Saturday, April 18, 2009

Interpreting Labels of Special Use Nutrition Products

Today, in conclusion to the comments Quality assurances on pet food labels – Realistic or marketing as usual? and When a Pet Food is a "Drug" we are going to take a closer look at which rules and regulations pet food manufacturers have to follow when making claims for so called "special use foods".

Treats and Chews
Snacks and treats for pets are implicitly intended to be offered on an occasional basis, and by no means should be fed as the mainstay of the diet. Although pet treats must meet all the other FDA and state regulations for labeling of pet foods, they are exempt from the need to include an AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement. "Biscuits" are not exempt, unless they are identified as a "snack" or "treat" as well. Regardless, some treats and biscuits are formulated to be nutritionally complete, and some are not.

Dog chews made from rawhide, bone or other animal materials or parts (for example, pig ears) are still considered "food" under FDA law, since they are comprised of materials that are consumable by the pet. As long as the label for the chew does not include any reference to nutritional value (such as "high protein"), it may not have to follow the AAFCO pet food regulations. Thus, many labels for chews may not have a guaranteed analysis or follow the AAFCO rules for product names. However, they should still bear the information required under FDA regulations, such as the net quantity statement, the manufacturer's name and address, and the ingredient list (if it contains more than one ingredient or the single ingredient is not declared in the product name). For products sold in bulk, the required information should appear in a placard on the bin or container.

Health Claims
Many of the products intended for special uses involve the dietary management of a disease or condition. Recent laws have affected the way FDA regulates these types of products for human consumption. The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) provides for specified "health claims" (claims that state that consumption of a food may help in the reduction of risk for disease) to appear on human food product labels. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) has allowed for the boom of dietary supplements available for human use, many which include claims of "nutritional support" for specific organs or body functions. Since pet foods follow many similar marketing trends to foods for human consumption, it is not surprising that many pet food and supplement labels also bear these types of claims. However, since the rules for pet foods are very different, some of these claims are not legally allowed.

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) defines "food" as an article used for food or drink for man or other animals. On the other hand, a "drug" is, in part, an article intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease, or an article (other than food) intended to affect the structure or function of the body of man or other animals. "Food," in the parenthetical "other than food," has been further interpreted by the courts as a substance that provides "taste, aroma, or nutritive value." If a food affects the structure or function of the body, it does so by these properties (for example, a food may provide nutrients such as calcium for proper bone structure, or taurine for healthy heart function in cats). However, if a product affects the structure or function of the body apart from its nutritive value, such as urine acidification or improvement in joint function, it may be considered a drug.

The legal definitions of food and drug become intertwined when a food label bears a claim that consumption of the product will treat, prevent, or otherwise affect a disease or condition, or to affect the structure or function of the body in a manner distinct from what would normally be described as from its "nutritive value." Also, implied drug claims may include a discussion of a medical condition, reference to an equivalent drug product, or the presence of medical symbols. Such claims establish an intent to offer the product as a drug (i.e., it makes a "drug claim"). Furthermore, since the product was not subject to the normal premarket clearance mechanism to demonstrate safety and efficacy as required for drugs, it is unsafe by definition. Pet food products with labels bearing drug claims are subject to regulation by CVM as drugs as well as foods. A pet food company must then remove these claims to restore its regulatory status to simply food.

FDA's authority to prohibit drug claims extends beyond what is commonly considered the product "label." The FFDCA defines "labeling" as all labels and other written, printed or graphic matter upon any article or any of its containers or wrappers, or accompanying such article. Thus, brochures, flyers, signs or similar promotional material found at the point of sale may be labeling and subject to the same laws. Also, although food advertising is not regulated by the FDA, but by the Federal Trade Commission, FDA does have some authority. Advertisements or even verbal representations that establish the "intended use" of the product can be used as relevant evidence that it is a drug.

FLUTD Products
CVM has incorporated some of the philosophy of NLEA in its policies in order to allow meaningful health-related information on pet food labels. Much of CVM's efforts to date have focused on label claims related to cat foods and the prevention of Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD). Although FLUTD occurs in less than 1% of cats, it is a concern for cat owners. The exact causes of FLUTD are still unclear, and a number of dietary and non-dietary factors may be involved.

Label claims to prevent or reduce the risk of FLUTD, cystitis, urinary problems or similar verbiage are drug claims and are not allowed under the law. However, in an effort to get some meaningful health-related information to the consumer, CVM is exercising regulatory discretion in not taking action against products that bear claims akin to "reduce urine pH to help maintain urinary tract health" or to have low magnesium levels. With respect to urine pH claims, this discretion is contingent upon adequate controlled studies to demonstrate that consumption of the product results in an appropriately acidic urine. Since too much acidification of the urine can also result in serious health problems, data to demonstrate safety of the product are reviewed as well. With respect to dietary magnesium levels, the "cut-off" criteria to support a "low magnesium" claim are less than 0.12% on a dry matter basis and less than 25 mg per 100 kilocalories of metabolizable energy. Companies submit the results of proximate analyses (including crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, moisture, and ash) and magnesium analyses of a number of production runs of the product. Demonstration that the product formulation consistently meets the cut-off criteria supports the label claim. The estimation of magnesium content as calculated by using guaranteed analysis values on the product label must also meet the criteria.

In order to be most useful in reducing the risk of FLUTD, products must also be used correctly. If the product is mixed with other foods or "meal fed" (offered for only a short period of time per day), it might not be able to maintain the proper urine pH to be beneficial. Thus, feeding directions are added to recommend the product be fed alone and to be made available throughout the day. Also, the nutritional adequacy statement on the label must be for adult maintenance only. This disease occurs primarily in young to middle-aged adults, and the most serious problems occur in males. Since the safety of these products for kittens and pregnant or nursing queens has not been established, it is recommended not to use these products for these life stages.

Another FLUTD-related claim, "low ash," is not allowed on cat food labels. The current scientific consensus is that ash per se is not related to the incidence of FLUTD. There are no valid reasons to reference ash on the product label (other than in the guaranteed analysis) except in regard to this outdated theory. Thus, "low ash" or similar claims, even without reference to FLUTD, are inherently false and misleading, which render the product misbranded and subject to regulatory action.

Weight Control Products
Obesity in pets is probably the most common nutritional problem today. Reduced calorie products have been on the market for many years. However, following the lead of marketing niches for human foods, more and more "lite" pet food products are now available. FDA regulations promulgated under the NLEA established the rules for human products labeled as "lite," "low calorie" or similar terms, but do not apply to pet foods.

Recent AAFCO regulations governing the use of terms such as "lite" became effective this year. Under the new rules, the term "lite" must be based on a standard reference for all products, regardless of manufacturer. For example, a "lite" or "low calorie" dry dog food cannot contain more than 3100 kilocalories per kilogram (kcal/kg), while a similarly named dry cat food cannot contain more than 3250 kcal/kg. Canned foods contain much more moisture, so the maximum allowable calories are even lower (900 and 950 kcal/kg for dog and cat foods, respectively).

For products that are reduced in calories but not enough to merit a "lite" claim, the rules also allow for comparative claims. For example, if a company makes a very high calorie product and a lower calorie alternative, it can still make statements such as "25% less calories than our regular product." A calorie content statement must also appear on any product bearing a calorie-based claim. In addition to "lite" and "low calorie" claims, a similar set of rules were established for "lean" and "low fat" products, except based on maximum allowable fat percentages instead of calories.

A successful weight loss program takes owner involvement, too. Even a "lite" food can cause weight gain if fed to excess. Owners should follow the feeding directions suggested for weight loss, be careful not to give their pets snacks or table scraps, and even institute an exercise program as the pet's health dictates. Involvement of the veterinarian in the process is also the most prudent in ensuring both the success of the weight loss program and avoidance of potential health risks.

Dental Products
Label claims for "clean teeth" have been on pet food labels for many years, particularly on dry, hard biscuit products. As the field of veterinary dentistry and the awareness of the importance of proper dental hygiene have grown, a number of products have borne much more explicit claims. Claims to treat or prevent gingivitis or periodontal disease are drug claims and should not appear on pet food labels. Plaque or tartar control claims may also be implied drug claims, as they directly relate to dental disease. However, CVM has exercised some regulatory discretion with respect to plaque and tartar claims for products that achieve their effects by mechanical actions. The Veterinary Oral Health Center, an outside organization formed under the auspices of the American Veterinary Dental College, has developed an experimental protocol for companies to follow to demonstrate that their products are useful in reducing plaque and tartar. This organization will also review data from companies to verify that the claim is true, and if so, allow them to carry its logo on the package. CVM has worked with the Veterinary Oral Health Center in this process, so consumers can be assured that products that bear the logo are useful for plaque and tartar control.

