food & nutrition
Wellness: Health Care
For the last year or so, we have been working on a book about pet food, What Pets Eat, to be published by Harcourt late in 2009. One of the pleasures of a long-term project like this is the time to follow digressions wherever they lead. Last year’s (2007) massive pet food recall was so much of a diversion that it resulted in a spin-off publication—Pet Food Politics:Chihuahua in the Coal Mine —scheduled for release this September by University of California Press.
The recall made us especially curious about the role of melamine, the substance responsible for kidney failure in pets eating food that supposedly contained wheat gluten. Just a glance at the chemical structure of melamine shows that it is high in nitrogen, a nutrient usually obtained from protein. This made us suspect that melamine must have been added deliberately to boost the apparent amount of protein in wheat gluten, because methods that measure the amount of protein in animal feed count nitrogen, not protein itself. Our suspicions were confirmed. The toxic “wheat gluten” turned out to be wheat flour laced with melamine.
But why would melamine harm cats and dogs? A quick search for studies of melamine toxicity turned up several performed on rats and mice, but just one on dogs (which dated from 1945).These studies gave the impression that melamine was not very toxic except at extremely high doses. Furthermore, the kidneys of animals who had eaten the contaminated food contained odd crystals that did not look like crystals of melamine.These turned out to be formed from complexes of melamine and one of its by-products, cyanuric acid. Even so, researchers and federal officials were puzzled. They had not heard of associations of melamine or cyanuric acid with kidney failure.
Really? Our Internet search turned up a brief and not particularly informative abstract of a 1960s study on melamine toxicity in sheep.We thought we needed to look at the entire paper, and found it and others in old bound journals in the Cornell library. These decades-old studies demonstrated that melamine is quite toxic, and causes kidney-related symptoms in animals at doses nearly identical to those reported in contaminated pet food. The studies were designed to test the idea that, because melamine nitrogen is far less expensive than protein nitrogen, melamine might have two useful purposes: (1) as an honest feed additive for ruminant animals, whose microorganisms can convert nonprotein nitrogen to amino acids, and (2) as a dishonest adulterant that makes feed test as though it contains more protein than it really does.
By following other leads,we also found references to relevant studies from the early 1980s in Italian journals that we had to request through interlibrary loan. These showed that melamine was so frequently used for fraudulent purposes in the 1980s that Italian scientists developed a test for it. They used the test to show that melaminna had been used to adulterate more than half the samples of fish meal they examined.
Most of the early information about melamine toxicity came from attempts to use it as a drug or nutrient. In the 1940s, investigators explored its potential as a canine diuretic. To follow what comes next, pay attention to the size of the melamine dose in milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of body weight, and recall that a kilogram is 2.2 pounds. The 1945 study showed that at a dose of about 120 mg/kg, dogs excreted crystals in their urine but otherwise did fine. In the 1960s, investigators used cyanuric acid (which is 32 percent nitrogen) to feed ruminant animals, and observed no problems even at high doses.Wouldn’t melamine (66.6 percent nitrogen) work even better?
A South African scientist fed daily doses of about 250 mg/kg to sheep, but most animals refused food and lost weight, and some of them died. Another South African investigator gave melamine doses to a single sheep, starting with 2,600 mg/kg. At such high doses, the sheep died within a few days from kidney damage, and the investigators could see crystals of melamine hanging from the animal’s prepuce. Lower doses of melamine caused sheep to stop eating, especially if their water intake was restricted. These studies suggested that a dose of about 250 mg/kg kills some— but not all—sheep over time.So, by 1968, melamine was known to induce kidney damage when fed to sheep over prolonged periods. Ten years later, American investigators tested melamine in cattle and found that a dose of about 100 mg/kg caused four out of six steers to refuse feed.
We think these studies are highly relevant to the pet food situation. The FDA reported that melamine could have accounted for 10 percent of the weight of the false wheat gluten, and the false wheat gluten could have accounted for as much as 10 percent of the weight of the pet food. If so, 100 grams—about 3 ounces—of pet food could have contained as much as a gram (1,000 milligrams) of melamine, and an average cat or small dog could have eaten an amount close to the 250 mg/kg level that proved toxic to sheep in the 1960s.
