue, and poor appetite start to show.
Like I mentioned earlier, unfortunately in most of the cases too late, most animals do not show signs of illness until about 70% - 75% of kidney function has been lost. In order to diagnose the illness and determine the extent of the disease your vet will perform a blood test and urine analysis.
One common treatment for most cats with chronic CRF is subcutaneous fluids. Your vet will generally train you to do this by yourself at home. It is generally not very painful to the cat and will most definitely extend their quality of life.
A low protein (though this is a controversial subject), low phosphorus and low sodium diet may be recommended for a pet with kidney disease. Some studies suggest that feeding a diet low in phosphorus may help slow the progression of kidney failure by reducing mineral deposits in the kidneys. Low protein diets generate fewer nitrogenous wastes. High levels of low protein food can cause nausea and vomiting. However, the diet for each cat or dog with kidney disease should be tailored to their own specific needs as dictated by the stage of the disease and the test results of the blood and urine analysis.
For many animals, a diet containing a high quality protein will be better than a low protein diet. A great option may be to feed a home made diet addressing the individual needs of the sick pet. Low protein diets, if not carefully managed, can lead to malnutrition. If a low protein diet is necessary, a canned formula designed for senior animals might be an option. A discussion with a holistically oriented vet may shed some light for you on this subject. Also, at our online store we just recently started a category for animals with “Specific Health Conditions”, in which this problem is also addressed with a specific diet plan.
Dry food is not a good option for animals with kidney problems, especially cats. Hydration is extremely important for animals with kidney disease. Cats, especially, tend to become chronically dehydrated on a diet of dry kibble. Inappropriate diet is thought to be one of the contributing factors to chronic renal failure.
Omega 3 fatty acids from marine fish oil have been shown to slow the progression of kidney disease in a clinical trial with dogs. The anti inflammatory action of the Omega 3's may reduce kidney inflammation. Vitamin E is often recommended along with the Omega 3 oils as they act synergistically. The dosage for Omega 3 fatty acids can generally be increased up to twice that recommended on the product label, but should be reduced if loose stools occur.
I also recommend B-complex and vitamin C to help replenish the vitamins lost due to the inability of the kidneys to recycle and retain these nutrients in the body properly. Some dogs and cats appear to have a better appetite and feel better when given B vitamins or an appropriate vitamin and mineral complex. Fortunately there are plenty of supplements available addressing this particular need. Additionally, potassium supplementation may be necessary in some cases.
Another option are herbs and nutriceuticals. Western or Chinese herbs (the melamine free ones) can be useful in the beginning stages of kidney disease. As the disease progresses, consultation with a holistically trained vet is recommended for proper use of appropriate herbal remedies.
By the way, I strongly recommend to always talk to your vet before starting your dog or cat on any new herb or supplement when dealing with kidney disease.
What else can you do? It is helpful to take steps to reduce stress for any animal with kidney disease. Quality of life is an important consideration when deciding how aggressively to treat any disease. For example. I have learned that flower essences can be helpful in supporting your companion emotionally and aiding in stress reduction.They are completely safe to use along with any conventional or alternative treatment for kidney disease. Acupuncture can be very helpful for animals with kidney disease. Regular acupuncture can help slow the progression of the disease, stimulate the kidneys and boost the overall vitality of the ill pet.
Some animals can live for many months or even years after a diagnosis of kidney disease. Cats seem to fair better than dogs in this way. Ultimately the decision maker in the treatment of your companion, but it is important to utilize your vet as a crucial advisor, possibly along with a holistic practitioner offering alternative treatments to compliment any conventional medications or treatments.
In conclusion, I hope this article is more being used as a source of information to prevent kidney disease rather than a resource to help curing and having to live with it. Remember, it nutrition is THE starting point for a healthy companion animal.
My Australian friend Brigitte Smith and her friend Dr. Larry Siegler inspired me to write today’s comment.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Feeding raw: Scary and inconvenient?

I never understand why for so many pet owners, raw food diet is such a scary subject. Frequently I hear of claims like “There is so much work and knowledge that is involved, not to mention all the health factors to take into consideration for both you and your pet.” Sometimes I wonder: Who put all that in their heads? Is this what your vet and mainstream media may lead you to believe? If it doesn't come in a bag with feeding instructions on the back then first of all it is not very convenient and secondly, can it really be trusted? True, there may be feeding instructions but there are also typically endless lists of ingredients. Lists, which to many of us sound like they are written in a foreign language. One that we don’t understand and unless we have a PHD, we are lost. If we are lucky, we may know half of their meaning. I also wonder, don’t the countless recalls make people wake up? True, good and healthy pet food is expensive, but so is human food and living. It is just a fact of life. Certainly not a fact justifying to feed sickening food to our pets.
