Saturday, December 10, 2011

Hydration supplements for working dogs

I honestly paid very little attention to the hydration products on the market until I was recently asked about them.  I am a stickler about water intake though. It is a key nutrient and one that I feel often gets left out when we are talking about other macronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats and carbohydrates.  Many of my clients have been told to add water if they feed kibble and in fact I feel everyone should.  Water is one of the main nutrient differences between raw meat diets and kibble diets, including grain-free.  Whole prey and raw diets contain approximately 70% water while kibble contains only about 10% (yes, kibble does contain some moisture).  To me it's no wonder why we see kidney problems in cats when they are fed kibble diets their entire lives.  So, those that feed kibble, add a little water to it when you feed.

When I looked up the ingredients on the main products that consumers have access to, I was surprised to see all of them contained maltodextrin as their main ingredient.  One of them was very clever and actually "named" their sugar "glucose polymers".  One of the company websites even stated directly that "maltodextrin is rapidly absorbed without an insulin release...".  Let's stop there for a second.  First off, maltodextrin is nothing more than chains of D-glucose units of variable lengths produced from the hydrolysis of starch typically from corn, rice or potatoes.  The company is absolutely correct in their statement that maltodextrin is rapidly digested and absorbed.  All you need to do is look on the labels of many enteral formulas and you'll see maltodextrin added.  The problem I have is the statement that maltodextrin does not produce an insulin release.  Comments like those floating around the internet frustrate me.  Maltodextrin indeed produces an insulin response just like other sugars in fact it has a higher glycemic index than table sugar, honey, or fructose.  I would caution anyone that may have a dog with sensitivities to gluten being that maltodextrins can pose issues for those suffering from Celiac disease.  So why start off with a simple carbohydrate as the main ingredient in these formulas?

That answer is based on muscle glycogen recovery research in various animal models including dogs.  Dogs involved in high intensity, short duration exercise such as agility or flyball obtain most of their energy from muscle stores through anaerobic metabolism (Cline and Reynolds, 2005; Rovira et al., 2007). So, these products are likely better for muscle recovery rather than "loading" per se, and indeed they indicate that with their product information.  Muscle glycogen synthesis post-exercise after depletion occurs in 2 distinct phases.  An initial short phase that does not require insulin and lasts 30 - 60 minutes after exercise.  The 2nd phase may last several hours after exercise and is insulin dependent.  When amino acids and proteins are added to maltodextrin solutions, there is an enhanced insulin response and stimulation of protein anabolism (synthesis).  This response is significantly lower when carbohydrate only solutions are used (Jentjens and Jeukendrup, 2003). 

The four products I reviewed include: Animal Naturals K9 Go Dog, CPN Power Boost Advanced Rehydration and Energy, CPN Vertex Canine Essentials, and Glyco-Gen Shake. As I did with grain-free products I'm only going to look at the top ingredients in each product. 

K9 Go Dogs: Glucose polymers, resistant starch, medium chain triglycerides, beef fat, glutamine, leucine
CPN Power Boost: Maltodextrin, whey protein concentrate, canola oil, medium chain triglyceride, glutamine, lactobacillus
CPN Vertex: Maltodextrin, whole dried egg, whey protein concentrate, poultry liver hydrosylate, canola oil, olive oil
Glyco-Gen Shake: Maltodextrin, whey protein, vanilla

The protein and fat concentration of K9 Go Dog, Power Boost and Vertex are 6 and 9%, 8 and 11% and 24 and 24%, respectively.  The fat sources used are very different and range from highly saturated fatty acids (beef fat), monounsaturated fatty acids (canola and olive), medium chain triglycerides (MCT), and omega 3 fatty acids (flaxseed oil).  When it comes to dogs (and other carnivores), their efficiency at utilizing fat sources is tremendous.  There is little data to support one type over the other; however, I would hypothesize that the beef fat used in K9 Go Dog would make it more palatable than the others but that might be the only advantage (in my opinion).  I do like the use of  MCT's as they are often digested and absorbed easier than other fats.  There are some cases where MCT's have been associated with diarrhea; however, for the vast majority of dogs (and humans) they are digested very well.