Recently, investigators from Georgia and the University of California, Davis, have shown that much smaller amounts of melamine can form crystals if cyanuric acid is also present. In cats, doses as low as 32 mg/kg each of melamine and cyanuric acid caused crystallization and kidney blockage.
We were surprised that neither the university or FDA veterinarians involved in the melamine investigations knew about this earlier work, but we think we can guess why. Papers in international journals are not readily accessible on the Internet, and the old animal feed literature is not likely to be studied these days.We had to discover the papers the old-fashioned way, by going to the library in person, sifting through reference lists, following up leads that sometimes required interlibrary loans and pursuing the reference trail back to its origins.We had the interest and time to pursue these questions. For the veterinarians and FDA officials caught up in the heat of the recall, a trip to the library might have seemed like a luxury they could ill afford.
We can’t say whether earlier suspicion of melamine would have hastened the recall or improved veterinary care of the sick dogs and cats.But we can say that the old experiments on animal feeding are well worth reading, that it’s best to read entire papers and not just their abstracts, and that libraries still have much to offer that the Internet cannot.
This article is based on Nestle M., Nesheim M.C. Additional information on melamine in pet food [letter]. JAMVA 231(2007):1647.
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Four simple steps to success
The contents of my cabinets — stocked with maca, goji berries, coconut water and the like — confirm it: I’m a sucker for food trends. So, when my social network lit up with talk of probiotics for dogs, I took cautious note. No harm, no foul if I want to get wacky nouveau with the things I eat, but what about my dog, whose nutritional needs I’m responsible for meeting?
“Probiotics,” a broad group of over 400 microorganisms that support a robust, disease-free body, are a longstanding favorite in the human supplement world. Now they are suddenly omnipresent in pet-supply stores as well. But are they suitable and safe for the canine constitution? To get to the bottom of these questions, as well as to better understand the fundamental mechanics and benefits of probiotics, I dug right in to get the lay of this microflora landscape. The result of these investigations? Four self-education steps that will help you map this molecular jungle, and safely separate the fish oil from the snake oil.
1. Understand the science.
More specifically, Sanders suggests that probiotics increase “the activity or numbers of immune cells or cytokines, whose job it is to attack invading pathogens.” When the immune system senses these microbes in the gut, it launches a response. Probiotics can also produce antibacterial compounds called bacteriocins, which directly inhibit the body’s tolerance of pathogen growth. The plain-English version: probiotics are the good bacteria that kick out the bad, and then make it harder for the bad actors to get back in the door. They help your dog digest her food, increase her absorption of nutrients and boost her immune system, too.
When it comes to optimizing the use of probiotics, Dr. Robert Boyle, a clinical lecturer with the UK’s National Institute for Health Research, suggests that they work best as preventive agents. “Once disease is established,” Boyle writes, “it is harder for [probiotics] to compete with pathogenic bacteria and processes that have already become established in the gut.” While your dog is well, get her started with a diet rich in good microflora. But where do you get it?
2. Do it yourself.
The reality is that plenty of foods contain natural probiotics. Yogurt, kefir, onions, bananas, garlic, honey, leeks, kimchi and Jerusalem artichokes all appear regularly on lists of probiotic foods. Some of these items are not ideal for dogs; for example, onions and large quantities of garlic are dangerous and should be avoided. Kimchi is too spicy. The jury is out on dairy products, yogurt included. Some literature contends that dairy causes digestive upset in dogs, but a better part of the homefeeding community includes yogurt in their dogs’ diets to great effect. Some dog guardians, including C.J. Puotinen, author of The Encyclopedia of NaturalPet Care, are so adventurous that they feed things like lacto-fermented vegetables, such as mild homemade sauerkraut or shredded carrots with ginger. (For the brave souls who wish to try offering fermented veggies, note that fennel seed is a natural remedy for flatulence.)
Ultimately, you can work in any number of ways with a supportive veterinarian to come up with a safe, nutritious regime that takes gut health, and therefore probiotics, into account. The best takeaway in your DIY probiotic diet handbook, the number-one answer that most experts agree on — in part because it has many other benefits and is easily digested — is green tripe. Sticking with foods that are easily digested by your dog (like green tripe) makes the addition of probiotics to your dog’s mealtime routine incredibly safe. That’s the good news.
