Thursday, February 4, 2010

Thoughts on canine & feline nutrition

In this episode:

Pet Joke of the Week: Clever dog quote from a famous historical figure.
Personal comment: Thoughts on canine & feline nutrition

Transcript of personal comment from this episode of The Web-DVM:

I am once again foregoing the news this week in favor of another rather substantial personal comment. As promised last week following my personal comment about dogs and wolves being very different species that should not be considered the same, and certainly should not be fed the same, this week I turn my attention to canine and feline nutrition. Let me begin by quickly addressing the feeding of a raw meat diet.

In dogs, I already explained last week that having a less acidic gastric pH than their wolf ancestor, dogs do not have a good natural defense against raw meat bacteria and parasites. As such, feeding raw meat carries a high risk of food poisoning in dogs as it does people, some cases of which can be life threatening. Like people, we regularly see cases of raw meat induced food poisoning including salmonella, e. coli, klebsiella, and campylobacter, to name some of the more common ones. And for you raw feeding proponents that think this does not occur because it has not yet happened to your dog? Think again, I have seen it time and again in practice. If your dogs have not gotten sick you have been lucky, and I hope that you do not ever have to face both the expense and emotional toll of your pet getting violently ill, while living with the guilt that your insistence on feeding in a manner that the vast majority of veterinarians recommend against for good reason, was the cause. And if you feed raw because wolves do and you think that dogs should eat the same as a wolf, then I urge you to please watch last week's episode focused on the many ways the two species are different.

Also, feeding a canine an exclusively protein diet is a poor approach to promoting good health. In order to break down protein into smaller chains that can be properly absorbed by the gut, metabolic reactions must occur that generate ammonia as a primary waste product. Thankfully the liver processes this ammonia and converts it into a less harmful analog called urea, which then gets transported to the kidneys for elimination in the urine. However, feeding an exclusive or disproportionately high level of protein, subsqently puts metabolic stress on the liver and kidneys because of this, while starving the body of other important nutrients that the canine needs, such as carbohydrates, fiber, and fat. You see, dogs are not carnivores that require a diet exclusively of meat, nor even mostly of meat. They are, like people, omnivores, requiring a diet properly balanced in nutrients.

Regarding cats well, like in many other ways, they are different from dogs. For one thing, they ARE carnivores, that is, they can thrive on a diet of pure meat protein, having the physiological adaptations to more efficiently create non-protein nutrients from protein. That said, raw meat is still not good idea for them either. While cats seems to be able to withstand raw meat food poisoning a bit better than dogs, I have still treated a number of confirmed food poisoning cases, the most common of which has seemed to be salmonella.

Now, even though cats can thrive on a pure protein, meat diet, they still seem to do better with some degree of vegetable matter in their food, with some fiber, complex carbohydrates, and antioxidants making invaluable contributions to overall health. So while we still like to feed cats diets that are proportionally heavy in protein, it is advisable to offer some vegetable and fibrous carbohydrate sources as well.

Now the breakdown. Starting with dogs, they do best with the following breakdown of nutrients: 25%-35% protein, 35%-45% carbohydrate, 5%-15% fat, and 5-10% fiber. Cats do best with 35%-45% protein, 25%-35% carbohydrate, 15%-25% fat, and 1%-5% fiber. Cats also cannot manufacture the amino acid taurine, making it an essential additive to all feline foods. Deficiency of taurine can lead to severe cardiac disease in cats.

So what kinds of pet food should you select? I am not here to promote any one brand of food nor am I going to blast any particular brands as tempting as it may be to do so. I will offer this, however: avoid grocery store and superstore brands, as these foods are consistently very bad diets, heavy in fillers and poor quality nutrient sources. And, the companies that make them are sneaky.

They make the food so that the nutrient label matches well with better quality diets, but what they do not tell you is that, while a reputable pet food company may use good quality protein sources such as muscle and organs, a grocery store brand will use hoof, hair, and skin. Both technically protein, but the absorption and utilization will not be the same. While a reputable diet may use quality carbohydrate and fiber sources such as rice and vegetables, a grocery store brand may use fillers like corn and wheat. If you want to feed your pets well, resist the temptation to go down that pet food isle while at the grocery store.

