The good, the bad, and the ugly: A Focus on Grain Free Foods

posted on October 01, 2018 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

There seems to be an increase in marketing and media attention these days on every aspect of our lives, including dog foods.  One popular trend we are seeing is grain free foods.  What are grains?  Are they bad for dogs?  And are grain free foods the answer?

There are many sources of grains that can be used in foods.  Grains are seeds of plants that are used as a source of nutrients.  Things like wheat, oats, barley, corn, rye, sorghum, millet, and rice are all considered grains.

One reason people think grains may be bad for dogs is allergies.  In humans, grain and gluten sensitivity is becoming more noticed, and so many people are wondering if their dogs are also allergic.  In truth, only about 10% of dog allergies are to foods, and of these, the majority of the allergens are to beef and dairy.  It is estimated that less than 1% of dogs are sensitive to grains.

Are grains fillers?  Absolutely not!  Grains provide a number of nutritional benefits.  Grains are easily digested, and are utilized just like other carbohydrate sources.  In fact, they can be higher in protein and lower in sugar than alternative carbohydrate sources such as potatoes, which makes them healthier!  They also provide healthy fats and antioxidants.  Grains support healthy skin and hair, as well as helping support the immune system.

Many people are concerned that dogs are carnivores.  Dogs are actually omnivores, meaning they require both plant and meat sources for their nutritional needs.  Grains do not cause obesity-excess calories cause obesity.  Since fat has twice the calories of carbohydrates, foods that are higher in fat tend to be more likely to cause obesity-and many grain free foods have higher meat sources which are higher in fat!  Likewise, grains do not cause diabetes.  Diabetes in dogs is similar to type I diabetes in humans, meaning something has destroyed the pancreas cells, and it is not caused by diet.  Cats are more likely to get type II diabetes, which can be related to diet, but related to diet because of obesity.

So are grain free foods bad for pets?  Unfortunately, recently there have been some new worries arising.  Dilated cardiomyopathy is a type of heart disease that until recently was found in higher incidence in some dog breeds such as Doberman’s, boxers, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and in pets that were deficient in an amino acid called taurine.  Veterinarians started noticing a rise in the disease in atypical dog breeds including golden retrievers, labradors, miniature schnauzers, and French bulldogs, as well as mixed breed dogs.  While looking into these atypical cases, a correlation has been found in that these dogs were being fed grain free or boutique foods.  The FDA has gotten involved and is looking into this further.  Some of these dogs were taurine deficient, while others were not.  Some of these dogs are improving with a diet change.

At this time, we are not sure that the diet is the cause of the disease.  However, given the correlation, we are concerned that there may be an issue feeding grain free foods.  At this time, we are alerting owners to the possibility, and are discussing whether a grain free food is right option for your pet and their situation.  If you are currently feeding grain free foods, please discuss with us what options may be best for your scenario.  Options may include finding a diet with grains, a limited grain diet, or a hydrolyzed diet if there are allergies/sensitivities.  We know you were probably feeding the grain free because you want what’s best for your pet, and we do too!

Please see these links for additional information:

https://www.fda.gov/animalveterinary/newsevents/cvmupdates/ucm613305.htm

http://vet.tufts.edu/wp-content/uploads/DecipheringFactFromFictionGrainFree.pdf

http://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2018/06/a-broken-heart-risk-of-heart-disease-in-boutique-or-grain-free-diets-and-exotic-ingredients/

 

Winter Weight Woes

posted on January 03, 2014 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

As winter continues on, pets’ waistlines can start to fill out.  Lack of activity outdoors (lets face it, who wants to walk in negative 20 with 2 feet of snow?), shorter days leading to more sleeping, and a lower metabolism can all lead to weight gain in winter. There are ways to help prevent this however.

Cut back on their food.  Starting when the weather turns colder and you know activity will start to drop, cut back on food intake about 10%.  Decrease treats as well, and avoid the temptation to share holiday foods with your pets.

Increase activity indoors. If you have an area where your pet can play indoors, take advantage.  Throw a ball down the hall or stairs and allow your pet to retrieve it.  Use a laser pointer or cat toys on strings to encourage your pet to move around.

Use feeder toys or puzzle toys.  Feeder toys increase your pet’s mental activity to help combat long days of boredom from not being able to go outside.  The pet has to work and move around to get the food to come out, so they burn calories while eating.  This also will take longer than eating from a dish, giving the pet something to do other than lay around.

