Tuesday, November 27, 2012

By - Products

I enjoy reading several online articles, blogs, and Journals and even edit for a Journal.  Recently, one of my favorite authors made me a little crabby as it came to an article she wrote in reference to by-products and organ meats.  I will start by saying I agree with this author 90% of the time; however, this time, I found myself a bit irriated as what she wrote was very misleading.  Of course the defininitions of ingredients themselves are totally misleading which is partly to blame. 

Because I truly hate things taken out of context, I'm sharing the link of her article and the one she referenced.  Dr. Greg Aldrich wrote this one for Petfood Industry: http://www.petfoodindustry.com/Sub_Level_-_News/46921.html
In turn, Dr. Becker wrote this one: http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2012/11/21/organ-meats.aspx

If you read them both, you will definitely understand who their respective audiences are.  Dr. Aldrich writes for the Industry and he has forgotten more information about petfood ingredients than most people know all together.  I consider him the leading expert without doubt when it comes to ingredients and I have saught his expertise numerous times. 

I struggled with Dr. Becker's article because I am very sensitive to the use of "by-products" and also to their bad name.  I have recently been working with a human meat company who is desperately wanting to increase the value of the animal they harvest by better utilizing the "parts" they don't use in the human product they make.  This accounts for approximately 40% of the weight of the animal. Not only do I appreciate that perspective from a financial standpoint, more importantly I appreciate that from a simple resource standpoint.  Our food supply on this planet is not without limit and determining ways to utilize as much of the animals and plants we harvest is absolutely a necessary part of our futures. 

I was taken on a tour of the processing plant about a year ago to see the entire process and the "parts" they were concerned about.  I watched from the time the animals were unloaded to the time everything was chilled and boxed.  Throughout the process, "parts" disappeared on a conveyor belt and I repeatedly asked "where is that going?".  The answer was always the same...to rendering.  These parts included trachea, organs, ears, and bones...all of which I wanted for our carnivores at the zoo. That day I had the plant manager box up samples of those "by-products" and when I delivered the boxes to our cat zoo-keepers, you would have thought it was Christmas morning. 

Since then, our lab analyzed over 27 different "by-products" for their nutrients and created a raw meat diet for zoo carnivores that contains more than 40% of these unwanted by-products.  In our fisrt feeding and digestibility trial with African wildcats, not only was it more palatable than our typical raw meat diet, the protein and fat were better digested.

The part of Dr. Becker's article that made me so crabby was in the below statement regarding rendered proteins. Not all rendered proteins are the same, the process is the same but what consitutes the raw product is very different.  There is a HUGE difference between something labeled as Chicken Meal vs. Chicken By-Product Meal vs. Poultry By-Product Meal vs. Meat and Bone Meal.  Dr. Becker basically lumped them all together as "rendered proteins" and that's not at all accurate and Dr. Aldrich would agree. 

Dr. Becker writes:
"The rendering process involves combining “raw product” sourced from meat slaughtering and processing plants; dead animals from farms, ranches, feedlots, marketing barns, animal shelters, and other facilities; and fats, grease, and other food waste from restaurants and stores.
The “raw product” mixture is cooked at high temperatures, the moisture is removed, and then it’s pulverized into a powdery material known as meat and bone meal. Along the way, most of the grease is skimmed away, and excess hair and large bone chips are removed from the powder. So while a given mix of rendered protein may contain organ meats (that were much more nutritious before being exposed to extremely high heat and other processing methods), it’s just as likely to contain bits and pieces of nasty items like beaks, feathers, feet, hooves, hair, tumors, and who knows what else."

She is absolutely correct if she is describing Meat and Bone Meal but certainly not meat by-products.

Here is the AAFCO definition of Meat By-Products = non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered animals. It includes, but is not limited to lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, fatty tissue, stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, feathers, hooves, teeth. "Meals" are the rendered versions of the above.

If you take that a step further for respective species such as beef by-products or chicken by-products then you narrow that definition more to just that species. 

In my opinion there is absolutely no room in my pet's diets for Meat and Bone Meal or any other meal for that matter where I cannot identify the species I'm feeding.  However, I have no issue with feeding "by-products" or "by-product meals" as long as I can identify the species from which they came. 

If you are interested in hearing Dr. Aldrich speak directly about ingredients, I encourage you to attend a free Webinar that he will be giving this Thursday, November 29, at 7 PM.  You can join me next Thursday for a free webinar on raw meat diets.  http://www.extension.org/pages/66260/free-canine-nutrition-webinars

Monday, November 12, 2012

Puppies and puppy foods

I have to admit that the transition to faculty at Iowa State University and teaching a course right off the bat have taken a toll on keeping up with blogging.  It's definitely enjoyable but I don't believe my students find diet formulation nearly as fun and entertaining as I do. 