Instead, look for diets that are comprised of whole foods and vegetables, with meat and veggies listed first in the ingredients, with byproducts listed further down the list. Many of these better diets are sold at veterinary clinics and large retail pet stores.

If you can fit it into your budget, consider feeding a diet free of preservatives and fillers. These so called holistic diets are made of whole foods, primarily meats and green veggies, omitting the use of chemical preservatives and highly allergenic grain fillers, such as wheat and corn. Confused about which diet to pick in a sea of options? Ask your vet, as he/she is the best source for pet food recommendations.

Regarding texture, I almost always favor a dry diet versus a canned one primarily for the dental health benefits of dry, crunchy food. Chewing a crunchy diet cleans the teeth and massages the gums, promoting good overall oral health.

For more indepth information about canine and feline nutrition broken down even further into specific life stage, please refer to the nutrition page on our parent site,


Mike said...

I buy Iams brand dog food from Walmart, which would fall into that superstore category that you warned generally carries lousy food. I was always told that Iams was one of the betteer brands of dog food out there. Am I wrong about this??

Jan said...

Dr. Welton:

From your last two videos it is very clear that you are dead set against feeing raw and obviously for good reason. But, a friend of mine recently suggested that I consider feeding dehydrate raw meat that you reconsitute by adding water. She says that the drying process kills harmful bacteria and parasites.

I also agree with you that dogs should not eat only meat as does my friend, which her diet accounts for with oats, rice, and green veggies also provided in a dehydrate form that you add water.

This seems attractive to me because, while I am not a fan of taking the risk of feeding raw, I am very much in favor of feeding whole foods that are as much like the original form as possible.

John said...

Feeding raw is the best thing you can do for your dog, and the veterinarians just won't be open minded enough to consider it because they are spoon fed research funded by pet food companies when they are in school. They also don't want to hurt their bottom line, because a lot of them peddle that kibble garbage right from their clinics.

Anonymous said...

I fed my last dog raw for the entire second half of his life. He never once got sick form the raw meat, rarely ever had to go to the vet, and lived to be 15 years old - an age unheard of for a Siberian Husky.

That is all the evidence I need for raw feeding being the best choice! I don't care what this veterinarian says.

Anonymous said...

My dog accidentally got into some raw turkey and it nearly killed him. He had severe food poisoning and my regular vet had to refer him to a special center that had specialists and round the clock 24 hour intensive care. The whole thing ended up costing me $3500!

People that feed their animals raw meat are playing with fire. One day when they go through what my family did, they will smarten up and stop being so stupid too feed raw meat.

If this was such a great thing, vets would be all about recommending it - that is what they do, recommend what is best for your animals! But instead they warn against it. People should listen to their vets and not the morons that think they know anything, that try to convince people to feed raw meat.

Roger Welton, DVM said...

Hey all, thanks for the comments, they were all addressed at my live BlogTV show. If yo missed the live show, it is archived here:

Anonymous said...

I feed my dog 'Natural Balance' Vegetarian Formula (Dick Van Patton's brand). My vet in San Diego said that dogs, unlike cats, can do very well on Vegetarian food. Any thoughts on this?

Also, my dog rubs his face on the carpet for 10 seconds or less after almost every feeding...he has done this on his current diet and on several other omnivorous diets of varying quality in the past. I have read that it can be due to allergies. I'd welcome thoughts on this too.

Eric S. (ALJ Class of '92)

Roger Welton, DVM said...

Hey Eric,

I think going vegetarian is okay but not optimal, with protein derrived from plant sources not being as biologically available as from quality meat sources. If you are into a good holistically oriented diet, California Natural has some nice diets that should be readily available to you in California.

"Also, my dog rubs his face on the carpet for 10 seconds or less after almost every feeding...he has done this on his current diet and on several other omnivorous diets of varying quality in the past. I have read that it can be due to allergies. I'd welcome thoughts on this too."

I think this is little more than a quirky habit, as food allergy would not present so acutely and certainly not so immediately, exerting its effects in a more chronic fashion, such as the development of eczyma, and bacterial and/or yeast infections of the skin over time. I think the fact tha several different kinds of foods seem to cause this is further evidence that it is not a manifestation of a particular food allergy.

Great to hear from an old highschool classmate!

Roger Welton (ALJ Class of '92)

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