Before I jump into today’s topic I wanted to start with a few side notes.
First, we spend a long semester in vet school on Nutrition. It is an incredibly vital and important part of proper pet care, and in many cases is the single most important decision clients make every day for their pets. It is a difficult and complex field of study. Many of my dedicated clients have very set opinions as to what they are feeding. At every appointment I make it a point to ask what the clients are feeding their pets? And I say about a hundred times a day, “You are what you eat, and you get what you pay for.” This holds for humans, dogs, cats, birds, fish, etc., etc. We are all a flesh and bone picture of the food we eat, the exercise we get, the environment we live in, and the genetics we inherit. Most of us can do little to change the genetics our parents gave us, and most of us don’t have the ability to move from our environment easily. So that leaves us with getting our butts off of the couch and eating right.
Second, I think most of us would seek the opinions and advice of an “expert” if we were diagnosed with a life-threatening, or life changing diagnosis. We would likely seek the advice of an expert in oncology if we were handed a scary diagnosis of cancer. If you were diagnosed with a terrible or rare brain tumor you would seek out the best brain tumor expert you could find. Why then do pet parents seek advice from the internet product sites, the TV, or as what I just encountered at the Pet Expo, people claiming to be “pet food experts” and now telling pet parents to buy “grain free”, “corn free”, “by-product free”, “single source”, “all-natural”, “wild game”, etc foods. I had so many people coming up to me at the Pet Expo because they had been told 2 aisles over that their commercially available pet food was “inferior because it had grain, corn, soy, wheat, by-product,” etc. in it. I told them to go back to the booth and send the food representative (along with their credentials) my way. There was a ton of misinformation being exchanged and a lot of confused people purchasing foods based on this.
The issue of food suggestions should be based on facts from the veterinary nutrition experts. Advice shouldn’t be given by those who are trying to sell you something. And if you haven’t been told this before be careful of what you find on the internet and labels. There are some very creative and down-right deceptive wording and claims out there. Find an unbiased nutritionist, or ask your vet. And then please don’t disregard their advice. Sometimes your pets’ life does depend on it.
I applaud that so many of you are concerned about what you are feeding your pets. BIG accolades for thinking about nutrition as an important part of providing excellent pet care! Because it is! But I just spent all day at a veterinary nutrition lecture and I wanted to share some of the incredibly informative information that I learned.
The lecture was given by Cailin Heinze, VMD, MS, DACVN. She is Asst. Professor of Nutrition at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. She spoke at the Greater Baltimore Veterinary Medical Associations monthly meeting.
Her first topic was called “Myths and Misconceptions.” These are the food/nutrition topics that we Veterinarians hear day in and day out from our clients about the foods their pets eat. Many of these clients, with the very best of intentions to provide the very best care to their pets possible have been literally fed “tidbits of half truths.” These “tidbits of half truths” have become so prolific that many clients now unknowingly hold these “tidbits of truths” to be “facts” when in reality they have simply become misconceptions.
Here are her top 5 myths and misconceptions. (And p.s. based on my clinical experience, I agree with all of them).
1. By-products are bad. The American Association of Feed Control Officials, (AAFCO) defines meat by-product as “the non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone..and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth and hoofs.” Chicken by-products is defined as “ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered chicken such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidable in good processing practice.” Now let’s think about cats in the wild, or your own cat, if you let them go outside. They will hunt, and usually they will eat what they kill and then leave the parts they don’t like so much on your doorstep. They will likely eat the guts, they don’t like the head (doorstep offering), and they are not the filet only loving carnivores that we humans are. If we universally use the AAFCO definition then the “ground rendered clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered chicken necks feet undeveloped eggs, feathers,” etc. are exactly the same parts that cats eat if they catch their prey. By-products are also the parts of the animals that we use in our food, and/or eat as our entrée. Many people, especially in other cultures across the globe, eat liver, intestines, necks, feet, gizzards, etc. If you truly wanted to feed your pet “a natural diet” then by-products like feet, intestines, and skin are included. Organ meats are considered a by-product and they are excellent source of vitamins and minerals. In an effort to not use the term “by-product” on their labels some companies are instead listing these organs separately; ex, “beef liver, kidney, tripe,” etc. So I would argue that term “by-product” is not “bad ingredient” or inferior food. But rather it is a vital part of not only our pets’ diet, but also many of our own. Any pet that lives on chicken breast alone will be deficient in calcium, vitamins and minerals.
2. Bacteria in raw meat doesn’t make dogs or cats sick. There is a plethora of misinformation about raw diets. I don’t quite understand why people have become so crazed about raw diets? But I will openly admit that I have a few clients that are so bound to feeding raw that they refuse to listen to the advice of the people who are trained professionals in the field. Why do so many people seek and then follow the advice of their breeder over the advice of the veterinary nutritionists? I just don’t get it? All of the veterinary nutritionists that I know will all tell all of us that raw is equivalent to contaminated. Many studies have been done to prove this. A Consumer Reports investigation published in 2010 found that 2/3 of all chicken purchased in major grocery stores had Campylobacter and/or Salmonella. If you take care to properly cook and then clean up after you handle meats because you are worried about contamination and the diseases these can cause then you should not be feeding raw. We have great concerns over these raw fed pets that live in households where there are very young, old, cancer patients, immune-compromised patients, HIV positive people, etc. because these pets can shed bacteria from contaminated food they have been fed for up to 7 days. This is why many service or therapy dogs are not allowed to participate in community functions if they are fed a raw diet. It is safest to assume that all meat is contaminated. There is no evidence that washing meats will decrease the amount of contaminants found on them. Also a major study has proven that pet bowls that were used to feed raw foods remain contaminated despite all forms of cleaning. It is important to remember that there is no scientific evidence that raw diets have any benefits over commercially available diets. Moreover, there is significant evidence that raw meat diets and treats can cause significant harm to both pets ad their human companions. I would strongly discourage the feeding of raw food. It just isn’t worth the risk.