To add to the drama in my life, in late September, I offered to foster a smooth coat border collie puppy from a rescue in MN. Middle of last month, I finally admitted that I was in love with the little worm and we told him he could stay with us forever.  His name is Ace.

Ace is my pal and has been our side kick at the recent agility trials.  Of course he has found these outings to be a blast and has developed some fantastic new agility friends.  In one of the romps last weekend, the conversation of puppy foods popped up.  This always is one of those areas that I believe likely to be the most frustrating for new puppy owners.  Not only are new owners bombarded with hundreds of diets, but they also are swarmed with opinions of well meaning breeders, friends, and other owners. 

With any growing animal, many factors play a role in the optimal development of that animal into a healthy, thriving adult, including diet and nutrition, genetics, structure, and overall health.  Often I find that many of the opinions that get translated to puppy owners come from people that fail to account for all the factors that affect our puppy's development.  Instead, nutrition and diet nearly always get blamed.  So, I decided to do some comparisons of foods this week. 

I chose 6 foods: Canidae (for all life stages), Orijen Puppy, Orijen Large Breed Puppy, Wellness Large Breed Puppy, Wellness Puppy, and Taste of the Wild Puppy.  In addition, I chose to use Ace as a model but also looked up some weights from my Toy Fox Terrier girls when they were 14 - 16 weeks old, and also selected to include a large breed puppy example. 

The first thing we have to address is energy requirements of our puppies and that is why I selected to use 3 very different puppies.  The energy requirement of a puppy over 14 weeks of age is set by some fancy mathematical equations that go way beyond inclusion in this blog. I made my students deal with the math this week and I don't think they liked me for it.  Long story short, we have to consider our puppy's current body weight and their estimated body weight as an adult. Based on these, I calculated the requirements for energy at 275, 1,000 and 1,400 Kcal daily for the Toy Fox Terrier, Ace, and the Large Breed Puppy (LBP), respectively. 

Now the fun begins.  All of the nutrient requirements that are established for dogs and puppies are relative to their individual energy requirements.  So, I can't just look at the amount in the book or on the bag and assume it's OK. I actually have to determine how much the puppy is actually going to need of that particular food and then calculate the amount of each nutrient supplied from it.

Once I met each puppy's requirement for energy, I looked at Calcium and Phosphorus.  This is where things get kind of ugly.  When we hear conversations such as "too much protein", or "too many calories" in regard to puppy foods, it's typically misunderstood why that is an issue.  Very calorically dense foods, require less intake...that makes sense...now multiply that lower intake by the nutrient content of the food and suddenly we are getting less nutrient.  This isn't as big an issue for the toy puppy that reaches adult body weight much quicker, as it is for the large breed puppy that takes longer to mature. That seems very reasonable until you consider the high quality products most of us are purchasing and then things get totally confusing because suddenly, protein is excessive in all of them.

The Canidae product supplied 33% more protein than the puppies needed but it fell short by 3 and 12%, respectively for Calcium and Phosphorus.  

Now, the 2 Orijen Products: the Large Breed Puppy product supplied over 155% of the LBP's protein requirement and more than 60% and 53% of the Calcium and Phosphorus requirements, respectively.  This holds true also for the other 2 puppies.  The Orijen Regular Puppy food is better but still supplies 120, 28 and 25% of the puppy's requirements for Protein, Calcium and Phosphorus, respectively.  Obviously, protein in these types of foods is not going to be an issue.  Oversupplementation is the issue.

The Wellness Large Breed puppy was only 67% over on Protein and 13.5% for both Calcium and Phosphorus.  I liked this a good deal because they were both balanced very well and not horribly excessive.  The Regular Wellness Puppy was similar in Protein, but was only 5% over on Calcium and Phosphorus for the LBP example. 

Lastly, Taste of the Wild Puppy was 75% over on Protein and 28% over on Calcium and 10% over on Phosphorus. 

What does all this mean? Well, first let's factor in how much of each food we'd have to feed our Large Breed puppy to meet those energy requirements: 353, 430, 350, 415, 385 and 400 grams per day of Canidae, Orijen LB, Orijen Puppy, Wellness LB, Wellness Puppy and TOW Puppy with daily costs of $0.96, $2.28, $1.87, $1.78, $1.52, and $1.58, respectively.  I am not saying at all that cost is the most important thing, the point is, the most expensive diets here both supply excessive amounts of nutrients and while I love Orijen for adult agility dogs, I would not feed either of those products to any of the puppy examples. 

Although Ace gets a raw diet that I formulate, he also gets Wellness Puppy and Taste of the Wild Puppy, which from these examples are definitely my favorite 2 choices from my selections for all 3 puppy types.  I would feed the Wellness LB product to any of the puppy examples, including the Toy; however, it's more expensive per day and I actually have to feed more of it to reach their energy requirements.

Obviously every food is different, and the energy requirements of every puppy are different.  Petfood companies are challenged with trying to find a happy medium to supply nutrients in a palatable, high quality product.  I have a handy little spreadsheet to calculate these numbers for me.  If you are feeding a puppy and want an estimate of their nutrient requirements along with how your selected food or foods stack up against your individual puppy's requirements, don't hesitate to contact me. 

Ace has been busy while I've blogged.   Enjoy them...they grow up too darn fast!!!!!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Other Half of the Team

This Sunday I arrived at a trial site and realized rather quickly that I'd forgotten 2 things.  The first thing I noticed I forgot was my protein breakfast bar.  When I realized I forgot it, I simply said..."well, I'm still not hungry so will just wait until lunch...no biggie".  After walking the dogs and bringing them in, I then recognized I forgot the other item...the "magic agility water" for the dogs.  In reality there is no magic at all...it is simply water, a spoonful or so of chicken baby food and 1 teaspoon of L-glutamine powder.  This is a recipe I concocted a couple years ago after I almost lost Keegan to dehydration at an outdoor agility trial.

Needless to say my reaction to forgetting this necessary part of our trial day was mildly ridiculous.  I proceeded to beat myself up for at least 10 minutes, wondering how I could be so incredibly stupid.  After all, I'd made it up and had it ready, how could I have just left it in the fridge? "Idiot", I told myself.  It's amazing how horribly mean I can be to myself.  Our agility day continued wonderfully and we even made it home with blue ribbons, despite my stupidity at forgetting the water.

Later that afternoon I had an epiphany that resulted in the firing of myself as a Comparative Nutritionist...no fear, I did rehire myself (under probation).  What caused this epiphany was standing up and playing ball with Karma.  I'd been sitting at my desk for over an hour when Karma plopped a ball on my lap indicating it was time to take a break and go have some fun.  When I stood up I felt the crackles in my knees and winced at the pain in my lower back.  The pain subsided quickly as it usually does and we proceeded to go play ball.  As I watched my beloved girl race through the field to get her ball, often jumping for no other reason than to jump, I realized how mortified I'd be if I ever knew that any of my dogs were living with crackling joints or chronic pain.

That's when I fired myself on the spot!!!!

My dogs have scientifically formulated diets that precisely meet specific nutritional goals for each one.   I know they are getting the very best nutrition possible because it's important to me that my teammates are in top condition both physically and metabolically.  Then there's the other half of the team...Me! Yes, me, the one that drank a coke at the trial and enjoyed a friend's MACH cake, skipped breakfast, hadn't taken her fish oil, multivitamin, or calcium in over a month...me, the one that doesn't eat enough fruit, drink enough milk and certainly hasn't developed her abs to support the scoliosis in her back.  To say in that moment I was not impressed with myself was a drastic understatement.

How could I be so obsessed with my dog's nutrition and fitness but not my own? Did it not matter? How could it not, after all, now that I'm competing with 4 dogs, they might run 2 - 5 times a day but this half of the team has to now run 8 - 20 times a day. The only way my body can do that and sustain that is if I take care of it.

After this internal discussion with myself (and yet one more bout of self name-calling), I developed a new job description that did not take the human half for granted.  All species are created equal in my world of nutrition, and I certainly am one of those, deserving of excellent nutrition.  That means I can't skip my breakfast, fish oil, calcium, multivitamins, or my joint support (Ligaplex II, glucosamine + Boswellia).  I will focus more on developing my core strength to support my back, and physical fitness just like I expect in my dogs because if I truly want to excel and reach our competitive best as a team, I can't do it with only 1/2 the team being fit...both halves need to be at peak, both physically and nutritionally. Karma, Keegan, Leia and Shadow deserve the best nutritional care, and so do I!!!!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Joint Supplements

I feel like I should start this blog with "forgive me Father, for I have sinned, it has been almost 3 months since my last blog". I am sorry for not blogging...if only I could explain the level of intensity that has consumed my life for the past couple months. I will just say, WOW. Now that I'm past that drama, let's talk about joint supplements. This is one topic I am asked about frequently and I do believe my reply is always the same..."uggghhhh". The scientist in me struggles severely with research related to this topic. I read a recent article this week from the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine (Vandeweerd, et al., 2012) that did a really nice job of evaluating the nutraceutical research in dogs, cats, and horses. They started off with 67 published studies and after ruling out those that didn't have any connection with the subjects (relied on completely subjective reported opinions), in vitro studies (test tube), no evaluation of clinical signs of pain or locomotion (not sure what the heck they measured), and those that were not controlled, the researchers wound up with only 22 of the original 67. That is why I respond with "ugggghhhhh". If I had been included on that paper, I would have included the in vitro studies (14) because it's those studies that often tell us more about what is going on at the cellular and molecular level. Since our animal companions cannot tell us what hurts, at least knowing we may be eliminating some pain and inflammation is useful. So, I decided to basically review some of the big name products and specifically review what the main ingredients do. Glucosamine: This is the main ingredient in the vast majority of joint health supplements. I look for a dose between 10-20 mg per pound of body weight. So, for Karma, my little border collie (25 Lb), I want to make sure she is getting about 250 mg daily. Glucosamine is a natural compound, more specifically an amino sugar found in cartilage and in fact is in high concentrations in trachea. Chondroitin : This compound is a complex carbohydrate found in healthy cartilage that helps retain water. This compound has almost exclusively been researched in conjunction with glucosamine in animals; therefore, coming up with a specific dose is not feasible. Fish oil: This might surprise everyone; however, the research surrounding fish oil, in particular the 2 omega 3 fatty acids known as EPA and DHA have the most definitive benefits in regard to inflammation and joints. I typically suggest 1,000 mg for a 40 Lb dog. MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane): This is a cool compound! I kind of like it a lot because it's just useful. It is a natural compound found in most living tissue, both animal and plant and helps to reduce pressure in cells. This is one of those compounds whose efficacy in reducing symptoms is difficult to determine; however, in vitro studies at the molecular and cellular level do indicate it is useful for inflammatory conditions. You will see doses typically ranging from 10 - 30 mg per pound of body weight. Green Lipped Mussel: This ingredient contains a unique omega 3 fatty acid that prevents oxidative stress. Avocado and soybean unsaponifiables (one of the active ingredients found in Dasuquin): There are several good in vitro studies that indicate this compound actually can improve structural components of joint cartilage; however, there is no dose range for inclusion. There certainly are other ingredients that get included in joint supplements that are of value including Vitamins E and C, milk proteins (active ingredients in Duralactin), Cetyl myristoleate (active ingredient in Cetyl-M), and manganese. These compounds have either structural(manganese), anti-inflammatory or antioxidative properties. So, you may be guessing where I'm going here but when it comes to selecting a joint supplement, I want one that includes as much structural, antioxidative, and anti-inflammatory potential as possible. In my opinion the 3 best products that reach those goals are: Dasuquin, Synovi G3, and Glyco-Flex III. All 3 of those products contain ingredients that address all 3 concerns related to joints (structure, inflammation, and reduction of oxidation). I'd like to thank one of my interns this summer (Cam Bexten) for researching the commercial products and listing out all of their ingredients and doses. Without her, this blog post wouldn't have been written. Vandeweerd et al. 2012. Systematic review of efficacy of nutraceuticals to alleviate clinical signs of osteoarthritis. J. Vet. Intern. Med. 26: 448-456.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Palm Oil Crisis

I believe that most people are aware that our planet is strained with limited resources.  When you work in a zoo and you are faced with the tragic stories of endangered animals and their bleak futures, it sometimes is overwhelming to find ways to help them.  But sometimes, we can make some simple adjustments that truly do have a fantastic impact on our planet's endangered species.  One of those is regarding Orangutans and palm oil. 

You might not recognize how many consumer products contain palm oil.  It is a vegetable oil containing primariliy the saturated fatty acid known as palmitic acid.  It is characteristically red in color due to naturally occuring beta-carotene. 

The bad part about palm oil is the destruction of natural rain forest to plant palm oil plantations.  This destruction and loss of habitat has been the major factor in the vanishing populations of wild orangutans.  Of all the primates, these red heads are one of my favorites. They are extremely intelligent and all together comical.  Not long after we opened our new Orangutan exhibit,one of our female orangs pulled off pieces of her new exhibit at night and jammed them in the fire sprinklers, flooding the building.  Although our staff found it utterly frustrating to have to deal with the mess in the middle of the night, you couldn't help but appreciate her strength at dismantling the exhibit and crafting new tools.  They are simply amazing animals. 

I know my blogs are geared toward pets, and there is a point here I promise!!!  I am not one of those activists that says don't ever use palm oil, but I certainly believe there are places where we can all become stewards of our delicate planet and hopefully save some fragile wildlife.  All it takes is a little understanding and some decisions.  Because palm oil can be harvested from existing plantations, additional destruction is not necessary.  Therefore, we can use sustainable sources of palm oil.  The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil was formed in 2004 to promote the growth and use of sustainable oil palm products through credible global standards and engagement of stakeholders.  Companies can commit to this effort and become an RSPO member.  More information can be found at: http://www.rspo.org/ .

The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo also has a great blog dedicated to the crisis and things that people can do.  In addition they have published a shopping list of items (including petfood companines) that are listed and considered sustainable. http://www.cmzoo.org/conservation/palmOilCrisis/ .  If you feed commercial foods, check the ingredients of your foods. Often palm oil is hidden in ingredients such as "retinyl palmitate".  In other words, many of the vitamin supplements used in feeds contain palm oil.  If they do contain palmitate items check to see if the companies are on this approved list or contact them and ask.  The more we spread the word about the fact that palm oil can be used sustainably to save orangutans, the better shot we have at saving them.

I want the very best for my dogs and myself, and I know those of you that read this blog do as well but I don't feel we can sacrifice more resources for that goal alone. We can have the best for our pets and still reduce our carbon footprints throughout our daily lives.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Raw Diet Research - FINALLY!!!

I have seriously failed at writing a blog post weekly.  I will try to do a better job of keeping the blog up to date. 

I posted on Facebook earlier this week, the following link from a publication that comes out to petfood manufacturers. http://www.petfoodindustry.com/Research_Notes/Extruded_vs__raw_vs__cooked_beef-based_diets_for_cats.html regarding one of our research studies that was published in the Journal of Animal Science this year.  I was thrilled to see our study reach those in the industry.  It's taken a good deal of time to get this particular study published and I figured there would be readers very interested in our results.

A couple pieces of background to put on the table first. This study was a collaborative effort with the University of Illinois (I hold an adjunct appointment there and work with many graduate students).  This study was one of several that a very talented graduate student worked on with us.  Much of her Masters and Ph.D research have focused on exotic cat nutrition; however, this was one that we felt was necessary to develop some much needed research in the field.  Secondly, it was in domestic cats.  Cats are a bit easier for us to conduct research on, especially the big exotic ones because they are housed individually and it's easy to collect samples.  Canid species are almost always housed in groups and it makes sample collection a bit more difficult.  In addition, since cats are true obligate carnivores, they serve as the best model to study raw diets (at least right now as raw diet research is truly in an infancy stage).  We have hopes to develop our efforts with canids but for now, we are focusing on cats.  So many questions about raw diets need answered and researched and it would take my entire career to barely scratch the surface. I can only hope that other researchers will join the ranks so we can get some much needed answers.

So, with that in mind, the objectives of this study were to determine differences in the digestibility, fecal characteristics, urine characteristics, and serum chemistry of 9 domestic cats fed 3 different diet treatments.  The dietary treatments were the raw beef-based diet that we feed to our cats at the zoo (Raw); the same diet but cooked (cooked) and a high quality grain-free kibble cat food (kibble). 

Table 1. Nutrient composition of the diet treatments (dry matter basis)
Nutrient                     Raw             Cooked                Kibble
Moisture, %                70.7              70.8                      5.7
Protein, %                   52.5              52.0                      57.0
Fat, %                         20.5              18.3                      17.4
Energy, kcal/g              5.0                4.7                        4.2

Table 2. Digestibility of the the treatment diets
Item                           Raw              Cooked               Kibble
Organic matter, %       90.5               88.5                     83.9
Protein, %                   93.3               92.9                     81.6
Fat, %                         95.5               95.3                     91.3
Energy, %                   91.5               89.8                      84.7

Table 3. Fecal characteristics
Item                           Raw              Cooked               Kibble
fecal output (g DM)     6.7                7.2                        13.0
Ammonia                     69.4              72.0                      190.4
total BCFA                  17.6              16.8                      43.7

In respect of blog length, I'm not including the urine measures or the blood metabolites as there were no major significant differences detected among the diet treatments and results were within reference ranges for cats.

OK, so what does that data tell us? Obviously the diets had similar nutrient compositions (Table 1) but the nutrients were digested different (Table 2).  Organic matter digestibility is a term that we nutritionists use to essentially look at the overall diet digestibility (taking into account all nutrients except minerals).  It's pretty obvious that the raw diet was better digested by the cats.  Although it was better digested than the cooked diet, those numbers did fail to reach statistical significance (were only about 2% different for the most part).  The scientists out there reading this will find that to be of important note.  That said,  the raw diet had nearly a 15% improvement in protein digestibility compared to the kibble.  This to me is one of the most important pieces as we consider protein quality.  We want the protein to be better digested. 

When looking at Table 3, there were some very important pieces there as well.  Fecal output measured as grams of dry matter, was lower in the cats fed raw and cooked.  This was likely due to the fact that the cats fed the kibble diet consumed significantly more dry matter than the cats on the raw or cooked diets.  More importantly, fecal ammonia and BCFA (branched chain fatty acids) were much lower in the cats fed either the raw or cooked diets compared with the kibble.  Ammonia and BCFA are putrefactive compounds produced during colonic fermentation of endogenously produced and non-absorbed amino acids.  This was likely a direct result of the lower digestibility of protein for the kibble diet (more amino acids and proteins reaching the colon for fermentation).  

Those of you that feed raw, are cheering (I can hear you).  We are following it up with another study that included raw, kibble, canned and whole prey in both domestic cats, and in African wildcats.  Those data are currently being analyzed and we hope to be presenting those data this summer.  While we can't completely translate this data to dogs, it's likely a pretty good chance we'd see similar results in other carnivore species including dogs.

K.R. Kerr, B.M. Vester Boler, C.L. Morris, K.J. Liu, and K.S. Swanson. 2012. Apparent total tract energy and macronutrient digestibility and fecal fermentative end-product concentrations of domestic cats fed extruded, raw beef-based, and cooked beef-based diets. Journal of Animal Science: 90: 515-522.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What's better...ancestral or natural history?

The idea of ancestral diets is an interesting one for me.  I hear it when people say they want to feed raw diets..."I want to feed a more ancestral diet" and "dogs and cats are carnivores", and I see it all over the marketing of pet foods, particularly grain-free foods.  What does that mean to everyone?

In reality there are more than 260 mammal species listed under the order Carnivora.  Yes, that list includes the cat and the dog, and closest taxonomic ancestors to both, the European wildcat and the wolf.  However, it also includes otters, civets, seals, and bears.  That last category is one of my very favorites to discuss in terms of comparative nutrition because it includes the Giant panda.  Oh yes, indeed they are carnivores in every sense of the word.  Anatomically they have short digestive tracts and limited ability to ferment fiber...surprised? The difference is that panda's have evolved and adapted to their environment and have lower requirements for protein and energy compared to other carnivorous species.  If' you've ever seen panda poo, you've noticed that it looks just like panda food.  They must consume gigantic amounts of bamboo just to meet those low energy and protein requirements (also why they don't move a whole lot).  If I wanted to feed a panda like their other relatives (carnivores), I'd likely produce very fat pandas with metabolic issues.  While we could feed pandas the same diets we feed other bears, we certainly do not...they are fed primarily bamboo as most of you already guessed.  Why then do we constantly focus on wanting to feed dogs like wolves and cats like tigers?

When it comes to felids, I won't argue with anyone that chooses to feed a strictly raw meat or whole prey based diet.  Cats have not evolved to be anything other than obligate carnivores.  Their protein requirement is twice that of dogs and they require vitamins that are unique to the consumption of organ meats that other carnivores do not require in the same high concentrations (taurine, vitamins A, D, and niacin). 

Canids on the other hand are not obligate carnivores...except one species.  I love discussing canid species as their variation in diet and natural history is nothing short of amazing.  Consider the little bat eared fox that consumes almost exclusively insects, or the maned wolf whose diet during portions of the year is made up of nearly 70% plant material from a fruit in the same family as the tomato.  Then, consider the only obligate carnivore canid...the African hunting dog (pictured below thanks to Omaha Zoo keeper Emily Wiley). These incredibly beautiful canids have never been observed consuming anything other than meat.  Most people aren't surprised when I tell them that I can't feed these species the exact same diet at the zoo and indeed their captive diets are not at all similar.  Maned wolves in captivity thrive on a diet that most of you would consider tragically high in carbohydrates and grains.  I must consider each individual species' natural history when I formulate diets. 

So, why on Earth do we seem to forget to consider that in respect to the species that live in our homes? Now, don't take this wrong, I'm not by any means saying that you should feed your dogs a high carbohydrate diet.  I believe quite the contrary.  The dog evolved because of us and the food we consumed. They thrived and became what they are today because we fed them a huge variety of dietary ingredients just like we fed ourselves.  It wasn't until the last century or so that we started making highly processed specialized dog foods and then deciding that only one food was appropriate (that idea we can thank the petfood industry for).  I don't believe that one food is appropriate for pets and I feel we should provide them with variety that their natural history dictates.  I know I've said it before but my dogs would be hard pressed to recall their diet over the last week because of the variety.  I do feed rotated kibbles, canned foods, raw, fresh fruits and veggies, some grains (mostly oatmeal), eggs, and fish.  The beauty of this is the result that I can feed them just about anything and not have to worry about GI issues.  Sadly, our society has been so conditioned to only feed our pets one diet that we've prevented most of our pets from developing the ability to cope with the variety their natural history tells us they should have.   

So, is it really that we want to feed our pets an ancestral diet or is it more that we want to feed them a more natural diet based on their natural history? To me, that makes a whole lot more sense. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Feeding the Seniors in the House

Sparky, he's the dog that started my addiction to agility and dog sports.  He's the one that learned how to play flyball when he didn't even think balls were all that cool.  He's my 13 year old Rat Terrier that moved with me from New Mexico, survived grad school, taught me how to train, saw me through a divorce, new career and a new marriage...he is my best friend.  I am faced everyday with the fact that he's getting older and he's definitely now considered a "senior" dog, something I know many of you reading this also face daily.

This week I've been putting the final touches on an invited manuscript summarizing a symposia I chaired in July at a National conference.  The symposia was about managing geriatric animals.  I thought it was a good topic and one that many people often ask me about.  What should I feed my senior animal?

The aging process can impact diet palatability and intake from physical changes that alter animal's senses, particularly taste and smell.  In addition, as animals reach geriatric age, physiological changes occur that can alter nutrient requirements.  Typically, energy requirements decrease; however, essential fatty acid and protein requirements often increase.  This, coupled with reductions in digestive efficiency, result in seniors requiring bioavailable and digestible diets based with very high quality ingredients.

There are as many opinions about feeding seniors as there are diets. Some say feed more protein, some say less, some say more fat, some say less fat.  As with humans, you must feed the animal and look at them each as individuals.  Not all seniors should be treated the same.  I suggest bloodwork annually to monitor kidney and liver function in senior animals.  This can really help catch conditions early enough that specialized diets can truly support before needing prescription medications.  If seniors are in great condition and there are no indications of health concerns, I am certainly not going to reduce or change the diet.  The only thing I will do is add a digestive enzyme such as Prozyme or Prozyme Plus. 

One of the other nutrients that I've spoken about extensively is water.  Add water to all kibble!  I'm even struggling at the zoo with the amount of water that is included (or not) in feeds we typically feed exotics.  Take for example, herbivores such as giraffe, zebra, antelope, horses, and cows (only because I've mentioned this very issue in carnivores and I'm hopefully driving home a point).  "Wild" diets consist of fresh plant materials that are 70% or more water.  We have for decades focused animal husbandry on concentrating those nutrients into dried forages such as hay and dried pelleted grains and rations.  I can almost with 100% certainty offer "browse" or fresh plant material to a sick or geriatric herbivore and have them eat.  It certainly makes me wonder why we'd consider feeding and managing our animals on "dry" diets when so much of their natural diet contains much larger concentrations of water.  So the bottomline here is that if you are using kibble diets, add water to them.  If you are worried about dental health then provide abrasives such as bones to chew on and brush teeth.  I have toy dogs that notoriously have crappy teeth so I feel I can have an opinion about this.  I will tell you that feeding kibble did not change their teeth but brushing and bones did. 