3. Find a balance.
Thomason reminds us that a healthy, species-appropriate diet is the first line of defense against illness, and will often balance the gut naturally. “In nature, animals know to seek out those foods that satisfy their nutritional needs.” Shepoints to the eating patterns of free-roaming wolves. “Before eating muscle or bone, wolves feast on stomach contents, the liver, pancreas and intestines — in other words, they are gorging on enzyme-laden tissues. Wolf pups are weaned and maintained on regurgitated food, also heavily laced with digestive enzymes.”
4. Monitor your dog’s daily life.
So it’s true — I follow trends. I give my dog yogurt (she’s fine with it). I have offered her homemade fermented veggies (hence the fennel-seed tip). And I have even made it routine to periodically include green tripe in her menus. What we call fads today can become tomorrow’s conventional wisdom when they prove to be legitimate practices that advance our health and happiness. I now know it’s healthy to take probiotics into account. And judging from my dog’sresponse when the tripe hits the bowl, I have the happiness part covered, too.
Making dog treats from leftovers
Table scraps: dogs love them, and their pleading eyes are difficult to deny. However, the consequences of this indulgence can range from minor and annoying to life-threatening and expensive. Some human foods — onions, chocolate, grapes and raisins in particular — contain enzymes that may produce gastrointestinal upsets, neurological problems, seizures and even death if fed in large quantities.
With care and common sense, though, you can turn leftovers into tasty and nutritious treats for your dogs.
How about a canine trail mix? Chop meat, potatoes, vegetables, even fruit, into 1/2” pieces. Spray lightly with cooking spray and place in a food dehydrator or 200° oven until dried for a nutritious treat to take along on those long post-meal hikes.
Holiday meals bring a bounty of leftover meat. Instead of feeding your dog the scraps, create a healthy frozen treat. Rinse off any seasoning and chop into small pieces. Fill an ice cube tray partway with water, drop an equal amount of chopped meat into each cube and freeze. Even dogs who don’t usually chew ice cubes will lick this refreshing treat.
Sweet potatoes contain vitamins A, C and E as well as protease inhibitors, which are thought to help prevent cancer in dogs. Remove the peel and slice them 1/4” to 1/2” thick. Place the slices in a food dehydrator or a 200° oven until they’re dry and chewy.
You can also make crunchy dog treats using leftovers. Start by rinsing the seasoning from any combination of leftover meat, rice, noodles or vegetables. Purée until smooth in a food processor. Add a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil and an egg. Use milk or water until the mixture is the consistency of heavy cream. Add a tablespoon of dried parsley and enough whole wheat, soy or rice flour to make a stiff dough. Roll the dough to about 1/4”, cut into shapes and bake at 350° for 20 to 30 minutes. Turn the oven off and leave in the oven overnight to crisp. The treats will keep for about a week in a cool, dry environment.
Healthy and nutritious dog treats are limited only by our imagination — be inspired to create your own recipes!
News: Guest Posts
Proctor & Gamble has voluntarily recalled one production lot of Iams ProActive Health Smart Puppy dry dog food, due to detected aflatoxin levels above the accepted limit.
Aflatoxin is a naturally occurring chemical byproduct from the growth of Aspergillus flavus on corn and other crops and can be harmful to pets if consumed in significant quantities. Dogs who consumed the product and exhibit symptoms including sluggishness or lethargy, reluctance to eat, vomiting, yellowish tint in the eyes or gums or diarrhea should be taken to a veterinarian.
P&G recalled 7-, 8- and 17.5-pound bags of the Iams dog food with use by or expiration dates of Feb. 5 or Feb. 6, 2013. The company said no illnesses were reported in relation to the affected product, but it was instituting the recall as a precautionary measure.
The affected bags were distributed in Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Maine, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia.
Those who bought the product are asked to stop using it immediately, throw it out and contact Iams for a replacement voucher.
For more information, contact P&G toll-free at 866.908.1569 or www.iams.com.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Illness is on the rise due to products such as chicken jerky
It seems like every month there’s a new pet food product that gets recalled. According to the FDA, the number of dogs getting sick from imported chicken flavored treats has been on the rise. The FDA ran extensive tests, but can’t identify the specific contaminant, nor can they attribute the rash of illness to a specific brand.
Symptoms have included decreased appetite and activity, vomiting, diarrhea, increased water consumption and urination, and even kidney failure and Fanconi syndrome, a condition associated with low glucose.