3. Grains are bad for dogs and cats. Food manufacturers that sell “grain free” foods state this saying that grains cause allergies, obesity, other health problems, and that grains are not able to be digested by pets. Of the grains, corn is considered the most offensive. The truth according to veterinary nutritionists is that properly cooked grains are beneficial to pets because they provide protein, fat, vitamins, and fiber. The concept of corn causing allergies is used as evidence of “grain free” being beneficial and has caused a belief that corn causes allergies because it is used in many foods. But there is little evidence for corn being the true cause of the food allergy some pets suffer from. In the authors opinion she has not found these previously owner diagnosed “corn allergy pets” have not undergone a true hypo-allergenc food trial and re-challenge. The idea that grains cause other problems is also unsubstantiated because few dogs are truly allergic to corn. It is far more likely that they are allergic to one of the other protein sources in their food (i.e. beef, chicken, dairy). Some of the “grain free” ads state that grains and sugars are bad and should therefore be avoided because they may raise the glycemic index . In an effort to market their food as “grain free” these manufactures have substituted potato or tapioca for the grains that would otherwise be used. Typically these diets use similar amounts of these simple carbohydrates. These simple sugars actually have a higher glycemic index and lack many of the important vitamins and minerals found in whole grains. Therefore, we would argue that substituting a simple sugar for a whole grain is not better. The last statement that pets lack the necessary enzymes to break down grains is also incorrect. In truth they do not lack these enzymes. They do have different numbers of some of the enzymes to break down some foods, but they readily produce them when their bodies need them. For example, they produce enough amylase in their pancreas to break down grains.
4. Flax is a good source of omega-3 Fatty acid. Omega-3’s are divided into short chain (ALA) and long chain (DHA and EPA). Short chains come from terrestrial plants, and long chains come from marine plants and fish. Most pets cannot convert a short chain into a long chain efficiently. Therefore saying that flax seed is equivalent to long chains is not accurate. I will profess that I supplement my dogs with Welactin (a Nutramax product) every day. I have found my dogs coats markedly improved and I think it has benefitted Savannah (my 16 yr old Beagle mix with liver issues) immensely. I do think that most of the diets that say they are supplemented with O3FA’s are not providing enough of the long chains to provide much benefit. On the flip side there is some concern about over supplementing. So use a reputable product as directed.
5. Natural diets are better; to label as natural a food requires that they not use any synthetic compounds of any kind included. The author states, “The current definition of “natural” gives little information about ingredient or product quality as rotten meat or leather (to make an extreme point) would be defined as natural whereas synthetic taurine would make the diet “unnatural.” Many cats suffered from taurine deficiency until we figured out how to put a synthetic form into their food. Some commercially available diets are trying to appeal to our emotional side by using the terminology of “whole foods” to provide all of the required nutrients in their foods. Unfortunately this also presents several problems. First it is often very difficult to use a single source for their food. This can lead to large fluctuations on the vitamin and mineral contents of their ingredients. In an effort to use these whole foods the manufacturers have to add multiple foods and often cause an excess of nutrient while trying to meet the minimum requirements of another. These additional ingredients also increase the cost of the food and make the already difficult task of trying to identify a food allergy more complicated. “The use of synthetic vitamins and minerals, despite their chemical sounding names, should not be a cause of concern,” writes the author. “In fact, inclusion of these supplements increases the likelihood that the diet will provide all of the essential nutrients required for a particular life stage.”
She also added a few tidbits of great nutritional information;
Chicken jerky comes from China bc they don’t prefer chicken breast meat. They, like our feline friends, like the organ meats, and other parts.
Supplements; we vets should always ask what the owners are feeding. Ask specifically how many?, what type?, any human supplements?, ie herbs. There are concerns with some being in excess or even being harmful to our pets.
No adult foods for puppies and kittens.
Free feeding is difficult for pets to maintain a good weight
Home cooked diets; The author has cooked hundreds and hundreds over the years, very few of them met the nutritional requirements needed for pets. Petdiets.com is a paid for veterinary nutritional service for assisting clients with making a diet specifically for their pet. It will cost you about $250 dollars and provide you with a wealth of information designed specifically
Switch to adult food when the dog has reached its adult size. This for a small breed dog is at 6 months, for a large breed dog it is about 9-11 months, and for a giant breed it is about 14-16 months. So the advice is to stay on a breed specific puppy diet until they are done growing, so longer for larger breeds, and shorter for smaller breeds.
Many “all stages” diets are too high in calcium for puppy foods.
No home cooking until the puppy is 12 months old! Because nutrients are missing! All need a calcium source, all need a human multivitamin addition, and the products that say “great for home cooked diets” are not!
It is very hard to make a vegan diet for dogs, pretty much impossible for cats.
The author has seen severe bone loss secondary to home cooked diets.
Raw diets no benefit, commercial raw diets, no benefit, poorer balanced diets. Substantial risks. There is professional liability if we recommend a raw diet and we should be advising against raw diets we should be providing legal documentation stating the owner assumes risk and has been advised not to do so.
For a puppy or kitten one day of not eating is critical. Get help now. For an adult pet you have 2-4 weeks of a new diet, then it is time to get back to a commercially available food.
For more help on diets please see;
See a boarded veterinary nutritionist for difficult cases, or owners with a lot of questions can go to www.Balanceit.com