Skin and Coat Products
Pet food labels abound with promises for "healthy skin" and "glossy coat." Any normal animal receiving adequate nutrition through use of a complete and balanced product should have these qualities. However, claims to uncategorically "improve" skin and coat or to cure or prevent disease signs such dry skin, flaky skin, or itching may be drug claims.

Perhaps most notorious is the claim for a product to be "hypoallergenic." Elimination diets are used by veterinarians in the diagnosis and management of food allergies. An elimination diet is one devoid of food ingredients likely to cause an allergy, often characterized by itchy, inflamed skin. Resolution of these clinical signs while the animal is on the diet is diagnostic of a food allergy, and trial and error then could be used to determine exactly to what the pet was allergic and what ingredients to avoid. Traditionally, lamb and rice was used as the elimination diet. There is nothing special or unique about these ingredients in terms of allergenicity, and prolonged exposure to these ingredients could also induce an allergic condition. However, they were historically novel sources of protein, since the use of these ingredients was uncommon in commercial dog foods. As such, a pre-existing allergy to lamb or rice would be unlikely.

In recent years, a plethora of products containing lamb and rice entered the consumer market. Many of these products were labeled as "hypoallergenic," or otherwise espoused the benefits of lamb and rice in the treatment or prevention of food allergies and other skin problems. Such claims were made even for products that contained other sources of protein that would disqualify them as effective elimination diets.

CVM does not object to the use of lamb or rice in pet foods. Foods that contain these products in sufficient quantities to meet AAFCO labeling criteria may make claims to the presence of these ingredients. However, any claim to be "hypoallergenic," or any other expressed or implied claim relating these ingredients with benefits to the skin and coat beyond their normal nutritive value is a drug claim.

The same may also be true of other ingredients. For example, many fat sources may contain substances known as omega-3 fatty acids. There are some studies in the veterinary literature to suggest that when used pharmacologically, these substances may have an effect on inflammatory skin disease. However, omega-3 fatty acids are not recognized as essential nutrients at this time. In other words, dogs and cats cannot have an "omega-3 fatty acid deficiency," and unqualified claims relating to omega-3 fatty acid content may falsely imply nutritional benefit where none has been established. Thus, if a product label bears a claim for omega-3 fatty acids, it must also guarantee its level in the product, accompanied by a disclaimer that it is "not recognized as an essential nutrient by the AAFCO (Dog or Cat) Food Nutrient Profiles."

Veterinary Medical Foods
A "medical food" was originally defined in the Orphan Drug Act as "a food which is formulated to be consumed or administered enterally under the supervision of a physician and is intended for the specific dietary management of a disease or condition for which distinctive nutritional requirements, based on sound scientific principles, are established by medical evaluation." Historically, even though medical foods are specifically intended for use in disease conditions, they were regulated by FDA as foods, not drugs. This was because the market for medical foods was relatively small, confined mainly to products such as infant formulas designed for babies with rare genetic conditions. Since the cost of obtaining a drug approval for the product grossly outweighed any profit manufacturers could expect from use in such limited circumstances, FDA allowed this exemption so that the products could be available for those who needed them.

The definition cited above is in reference to foods for human consumption. However, it could also apply to a category of foods for veterinary use that can be characterized as "veterinary medical foods" ("VMF"). These products are generally intended to be offered as the sole source of nutrition to animals with specific medical conditions. Historically, they usually contained restricted amounts of certain nutrients to aid in the mitigation of some disease processes. For example, low protein/low phosphorus diets could be used for some forms of kidney disease, while a low sodium diet could be helpful in some forms of heart disease.

These products are often identified on the market by the label bearing the phrase "use only as directed by your veterinarian," and are often sold only by veterinarians
As foods, VMF are subject to the same labeling requirements as are any other pet food. As such, labels may not bear drug claims. This restriction also applies to product names. Thus, these products are often given names that would not be easily recognized by the average consumer, such as initials or numbers. Also, VMF labels must meet the same criteria for substantiation of nutritional adequacy as other pet foods. Previously, foods labeled "for veterinary use" were exempt from meeting other AAFCO requirements for "complete and balanced" foods. This appeared contradictory, since assurances of nutritional completeness take on even greater significance when used on sick animals. This fact has been borne out by several well-publicized incidents of nutritional deficiencies in animals fed VMF (for example, taurine and potassium deficiencies were discovered in cats on VMF). Thus, products must now substantiate adequacy by meeting the AAFCO nutrient profile or passing an AAFCO feeding trial protocol for adult maintenance, or include the phrase "for intermittent or supplemental feeding only." Some companies have attempted to circumvent these requirements by listing "intermittent use" on the label, but claiming complete nutritional adequacy in brochures or other sources. Regardless of what the brochures say, if this last statement appears on the label it means that the product has not been shown to be complete and balanced for the normal animal. Thus, it should be used only for certain medical conditions as directed by a veterinarian. Directions for use are presumed to be provided by the veterinarian to the pet owner, so VMF labels are exempt from the AAFCO requirement to include feeding directions.

Labeling of VMF with statements regarding their use in the mitigation of disease processes would imply therapeutic use and thus is not permitted. However, CVM recognizes that VMF have a scientifically sound basis, and they serve a purpose. Thus CVM generally exercises regulatory discretion with respect to distributing truthful information on VMF in materials intended only for veterinarians. Proper use of these types of products requires adequate veterinary supervision. An owner who feeds a VMF product for its desired therapeutic effect solely on the basis of labeling or advertising claims may cause harm resulting from improper diagnosis or treatment.

Dietary Supplements and "Nutraceuticals"
With the availability of today's "complete and balanced" products, nutritional supplements are needed only in very rare circumstances. Injudicious use of supplements runs a greater risk of causing dietary imbalances or toxicity than it does to actually improve the diet. Therefore, unless the pet is being fed a homemade diet that requires additional sources of certain nutrients, or unless a veterinarian diagnoses a medical condition that could benefit from supplementation, it is best not to give supplements to pets.

"Dietary supplements" describe a much broader range of products. Some provide essential nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, but others contain substances that are not recognized as essential for the intended species (for example, vitamin C for dogs and cats, omega-3 fatty acids). Herbs, plant or organ extracts, enzymes, and a host of other substances are also often marketed as dietary supplements. The market for dietary supplements was boosted by passage of DSHEA. This law changed the way FDA regulated these products for humans. Briefly, it said that FDA could not call a substance a "drug" or "food additive" if it met the definition for a dietary supplement and was not already regulated as a drug or food additive. Thus, it shifted the burden of the manufacturer having to prove a product was safe before it went on the market to the FDA having to prove it was unsafe before it could be removed. This prompted a sizable increase in the number and range of dietary supplements available on the market today.
DSHEA only applies to human products, not pet products. Some of the substances allowed for sale as human dietary supplements may not be legally permitted to be sold for animals. Although some of the supplements, such as herbal products, may have "thousands of years of history of safe use," this does not include history of use in animals. Animals may react very differently to substances than people, and even small doses can cause adverse effects. For example, aspirin and chocolate, both substances that are used by people every day without ill effect, can be toxic to pets and even cause death. Therefore, since it's not known what the true effects an herb or other supplement may have on pets, it's safest not to allow marketing for that use.

On a case-by-case basis, CVM has reviewed safety information for some substances and allowed them to be used in animal feeds (for example, L-carnitine in dog foods), even though they were officially "unapproved food additives." If included in a pet food or supplement, they must be properly declared on the label. If the substance is not an essential nutrient, the disclaimer "not recognized as an essential nutrient by the AAFCO (Dog or Cat) Food Nutrient Profiles" must also appear on the label.

The term "nutraceuticals" was coined to describe the increasing number of products offered for the prevention or treatment of disease but marketed under the guise of dietary supplements. The promise of a "safe" and "natural" remedy for disease is very appealing. However, since the product has not undergone the same testing for safety and efficacy as required for approved drugs, it's impossible to know whether the product works at all or is even unsafe. Presently, these substances are drugs if the labeling bears claims to treat or prevent disease, or if the intended use as a drug can be established by other means.