I gave up buying most commercial dog treats a long time ago. It’s much cheaper to make your own, plus you can control all of the ingredients. For anyone who is hesitant to make dog food, treats is a good place to start. It doesn’t have to be complicated or gourmet.
For training I usually cook steak or chicken and cut it into small pieces. If you don’t have a lot of time, you can even use the microwave. When I’m in a rush and need something really yummy, I’ll stick a hot dog in the microwave and have something ready in just a few seconds. Not the healthiest treat, but a lot better than a lot of commercial treats! Every now and then I’ll also take out the baking supplies and make regular dog biscuits.
Do you make your own dog treats?
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
A primer on nutrition and label reading.
One of the most important and challenging decisions we make as pet guardians is what to feed our dogs. Providing them with a wholesome diet is vital to maintaining their good health and quality of life, so it is incumbent on us to be well informed about their nutritional needs and how best to fulfill them.
There are more choices than ever these days when it comes to top-quality commercial foods, not to mention the wide array of forms the food comes in — kibble, canned, semi-moist, dehydrated, raw. Plus, home-prepared meals are becoming increasingly popular, with many people either supplementing commercial foods or replacing them entirely with meals they cook. However, the convenience and ease of feeding a commercial diet keep these foods at the front of the pack. This is all the more reason to learn how to differentiate among the product choices.
There are two things to keep in mind when you’re deciding which diet is best for your dog: First, every dog is an individual, so what one might thrive on could be an allergen to another. Second, high-quality (organic preferred), fresh ingredients trump all other factors. When we prepare food in our own kitchen from ingredients that we’ve selected, it’s fairly easy to control the quality. But how can we know about the quality of the ingredients in commercial pet foods? It starts with deciphering a pet food label.
What’s on (and in) a bag of dog food?
Another issue is how these elements are identified. Nutritional standards for the production of pet food are set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). This nongovernmental group is made up of state and federal representatives as well as people directly involved in the pet-food industry. This means that people who manufacture pet food have a voice in establishing not only pet-food standards but also most of the label requirements and feed-trial protocols. Though the FDA, a federal regulatory agency, sets rules for three of the label items, its oversight of petfood production is still very limited. As we learned during the 2007 recall, the FDA could not order companies to recall products containing melamine-tainted ingredients. (Sadly, it still doesn’t have recall power.)
AAFCO’s Nutrient Profiles list the minimum amounts (and minimum is the operative word here) of nutrients required by pets. The group recognizes only two canine feeding stages: adult dog maintenance and “growth and reproduction.” So, unless they’re puppies or lactating females, all dogs fall into the “adult maintenance” category regardless of their age, health status or level of physical activity.
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Adapted from Allegretti and Sommers, Fougère, and Ackerman
MacromineralsCalcium Milk, yogurt, tofu, sardines with bones, raw bones, bok choy, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower Phosphorous All animal tissues, eggs, fish, milk Magnesium Spinach, broccoli, green beans, tofu, tomato juice, beans, whole grains, seafood Potassium,
Chloride Fruits, vegetables, milk, grain
MicromineralsZinc Spinach, broccoli, yogurt, beef, poultry, whole grains, vegetables Sulfur All protein foods (meats, fish, poultry, eggs, legumes and milk) Iron Red meats, fish, poultry, shellfish, eggs, legumes Iodine Iodized salt, seafood, dairy products, kelp Selenium Seafood, meat, whole grains, brown rice, vegetables Cooper Seafood, nuts, whole grains, seeds, legumes Manganese Nuts, whole grains, leafy vegetables Chromium Lean meat, vegetable oils, brewers yeast Cobalt Liver, kidney, fruit, vegetables Fluorine Available in water Molybdenum Legumes, cereals, organ meats Silicon Cereals, vegetables, beans and peas
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Whether you feed your dog a premium commercial food or prepare homemade meals, it is important to understand the fundamentals of canine nutrition. Here is a review of the basics to help you get started in making the right and informed choices for your dog.
There are six major classes of nutrients: protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water.
It all begins with energy, the basic requirement of life. The energy content(measured in calories) of a food is determined by how much of the first three elements the food contains. Vitamins and minerals are also essential for many functions of the body and, because about 70 percent of a dog’s body is made up of water, that too is critical.