Take advantage of the “good” days.  On those days when it’s not as cold or slippery, try to take walks despite the fact it’s winter.  Pet’s feet can get frostbite, so take short walks and watch for ice, snow, or salt getting in their feet.  Use boots, sweaters, or jackets to help keep your pet warm.  Even 10 minutes will be beneficial to your pet.  Also, some dog parks are open year round.  If your pet does well with other animals, the nice days are great ways to ease cabin fever and help burn some calories.

Hopefully by using these tips and tricks, your pet will not gain as much weight over the winter, and will be healthy and happy when spring finally rolls around!

walking-myself

Obesity as an Epidemic

posted on August 03, 2012 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

As the calendars turn to August, one thought enters my mind-food on a stick!  August brings the state fair, and while I know a deep fried candy bar on a stick is not healthy for me, as an occasional, once a year treat, it is okay to indulge.  While many people realize watching what we eat is important for a number of health reasons, these same people may not realize watching what our pets eat is just as important.

You may think an extra pound or two can’t hurt that much, but a pound is not just a pound.  While two or three additional pounds may have very little effect on you or me, they can be quite serious for your pet.  Three extra pounds on a 15 pound dog is equivalent to a 150 pound person gaining 30 extra pounds, and  3 extra pounds on a 10 pound cat is equal to 45 extra pounds on a 150 pound person!

Obesity and overweightness is the #1 health condition affecting American pets today.  Purina estimates that 58% of cats and 45% of dogs are overweight or obese.  This equals 35 million dogs and 54 million cats!

This is a serious epidemic as being overweight has been linked with a higher incidence of a number of health issues including oral (mouth) disease, skin disease, diabetes, pancreatitis, thyroid disease, joint diseases such as arthritis and hip dysplasia, hepatitis, urinary tract disease, asthma, torn ligaments such as ACLs, liver disease, heart disease, kidney disease, exercise intolerance, slower wound healing, increased anesthetic risk, and cancer.

Even more importantly, it has been found that being overweight can significantly decrease lifespan.  Purina did the first life-long study in dogs regarding diet and its effect on pets.  Half of the dogs were fed free choice, meaning they were allowed to eat as much as they liked.  The other half of the dogs were fed 25% less than what the free fed dogs ate.  The differences were amazing!

Dogs that were allowed to free feed had an average body condition score (BCS) of 6.7/9 (4.5/9 being ideal), whereas dogs that were slightly restricted had a BCS of 4.6.  The control fed dogs lived 15% longer-almost 2 years, with an average of 13 years in the control fed dogs versus 11.2 years in the free fed dogs.  Lastly, the control fed dogs didn’t start needing treatment for medical conditions until a median age of 12 years, whereas the free choice pets started needing treatment at a median age of 9.9 years.

What does this mean for your pet?  Simply put, a pet kept at a healthy weight throughout life is a healthier pet, and has a longer average lifespan.

How can you help keep your pet healthy?  Veterinarians use something called the body condition score to assess a pet’s weight, as there can be quite a range of “normal” weights for a specific dog breed.  Body condition score is a way to judge how much fat or muscle is on an animal and is more accurate than weight in judging an animal’s body composition.  It is based on a 1-9 scale, with a 4-5 being a healthy weight.

To score body condition, a couple areas are looked at:

  • Are the bones visible?  Bones such as the ribs, spine, and hip bones should not be visible in most dogs and cats.  Some breeds are naturally leaner and in them it may be normal to see the bones.
  • How easily are the ribs felt?  They should feel as though you are running your finger over the back of your other hand’s fingers.  There should be a slight fat covering, but you should not have to push hard to be able to feel the ribs.
  • Is there a tuck of the abdomen visible from the side of the animal?  There should be a nice tuck visible.
  • Is there a waist visible when viewing the animal from above?  There should be a waist visible.

BCS-300x137

If you think your pet may be overweight or obese and would like help formulating a diet plan, or if you would like to prevent your pet from becoming overweight, please contact us to discuss calorie requirements and feeding guidelines for your pet, or visit our website for more information.

Posted in: Obesity

Cat Questions

posted on July 17, 2012 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

Dr. Silverstein was recently interviewed in The Senior Scene, a publication put out quarterly for Maple Grove senior citizens.  In it he answered many commonly asked questions regarding cats and their health.  Please check out the current newsletter (pdf link for The Senior Scene quarterly newsletter is located about half way down page).  After September 2012, a copy of the old newsletter can be found here Dr. Silverstein’s article is located on pages 5-6.

For more information regarding common feline diseases, please see our website.  We would be happy to discuss your cat’s health with you whether it be prevention, diagnosing, or treating, so give us a call today!

Posted in: Feline Health