An informed consumer is the best consumer. It is easy to be confused by all the claims and promises made for pet foods and supplements, but keeping the rules described above in mind should help. If the pet owner has any questions, he or she should not hesitate to contact the manufacturer. Asking for advice from parties other than the manufacturer, such as FDA or state regulatory officials or university experts, may also be a good source of unbiased information. Also, as with other health matters, the pet's veterinarian should be consulted on dietary choices, especially with respect to any special use products.
This comment is provided by David A. Dzanis, DVM, Ph.D., DACVN, and in its original can be found on the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine under Information for consumers food and drug administration center for veterinary medicine

When a Pet Food is a "Drug"

In my comment Quality assurances on pet food labels – Realistic or marketing as usual? we took a closer look at quality assurances made by manufacturers on their pet food labels and unfortunately came to the conclusion that most of them are nothing else but marketing gigs. Though it has to be said that the marketing people at these companies disserve credit. The bottom line is that stats clearly show their strategy is working, even if the actual claims are totally meaningless. Today I want to take a closer look at another, similar category of pet foods. This one too is experiencing enormous growth rates: Pet nutritional products promising help and cure for health related issues What I find most ironic about these foods is that pretty much most of the health issues we are confronted with these days typically are caused by just the same food now promising to be the cure!? This comment is meant to be a crash course and a quick overview of what you need to know before you purchase pet food labeled with claims falling into any of these categories.

When a 'Food' is a 'Drug'
Statements that a product can treat, prevent or reduce the risk of a disease are considered drug claims and are not allowed on pet food. The FDA’s (Food and Drug Administration) Center of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) also disallows claims such as "improves skin and coat," "prevents dry skin," and "hypoallergenic." Consumers may see phrases such as "promotes healthy skin" and "promotes glossy coat." CVM permits these claims, but any healthy animal that gets adequate nutrition should have these qualities anyway without eating a special food.
Recognizing the close link between diet and disease, CVM does allow certain health related information on labels to help consumers evaluate pet foods. For example, while a product cannot claim to treat feline lower urinary tract disease, a concern for some cat owners, it may make the claim that the food "reduces urine pH to help maintain urinary tract health," provided data generated by the manufacturer and reviewed by CVM support the statement.
CVM permits some dental claims on pet foods. The jaw movement of animals as they chew on certain foods or treats, or some chemicals in foods, can help reduce plaque and tartar, so CVM allows claims such as "helps control plaque" and "helps control tartar." CVM does not allow claims to treat or prevent gingivitis or periodontal disease because these are drug claims.
Pet owners may see claims such as "improves doggie breath" on pet food or treats. These claims have no regulatory meaning; manufacturers use them simply to promote their products.
The phrase "recommended by veterinarians" also has no regulatory meaning, says Rodney Noel, Ph.D., AAFCO's pet food committee chair and a chemist at Purdue University. "There is no minimum number or percentage of veterinarians required for a company to be able to state its product is recommended by vets," Noel says.
CVM provides manufacturers some latitude in making health claims regarding a category of food known as veterinary medical foods, which consumers can obtain only through a veterinarian. Manufacturers design these foods to treat a particular disease or condition. Although not regulated as drugs, these foods may carry health information in promotional materials for the veterinarian to help them treat their patients correctly.

Making Sense of 'Light' and 'Lean' in Pet Food
The calorie and fat contents listed below are the maximum limits allowed in dog and cat food labeled "light" or "lean." These definitions are established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials and authorized by the FDA. Comparisons between products in different categories of moisture content are considered misleading.

Light, lite, or low calorie:
Dry Foods (< 20% moisture): Calories/lbs: Dogs 1,409; cats 1,477
Semi moist food (20 to 75% moisture): Calories/lbs: Dogs 1,136; cats 1,205
Moist food (> 65% moisture): Calories/lbs: Dogs 409; cats 432

Lean or low fat
Dry Foods (< 20% moisture): Dogs 9% fat, cats 10% fat
Semi moist food (20 to 75% moisture): Dogs 7% fat, cats 8% fat
Moist food (> 65% moisture): Dogs 4% fat, cats 5% fat

Stay tuned for the conclusion with consumer information on how to interpret pet food labels for “Special use food”.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Canine Niche and Special Needs Diets

Perusing your pet food store can be a daunting venture if you enter unsure of what you want to leave with. The shelves seem overloaded lately, with niche and specialty diets for various ailments, specific breeds, activity levels and more. There seems to be something for everyone with diets tailored to the finest detail. A juvenile Chihuahua with diabetes and an exceptionally small mouth can now find something just for her, it seems!

Are these niche diets all they're cracked up to be? Probably not. When you take a closer look at the ingredients in each, there really aren't even too many differences between each of them within a given manufacturer's line. Oftentimes, it's all in a name.

Some breeds certainly are prone to specific health concerns and some illnesses to respond well to dietary adjustments but for the most part, a few basic food-buying guidelines can set the majority of animals on the path to good health.

Here's our quick checklist for things to consider when choosing a sound canine diet:Quality not quantity (don't be too penned in by numbers) Just because your vet suggests a certain percentage of protein, doesn't mean that a food 1% outside the recommendation is unworthy of consideration.

A diet with 18% protein might contain by-products and fillers. Broaden your range and you might find something with a meat-based protein source that will maintain healthy kidney function, just as well!

Expense doesn't always equal quality. Don't just assume that buying the costliest food will assure you of its suitability. Look for more than just a pretty label - As with lots of things in life, marketing tactics abound in pet food products. Beautiful illustrations and clever names might lead you to think a food is better than it really is!

Choose to buy from a company who offers sound, thoughtful customer service and product recommendations specific to your pet.

The dangers of relying on a diet that's marketed just for your breed can lead to a false sense of security, too. The food you feed must be selected according to your individual animal's unique requirements, not the breed that's pictured on the label. No two bulldogs are exactly alike and one single diet shouldn't be expected to meet the needs of every bulldog under the sun.

That said, there are many great quality, broad-reaching diets that the vast majority of dogs will thrive on. Avoiding by-products, fillers, chemicals, colors, and flavor enhancers, is a must for everyone. Grains should often be avoided in those prone to chronic GI upset, ear infections and skin irritation, all of which are frequently caused by a dietary gluten overload. But some dogs actually need grain in their food to maintain a healthy bodyweight.

For the most part, a diet with a moderate nutritional profile and a good quality spectrum of ingredients will serve the task well. Don't automatically shy away from higher protein foods just because your pup is over age six. Healthy Seniors can actually benefit from a substantial protein percentage it helps maintain collagen, which provides amino acids that are essential for tissue growth and repair. Celebrating his seventh birthday shouldn't automatically warrant a change in food!

Try to encompass variety wherever possible. Good quality, whole food people ingredients are not bad for dogs when offered in moderation, as an accompaniment to a good quality basic diet. Don't be duped by the big guys, into thinking that all you should feed is the product they make. They are thinking about their bottom line, if you don't share your food with your pup, the more you'll need to buy of their product.

If your dog has special requirements, try keeping a notebook with comments about which foods seem to trigger reactions. Was it high carbohydrates or increased fat that leads to a gain of those few extra pounds? Does more protein really set off her urinary tract problems? Do all grains make his ears flare up or just the high gluten ones?

Sure, a large breed puppy does have somewhat different nutritional requirements than a senior small breed but they are both Canis Major with the same basic organ systems and their needs might not be quite as diverse as some companies would have you believe.
Contribution by Lucy Postins, Founder, Owner & President of The Honest Kitchen

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What’s Really in Pet Food? Part 7 Conclusion: Consumer Support, Fact Sheet “Selecting Commercial Pet Food” & Reference Guide

Today we are going to bring this series contributed by Born Free USA united with Animal Protection Institute to conclusion. I hope that this 7 part write up was helpful in providing some valuable insights on commercial, mass distributed pet food, which will help you to make the right decision in the best interest of your companion animals. Let’s recap in summary: 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. In Part 5 we talked in a brief summary about nutrition related diseases, which are affecting our pets these days in pandemic dimensions. Part 6 unveiled some pet food industry secrets and the magic of pet food marketing. This series focused 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.

What Consumers Can Do
Write or call pet food companies and the Pet Food Institute and express your concerns about commercial pet foods. Demand that manufacturers improve the quality of ingredients in their products.
Print out a copy of this report for your veterinarian to further his or her knowledge about commercial pet food.
Direct your family and friends with companion animals to this website, to alert them of the dangers of commercial pet food. Print out copies of the Fact Sheet on
Selecting a Good Commercial Food. (You may also download this fact sheet as a pdf and see my blog articles
Selecting a Commercial Pet Food Part 1: Ingredient Standards and Problems, Part 2: Pet Food Shopping Check List & Guide lines to feeding your companion animal and Part 3: Vegetarian Pet Foods & Pet Food Label Rules.)
Stop buying commercial pet food; or at least stop buying dry food. Dry foods have been the subject of many more recalls, and have many adverse health effects. If that is not possible, reduce the quantity of commercial pet food and supplement with fresh, organic foods, especially meat. Purchase one or more of the many books available on pet nutrition and make your own food. Be sure that a veterinarian or a nutritionist has checked the recipes to ensure that they are balanced for long-term use.
If you would like to learn about how to make healthy food for your companion animal, read up on "
Sample Diets," which contains simple recipes and important nutritional information.
Please be aware that API is not a veterinary hospital, clinic, or service. API does not and will not offer any medical advice. If you have concerns about your companion animal’s health or nutritional requirements, please consult your veterinarian.
Because pet food manufacturers frequently change the formulations of their products and Born Free USA united with API would not have conducted the necessary testing, we are unable to offer endorsements for particular brands of pet food. Many of our staff choose to make their own pet food or to purchase natural or organic products found in most feed and specialist stores but we cannot recommend brands that would be right for your companion animal or animals.

For Further Reading about Animal Nutrition
Born Free USA with Animal Protection Institute recommends the following books (listed in alphabetical order by author), many of which include recipes for home-prepared diets:
Michelle Bernard. 2003. Raising Cats Naturally — How to Care for Your Cat the Way Nature Intended.
Chiclet T. Dog and Jan Rasmusen. 2006. Scared Poopless: The Straight Scoop on Dog Care. ISBN-10: 0977126501, ISBN-13: 978-0977126507.
Rudi Edalati. 2001. Barker’s Grub: Easy, Wholesome Home-Cooking for Dogs. ISBN-10: 0609804421, ISBN-13: 978-0609804421.
Jean Hofve, DVM. 2007. What Cats Should Eat.
Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, and Susan Hubble Pitcairn. 2005.
Dr. Pitcairn’s New Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats. Rodale Press, Inc. ISBN-10: 157954973X, ISBN-13: 978-1579549732. Note: The recipes for cats were not revised in this new edition and date back to 2000; they may contain too much grain, according to recent research.
Kate Solisti. 2004.
The Holistic Animal Handbook: A Guidebook to Nutrition, Health, and Communication. Council Oaks Books. ISBN-10: 1571781536, ISBN-13: 978-1571781536.
Donald R. Strombeck. 1999.
Home-Prepared Dog & Cat Diets: The Healthful Alternative. Iowa State University Press. ISBN-10: 0813821495, ISBN-13: 978-0813821498. Note: Veterinary nutritionists have suggested that the taurine and calcium are too low in some of these recipes. Clam juice and sardines are poor sources of taurine; use taurine capsules instead.
Celeste Yarnall. 2000, Natural Cat Care: A Complete Guide to Holistic Health Care for Cats; and 1998, Natural Dog Care: A Complete Guide to Holistic Health Care for Dogs.
The books listed above are a fraction of all the titles currently available, and the omission of a title does not necessarily mean it is not useful for further reading about animal nutrition.

Who to Write

Pet Food Committee
David Syverson, Chair
Minnesota Department of Agriculture
Dairy and Food Inspection Division
625 Robert Street
NorthSt. Paul, MN 55155-2538

FDA — Center for Veterinary Medicine
Sharon Benz
7500 Standish Place
Rockville, MD 20855

Pet Food Institute
2025 M Street, NW, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20036
202-367-2120 fax

Association of American Feed Control Officials Incorporated. Official Publication 2007. Atlanta: AAFCO, 2007.
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Hand MS, Thatcher CD, Remillard RL, et al., eds. Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 4th Edition. 2002. Topeka, KS: Mark Morris Institute.
Logan, et al., Dental Disease, in: Hand et al., ibid.
Mahmoud AL. Toxigenic fungi and mycotoxin content in poultry feedstuff ingredients. J Basic Microbiol, 1993; 33(2): 101–4.
Morris JG, and Rogers QR. Assessment of the Nutritional Adequacy of Pet Foods Through the Life Cycle. Journal of Nutrition, 1994; 124: 2520S–2533S.
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Tareke E, Rydberg P, Karlsson P, et al. Analysis of acrylamide, a carcinogen formed in heated foodstuffs. J Agric Food Chem, 2002 Aug 14; 50(17): 4998–5006.
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Pet Food Institute. Fact Sheet 1994. Washington: Pet Food Institute, 1994.
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Morris, James G., and Quinton R. Rogers. Assessment of the Nutritional Adequacy of Pet Foods Through the Life Cycle. Journal of Nutrition, 124 (1994): 2520S–2533S.
Tareke E, Rydberg P, Karlsson P, et al. Analysis of acrylamide, a carcinogen formed in heated foodstuffs. J Agric Food Chem, 2002 Aug 14; 50(17): 4998–5006.
Mottram DS, Wedzicha BL, Dodson AT. Acrylamide is formed in the Maillard reaction. Nature, 2002 Oct 3; 419(6906): 448–9.
Hand MS, Thatcher CD, Remillard RL, et al., eds. Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 4th Edition. 2002. Topeka, KS: Mark Morris Institute.
Seefelt SL, Chapman TE. Body water content and turnover in cats fed dry and canned rations. Am J Vet Res, 1979 Feb; 40(2): 183–5.
Logan, et al., Dental Disease, in: Hand et al., eds., Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, Fourth Edition. Topeka, KS: Mark Morris Institute, 2000. 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

What’s Really in Pet Food? Part 6 Industry Secrets & Marketing Magic

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. In Part 5 we talked in a brief summary about nutrition related diseases, which are affecting our pets these days in pandemic dimensions. 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.

Pet Food Industry Secrets
The 2007 Menu Foods recall brought to light some of the pet food industry’s dirtiest secrets.
Most people were surprised — and appalled — to learn that all Iams/Eukanuba canned foods are not made by The Iams Company at all. In fact, in 2003 Iams signed an exclusive 10-year contract for the production of 100% of its canned foods by Menu.
This type of deal is called “co-packing.” One company makes the food, but puts someone else’s label on it. This is a very common arrangement in the pet food industry. It was first illustrated by the Doane’s and Diamond recalls, when dozens of private labels were involved. But none were as large or as “reputable” as Iams, Eukanuba, Hill’s, Purina, Nutro, and other high-end, so-called “premium” foods.
The big question raised by this arrangement is whether or not there is any real difference between the expensive premium brands and the lowliest generics. The recalled products all contained the suspect ingredient, wheat gluten, but they also all contained by-products of some kind, including specified by-products such as liver or giblets.
It’s true that a pet food company that contracts with a co-packer can provide its own ingredients, or it can require the contractor to buy particular ingredients to use in its recipes. But part of the attraction of using a co-packer is that it can buy ingredients in larger bulk than any one pet food maker could on its own, making the process cheaper and the profits larger. It’s likely that with many of the ingredients that cross all types of pet foods, those ingredients are the same.
Are one company’s products — made in the same plant on the same equipment with ingredients called the same name — really “better” than another’s? That’s what the makers of expensive brands want you to think. The recalled premium brands claim that Menu makes their foods “according to proprietary recipes using specified ingredients,” and that “contract manufacturers must follow strict quality standards.” Indeed, the contracts undoubtedly include those points. But out in the real world, things may not go according to plan. How well are machines cleaned between batches, how carefully are ingredients mixed, and just how particular are minimum-wage workers in a dirty smelly job going to be about getting everything just perfect?
Whatever the differences are between cheap and high-end food, one thing is clear. The purchase price of pet food does not always determine whether a pet food is good or bad or even safe. However, the very cheapest foods can be counted on to have the very cheapest ingredients. For example, Ol’ Roy, Wal-Mart’s store brand, has now been involved in 3 serious recalls.
Menu manufactures canned foods for many companies that weren’t affected by the recall, including Nature's Variety, Wellness, Castor & Pollux, Newman's Own Organics, Wysong, Innova, and EaglePack. It’s easy to see from their ingredient lists that those products are made from completely different ingredients and proportions. Again, the issue of cleaning the machinery out between batches comes up, but hopefully nothing so lethal will pass from one food to another.
Animal Testing
Another unpleasant practice exposed by this recall is pet food testing on live animals. Menu's own lab animals, who were deliberately fed the tainted food, were the first known victims. Tests began on February 27 (already a week after the first reports); animals started to die painfully from kidney failure a few days later. After the first media reports, Menu quickly changed its story to call these experiments “taste tests.” But Menu has done live animal feeding, metabolic energy, palatability, and other tests for Iams and other companies for years. Videotapes reveal the animals’ lives in barren metal cages; callous treatment; invasive experiments; and careless cruelty.
Although feeding trials are not required for a food to meet the requirements for labeling a food “complete and balanced,” many manufacturers use live animals to perform palatability studies when developing a new pet food. One set of animals is fed a new food while a “control” group is fed a current formula. The total volume eaten is used as a gauge for the palatability of the food. Some companies use feeding trials, which are considered to be a much more accurate assessment of the actual nutritional value of the food. They keep large colonies of dogs and cats for this purpose, or use testing laboratories that have their own animals.
There is a new movement toward using companion animals in their homes for palatability and other studies. In 2006, The Iams Company announced that it was cutting the use of canine and feline lab animals by 70%. While it proclaims this moral victory, the real reasons for this switch are likely financial. Whatever the reasons, it is a very positive step for the animals.
Finally, it is important to remember that the contamination that occurred in the Menu Foods recall could have happened anywhere at any time. It was not Menu’s fault; the toxin was unusual and unexpected. All companies have quality control standards and they do test ingredients for common toxins before using them. They also test the final products. However, there is a baseline risk inherent in using the raw materials that go into pet foods. When there are 11 recalls in 12 years, it’s clear that “freak occurrences” are the rule, not the exception.