Proteins are made up of 20 amino acids. While dogs, cats and even humans produce about half of these amino acids internally, the other half, termed “essential amino acids,” need to be provided by the diet. The 10 essential amino acids are arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. If even one of these “essentials” is deficient, as Lowell Ackerman, DVM, explains, the body cannot make specific proteins effectively. Amino acids work in a step-by-step fashion to manufacture protein.
If one of the steps is missing, the process stops. The biological value of proteins indicates how efficiently an animal utilizes them. Animal nutrition expert Donald Strombeck, DVM, notes that this value is high for proteins from meat, most meat by-products, eggs and dairy products. “Dogs digest these proteins efficiently and they provide amino acids in proportions suitable for tissue protein synthesis. In contrast, the biological value of most plant proteins is low, due to insufficiencies of specific amino acids and lower digestibility.”
Like protein’s essential amino acids, fat has its own essential fatty acids (EFAs): linoleic acid, linolenic acid and arachidonic acid. Because they make up an important part of every cell, they are also required by animals. Linoleic acid is the source of omega-6 fatty acids, and linolenic acid is the source of omega-3 fatty acids. According to Strombeck, animals need more omega-6 (linoleic acid) than omega-3 fatty acids for health.
Carbohydrates in the form of whole grains can furnish iron, minerals and fiber as well as other beneficial nutrients. Since cooking determines starch digestibility, and therefore its availability, starches need to be well cooked; otherwise, they tend to ferment in the large intestine. Carbohydrates can be found in vegetables and fruit, which also supply minerals, fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals and some protein.
First, establish the amount of dry matter by subtracting the percentage given for moisture from 100 percent. If the moisture is given as 10 percent, the food’s dry-matter content is 90 percent.
Next, convert the protein found in the Guaranteed Analysis statement to a drymatter basis by dividing its percentage by the amount of dry matter (calculated in the previous step). For example, if the protein is given as 26 percent, it converts to 28 percent on a dry-matter basis (26 divided by 90). If the moisture level had been, say, 30 percent, the dry matter content would have been 70 percent and protein would have been 37 percent (26 divided by 70).
You can do similar calculations for fat and fiber after converting their percentages to a dry-matter basis.
Treats are often high in calories, so factor them in when thinking about your dog’s overall food intake. It is recommended that “treat substitutes” make up no more than 5 to 10 percent of a dog’s diet. If the calorie count isn’t listed on the label, find out what it is before giving them to your dog. Contact the manufacturer for calorie information if need be.
To keep bagged treats fresh — and make it a little more difficult for the diligent treat-hound to score — keep the bags sealed. If the seal doesn’t work (often they don’t), use heavy-duty zip lock–type bags or store them in glass or ceramic containers with tightfitting lids.
Dogs love variety, and with the wide array of treats on the market, it’s easy to find a selection that will satisfy most co-pilots.
News: Guest Posts
A plain old biscuit just doesn't cut it.
Desoto was a fast food fiend. It started out innocently enough. Years ago, after each obedience class, my late Catahoula and I would take a trip through the McDonald's drive-through where he would receive his own small fries. I savored watching him enjoy them almost as much as he enjoyed devouring them. As he graduated to more advanced sports and skills, his treats became more varied, including a Dairy Queen soft serve cone and the sausage from my breakfast sandwich.
Last weekend, my mix, Ginger Peach, earned a vanilla custard cup from Culver's after a good day of agility showing. Of course, I got a treat, too, a chocolate concrete with Nestlé crunch. During the week, when I take my dogs on errands, they often receive complimentary treats: crunchy biscuits from the bank teller, Puppaccinos compliments of the Starbucks barista, and drool-worthy Pup Cups at a local custard shop.
How do you treat your dog? Where is the most surprising place for your dog to get treats?
Tasty Snacks for Your Dog
Every dog deserves the occasional cookie, but some treats can trigger allergies or tummy trouble. Dog Cookies comes to the rescue with 30 easy-to-follow recipes for healthy, allergen-free treats—including vegetarian and gluten-free treats—so you can find the perfect cookie no matter your dog’s diet.
Important: Always allow the waffles to cool before eating.
*Spelt flake contains gluten
Printed with permission of Veloce Publishing Ltd., publishers of Dog Cookies by Martina Schöps
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