Category Archives: dog nutrition and labelling

Kibbles and Kale? Many Pet Owners Keen to Have Vegan Pets

A surprising number of pet owners, particularly those who are vegan, are interested in feeding their pets a plant-based diet, according to new University of Guelph research.

Researchers with U of G’s Ontario Veterinary College along with colleagues in New Zealand conducted an online survey of 3,673 dog and cat owners from around the world to learn about what kinds of foods they fed their pets and themselves.

Vegan diet photo

Photo by: Rarnie McCudden from Pexels

Published in the journal PLoS ONE, the survey found that 35 per cent of owners whose pets ate conventional diets were interested in switching their animals to a vegan diet.

More than half of them (55 per cent) added, though, that certain stipulations needed to be met before they would make the switch. Those stipulations included needing further evidence that a plant-based diet would meet their pets’ nutritional needs, wanting approval from their veterinarians and wanting plant-based pet foods to be easily available.

Just under six per cent of the survey respondents were vegan — meaning they ate no meat, dairy or fish – and more than a quarter (27 per cent) of them reported they already fed their pets plant-based diets.

Among the rest of the vegans, a full 78 per cent were interested in helping their pets to switch to a plant-based diet if one were available that met their needs.

Lead author Sarah Dodd, currently a PhD candidate at the OVC’s Department of Population Medicine, said even she was surprised by how many vegans had already chosen to eliminate meat from their pets’ diets.

“That percentage, 27 per cent, might sound like a small number, but when you think of the actual numbers of pets involved, that’s huge, and much higher than we expected.”

In total, 1.6 per cent of the 2,940 dogs in the survey and 0.7 per cent of the 1,545 cats were being fed a strictly plant-based diet; only vegans and one vegetarian chose to exclusively feed plant-based diets.

Another 10.4 per cent of the dogs and 3.3 per cent of cats were intermittently fed vegetarian diets or plant-based foods.

Of the 3,673 pet owners surveyed, 6 per cent were vegetarian (meaning they ate no meat but did eat dairy, eggs or honey), 4 per cent were pescatarian (meaning they ate no meat but fish, and may eat dairy, eggs or honey), and nearly 6 per cent were vegan (meaning they ate no animal products).

Dodd performed this study for her M.Sc. degree with Prof. Adronie Verbrugghe in OVC’s Department of Clinical Studies

Dodd said while her team’s research was not designed to assess whether vegan pet diets are a growing trend, she expects interest in the diets to increase.

“People have been hearing about how vegan diets are linked to lowered risks of cancer and other health benefits in humans. There is also growing concern about the environmental impact of animal agriculture.”

Previous studies have also shown that pet owners tend to offer the same kind of diets to their dogs and cats that they adopt for themselves.

“So, while only a small proportion of pet owners are currently feeding plant-based diets to their pets, it is safe to say that interest in the diets is likely to grow.”

However, there has not been much research on the nutritional suitability of vegan diets for dogs and cats, nor on the health benefits and risks of plant-based diets in these animals, said Dodd.

“This study shows there is a clear need for further research in this area.”

Source:  University of Guelph media statement

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Feeding eggs to dogs

I feed eggs to Izzy, my greyhound.

If you read the internet for advice on dog nutrition, you’ll probably find references about not feeding raw eggs because this could lead to biotin deficiency.  Egg whites contain avidin, an enzyme that interferes with biotin.  

Biotin is one of the complex B vitamins group and it’s linked to a number of key health benefits, including:

  • Healthy skin and coat
  • Proper muscle formation
  • Healthy digestion
  • Normal growth
  • Improved energy
  • Thyroid and adrenal gland function

What these references rarely say, however, is that the egg yolk is very high in biotin.  So if you are feeding the entire egg – not just the egg white – there really shouldn’t be a major risk.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you feed your dog eggs as a steady diet – let’s remember that old adage about “everything in moderation.”  Rather consider eggs to be a pretty nifty package of nutrition.  They are a great source of bio-available protein and, for most dogs, they are highly digestible.

An egg or 3 a week (small dogs require less) for dogs that are at their ideal weight, is a nutritious and easy source of fresh food and nutrition.