Marketing Magic
A trip down the pet food aisle will boggle the mind with all the wonderful claims made by pet food makers for their repertoire of products. Knowing the nature of the ingredients helps sort out some of the more outrageous claims, but what’s the truth behind all this hype?
Niche claims. Indoor cat, canine athlete, Persian, 7-year old, Bloodhound, or a pet with a tender tummy, too much flab, arthritis, or itchy feet — no matter what, there’s a food “designed” just for that pet’s personal needs. Niche marketing has arrived in a big way in the pet food industry. People like to feel special, and a product with specific appeal is bound to sell better than a general product like “puppy food.” The reality is that there are only two basic standards against which all pet foods are measured: adult and growth, which includes gestation and lactation. Everything else is marketing.
“Natural” and “Organic” claims. The definition of “natural” adopted by AAFCO is very broad, and allows for artificially processed ingredients that most of us would consider very unnatural indeed. The term “organic”, on the other hand, has a very strict legal definition under the USDA National Organic Program. However, some companies are adept at evading the intent of both of these rules. For instance, the name of the company or product may be intentionally misleading. Some companies use terms such as “Nature” or “Natural” or even “Organic” in the brand name, whether or not their products fit the definitions. Consumers should also be aware that the term “organic” does not imply anything at all about animal welfare; products from cows and chickens can be organic, yet the animals themselves are still just “production units” in enormous factory farms.
Ingredient quality claims. A lot of pet foods claim they contain “human grade” ingredients. This is a completely meaningless term — which is why the pet food companies get away with using it. The same applies to “USDA inspected” or similar phrases. The implication is that the food is made using ingredients that are passed by the USDA for human consumption, but there are many ways around this. For instance, a facility might be USDA-inspected during the day, but the pet food is made at night after the inspector goes home. The use of such terms should be viewed as a “Hype Alert.”
“Meat is the first ingredient” claim. A claim that a named meat (chicken, lamb, etc.) is the #1 ingredient is generally seen for dry food. Ingredients are listed on the label by weight, and raw chicken weighs a lot, since contains a lot of water. If you look further down the list, you’re likely to see ingredients such as chicken or poultry by-product meal, meat-and-bone meal, corn gluten meal, soybean meal, or other high-protein meal. Meals have had the fat and water removed, and basically consist of a dry, lightweight protein powder. It doesn’t take much raw chicken to weigh more than a great big pile of this powder, so in reality the food is based on the protein meal, with very little “chicken” to be found. This has become a very popular marketing gimmick, even in premium and “health food” type brands. Since just about everybody is now using it, any meaning it may have had is so watered-down that you may just as well ignore it.
Special ingredient claims. Many of the high-end pet foods today rely on the marketing appeal of people-food ingredients such as fruits, herbs, and vegetables. However, the amounts of these items actually present in the food are small; and the items themselves may be scraps and rejects from processors of human foods — not the whole, fresh ingredients they want you to picture. Such ingredients don’t provide a significant health benefit and are really a marketing gimmick.
Pet food marketing and advertising has become extremely sophisticated over the last few years. It’s important to know what is hype and what is real to make informed decisions about what to feed your pets.
Stay tuned, in the final installment of this series we are going to provide some ideas as to what options you as a pet owner have, a fact sheet on “Selecting Commercial Pet Food” and an extensive reference guide for further reading on the subject matter.
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

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

From Russia with Love? American Pet Foods disappearing off Russian Pet Food Shelves

Susan Thixton of the other day in her newsletter directed my attention to today’s comment: She wrote:
“Russia is second after the U.S. on the number of pets per capita. Recent Russian Federal Service regulations have caused Pedigree Dog Food and Whiskas Cat Food to disappear from Russian store shelves."

Here is the article in it’s full length as published on Pravda On-line:
“Many suppliers of foreign-made pet food can not receive a license from Russia’s Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance to import the goods to Russia and are forced to scrap their activities in the country.
At the end of 2008, the Federal Service changed the set of documents, which are required to receive the license for the import of pet food. The service began to decline licenses to many suppliers claiming that enterprises must be included on a special register of the department, similar to what is practiced with foodstuffs for people.
Russia comes second after the United States on the number of pets per capita. Nearly every other Russian family (47-48 percent) keeps pets at home. There are up to 30 million pet cats and up to 20 million pet dogs in Russia.
The market of pet food in Russia started developing almost 20 years ago. It was gaining 20-25 percent every year, i.e. the pet food market was doubling every four or five years. The Russians spend about 4/5 of their income on dry and canned dog and cat food.
The present-day market of pet food in Russia is evaluated at one billion dollars. Imports make over 70 percent of the goods. Germany, Britain, France, China and the USA are included in the top five of the largest exporters of pet food to Russia.
US companies showed a negative reaction to the new rules of the Russian bureaucracy. “They found the special register measure absolutely unnecessary. They now refuse to draw up any lists claiming that it would be ridiculous, because it goes about the civilized, not the handcraft manufacture of pet food,” Tatiana Kolchanova, the general director of the Union of Zoo Enterprises said.
Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance has already signed away 32 licenses – 19 of them were explained with the absence of the list of product makers in the USA, Australia and New Zealand.
“We have a certain shortage of goods already. We have lost several positions, but we try to replenish them with European brands. If people feed a certain brand of food to their pets for years, cats or dogs may refuse to eat something different,” a salesperson representing a chain of Moscow pet shops said.
It is worthy of note that the cost of imported pet food has increased 1.5 times in Russia over the decline of the ruble rate against the dollar and the euro.”

Susan added “Pedigree Dog Food and Whiskas Cat Food are currently not available in Russia.”

Now we really don’t know what these new rules in detail are all about. And unfortunately I don’t speak Russian and don’t have the time to really find out what it is all about.

Though I did go on’s news page, to me their version sounds a little different than Susan’s:
“Foreign suppliers forced to exit Russian market Release Date: Friday, April 03, 2009: Foreign petfood suppliers are forced to scrap their exports to Russia due to not being able to receive a license from Russia’s
Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance to import the goods, according to an article on The FSVPS began to decline licenses to many suppliers claiming that enterprises must be included on a special register of the department.”
This version to me sounds like the manufacturers were made to exit, rather than voluntarily exited the Russian market. However, the link provided by the portal refer to the same Pravda article.

So what’s my point? I would like to say is that this sounds all too familiar. Our very own pet food manufacturers, especially the big guns don’t like to be regulated. We know that from everything going on here at home. I am pretty sure that this is one major reason why circumstances are the way they are around here and why there are no stricter regulations with regards to pet food. Food for thought and discussion. Or should I just assume and hope that I am totally wrong? I sure would prefer that…

Monday, April 13, 2009

Pet obesity - a pet owners' problem

Reading the Veterinary Practice News the I came across the following article written by Jessica Tremayne, titled “Pet Obesity – A Huge Problem”. While I kind of agree with her, I look at the problem a little different and, be forewarned, not quite as polite and forgiving as she did. But let’s first see what she had to say:
“Two-thirds of clients say nothing about their overweight pet unless the veterinarian speaks first, experts say. Initiating the conversation is the first obstacle that veterinarians face when helping patients reduce weight.
The U.S. has the fattest pets in the world, and the social and psychological pressure to ignore weight problems is huge.
A February 2009 report from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention shows that more than 44 percent of dogs and 57 percent of cats are overweight or obese. The figures represent an increase of 1 percentage point in dogs and 4 percentage points in cats compared with a 2007 study.
“Pet obesity continues to emerge as a leading cause of preventable disease and death in dogs and cats,” says Ernie Ward, DVM, the association’s founder and chief-of-staff. “Pets are in real danger of not living as long as previous generations and developing serious and costly diseases such as diabetes, arthritis and other largely avoidable conditions.
“We are afraid to offend our clients or make them feel uncomfortable about their own weight if we discuss their overweight pet, but staying quiet is risking the patients health.”
One tactic is to use the body assessment rating for canines (BARC) or another scoring scale, experts say. This takes the focus away from the fat and onto the medical condition.
“You wouldn’t avoid discussing a diabetic cat’s condition with a diabetic pet owner, so don’t avoid the weight issue with owners that may have the same problem,” says Dottie LaFlamme, DVM, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVN, of Nestle Purina PetCare Co. “Give the owner something to work off of. Use a scale of 1 to 9 or 1 to 5 so they have an opportunity to realize the severity of the problem. The biggest problem is getting the owner to accept their pet is in fact overweight.”
Owner excuses for overweight pets include a misperception of the amount eaten daily, stories of constant hunger, passing blame onto others, disinterest in exercise and thoughts of complacency with being “fat and happy.”
“You have to write clients a prescription for weight loss or else they will forget everything you talked about in the exam room when they walk out your door,” says Veterinary Practice News columnist Patty Khuly, VMD, founder of the veterinary blog “You want to tell clients, ‘This dog is fat and you are going to kill her,’ but you really have to approach it on an individual client basis–know what they can and can’t handle. Tread lightly and get past the fat and talk strictly about the weight, even though some clients need to be hit over the head with the shocking facts.”
Some experts suggest giving clients a free measuring scoop provided by a pet food manufacturer. Many clients want to be told what to do step by step, often the only way to help them manage their pet’s weight loss.
“We come from a food is love society and getting pets to lose weight or stay at a good weight means breaking habits,” says Dr. Khuly, who practices at Sunset Animal Clinic in Miami. “Calories really should be listed on the side of all dog food bags since many owners are accustomed to counting calories for themselves, but unfortunately, most manufacturers do not have that information listed.
“The amount designated on the side of the animals’ food bags calls for more than needed as well. The only way pets would burn off those calories is if they were athletes. Society is working against successful weight loss because owners with trim dogs are often looked at as if they are starving their pets.”
By the NumbersThe Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found feline obesity rates of 17.8 percent, or 15.7 million animals, and an additional 35 million overweight cats. Dogs did better, with 9.6 percent, or 7.2 million, classified as obese and 26 million considered overweight.
“These numbers, 33 million dogs and 51 million cats that are overweight, represent a huge problem for everyone,” says Dr. Ward, who practices at Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, N.C. “Excess weight causes or contributes to many painful and debilitating conditions. Just as we’ve become a nation of couch potatoes, our pets have become a nation of lap potatoes, and that’s not good for anyone.”
Older animals had a higher incidence of being overweight: 52 percent of dogs and 55 percent of cats older than age 7.
“This is a particularly concerning discovery for veterinarians,” Ward says. “Extra pounds in older pets amplify any pre-existing conditions and complicate treatment. We’re seeing more and more diabetes, respiratory and arthritic conditions in older pets as a direct result of obesity. These are often chronic, incurable and generally preventable diseases. Pet owners need to understand that a few extra pounds on a dog or cat is similar to a person being 30 to 50 pounds overweight.”
Veterinarians need to recommend solutions beyond just prescribing diet food, experts say.
Click here for information that can be passed to owners in tactful ways. The website shows safe and correct ways to cut calories and how to exercise a dog. It also discusses praising a dog with affection as opposed to confection, which puts on unneeded calories.
“Clients tend to never get their pets into aerobic exercise. They simply walk them, which isn’t very effective,” Ward says. “Veterinarians need to help clients get their pet back to a healthy weight and not by simply saying the animal needs to eat less and exercise more. We’ve gone down that road and it’s about as effective for animals as it is people.”
Suggestions“Giving clients a list of treats you are comfortable with is a good start,” Ward says. “You must give specific examples of treats and a number to give at once.”
Other tips include individualizing weight-loss plans. If Plan A isn’t working after three months, try something different to adjust to each patient’s unique needs. Tell the client what excess weight does to a pet’s body.
“New research shows that fat tissue is biologically active,” Ward says. “Scores of hormones are produced by this tissue and that affects the heart, brain, liver, pancreas and entire endocrine system.”
Prevention is the best approach, which means discussing proper nutrition and exercise when the animal is young. Considering that many animals are considered adults at 1 year old, they shouldn’t put on many more pounds at that point.
“Animals aren’t babies as owners often view them,” Ward says. “Just like in people, you should weigh the same as you did when you were 18 or 19 – when you stopped growing.”
Getting the clinic staff involved is a great tactic. Employees who use recommended weight-loss techniques on their pets can discuss the obstacles and accomplishments with clients.
“When the staff is on board, they can sincerely attest to clients the benefits of maintaining a healthy weight for pets,” Ward says. “It can be as simple as figuring the calories in food. You can help you clients calculate the proper amount of food for their pets based on the type of food and animal’s size.”
Medicine and ResourcesPfizer Inc.’s Slentrol, as well as other emerging and developing drugs, can be used after more traditional methods have been explored, Ward says.
“I am all for anything that helps fight obesity,” he says. “There are some weight-loss drugs that will hopefully be getting Food and Drug Administration approval soon. With 50 percent of animals having a weight problem, action must be taken. These are big numbers and they hold up across the board. It’s really frightening.” “
Great job, Jessica. Now my opinion on the subject matter:
First I like the idea that the article clearly shows who is to blame for the problem: Sorry, but yes it’s you, the owner of the obese cat or dog. This time it’s not a pet food manufacturer or the entire pet food industry. Whether they make good or not so good food, they tell you how much you have to feed, all you have to do is follow their instructions. It’s not your pet. If your pet wants to eat all day long, simply don’t let it happen. You are in control. Jessica says, I should follow the expert’s advice of being tactful about telling you the truth? What is so tactful on your part, you are killing your pet. Now what does that have to do with love? This reminds me of the show I followed the other night on TV where they talked about this 685 lbs person and the entire family keeps providing junk food by the truckload every day in and out. They love this family member? I am sorry, but I can’t help it: I cannot see any love in the idea that they are killing a loved one.
Jessica says: “The U.S. has the fattest pets in the world, and the social and psychological pressure to ignore weight problems is huge.” Don’t we also have the same problem with our humans? Is that where the problem originates? Because we don’t care too much about ourselves, we don’t have to care too much about others, including our pets?
“Owner excuses for overweight pets include a misperception of the amount eaten daily, stories of constant hunger, passing blame onto others, disinterest in exercise and thoughts of complacency with being “fat and happy.””
Misperception of amount eaten daily? What’s to misunderstand here? Feeding instructions are very clear. If the instructions say feed 2 cups then simply do that and don’t think you have to override the manufacturer’s instructions because to you it looks like it’s not enough. Unfortunately some of our animals can’t tell by themselves when they have enough. They will eat whatever and as much as you put in front of them. Let me remind you, on top of it you have to consider that most feeding instructions are already on the upper limit. By providing even more you are not just wasting your money (the animal will only utilize what it’s body requires, everything above and beyond that kind of “blows” straight through the system without any beneficial utilization), you also are paving the road to disease and early death.
Granted, and this part I do understand, it happens often when pet owners switch from a low grade to a higher quality food. All the sudden they have to feed less because there is a higher nutritional utilization in the pet’s body taking place. Then these owners often wonder, “… but is that enough?” You bet it is. And listen to me and the manufacturers. Don’t think we don’t know what we are talking about and you know better. My goal is to keep your pet alive and disease free for the longest possible time, that’s the only way I can make money off you and your pet. So why would I recommend a feeding strategy accomplishing quite the opposite? Think about it.
Quit feeding unhealthy table scraps on top of the regular food rations. The portion your pet got is enough for a certain period of time, it does not need any more food. Period. It is as simple as that. You may think you do your cat or dog a favor, you don’t, you are contributing to a preventable disease.
Also, keep in mind, another problem area are treats. Some pet owners think they have to provide treats on a 24 hour basis. Let me remind you, most of them are calories too. A treat should be a reward for doing something right and good. Or a treat can be given to keep an animal busy and occupied. It should not be a habit and for sure not part of the feeding plan. Just like you shouldn’t eat too much deserts, chocolate, junk food or whatever you get pleasure out of eating besides your regular meals, neither should your pet. Trust me, a meaty raw bone to chew on is much more appreciated by your pet that any snausages or other junk from the super market. Plus, they are way healthier and don’t pile on those calories.
I don’t quite get where “blame can be passed onto others”. There is only one pet owner, he’s in charge. Period, it is that simple. If the pet like in most cases belongs to a family and it is a matter of every family member feeding the animal, simply put someone in charge and tell everybody to stay away from feeding. Do that by explaining that it will ultimately kill the animal. What’s so difficult about that?
What happened to our common sense? Does that no longer exist for most of us? Like Dr. Ward says in the article: “it’s a preventable disease.” To prevent it is the pet owners job.
Owning a pet comes with responsibilities. Keeping the pet at regular weight is one of them. Can’t exercise the animal because you have no time or are simply too lazy to walk the dog? Make sure you have someone else take care of the walking. Can’t afford it? Don’t have a pet. I am sorry, but to me it is that simple. By the way, the money you spend on a dog walker is probably way less than what you end up spending with having your obese pet later on treated at your vet.
And what finally really made me upset about the article is Dr. Ward’s announcement that there are drugs to fight obesity on the horizon. Great, first we mess up, then we come up with a fix. This fix for sure will have a negative impact on the pet’s overall health and well being and guaranteed will be the cause for more problems. Why don’t we do the right thing to begin with?
You know that I am always on the pet owner’s side. Not so in this case. Because pet obesity has absolutely nothing to do with healthy or unhealthy food. This one we can’t blame on the mass marketed pet foods. For this one we have to blame ourselves. Is that why it is so difficult for pet owners to understand? Because they can’t blame nobody else?
Sorry, I didn’t follow Jessica’s advice of being very tactful about it. But I think it is about time that someone speaks the truth and puts the facts on the table. I couldn’t help it but to take Dr. Khuly’s advice very serious: “some clients need to be hit over the head with the shocking facts.” I think Dr. Ward is right: "... staying quiet is risking the patient's health". That is why I was a little more agressive today.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Browsing today’s pet column in the local news paper: Drugs or nutrition to fight disease? Cushing’s Disease & Diabetes

Chipping away on my pile of pet column articles in my daily Palm Beach Post today I would like to address some advice given by Dr. Michael Fox and others I followed in the paper. Today let’s get started with how to fight diseases like Cushing’s disease and, since it came up in this particular incident, diabetes. Let’s dive right into it:
This reader’s dog, a 9 year old Manchester Terrier recently was diagnosed with Cushing’s Syndrome. This woman reports that her vet initially diagnosed the dog with having diabetes. It was only later, when on one day she visited her daughter and went to her daughter’s vet to follow up with the dog’s insulin dosages that another opinion alerted her to the fact that the dog was actually suffering not from diabetes but from Cushing’s. That vet started the dog out on Anipryl and in less than a month all the symptoms such as excessive appetite, potbelly, heavy panting and listlessness disappeared. Apparently following her vets’ advice she continues to give insulin as well as the first vet will not admit that he possibly came up with a wrong diagnosis and insists that the dog has diabetes. The second vet agrees by saying that could be part of the Cushing’s. Further blood tests revealed a significant drop of alkaline phosphatase (from 1183 down to 596). After a few months of treatment that level rose back up to 780. An increased Anipryl dosage to 20 mg finally got it back up to 1100. However now the owner is concerned about overdosing. She also is confused by the vet’s statement , who says one has to go by the disease symptoms and not by the blood chemistry.
This once again is a typical example how some vets make a pet owner’s life difficult by confusing them instead of explaining in simple terms what the problem is and how it will be treated. This poor woman now even has it worst by being caught between 2 vets at the same time. Maybe she should just go, look a third time and hopefully end up finally finding one reliable one. Instead, the woman decided to write to Dr. Michael Fox, D.V.M., let’s see what he has to say:
“Diabetes, hyper- or hypothyroidism and hyper-adrenalism (Cushing’s disease) are all too common endocrine diseases.”
Got that? I have to be honest, I only did because I am dealing with all of this on a more regular basis than Joe, no, not the plumber, but the average pet owner. We just cannot assume everybody knows what diabetes is about. So here we go, a little search on the Internet had me end up at the website of the
American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) from where I got directed to “Pet Diabetes Month” website. Kind of providing a quick crash course on the subject matter, according to these guys:
“Diabetes mellitus, the clinical name for “sugar diabetes,” is a disease that affects the level of glucose (a simple sugar that is the major source of energy for many organisms) in your dog’s blood. Diabetes results when the dog’s body makes too little insulin (a hormone secreted by the pancreas that helps cells absorb glucose from the bloodstream) or doesn’t process insulin properly. Insulin affects how your dog’s body uses food. When your dog eats, food is broken down into very small components its body can use. One component, carbohydrate, is converted into several types of simple sugars, including glucose. Glucose is absorbed from the intestines into the blood, then travels to cells throughout the body. Inside cells, insulin helps turn glucose into fuel. If there’s too little insulin available, glucose can’t enter cells and can build up to poisonous levels in the bloodstream. As a result, a diabetic dog may want to eat constantly, but will be malnourished because its cells can’t absorb glucose.
Canine diabetes is quite common, about one dog in 500 develops diabetes and that number is increasing.
Any dog could develop diabetes, but certain breeds are more likely to develop the condition. These breeds appear to be at greater risk for developing canine diabetes: Cocker spaniels, Dachshunds, Doberman pinschers, German shepherds, Golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, Pomeranians, Terriers and Toy poodles. Diabetes typically occurs when dogs are between 4 to 14 years old. Unspayed female dogs are twice as likely as males to suffer from diabetes.
Explanation of some common terms pet owners are likely to encounter: Polyuria is the production of large amounts of urine in a given period, such as per day. Polydipsia is the medical term for excessive thirst, usually noticed when a pet seems to be drinking excessive amounts of water. Polyphagia refers to eating more food than usual per day or eating more frequently.
Dogs with diabetes mellitus drink more water and urinate more than normal. They usually have good or increased appetites but may nonetheless be losing weight. Other common diseases with these signs include Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism) and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). To diagnose diabetes,the veterinarian will measure your dog’s blood glucose level and test the dog’s urine for glucose and ketones (acids that appear in urine when there is an insulin shortage and the body is using fat instead of glucose for energy. High ketone levels in the blood can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis, which can cause coma and even death. )
Aggressive treatment of diabetes in dogs is relatively new. Not many years ago, diabetic dogs would have gone undiagnosed and would have died at a young age, either from the disease or euthanasia. Consequently, a very short life span for known diabetic dogs is usually quoted in textbooks (two to five years after diagnosis). Also, keep in mind that many dogs are diagnosed with diabetes later in life, so a two- to five-year life expectancy may be near their natural life span. If a diabetic dog has well-managed blood glucose levels and it doesn’t develop other health problems, it should have a normal life expectancy.
Similarities between human and canine diabetese: The two conditions are very similar. In fact, your veterinarian will be using medication, equipment and monitoring systems that are similar to those used for diabetic people.
Diabetes is one of many diseases that can affect your dog and can cause visible changes in behavior and other signs. That’s why it is important that your dog be thoroughly examined by a veterinarian at least once a year or more frequently as your veterinarian advises. “

Now let’s see if we can get the same on the others:
According to, the Dr’s. Foster and Smith Research website: “ Hypothyroidism is a common problem in dogs. The thyroid gland has a number of different functions, but it is most known for its role in regulating metabolism. Hypothyroidism is the condition that occurs when not enough thyroid hormone is produced. Hypothyroidism causes a wide variety of symptoms, but is often suspected in dogs that have trouble with weight gain or obesity and suffer from hair loss and skin problems. Hypothyroidism is easy to diagnose with a blood test that checks the level of various thyroid hormones including T3 and T4. Many dogs suffer from a low thyroid hormone level for years without treatment. If your dog has chronic recurrent skin problems, she may be suffering from hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism results from the impaired production and secretion of thyroid hormone. The production of thyroid hormone is influenced by the pituitary gland, the hypothalamus, and the thyroid gland. Although dysfunction anywhere in the complicated hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid pathway can result in hypothyroidism, more than 95% of all cases occur as a result of destruction of the thyroid gland. About half of the causes of thyroid gland destruction are suspected to be caused by the dog's own immune system killing the cells of the thyroid gland. The other half is caused by atrophy of the thyroid tissue and resultant infiltration of the tissue by fat. The cause for this form of the disease is unknown.
Although the onset of clinical signs is variable, hypothyroidism most commonly develops in middle-aged dogs between the ages of 4 to 10 years. The disorder usually affects mid to large size breeds of dogs, and is rare in toy and miniature breeds of dogs. Breeds that appear to be predisposed to developing the condition include the Golden Retriever, Doberman Pinscher, Irish Setter, Miniature Schnauzer, Dachshund, Cocker Spaniel, and Airedale Terrier. German Shepherds and mixed breeds appear to be at a reduced risk of contracting the disease. There does not appear to be a sex predilection but spayed females appear to develop it more often than intact females.”