Protein sources are primarily whey protein, egg, or free amino acids.  All are suitable and highly digestible sources of proteins for this purpose.  The amino acid glutamine is listed both for K9 Go Dog and Power Boost.  Glutamine is a non-essential amino acid; however, may become conditionally essential particularly after exercise and during periods of protein turnover.  It is also a preferred fuel for cells in the gut. 

As the ingredient lists continue the products vary in their additions of probiotics (lactobacillus), branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, valine), alfalfa, algae, and ginseng to name a few.  None of the additional ingredients pose any issues or concerns for me, in fact they all likely contribute some nutrition.

A price analysis indicates that per Tablespoon serving (approximately 20 grams) the cost for K9 Go Dog, Power Boost, Vertex, and Glyco-Gen Shake are $0.88, $0.46, $0.40 and $0.63, respectively. 

Based on the purpose of replenishing glycogen stores and rehydration after exercise, ingredient lists, and cost, I would choose to use CPN Power Boost.  Although I think the Vertex product has a lot to offer in the ingredient list and certainly nothing that would harm, I feel it's just too high in fat and protein to be used as a "rehydration" or recovery product.  The product information indicates that it could be used as a daily conditioning supplement and that might be a better purpose for it.  It likely would boil down to which product my dogs liked better between K9 Go Dog and Power Boost. 

I actually don't use any of these products but I do "rehydrate".  I use a mixture of meat-based baby food, honey, and some glutamine mixed with water.  I'm sure the inclusion of honey might stimulate more discussion and this post has already gotten long so I'll leave that for further discussion.  The thought process; however, is along the lines of these products and my little Keegan loves it.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Comparative nutrition for you!

I truly never thought I'd do this on my blog but I can't help it.  I have found something that I believe in and feel the need to share it.  Let me start by reminding you that I am a scientist and as a scientist there is a certain degree of data and repetition that must go into an argument to provide sufficient "proof" for me that something works.  The other part of being a scientist (the really fun part) is experimenting and I experiment A LOT...even on myself.
Many of you are familiar with Standard Process supplements.  I absolutely love the company and use many of their products for me, my dogs, and some of the animals at the zoo. Some time ago, I ordered some Immuplex for frogs (yes, frogs).  The problem we had with the frogs ended up being related to vitamin A and carotenoids so we never used the Immuplex. 

I am one of those people that tended to get sick every time I heard someone sneeze.  One day at work I went in the lab and took some of the Immuplex along with Echinacea when I started to feel a sore throat coming on.  I was surprised the next day when I felt better so I kept taking them and continued to feel better by the end of the day.  So, I kept them both in my desk and got some for home.  Every time I started to feel sick, I took them both 3 times daily.  It worked every time.  My husband on the hand, never gets sick (I find that very annoying).  So, on Friday when he came home with a sore throat you might guess what I made him take.  Saturday morning I woke up with a sore throat and started taking both.  Sunday, we felt tired but better.  By today we were back to normal and even Danny thought we'd found a "cure". 

I absolutely don't believe it's a cure but Echinacea is a fabulous immune boosting medicinal herb that is safe for dogs and I have used it on my "kids" on various occasions.  Immuplex is a combination of minerals and vitamins, primarily Vitamin B6, zinc, and vitamin C.  The link for Immuplex is included below.  The dose we've been using for us is 400 mg Echinacea + 1 Immuplex capsule together three times daily as soon as you feel symptoms coming on.  Keep taking it 3 days after your symptoms stop.  I don't take either supplement any other time.