I like to feed Izzy her eggs cooked – with a little dried tripe as an omelette:

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Pet food ingredients consumers don’t want

To keep up-to-date with developments in dog health and welfare, I follow a number of publications.  This graphic appeared in a trade journal about pet food and I thought I’d share it – in its entirety and with attribution of course!

These results are not particularly surprising, but they do serve as a reminder to read your dog food labels and also to understand that there are still products out there using these ingredients.

 

6 pet food ingredients consumers don't want

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Study finds glyphosate in cat and dog food

Got glyphosate?

Your pet’s breakfast might.

glyphosate

A new Cornell study published this month in Environmental Pollution finds that glyphosate, the active herbicidal ingredient in widely used weed killers like Roundup, was present at low levels in a variety of dog and cat foods the researchers purchased at stores. Before you go switching Fido or Fluffy’s favorite brand, however, be aware that the amounts of the herbicide found correspond to levels currently considered safe for humans.

The study grew out of a larger interdisciplinary research project led by Brian Richards, senior research associate in biological and environmental engineering, and supported by the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future’s Academic Venture Fund, which sought to reassess glyphosate mobility and impacts in several contexts: movement from crop fields in surface water, impacts on soils and on animals consuming it in their feed.

Richard’s co-investigators Anthony Hay, associate professor of microbiology, and Kenneth Simpson, professor of small-animal medicine, visited a pet store and a retail outlet, where they selected multiple bags of cat and dog foods from major brands. The 18 feeds were all mixtures of vegetable and meat ingredients, and one product was certified GMO-free. Analyses conducted by postdoctoral researcher and lead author Jiang Zhao in Hay’s lab, and research support specialist Steve Pacenka, found that all of the products contained glyphosate at concentrations ranging from approximately 80 to 2,000 micrograms of glyphosate per kilogram.

Since there is not enough data available to determine what effect – if any – low-dose glyphosate exposure has on domestic animals, the researchers used human acceptable daily intake guidelines to put these findings in context, according to Hay. The researchers estimated that the median dog exposure would amount to only 0.7 percent of the U.S. glyphosate limit set for humans.

“While the levels of glyphosate in pet foods surprised us, if a human ate it every day, their glyphosate exposure would still be well below the limits currently deemed safe,” Hay said.

“Even the most contaminated feed they studied had thousands of times less glyphosate than levels that were shown to have no adverse effects on dogs in the U.S. EPA’s Draft Risk Assessment for glyphosate” said Dan Wixted, a pesticide educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension who was not involved in the study.

While unable to pinpoint the exact product or crops that were the source of the glyphosate, Hay’s team did find a correlation with fiber, suggesting a plant-based origin.

“We know that glyphosate is only certified for spraying on crops, and it does not bio-accumulate in animals, so we would not expect it to come from feed animals that are the main protein sources in some of the products,” Hay said. “Our evidence suggests that it’s coming from plant material.”

One surprising finding of the study: Glyphosate was detected in the one GMO-free product the researchers analyzed at levels higher than those of several other processed feeds. This suggests that keeping feed stocks uncontaminated is a challenge even in the GMO-free market.

What is a pet owner to do with this information?

“Glyphosate is out there in our pets’ food, and while there doesn’t appear to be any immediate risk, there is still uncertainty about the chronic impact of low doses like these,” Hay said. “It’s hard to find a product that doesn’t have glyphosate in it, so we included the exposure assessment to provide some context. The old adage ‘dose determines the poison’ is good to keep in mind: While it’s possible that these animals might respond differently than humans, the numbers are still within a range that would be deemed safe for humans.”

Hay, for his part, has stopped feeding chow found to be high in glyphosate to his own dog, a pug beagle mix, but he hasn’t seen any changes in her health.

“She’s more cat than dog to be honest,” he said. “She sits on the bed and won’t go outside when it rains. But I can now confirm that her laziness has nothing to do with her feed.”

Source:  Cornell Chronicle

Food tales

Yesterday, I led another Cooking for Dogs workshop which is a workshop I designed about four years ago to encourage owners to add fresh ingredients into their dog’s diet.  We also discuss the latest research into dog diets (such as the July 2018 announcement by the US FDA about a possible link between grain-free foods and heart disease) and what makes a ‘good’ ingredient for a recipe – things like choosing meat ingredients and the use of spices such as ginger and turmeric.