College of Veterinary Medicine at the Washington State University explains Cushing’s disease as follows: “The overproduction of the hormone cortisol by the adrenal glands that are located in the belly near the kidneys. Cushing's disease occurs commonly in dogs… Most dogs with Cushing’s disease are about 6 years old or older but sometimes Cushing's disease occurs in younger dogs. Cortisol affects the function of many organs in the body, so the signs of Cushing’s disease may be varied. Some of the more common signs of Cushing’s disease include hair loss, pot-bellied appearance, increased appetite, and increased drinking and urination called polydipsia and polyuria (PU/PD). Hair loss caused by Cushing’s disease occurs primarily on the body, sparing the head and legs. The skin is not usually itchy as it is with other skin diseases. If you pick up a fold of skin on a dog with Cushing’s disease, you may notice that the skin is thinner than normal. The pet may have fragile blood vessels and may bruise easily.
Less common signs of Cushing’s disease are weakness, panting, and an abnormal way of walking (stiff or standing or walking with the paws knuckled over). Some dogs with Cushing’s disease develop a blood clot to the lungs and show a rapid onset of difficulty breathing.
Dogs that are given prednisone or similar drugs can develop signs that look like Cushing’s disease (called iatrogenic Cushing’s).
There are two types of Cushing’s disease that are treated differently. The most common form of Cushing’s disease is caused by the overproduction of a hormone by the pituitary gland in the brain that in turn controls the amount of cortisol produced by the adrenal glands. This is called pituitary-dependent Cushing’s. A small percentage of dogs with Cushing’s disease have a tumor of one of the adrenal glands which is called adrenal-dependent Cushing’s.There is no single test to diagnose Cushing’s disease. The history, physical exam, and results of initial blood and urine tests often provide a strong suspicion for the presence of Cushing’s disease. Laboratory tests that are most commonly altered by Cushing’s disease are an increase in white blood cell count, increase in the liver enzyme ALP (also called SAP or serum alkaline phosphatase), increased blood sugar (although not as high as the blood sugar levels of diabetic patients), increased cholesterol and dilute urine. …..The large amount of cortisol in the body suppresses the immune system and allows the pet with Cushing’s disease to get bacterial infections. The most common location for infection is the bladder. Pets with Cushing’s disease may have a silent bladder infection meaning they don’t show signs of having the infection such as straining to urinate. A culture of the urine may be necessary to diagnose the infection.
X-rays of the belly often show a large liver. Occasionally the x-ray will show calcium in the area of one of the adrenal glands that is suggestive of an adrenal tumor. Ultrasound of the belly may show enlargement of both adrenal glands in pets with pituitary-dependent Cushing’s or enlargement of just one of the adrenal glands in pets with an adrenal tumor. The adrenal glands are NOT always seen during an ultrasound exam in pets with Cushing’s. In some pets with an adrenal tumor, the tumor can be seen growing into large blood vessels close to the adrenal gland or spread from the tumor may be seen in the liver.
….. The treatment of the most common type of Cushing’s disease (pituitary-dependent) is lifelong oral medication. ….. The prognosis for pituitary-dependent Cushing’s disease with treatment is usually good. Some signs will disappear quickly and others gradually. Appetite and water consumption usually return to normal in a few weeks where as full return of the fur may take several months.”

Now, after we got all that straight, I guess these explanations make it little more understandable why the vets in the case of our Terrier came up with confusing diagnostic results, it looks like all the disease have a lot of symptoms in common and one may even be the cause of another one. So let’s get back to Dr. Fox, who, with what he said had it all right. He continues: “There are multiple causes that can be difficult to avoid with the wide spread incidence of endocrine disrupting chemicals in the environment and in food and water.”

Wait a second: Endocrine disrupting chemicals?
The endocrine system is a system of small organs that involve the release of extracellular signaling molecules known as hormones. The endocrine system is instrumental in regulating metabolism, … and tissue function …. Endocrine disruptors (sometimes also referred to as hormonally active agents) are exogenous substances that act like hormones in the endocrine system and disrupt the physiologic function of endogenous hormones. Studies have linked endocrine disruptors to adverse biological effects in animals… … there has been concern that chemicals in the environment might exert profound and deleterious effects on wildlife populations, and that human health is inextricably linked to the health of the environment.
Although researchers had studied the endocrine effects of chemicals in the past, the term endocrine disruptor was coined in 1991 …. stated that environmental chemicals disrupt the development of the endocrine system, and that effects of exposure during development are permanent.
Endocrine disrupting compounds encompass a variety of chemical classes, including hormones, plant constituents, pesticides, compounds used in the plastics industry and in consumer products, and other industrial by-products and pollutants. Some are pervasive and widely dispersed in the environment. Some are persistent organic pollutants (POP's), and can be transported long distances across national boundaries and have been found in virtually all regions of the world. … All communication within the body is facilitated by the either the nervous system or the endocrine system. The nervous system transmits sensory messages to the brain and enables quick responses to sudden environmental events. Typically, these responses involve physical adjustments to avoid something harmful, such as intense heat. The endocrine system regulates adjustments through slower internal processes, using hormones as messengers. The endocrine system secretes hormones in response to environmental stimuli and to orchestrate developmental and reproductive changes. The adjustments brought on by the endocrine system are biochemical, changing the cell's internal and external chemistry to bring about a long term change in the body. These systems work together to maintain the proper functioning of the body through its entire life cycle.
The theory of endocrine disruption posits that low-dose exposure to chemicals that interact with hormone receptors can interfere with reproduction, development, and other hormonally mediated processes. Furthermore, since endogenous hormones are typically present in the body relatively tiny concentrations, the theory holds that exposure to relatively small amounts of exogenous hormonally active substances can disrupt the proper functioning of the body's endocrine system. Thus, an endocrine disruptor might be able to elicit adverse effects at a much lower doses than a toxicant acting through a different mechanism.” (Source:
Wikipedia “Endocrine System”, Wikipedia “Endocrine disruptor” )

Dr. Fox concludes: “Cushing’s disease often develops after dogs have been treated with long term prednisone for allergies. These are usually to food, often with an underlying “leaky gut” syndrome that could be brought on by the harm done to the intestinal wall by such food ingredients as corn, wheat and soy gluten. Non specific changes in organ function (such as liver enzyme readings) indicate that various organ systems are being affected and the heart and digestive system are often affected by endocrine disease.
Discuss changing your dog’s diet with your veterinarian and giving the following beneficial and protective supplements: Probiotics, prebiotics, Vitamin B-complex, COQ10, hemp or flax seed oil, milk thistle, Vitamin E and methionine.”

Here we go: Another incident clearly showing that some of the feeds available to pet owners these days may cause one or another disease. Now let’s see, the Dr. says “discuss with your veterinarian”. What is he going to recommend? Most likely a prescription diet. Which one remains to be seen, I guess it depends on the vet’s preference and with which manufacturer he is set up. As Arnold would have said: “Hear me now, believe me later”, I would say take that kind of vet advice with a large grain of salt, chances are there are not too many changes to be expected (which, after all, I cannot help it to believe, is what they want). Make sure to analyze the prescription food very closely, often pet owners are surprised by the results of an independent food review. To prove my point here, just for fun I picked to prescription diet formulas. No names here, two different products, 2 manufacturers, both formulas supposed to be designed to help with diabetes. Here are the first 10 ingredients for the products I picked:
Product A: Ground Whole Grain Corn, Powdered Cellulose 17.1% (source of fiber), Chicken by-product Meal, Chicken Liver Flavor, Soybean Mill Run, Corn Gluten Meal, Soybean Oil, Dried Beet Pulp, Soybean Meal, Iron Oxide
Product B: Rice, ground corn, chicken meal, powdered cellulose, corn gluten meal, wheat, natural flavors, chicken fat, rice hulls, monocalcium phosphate. What did Dr. Fox just talk about? “…harm done to the intestinal wall by such food ingredients as corn, wheat and soy gluten.”? Do you believe me now? Do you know what I like the most: Dr. Michael Fox is a veterinarian. Awesome, after all some of them still seem to be on the right side of the fence…, that is, where the healthy animals are.