Sorry for the commercial but it's worked for me multiple times and when it worked for Danny, I felt it was worth sharing, especially this time of year when we are all under the stress of the busy Holiday season and all of our immune systems could use the extra ammunition.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Dietary Variety

This week was particularly fun for me.  I was helping another zoo with their collection diets.  The vast majority of zoos in the U.S don't have nutritionists, let alone a nutrition laboratory.  You can hear me blab about this topic on the video on our page:

What I found so entertaining about this week was that this particular zoo had  a much smaller collection than ours but many of the same species.  Their diets however, were very different than ours...consisting of different ingredients all together.  When I analyzed them, the nutrients fell out where they needed to for the majority of the diets.  How could their diets be so different yet nutritionally sufficient?

With domestic species we have the luxury of having known nutrient requirements to follow.  All we need to do for dogs and cats is match those nutrient requirements with nutrients in ingredients and ta-da...we have a petfood.  That luxury is one I don't have at the zoo.  We don't know nutrient requirements for the vast majority of species that we manage in zoological institutions.  Yet, zoos have been rather successful at managing endangered species for decades (some much better than others).  So, how can that be? Luck or is there some magical secret formula that zoos use to feed their animals?

Although it's not magical, there is something that zoo's do very different in their approach to nutrition that we don't see with domestics and it's called VARIETY.    It never fails I show up to work one day and our hospital staff tells me we've just received an animal that I've never heard of that needs a diet.  Think about that...being challenged with an animal you've never heard of (Hadada ibis comes to mind), no known nutrient requirements to compare to and it needs a diet...NOW.  All I can tell you is Thank God for Google.  Thankfully, ecologists and biologists have studied most of the animal kingdom in enough detail to at least tell me what these animals eat in the wild.  Then there is usually someone that's looked at a dead one to tell me what the animal looks like on the inside.  In other words is it put together like a cow, a chicken, a horse, a dog, a cat, etc...?  From there the challenge starts.  The piece that's lacking is actually in understanding the nutrient profiles of those items the animals are eating in the wild.  That's where variety comes in handy.  We can't obtain the very same fish that the Fishing Cat is eating in the wild but we can get a variety of fish.  Rather than just try one, we'll use several different types in order to better try and match the "unknown".  "Fruits" from Madagascar are VERY different than an apple and a banana here in the U.S. so we use a variety of "seasonal fruits" and "seasonal vegetables" to provide a more rounded nutrient profile to our lemur species. 

So, why then do we still stick to the "one" diet rule for our pets? I struggle with that concept.  If we can feed variety that changes daily to our exotic species, knowing that it helps them behaviorally and nutritionally, why can't we do it for dogs and cats? There is no rule that says you can't, in fact, you should.  Let's think about the natural history of our domestic dogs.  They were domesticated and evolved alongside humans.  They were not domesticated on the diets that exist today, they were domesticated with "leftovers" and "scraps".  Dogs are an incredible species truly designed and adapted to deal with variety.  Cats also evolved with humans but the difference was that they thrived on the fact that civilization brought with it, pests.  Cats evolved to still consume whole prey and raw meat.  They continue to be obligate carnivores having a significantly higher protein requirement than dogs (among other unique nutrient requirements). I'm sure the topic of dogs and wolves will be another blog post as it always brings up a lot of controversy. 

If you've ever been told that you should only feed your dog or cat one diet, I hope you'll consider throwing that out the window.  If you could talk to my dogs and ask them to recall what they ate over the last week, they'd be challenged to think of everything.  I feed raw (various meats), produce, grains (oatmeal, some pasta, etc...), whole prey, raw meaty bones, and I do feed a variety of canned and kibble foods and often at the same time.  Do I see digestive upsets? RARELY...and I do mean that quite literally.  My dogs, and cat are so used to a rotated and varied diet that their guts do extremely well. 

