Today we are going to discuss nutrition related diseases to continue this series contributed by Born Free USA united with Animal Protection Institute. In Part 1 of this series we briefly introduced the subject matter and discussed the major players in the pet food industry. But as we have learned the trend to bigger doesn’t necessarily translate into better and unfortunately we learned, not that it would be anything new, that there are major differences between what pet owners think they are buying and what they are actually getting. Part 2 addressed in very general terms labeling basics, standards and regulations, while Part 3 focused on ingredients and Part 4 was subject to discussion of pet food manufacturing processes, various recall issues and the potential dangers with pet food. This series focuses in very general terms on the most visible name brands, the pet food labels that are mass distributed to supermarkets and discount stores. However, just so that we are on the safe side, there are also many highly respected brands that may be guilty of the same offenses. What many pet owners to this day still don’t know is that the pet food industry is an extension of the human food and agriculture industries. Pet food provides a convenient way for slaughterhouse offal, grains considered “unfit for human consumption,” and similar waste products to be turned into profit. In order for the consumer to make an educated decision it is necessary to learn, among many others considerations, how to read pet food labels to begin with.
Nutrition Related Diseases
The idea that one pet food provides all the nutrition a companion animal will ever need for its entire life is a dangerous myth.
Today, the diets of cats and dogs 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 common. Health problems associated with diet 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 diets 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 as great.7
Dental disease. Contrary to the myth propagated by pet food companies, dry food is not good for teeth.8 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. Humans do not floss with crackers, and 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 foods. 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, an animal that tends to develop allergies can develop allergies to the new ingredients, too. 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 change brands, flavors, and protein sources every few months to prevent problems.
Bloat. Feeding only one meal per day can cause the irritation of the esophagus by stomach acid, and appears to be associated with gastric dilitation and volvulus (canine bloat). 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 may also be helpful for dogs, but as yet few manufacturers are adding extra taurine to dog food.
Hyperthyroidism. There is also evidence that hyperthyroidism in cats may be related to diet. This is a relatively new disease that first surfaced in the 1970s. Some experts theorize that excess iodine in commercial cat food is a factor. New research also points to a link between the disease and pop-top cans, and flavors including fish or “giblets.” This 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 you should expect for your cat or dog.
Stay tuned when we unveil some pet food industry secrets and the magic of pet food marketing in part 6 soon to follow.
Reprinted with permission from and contributed by Born Free USA united with Animal Protection Institute and reprinted with permission. © 2003-2009 - Born Free USA united with Animal Protection Institute - All rights reserved