Just yesterday in my comment on this log I talked about nutrition related diseases. Beneficiary of this situation is the veterinarian community. Illnesses like diabetes, thyroid disease, obesity, dental disease and plenty of others are more and more becoming the norm. Vets are not going to make a great effort to change this picture. Just like doctors, they make money by keeping their patients sick. Whether or not they are doing this intentionally is a different story, but they are keeping their patients sick. If you ask a vet what pet food they would recommend after they tell you your pet has three teeth that need to be removed due to dental disease, they would generally recommend a kibble or wet food that they also sell at their clinic. If your pet is obese they tell you to cut calories. Who can sit there and watch their poor animal, their responsibility, pout and beg for food because they are hungry? There are some enlightened veterinarians and technicians out there but for the most part they repeat what the pet food reps told them. Dr. Wysong, D.V.M. in one of his books once wrote that he had a total of a couple hours on pet nutrition while he was studying for his doctor’s degree. Once he went into real life, he makes no secret out of that he did exactly what I just said: Repeat what others vets told him to say without back then really knowing what he was talking about.
So what are our options? Isn’t it time for us responsible pet owners to take our companion animals’ health back into their own hands?
When taking a closer look at our options, raw food diets come to my mind. They are a way to get your pet back to a simpler way of eating. Dogs are omnivores, cats are obligate carnivores and they require species specific food. Dogs benefit from a diet of predominantly raw meats. They do not need grains in their diet. Vegetable nutrients are best absorbed through pulverized vegetables, which can be achieved by using a high speed blender to make them vegetable juice, consisting mostly of fresh greens, or giving them tripe. Dogs do not have the required teeth for grinding plant material making it difficult for them to get the nutrients and enzymes out of whole vegetables and greens. Cats need meat; their little systems are designed to eat meat. Their teeth are designed for slicing through meat and breaking small bones. Cats do not have any flat teeth for grinding herbaceous material.
But here we go already and I will have plenty of people going: “But that is exactly what we are complaining about: Too much work.” Well, so don’t grind your own mix, buy a readily available pre-mix. All you have to do with these, is soak them in water for a few minutes and you are ready to go. No peeling, cutting, grinding and best of all, in most cases the makers of these mixes are experts enough to provide just the right and needed balance of all nutrients to be made available in such a mix. Throw in a piece of raw meat and you are ready to go. Still too much for you? Get a frozen pre-mix including the meat. There are plenty of good options out there, and again, the well established manufacturer of such can be trusted to provide the best possible food and solution. Frozen too messy? Buy freeze dried or dehydrated. You see, with me you can’t win. There is simply no excuse not to go raw.
Let’s move on to other concerns you doubtful pet owners and raw critics may have:
One of the concerns I hear most of are parasites, bacteria and salmonella. If you are conscious of the type of meat you are buying, parasites should not be a problem. The biggest problem really and the main reason for salmonella infections is usually the hygiene practices of the handlers. So follow any safe handling procedures, use common sense, be clean and neat and treat the pet meat just like you would treat your own. Remember that salmonella and bacteria are more of a concern for yourself then for your pet. A dog's digestive system is much shorter than that of humans and also becomes very acidic when food is introduced to it. The stomach acid kills off any bacteria that may be present on the meat.
Make sure that you are purchasing meats from a reputable source. If you can swing it, meat from organic grass fed animals is the best choice. Though those usually do get pricey.
Pay attention to any salt content in the meat you buy. It is a common practice of stores to inject salt water into meat for a prolonged shelve life. Kind of like a preservative. High sodium levels tell you that the meat has been packaged with preservation being the main concern and therefore may not be the freshest option available. If you are unable to feed organic, there are a lot of meat companies use radiation to preserve their meat. (With regards to radiation stay tuned for a comment to be forthcoming on this blog dealing with this issue because of the recent problems Orijen had in Australia). See if you can buy from a local farmer or raw food co-op. Even if they aren't getting organic product you normally get higher quality of meat. There are also a lot of on-line stores that meat can be ordered from, an option a little more expensive but convenient. Tip: Buy bulk and spread cost of packaging/shipping over higher volume.