I will stick up for vets here simply because you need to recognize that they get to see the sick ones. My vet gets to only see my dogs when I want blood work done or they need a rabies vaccination or teeth cleaned. I guarantee that he'd never recommend how I feed to his typical pet client; however, he's certainly never argued with me that my dogs are just darn healthy.  If animals have not been exposed to varied diets, it is difficult for their guts to keep up with the change which then results in digestive upset and unhappy veterinarians.  Variety should be added slowly to allow the gut time to compensate for the changes.  This means that the microflora in the gut must adapt to this change and that takes some time to develop.

There are animals that just can't handle variety for one reason or another; however, the vast majority of pets would be behaviorally and metabolically healthier on a varied or rotated diet.  It can simply mean you rotate kibble diets.  Chicken meal used in 1 company's petfood is not exactly the same as the chicken meal from another company and certainly formulations are different.  Simply alternating diets between and among petfood companies will help add to the overall nutrition of your pet. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

How "Grain-Free" May Be Splitting Ingredients

When "grain-free" foods first made their presence in the petfood market, the initial products were definitely state-of-the-art when it came to formulations.  The concept of "grain-free" was very appealing to pet owners wanting to feed their dogs and cats better.  Today's market is flooded with consumer choices for "grain-free" products and they no longer are state-of-the-art.  I don't very often get frustrated with petfood companies because revenue is the bottomline regardless of the size of company.  However, when it comes to "grain-free" products, some of the companies have made my blood pressure rise.  

The real key with "grain-free" is actually regarding carbohydrates.  In order to process and manufacture an extruded kibble product, a certain amount of starch is required to hold the kibble together through the high heat and pressure of extrusion.  The success in the "grain-free" formulas is due to the use of potatoes and tapioca to maintain the kibble.  In other words, while these products are "grain-free" they are far from carbohydrate or starch free.  In some cases there is just as much carbohydrate and starch in some of the "grain-free" products as less expensive kibbles that contain grains.  

The vast majority of dogs do not have issues with high quality grains and cooked carbohydrates as found in high quality kibble products.  I don't feel grain-free is necessary in most cases (note that I did say MOST!). There are many high quality grain-including kibbles out there that would far surpass a couple of the "grain-free" products I'm about to discuss.

This weekend I pulled up 4 "grain-free" products online.  There was only about $5.00 difference in cost between all 4 of them and only 2 are worth it.  In addition I included the protein and fat concentration of "whole prey" for comparison.  The whole prey concentrations came from our nutrition laboratory analysis and is an average for pork, rabbit, rats, chickens and mice.

DIET A: chicken meal, tapioca, chicken fat, pumpkinseeds, menhaden fish meal, alfalfa meal
Protein concentration = 42%
Fat concentration = 22%

DIET B: chicken, chicken meal, salmon, turkey meal, herring meal, potatoes
Protein concentration = 38%
Fat concentration = 17%

DIET C: Turkey meal, dried potatoes, potato starch, chicken fat, beet pulp, sunflower oil
Protein concentration = 21%
Fat concentration = 12%

DIET D: turkey meal, sweet potatoes, peas, potatoes, canola oil, potato protein
Protein concentration = $24%
Fat concentration = 14%

Protein concentration = 50%
Fat concentration = 30%

Diet A and B both are closer in nutrient composition to whole prey; however, I'd like diet B a lot better if it had a little more fat.  Fat becomes very important for performance dogs and if the fat concentration was over 20%, diet B would easily be my pick.  That said, it is still my favorite due to the high quality proteins in the list.  Diet C and D are the ones that caused my blood pressure to rise.  Petfood companies are very smart and in these 2 cases they are absolutely taking advantage of consumers.  These 2 products did not cost that much different than A and B but you will notice they contain approximately 44 and 33% less protein and fat, respectively.  The rest will be predominately carbohydrates and considering they are "grain-free" that would mean starch.  In addition, the companies that are manufacturing diets C and D do something called "ingredient splitting".  They can't simply list "potatoes" on their ingredient lists as diet B did because if they did, potatoes rather than turkey meal would be the first ingredient.  Both of these diets are made up of predominately potatoes.  I call them the "potato salad" diets.  Most of us that eat potatoes know they aren't the most expensive produce items in the supermarket so know that if you are purchasing these products from petfood companies, you are paying a premium price for potatoes. 