Cooking for Dogs - happy dog owners make recipes like doggy meatloaf and chewy chicken strips

Cooking for Dogs – happy dog owners make recipes like doggy meatloaf and chewy chicken strips

I’m a supporter of the hybrid diet – where dogs are fed commercial food, raw food and also homemade food for variety and nutritional support and to mitigate the risks of long-term nutritional deficits.

It’s been a month or so now of food-themed interactions with clients and colleagues.  For example, during my visit to Kindness Ranch, I was given a tour.  They make their own ‘sow chow’ of fresh ingredients for their pigs because they found that commercial pig food is designed to fatten up the pigs for slaughter.  (Whereas the pigs at the Ranch have been rescued and will live out their lives naturally.)

Look at the colors in the bowl – fresh foods like watermelon!  What pig wouldn’t want to chow down on food that that was this fresh?

And I’ve had a few interactions with clients this week which were also food related.  For example, the well-meaning owner of a Labrador puppy.  I had to tell her that I felt her dog was overweight and that she needed to reduce the amount of food being fed daily (adjusted also for treats used in training).

She was worried because the bag of her commercial puppy food recommended that she feed even more.  I explained that we should feed our dogs according to body condition and that many commercial foods often overstate the feeding rates for their foods.  After all, if owners feed more food, then they have to buy more food.  (I’m sure there are some dogs that may need the recommended feeding volumes – but these would be the exception and not the rule from my experience.)

And then there was the dog that had been losing weight and urinating in the house.  I strongly advised that the dog be taken to the vet for a health check and the results were in – a pancreatic problem brought on by feeding raw.  In this case, I suspect that the raw food mix being fed to this dog was way too high in fat and also contained consistently too much liver instead of a mixture of other organ meats such as heart and kidney.  Regardless, the dog was not thriving on its diet and, worse, was being hurt by it.  A change in diet to a commercial kibble has seen a return to health and no more urinating in the house which is a positive for both dog and owner.

Every dog is different when it comes to diet.  There is no one right or wrong answer, but there are tools and techniques we can use to match them to a diet that works.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Fresh and raw diets for dogs may have health benefits

Many dog owners think of their furry companions as part of the family, and now products are available to feed them that way, too. Some owners are moving away from traditional extruded kibble products, instead choosing ultra-premium fresh and raw diets found in the refrigerated aisle. The foods may look more similar to what we’d feed a member of the family, but many of the newer diets haven’t been rigorously tested for performance in dogs.

Beagle feeding study

“A lot of companies test for complete and balanced nutrition, but don’t go beyond that,” says Kelly Swanson, corresponding author on a new study published in the Journal of Animal Science and Kraft Heinz Company Endowed Professor in Human Nutrition in the Department of Animal Sciences and the Division of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Illinois. “The company we worked with – Freshpet – wanted to see how some of their unique diets would perform. Would dogs like them? Were they digestible? Would they increase activity?”

The researchers tested the palatability and digestibility of three commercially marketed fresh and raw diets for dogs, as well as a traditional extruded kibble diet. The diets included a lightly cooked roasted-refrigerated diet; a lightly cooked grain-free roasted-refrigerated diet; and a raw diet. The lightly cooked roasted diets were pasteurized, and the raw diet was treated with an acidifying bacteria that makes the food inhospitable to harmful microbes.

“The roasted diets come in a meatball form, and the raw diet was more like a big sausage roll that you cut up and feed to the dog. All diets were chicken-based, but some had added beef, salmon, or chicken liver. Each diet also contained a vitamin and mineral mix, and a dry mix of plant products like sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, cranberries, and carrots,” Swanson says. “People are familiar with those ingredients so they like to see them included in their pets’ diets. Although specific ingredients are not needed in the diet of dogs and cats, as many options can result in an acceptable nutrient profile, those ingredients are of high quality and are nutrient dense.”

Eight beagles were successively fed each diet for one month. After a 14-day transition period onto each new diet, they were monitored for voluntary physical activity, and then urine, stool, and blood samples were collected and analyzed.