Another concern for many pet owners is stomach or intestine perforation. Alright, you got a point. And at the same time: Not. I would say your pet can also choke on dry food. How about chicken bones being dangerous? Cooked ones, and as a matter of fact any cooked bone regardless of its origin, are the problem. Raw not so much. Dogs systems are designed to process bones. Softer bones are best for consumption but a lot of people also feed recreational bones, such as marrow bones, to keep their pet busy or to promote dental hygiene. My safety tip number 1 when feeding bones: Supervise your pet.The bottom line is that raw food has many benefits for your pet. They say “You are what you eat.” This applies to animals too. Our pets just have different requirements. Give your pet a chicken wing or leg a day and you will help promote a healthy lifestyle, more energy, healthy coat, teeth and smaller bowel movements. And this is just the beginning of a wonderful development in your pet. It is as close as we can get to mimic nature. Isn’t it time to quit making excuses?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Nutrition related diseases in pets

The 100% complete diet. A goal based on the idea that one pet food provides all the nutrition a companion animal will ever need for its entire life. Careful, it is a dangerous myth. All what promoting a 100% complete diet does is selling a lot of product. It is simply a marketing tool supposed to build consumer confidence. It increases convenience. But it does not address the most important issue of how to maximize nutrition.
Today’s diets for our companion animals are a far cry from the variable meat based diets that their ancestors ate. The unpleasant results of grain based, processed, year in and year out diets are coming in. Pets have adopted the same degenerative disease as we ourselves, the humans. They include cancer, obesity, diabetes, allergies, auto immunities, arthritis and dental diseases. In addition new ones have been and are still discovered. They include for example polymyopathy due to low potassium levels, dilated cardiomyopathy due to low taurine levels, arthritis, skin diseases and urolithiasis from acid base and zinc malnutrition and chronic eczema from essential fatty acid malnutrition. The most common health problems associated with pet diets these days include:
Urinary tract disease: Plugs, crystals, and stones are more common in cats eating dry diets, due to the chronic dehydration and highly concentrated urine they cause. Struvite stones used to be the most common type in cats, but another more dangerous type, calcium oxalate, has increased and is now tied with struvite. Manipulation of manufactured cat food formulas to increase the acidity of urine has caused the switch. Dogs can also form stones as a result of their diet.
Kidney disease: Chronic dehydration associated with dry food may also be a contributing factor in the development of kidney disease and chronic renal failure in older cats. Cats have a low thirst drive; in the wild they would get most of their water from their prey. Cats eating dry food do not drink enough water to make up for the lack of moisture in the food. Cats on dry food diets drink more water, but the total water intake of a cat eating canned food is twice the amount.
Dental disease: Contrary to the myth propagated by pet food companies, dry food is not good for teeth. Given that the vast majority of pets eat dry food, yet the most common health problem in pets is dental disease, this should be obvious. People, it is very simple: Dry food does not clean the teeth.
Obesity: Feeding recommendations or instructions on the packaging are sometimes inflated so that the consumer will end up feeding (and purchasing) more food. One of the most common health problems in pets, obesity, may also be related to high carb, high calorie dry formulas. Both dogs and cats respond to low carb wet food diets. Overweight pets are more prone to arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes. Dry cat food is now considered the cause of feline diabetes. Prevention and treatment include switching to a high protein, high moisture, low carb diet.
Chronic digestive problems: Chronic vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and inflammatory bowel disease are among the most frequent illnesses treated. These are often the result of an allergy or intolerance to pet food ingredients. The market for limited antigen or novel protein diets is now a multi million dollar business. These diets were formulated to address the increasing intolerance to commercial foods that pets have developed. Even so, a pet tending to develop allergies can develop allergies to the new ingredients as well. One twist is the truly hypoallergenic food that has had all its proteins artificially chopped into pieces smaller than can be recognized and reacted to by the immune system. Yet there are documented cases of animals becoming allergic to this food, too. It is important to feed variance, change brands, flavors and protein sources every few months to prevent problems.
Bloat: If you feed your pet only one meal daily it can cause the irritation of the esophagus by stomach acid. This appears to be associated with gastric dilitation and canine bloat, also known as volvulus. Feeding two or more smaller meals is better.
Heart disease: An often fatal heart disease in cats and some dogs is now known to be caused by a deficiency of the amino acid taurine. Blindness is another symptom of taurine deficiency. This deficiency was due to inadequate amounts of taurine in cat food formulas, which in turn had occurred due to decreased amounts of animal proteins and increased reliance on carbohydrates. Cat foods are now supplemented with taurine. New research suggests that some dog breeds are susceptible to the same condition. Supplementing taurine these days is more common in higher grade dog foods as it may also be helpful for dogs.