When selecting a "grain-free" product, look for several protein sources in the top 5 ingredients (not including pea protein or potato protein...I'm OK with these ingredients but I don't want them in the top 5).  Look for animal protein sources.  Also, look for just a single listing of potatoes or tapioca in the top 7 ingredients.  Don't stop at the ingredient list. Look at the guaranteed analysis and you want to see more than 35% protein and a minimum of 17% fat. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Krill oil or fish oil?

This is one of my favorite questions because for me it forces me to consider the environment and sustainability.  There is a good deal of hype surrounding the use of krill oil as the superior source of omega 3 fatty acids.  In my opinion, I don't feel the science proves that yet.  Of larger concern to me is environmental sustainability.

To clarify, the healthful benefit of "omega 3's" are not from the whole oil but from 3 very specific fatty acids found in foods.  These would be EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docohexaenoic acid) and ALA (alpha-Linolenic acid).  DHA and EPA are the fatty acids of importance found in fish oil and krill oil.  ALA is the omega 3 fatty acid found in flaxseed.  Mammals can metabolize ALA into EPA and DHA which is how many vegetarians can successfully consume enough omega 3 fatty acids. 

Krill are crustaceans (like shrimp) that are a major food staple for many marine animals such as whales, fish, and birds.  Krill oil contains approximately 7 - 20% EPA and DHA.  In addition, krill oil contains an antioxidant carotenoid pigment called astaxanthin that gives it the characteristic reddish color.  The fatty acids of krill oil are assembled as phospholipids.  This is in contrast to marine fish oils that contain approximately 30% EPA and DHA and are assembled as triglycerides and ethyl esters.  While the evidence is very strong to suggest that the phospholipid assembly is more bioavailable, the issue lies in the concentration of EPA and DHA.  In a 2011 study (Schuchardt et. al.) had to supply 14 krill oil capsules per day, compared with 4 fish oil capsules per day to reach similar concentrations of EPA and DHA.  Another 2011 study conducted by Ulven et. al. had to provide 6 krill oil capsules to reach 543 mg of DHA and EPA while it took 3 fish oil capsules to reach 864 mg of DHA and EPA.  At those doses, there were no differences in metabolic effects.  The bottomline is to pay attention to the amount of DHA and EPA listed on the bottle.  In other words if you decided to replace your 2 - 3 fish oil capsules daily with 2 - 3 krill oil capsules per day, you will be getting at least 30% less EPA and DHA. 

The larger concern for me is definitely the issue of sustainability.   That goes for fish and krill.  I do believe we can make a huge difference when it comes to how foods are manufactured whether that be fish and krill harvesting or meat processing.  There are sustainable and proper ways to obtain these precious commodities for ourselves and for our beloved pets.  We need to make sure that we don't overfish our oceans and lose the biodiversity that supports our planet.  While I do believe that aquaculture farms have their own sets of limitations, we need to make careful decisions about what we chose to buy.  Don't just buy products...take a look at how those products are manufactured and make sure they are coming from sustainable sources.

Schuchardt et. al. 2011. Lipids in Health and Disease. 10: 145
Ulven et. al. 2011. Lipids. 46: 37

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What is the difference between Prebiotics and Probiotics?

This is truly the question I am asked most frequently and it is confusing.  Probiotics are what most of us are familiar with.  Probiotics also are often referred to as Direct Fed Microbials.  These are live microorganisms (typically lactobacillus strains) that are included in supplements and yogurts.  Products such as Prostora (by Iams) contains live microorganisms so they are considered Probiotics. 