The roasted diets turned out to be more digestible than the kibble, and both the grain-free roasted diet and the raw diet resulted in lower blood triglyceride levels than the kibble diet, even though they were higher in fat. Swanson isn’t able to pinpoint the cause of the surprising result, but points to it as a potential benefit of the non-traditional diets. Voluntary activity didn’t differ across the diets.

The researchers also found major shifts in the microbiota – the suite of microbes inhabiting the gut – in the roasted and raw diets, compared with kibble. Swanson says the changes in the microbiota were neither good nor bad, just different. He suggests that the results showcase the flexibility of gut microbiota, and how little scientists know about the effects of diet on host-microbe relationships as a whole.

It is important to point out that all dogs were healthy throughout the study period, and that all diets were palatable, highly digestible, and resulted in good stool quality. Even though some of the diets were statistically more digestible or led to lower triglycerides, those metrics were within the normal range for all dogs on all diets. Therefore, Swanson emphasizes, all the diet formats tested in the study, including kibble, would be healthy choices.

“As far as diet format and market segment is concerned, it ultimately comes down to consumer preference and philosophy. As long as a diet is shown to be safe and meets the nutritional needs of the pet in question, it is an acceptable option to me. If an owner is willing to pay more for premium ingredients and/or an improved processing method, I am fully supportive. To me, the most important thing is testing these new diet formats and products before they are commercially available,” Swanson says.

The article, “Apparent total-tract macronutrient digestibility, serum chemistry, urinalysis, and fecal characteristics, metabolites and microbiota of adult dogs fed extruded, mildly cooked, and raw diets,” is published in the Journal of Animal Science [DOI: 10.1093/jas/sky235]. Authors include Kiley Algya, Tzu-Wen Cross, Kristen Leuck, Megan Kastner, Toshiro Baba, Lynn Lye, Maria de Godoy, and Kelly Swanson. Lynn Lye is from Freshpet, and all other authors are from U of I. The research was funded by Freshpet.

Source:  University of Illinois press release

Do grain-free diets really cause canine heart disease?

You may have heard that on July 12th, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a statement that it was investigating a potential connection between grain-free diets and canine heart disease:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is alerting pet owners and veterinary professionals about reports of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs eating certain pet foods containing peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes as main ingredients. These reports are unusual because DCM is occurring in breeds not typically genetically prone to the disease. The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine and the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network, a collaboration of government and veterinary diagnostic laboratories, are investigating this potential association.

Canine DCM is a disease of a dog’s heart muscle and results in an enlarged heart. As the heart and its chambers become dilated, it becomes harder for the heart to pump, and heart valves may leak, leading to a buildup of fluids in the chest and abdomen. DCM often results in congestive heart failure. Heart function may improve in cases that are not linked to genetics with appropriate veterinary treatment and dietary modification, if caught early.

The underlying cause of DCM is not truly known, but is thought to have a genetic component. Breeds that are typically more frequently affected by DCM include large and giant breed dogs, such as Great Danes, Boxers, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds, Saint Bernards and Doberman Pinschers. It is less common in small and medium breed dogs, except American and English Cocker Spaniels. However, the cases that have been reported to the FDA have included Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Whippets, a Shih Tzu, a Bulldog and Miniature Schnauzers, as well as mixed breeds.

Full text of the FDA statement here.

Investigating possible links is always a good thing; but equally concerning is understanding what data backs up any claim.

Pet Business magazine points out that the data backing up the link is very thin – at this point unlikely to pass the rigor of a peer-reviewed journal.  Obviously an industry body has concerns about the impact of consumer choices  and the impact on sales, but it is right that they point out that the data set so far is quite limited.

I follow research regularly, and I’m always open to findings that may cause us to re-think our choices of food and other healthcare strategies for our dogs.

But let’s be sure about evidence.

The availability and variety of grain-free foods has increased dramatically in recent years, as cases of itchy dogs and dietary intolerances caused by corn and wheat have been documented.  Who’s to say that grain-free carbohydrates like peas, lentils and potatoes might not also come with side effects?

And all of this debate reinforces my belief in the hybrid diet.  Sometimes raw, sometimes kibble, and sometimes homemade.  Diversification is a strength!

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand