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Donna M. Raditic

Donna M. Raditic, DVM, is a graduate of Cornell University, is currently a nutrition resident at the University of Tennessee Veterinary Teaching Hospital

Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Do Better Canine Diets Support Longer Lives?
Optimal Nutrition
Dog Food Kibble

Veterinary nutritionists can be found in universities, teaching veterinary students and treating patients with special dietary needs. We may work in the pet food industry as consultants or by contributing to research, development and education efforts. We also work with veterinarians and their clients, providing answers or input aimed at resolving dietary quandaries.

As a veterinarian with more than 25 years’ experience and a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN), I enjoy doing a little of all these.

For example, I may develop a homemade diet for a Labrador with copper liver storage disease, a very particular liver problem. Or I’ll check in with one of my consulting clients to see how a picky young German Shepherd with recurring diarrhea is doing with his new diet. A presentation for a large veterinary meeting focusing on diets that can be used to not only treat disease states, but also to perhaps prevent them may be on my to-do list. Conference calls with veterinary students to discuss nutritional biochemistry and how cats differ from humans and dogs also occupy my time.

But my favorite part of the day is reaching out to pet parents through my work with the Companion Animal Nutrition and Wellness Institute (CANWI), a grassroots not-for-profit organization focusing on optimal nutrition and wellness to improve and extend the lives of our furry children and best friends.

At CANWI, we recognize the difficulty people have in accessing companion-animal nutrition information not sponsored by the pet food industry, a multibillion dollar operation instrumental in providing the bulk of consumer information as well as in supporting veterinary nutrition research and education. While we agree that the industry’s goals align with the need for safe nutrition, we firmly believe that there is also a need for unbiased information on the subject.

As part of this effort, CANWI raises funds for veterinary education, including forums and programs that educate veterinary technicians, students and the pet-vested community. In fall 2016, CANWI named Danielle Conway, DVM, as its first Veterinary Nutrition Resident; the organization will support her two-year formal training program at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. Typically, this sort of advanced training is funded by the pet food industry. As CANWI president Patricia Micka noted when announcing the award, “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time a nonprofit is funding a Veterinary Nutrition Residency program. It is our intention to make this an ongoing program and not a one-time event.”

Another CANWI mission is to fund scientific research to identify healthy, or what we term optimal or best, nutrition for our companion animals. Every day, we field queries from people interested in feeding their dogs and cats the best possible diet, one that will sustain longer, healthier lives.

While we humans are told to eat plenty of fresh foods, most of our dogs and cats are fed processed commercial foods throughout their lives. What effect does this have— do processed foods provide optimal nutrition and support longevity?

Heat processing improves nutrient availability, shelf life and food safety, but it is also known to cause the Maillard reaction, chemical reactions between amino acids in proteins and sugars that give browned food its distinctive and appealing flavor. Similar Maillard reactions occur in body tissues, especially with aging, and form what are termed advanced glycation end products, or AGEs. Diets high in Maillard reaction products (MRPs) have been shown to increase levels of AGEs in the body.

Studies in humans and rodents have revealed that elevated levels of AGEs in tissues are associated with a number of age-related ailments, including diabetes, cataracts, osteoarthritis, atherosclerosis and vascular diseases. The absorption of MRPs from the diet and their accumulation in the body’s AGE pool may be one of the ways foods have an impact on age related diseases in both humans and animals.

The role of dietary MRPs on health and disease in dogs and cats is unknown. Prior studies measuring MRPs in dry and canned dog and cat diets have shown that the intake of MRPs is estimated to be 122 times higher in dogs and 38 times higher in cats than the average intake for an adult human on a body-weight basis. In our study, we want to determine if it’s possible to modify canine and feline MRP intake by making dietary adjustments. Investigating the effects of a highly processed diet with high levels of MRPs compared to one that is more like homemade—or a whole food diet—with low levels of MRPs may help us unravel diet’s effects on our dogs’ and cats’ lives.

CANWI has given me a forum to share my veterinary experiences and my specialty training. It is truly my honor to work with the organization, which enables me to connect my passion for education and research with my desire to share the best nutrition and veterinary care with all my beloved animal patients, present and future.

Dr. Raditic invites you to join her in supporting this important work with a donation to CANWI, either online through PayPal or via the mail. For more information, go to companionanimalnutritionandwellnessinstitute.org.

Wellness: Health Care
Natural Health Supplements and Your Dog
“Natural” is not harmless—talk to your vet when considering supplements for your pup

The human nutraceutical industry is exploding, and people are sharing these new therapies with their pets. But what are nutraceuticals? The American Veterinary Medicine Association defines them as “micronutrients, macronutrients and other nutritional supplements used as therapeutic agents.” This broad definition can include everything from fresh herbs to a single vitamin purchased at a health food store.

Some of these supplements have, over time, been shown to improve pet health. Among these are glucosamines and chondroitins for joint health; some studies suggest starting these supplements early, especially if the dog is one of the large breeds susceptible to arthritis. Also, milk thistle (Silybum marianum) and SAdenosyl methionine, or SAMe, have been established as beneficial for liver support, and are often used together.

Other established nutraceuticals include EPA and DHA, omega-3 fatty acids. We now know that the best source of EPA and DHA are oils derived from bluefish, mackerel and salmon. These very special oils are currently used in the treatment of kidney disease, allergic skin disease, heart disease, osteoarthritis, cancers and cognitive dysfunction (senility) in dogs.

Antioxidants such as vitamin E, vitamin C, carotenoids, flavonoids, selenium, lipoic acid and more scavenge free radicals and are also used in dogs. Their antioxidant properties are active in immune imbalances, tissue damage, cognitive dysfunction, joint disease, cardiac dysfunction, cancers and other pathological states. Unfortunately, we do not know which have the most beneficial effects in specific diseases, and the dosages are not well established. Among the concerns is that using antioxidants during radiation treatment may decrease its effectiveness; be sure to discuss their use with your veterinarian and veterinary oncologist.

Probiotics are supplements containing live bacteria cultures that maintain a healthy gastrointestinal environment. The gut contains many species of billions of beneficial bacteria, which seem to protect the lining of the gut and its immune response to infection or toxins. (Generally speaking, yogurt contains too few bacteria to have any true effect as a probiotic.) Veterinary probiotic products are relatively new, and their exact role in gut therapy is being explored. Again, your veterinarian should assist you in selecting a probiotic when indicated.

What are some of the potential concerns about using nutraceuticals? Like drugs, nutraceuticals are used to treat or prevent diseases, and we need to be aware of short- and longterm side effects, drug interactions, and allergic or adverse responses. “Natural” does not equate to “harmless” —nutraceuticals can be potent therapies with some known beneficial effects, but the possibility of harm still exists and must be taken seriously.

For example, nutraceuticals can potentially create dietary imbalances. Recall that they are micro- and macronutrients, which means they can create an excess or a deficiency of nutrients in your dog’s diet. Some vitamins and minerals have known toxic levels or bind up other nutrients, so when we combine them with diet, we can actually create disease or abnormal metabolism.

Product quality is also a big issue. Unfortunately, the FDA does not closely monitor, inspect or test either human or veterinary nutraceuticals for labeling, quality or content, which means that when using nutraceuticals, it pays to pay attention.

Here are some guidelines. Nutraceuticals sold by your veterinarian are usually formulated and produced by reputable and established companies that do quality control, testing and studies. Before using products from other sources with your dog, get your veterinarian’s opinion; if he/she is unsure, seek out a veterinary specialist in nutrition, who can provide guidance on current research, recommended usage, reputable brands and safe dosing. Integrative veterinarians—those who practice conventional medicine and are certified in alternative therapies such as acupuncture, herbal therapies or chiropractic care—can be another valuable source of information. (To find a provider near you, visit the Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine site)

To be sure that a particular nutraceutical contains what its label says it does, look for the seal of the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC), an independent, nonprofit trade association. One of NASC’s objectives is to fund testing of nutraceuticals and to define their role in medical therapy, efficacy and dosing. (Check its website, for a list of member companies whose products have passed the NASC audit.)

People want their pets to live long, healthy lives, and nutraceutical therapy can play an important role in achieving that goal. Be sure to discuss your interest in nutraceuticals with your veterinarian and tell him/her which products and brands you are using. As your pup’s primary caretaker, it’s up to you to be knowledgeable about the proper use of nutraceuticals for the health of your dog.