In conclusion, I feel that seniors need a high quality, very digestible food until biological markers indicate a concern that needs addressed nutritionally.  In addition to the added water, Sparky also is supplemented with fish oil, Prozyme Plus and Dasuquin.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Back to the idea of Nature versus Nurture

Happy New Year!
It has been too long since my last post but there were a few things that got in the way of my writing.  The AKC Agility Invitational and Christmas come to mind.  Prior to the trip out to Orlando for the Invitational, a few people emailed me the following link asking about my thoughts on the topic.  It's from Patricia McConnell's blog, The Other End of the Leash: http://www.theotherendoftheleash.com/your-dog-has-a-brain-in-his-gut

I always have enjoyed Patricia's writing and still do and was happy to see the topic surface on her blog.  After I read it, my initial reaction was "well, yes, of course emotions are linked to nutrition...how could they not be".  The reality is that nearly every biological system of the body is linked to the digestive tract in some way.  When it comes to the nervous system, one division of the nervous system in particular, the Enteric Nervous System (the topic of the referred to blog post) is responsible for control of the gastrointestinal tract of vertebrate species.  It is this system that automatically stimulates muscles and organs to start contracting (to move food through the gut) and secrete important digestive enzymes and hormones supporting metabolism.  In addition, dozens of neurotransmitters are active through this system.  Several of these neurotransmitters are indeed related to emotions and the one I'll refer to is serotonin (mostly because I feel people are familiar with it). 

Serotonin has been linked to behavior, including aggression, depression and hyperactivity, in many different species including rodents, dogs, humans and primates.  The research in this area is extensive and easy to find.  Biochemically, serotonin is derived from the metabolism of tryptophan, an essential amino acid found in proteins and chocolate (a reason why some of us find comfort in chocolate).  These types of complex interactions between and among nutrients and the nervous system  have given rise to the ideas of "cooling proteins" and "calming proteins".  Unfortunately, this is where research is lacking.  Although there is extensive research linking neurotransmitters to diet, there are many complex levels of these interactions.  The intuitive reaction that people have is to simply provide more dietary tryptophan by increasing protein or supplementing. However, it just isn't that simple.  In some animals, that simplistic idea may work but in others it won't. Why not?

Consumed dietary tryptophan must be converted to serotonin by an enzyme.  If there are reduced levels of this enzyme, then no amount of dietary supplementation of tryptophan can account for that.  In addition,  there are additional complexities in the fact that serotonin must be transported by  proteins (transporters) and the neural messaging is sent via proteins called receptors.   All of these proteins (enzymes, transporters, receptors) are all coded by very specific genes within  specific genomes.  Each of these genes I envision like volume dials.  Environmental factors (including diet) can turn them up (up-regulate) or turn them down (down-regulate)...hence the concept of Nature vs. Nurture?  My very favorite way of looking at this is the metaphor that genetics will load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger.  So in any animal that may have one or more of these genes down-regulated such that the result is less of the enzymes, transporters, or receptors, then serotonin's impact on the brain may be reduced.  These incredible complexities are why we have such conflicting data surrounding the issue of meat based diets on behavior.  Some studies show high protein diets are beneficial for animals with aggression, while others say high carbohydrate diets are better. 

So, what the heck does this all mean? Now that we know the genome of species including humans, dogs and cats, we can now begin to understand how particular nutrients are impacting specific genes of interest such as those involved in tryptophan and serotonin metabolism.  This area of research is known as nutrigenomics and is truly fascinating to me.  In other words, while we all have the same genome, our genetic expression varies.  The amount of tryptophan that my body needs may be vastly different from that of my husband.  We can begin to look more specifically at how individual nutrients are impacting each of these genes.  That's when we'll be able to determine what the real causes of behavior and temperament issues really are...is it a simple lack of dietary tryptophan (not likely) or is it a lack of an enzyme, a transporter, or a receptor.  If we can identify the issue correctly, then we might be able to figure out how to turn that dial back up or down.  It would make an enormous difference in how disease is diagnosed and treated. 

In Patricia McConnell's post, she indicated that probiotics might be useful for the ENS.  Sure! If you recall from my first blog about probiotics, I mentioned that I only use them when the systems are "off-balance".  Being off-balance may not manifest in loose stools and vomiting.  An unbalanced digestive system and enteric nervous system may indeed be observed through behavior problems, lethargy, appetite, etc... Can I say for sure that supplements or probiotics are going to help? No, I can't.  Because our animals (and us) are unique individuals, what works for one may not work for another.  Would I try it? Yes, I would.  Until we can unlock the mysteries of metabolism, there is some degree of anecdotal success that we must appreciate.  Recall, there are dozens of these neurotransmitters, metabolites, and hormones contributing to our overall biochemistry. I didn't even talk about stress hormones such as cortisol and how it impacts the ENS.  It is all of these complex unknowns  that make me appreciate the science of nutrition even more and why you will never hear me say there is "only one way" to feed you or your animals.  We simply don't know or understand them all yet.

Happy New Year!