In contrast, Prebiotics are food ingredients that selectively stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacillus strains.  The major groups of prebiotics we refer to as MOS (mannan-oligosaccharides), FOS (fructo-oligosaccharides), COS (chito-oligosaccharides), and GOS (galacto-oligosaccharides).  These are all forms of carbohydrates that are not digested by mammalian enzymes in the digestive tract; therefore, they reach the large intestine intact and healty microbes really like them.  I tend to like feeding prebiotics more than probiotics because we know these ingredients make it to the large intestine.  In my previous post I relayed a few of my concerns (particularly antibiotic resistance) in relation to probiotics.  The use of prebiotics does not pose those same risks. 

One of the most common prebiotic ingredients I see in petfoods is Chicory Root. Chicory Root contains a high concentration of the prebiotic called Inulin.  This compound aids the growth of bifidobacteria in the large intestine.  Most people do not need to supplement their pet's diets with prebiotics as they are already included in many of the formulations of high quality petfoods. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

What probiotics do I recommend?

My answer to this question may surprise people; however, I do not routinely recommend probiotic use for most normal/healthy dogs and cats (or any species that I work with).   I save probiotics for those times when the gut microbiota becomes unbalanced.  I use them as a tool to help "right" the gut. 
The gut microbiota is a complex assortment of microorganisms that inhabit all mammalian gastrointestinal tracts with a composition that is host specific. This microbiota is involved in a wide array of host physiology including nutrition, gut health, behavior, stress response, inflammatory responses and immunity; therefore, maintaining an optimal balance is imperative to host health.  A balanced microbiota is an amazing phenomenon and the beauty is that these well balanced systems can handle typical insults to the gastrointestinal tract and right themselves back into balance. One of my goals in nutrition is to provide foods that promote that well balanced microbiota, opposed to continually having to provide the live microorganisms through probiotic use.  I also have growing concerns regarding the transfer of antibiotic resistant genes to and from probiotic microorganisms.  There is increasing research indicating that antibiotic resistance is present in species of some probiotic strains including enterococcus faecium, lactobacillus and lactococcus spp.  This may or may not pose a significant risk; however, it is evidence enough for me to keep a mindful eye on the research and where the industry is moving.
That being said, of course dogs being what they are, tend to eat things they shouldn't.  In addition, antibiotic treatments also can pose threats to the microbiota environment.  These insults to the gut may cause that balance to sway and result in diarrhea and digestive function loss.   This is when I want to use probiotics and prebiotics.  In addition, I will often recommend probiotics for older dogs that are naturally losing some digestive function due to age.  I do keep probiotics on hand and I travel with them to trials.  It always seems that our dogs tend to have digestive issues while we are competing at shows or trials.  However, in part this may be due to stress (like it or not).  Currently, I prefer the Prostora product made by Iams because that product contains Bifidobacteria rather than the Lactobacillus species that are most often included in probiotics. 

Hume, M.E. 2011. Poultry Science. 90: 2663-2669
Liu, C., et al. 2010. Biosci. Biotechnol. Biochem. 74: 336-42
Sekirov, I., et al. 2010. Physiol. Rev. 90: 859-904
Temmerman, R., et al. 2003. Inter. J. Food Micro. 81: 1-10

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Evolve Animal Services, LLC

Nutrition and Environmental Enrichment are key components of overall health and well-being for all animals.  Evolve Animal Services, LLC has been developed to promote animal health through nutrition, enrichment, and training.  By understanding metabolism, science, natural history and normal animal behavior, we can develop plans for optimizing animal health.
Consulting services are available and information on those available services are located on our website.
The goal of this blog is to educate animal owners  on issues related to nutrition, enrichment and training.  It will primarily be focused on nutrition and enriching home environments for pets in a practical way.  When it comes to dogs and cats, both are members of the mammalian order, Carnivora.  In other words, they are carnivores.  Carnivores that we humans choose to live with.  My comparative background provides a unique perspective into understanding the unique needs of dogs and cats nutritionally as they have evolved to co-exist with us.