Hyperthyroidism: There is evidence that hyperthyroidism in cats may be related to diet. Experts discuss the possibility that excessive iodine in commercial cat food is a factor. There is also new research pointing to a link between the disease and pop top cans, and flavors including fish or giblets. Hyperthyroidism is a serious disease and treatment is expensive.
Many nutritional problems appeared with the popularity of cereal based commercial pet foods. Some have occurred because the diet was incomplete. Although several ingredients are now supplemented, we do not know what ingredients future researchers may discover that should have been supplemented in pet foods all along. Other problems may occur from reactions to additives. Others are a result of contamination with bacteria, mold, drugs, or other toxins. In some diseases the role of commercial pet food is understood; in others, it is not. The bottom line is that diets composed primarily of low quality cereals and rendered meals are not as nutritious or safe as we should expect for your cat or dog. The clear goal should be to mimic as close as possible the original, primitive diet as our pet’s ancestors ate it. To use ingredients containing naturally high levels of all nutrients. Aside from releasing their pets into the wild, pet owners can select pet food that recognizes the limitations of our knowledge and at the same time offers the best possible opportunities for best health and a long life.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Misconceptions about food allergies

When it comes to pets and allergies, especially food allergies I hear many comments and opinions every day. Many of them and assumptions made are not quite correct, something I want to address today.
Before I get into it, is there an easy way to figure out if your pet may have developed a food allergy? Actually symptoms show pretty obvious. In cats, food allergy usually produces scabs and other signs of itching around the face or neck. A typical canine food allergy shows among others signs of facial itching foot or limb chewing, belly itching, and possibly recurring ear infections.
A food allergy is a reaction to food that involves the body’s immune system. It is usually always a protein particle in the food that is causing those reactions. Your dog may itch, lick, and chew paws, flank, groin, neck, and ears. The itching can be during all seasons. In some instances of food allergy dogs may have chronic ear infections. The dog may also have some gastrointestinal signs such as chronic vomiting, diarrhea, belching, and frequent bowel movements. Food allergy dogs often have both varying degrees of skin signs and gastrointestinal problems that persist.
Coming back to wrong assumptions pet owners make about allergies: Many pet owners believe that a food allergy is to produce intestinal signs as it is the intestinal tract that is exposed to the allergen. Fact is that in pets it is usually the skin that suffers if a food allergy has developed. Food allergy is one of the itchiest conditions in veterinary dermatology. Making matters worse is the fact that food allergies tend to be resistant to cortisone therapies thereby making control of the itching especially difficult.
Next, food allergy is a less likely cause of my pet’s skin disease as I have been feeding the same food for years and the skin problem is a recent development. Again, a wrong assumption. It takes time for a food allergy to develop. This can be months to years. The immune system must be exposed and must develop enough antibodies to trigger an allergic reaction and this requires multiple exposures to the food in question. A reaction to a food that occurs on the first exposure to that food is not an allergic reaction. Such reactions are called “food intolerances” and involve toxins within the food but not an allergic reaction.
Soy and corn are common food allergens and it is best to seek pet foods without these ingredients to avoid problems is another wrong assumption. Latest stats indicate that the most common food allergens for dogs are beef, dairy, and wheat accounting for 68% of canine food allergies. Most common food allergens in cats are beef, dairy, and fish making up 80% of feline food allergies.
“If it looks like my pet might have a food allergy, I should be able to manage the problem by switching to another diet” is an assumption only partially true. Most pet foods contain some sort of mixture of protein sources like beef, dairy, wheat, lamb, fish, and chicken. This means that simply changing foods is bound to lead to exposure to the same allergens. There are two ways to address food allergy: Feeding a diet based on a truly novel protein source. Examples are an exotic diet like venison, duck, kangaroo, rabbit, New Zealand brush tail, ostrich, llama or even alligator. Somewhere I read without further explanation it also could mean feeding a diet with a protein pre digested into units too small to interest the immune system. I really don’t have too much knowledge on this one and will re-address this particular issue after I do some more research.
“My pet got only partly better after the food trial so that means it didn’t work” again is a not correct statement. Animals often and commonly have several allergies concurrently. A food allergy responding to a test diet at the same time an inhalant allergy is active may appear like a partial response. On the other side an inhalant allergy can become inactive should the weather change substantially during the diet trial. This would make a diet appear to be successful by coincidence. In order to determine if a response to a diet trial is real, at the end of the trial the pet needs to be challenged with the original diet. If the itching restarts within feeding 2 weeks of the challenge, food allergy can be diagnosed.