Archive for the ‘Healthy Pets’ Category

The Benefits of Coconut Oil for Your Pet

Friday, February 28th, 2020

Pancreatitis in Dogs

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020
Date Published: 01/02/2006
Date Reviewed/Revised: 05/07/2019

The Normal Pancreas and What it Does

We eat food, chew it up into a slurry, and swallow it. It travels down the esophagus to the stomach where it is ground up further and enzymes are added to begin the break-down of dietary nutrients (digestion). When the food particles are small enough, they are propelled into the small intestine for further digestive treatment and ultimately nutrient absorption. The upper part of the small intestine (the duodenum) is for further digestion/break down of nutrients while the lower parts of the small intestine are for absorption of the digested nutrients.

Normal Pancreas

Graphic by MarVistaVet

The pancreas is a pale pink glandular organ that nestles cozily just under the stomach and along the duodenum. As a glandular organ, the pancreas is all about secretion and it has two main jobs: the first job is to secrete digestive enzymes to help us break down the nutrients we eat, the second job is to secrete insulin and glucagon (to regulate how we use the nutrients we eat). It’s the first job (the digestive enzyme part) that concerns us in pancreatitis.

Canine Pancreas

Graphic by VIN

Pancreatitis is Inflammation of the Pancreas

In pancreatitis, inflammation disrupts the normal integrity of the pancreas. Digestive enzymes are normally stored safely as inactive forms within pancreatic granules so that they are harmless. In pancreatitis they are prematurely activated and released internally, digesting the body itself. The result can be a metabolic catastrophe. The living tissue becomes further inflamed and the tissue damage quickly involves the adjacent liver. Toxins released from this rampage of tissue destruction are liberated into the circulation and can cause a body-wide inflammatory response.  If the pancreas is affected so as to disrupt its ability to produce insulin, diabetes mellitus can result; this can be either temporary or permanent.

Specific Pancreatitis Disasters

  • A syndrome called Weber-Christian syndrome results, in which fats throughout the body are destroyed with painful and disastrous results.
  • Pancreatitis is one of the chief risk factors for the development of what is called disseminated intravascular coagulation or DIC, which is basically a massive uncoupling of normal blood clotting and clot dissolving mechanisms. This leads to abnormal simultaneous bleeding and clotting of blood throughout the body.
  • Pancreatic encephalopathy (brain damage) can occur if the fats protecting the central nervous system become digested.
    Inflammed Pancreas

    A swollen, inflamed pancreas with areas of hemorrhage. Graphic by MarVistaVet

The good news is that most commonly the inflammation is confined to the area of the liver and pancreas, but even with this limitation pancreatitis can be painful and life-threatening.

Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic, mild or severe.

What Causes Pancreatitis

In most cases we never find out what causes it, but we do know some events that can cause pancreatitis.

  • Backwash (reflux) of duodenal contents into the pancreatic duct. The pancreas has numerous safety mechanisms to prevent self-digestion. One mechanism is storing the enzymes it creates in an inactive form. They are harmless until they are mixed with activating enzymes. The strongest activating enzymes are made by duodenal cells which means that the digestive enzymes do not actually activate until they are out of the pancreas and mixing with food in the duodenum. If duodenal fluids backwash up the pancreatic duct and into the pancreas, enzymes are prematurely activated and pancreatitis resuls. This is apparently the most common pancreatitis mechanism in humans, though it is not very common in veterinary patients.
  • Concurrent hormonal imbalance predisposes a dog to pancreatitis. Such conditions include: Diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism, and hypercalcemia. The first two conditions are associated with altered fat metabolism, which predisposes to pancreatitis, and the latter condition involves elevated blood calcium that activates stored digestive enzymes.
  • Use of certain drugs can predispose to pancreatitis (sulfa-containing antibiotics such as trimethoprim sulfa, chemotherapy agents such as azathioprine or L-asparaginase, and the anti-seizure medication potassium bromide). Exposure to organophosphate insecticides has also been implicated as a cause of pancreatitis. Exposure to steroid hormones have traditionally been thought to be involved as a potential cause of pancreatitis but this appears not to be true.
  • Trauma to the pancreas that occurs from a car accident or even surgical manipulation can cause inflammation and thus pancreatitis.
  • A tumor in the pancreas can lead to inflammation in the adjacent pancreatic tissue.
  • A sudden high fat meal is the classic cause of canine pancreatitis. The sudden stimulation to release enzymes to digest fat seems to be involved.
  • Obesity has been found to be a risk factor because of the altered fat metabolism that goes along with it.
  • Miniature Schnauzers are predisposed to pancreatitis as they commonly have altered fat metabolism.

Signs of Pancreatitis

The classical signs in dogs are appetite loss, vomiting, diarrhea, painful abdomen, and fever or any combination thereof.

Making the Diagnosis

Lipase and Amylase Levels (no longer considered reliable)

A reliable blood test has been lacking for this disease until recently. Traditionally, blood levels of amylase and lipase (two pancreatic digestive enzymes) have been used. When their levels are especially high, it’s reasonable sign that these enzymes have leaked out of the pancreas, and the patient has pancreatitis, but these tests are not as sensitive or specific as we would prefer. Amylase and lipase can elevate dramatically with corticosteroid use, with intestinal perforation, kidney disease, or even dehydration. Some experts advocate measuring lipase and amylase on fluid from the belly rather than on blood but this has not been fully investigated and is somewhat invasive.

Pancreatic Lipase Immunoreactivity

A newer test called the PLI, or pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity, test has come to be important. As mentioned, lipase is one of the pancreatic digestive enzymes and only small traces are normally in the circulation. These levels jump dramatically in pancreatitis, which allows for the diagnosis to be confirmed with a non-invasive and relatively inexpensive test. The PLI test is different from the regular lipase level because the PLI test measures only lipase of pancreatic origin and thus is more specific. The problem is that technology needed to run this test is unique and the test can only been run in certain facilities on certain days. Results are not necessarily available rapidly enough to help a sick patient.

The PLI, or pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity, test has come to be important. Photo courtesy of National Institutes of Mental Health, Department of Health and Human Services

Spec CPL and DGGR Lipase Assay

More recently a new test called the SPEC cPL (specific canine pancreatic lipase) test has become available. This test is a newer generation immunological test for canine pancreatic lipase and can be run overnight by a reference lab. This test is able to detect 83 percent of pancreatitis cases (the test is 83 percent sensitive) and excludes other possible diseases in 98 percent of cases (i.e. the test is 98 percent specific for pancreatitis). The CPL test has been adapted into an in-house test kit and can be run in approximately 30 minutes. Some kits provide a numeric value while others are simply positive or negative depending on whether the CPL level surpasses the normal level. These kits have made diagnosis of pancreatitis much more rapid and convenient.

A similar lipase assay called the DGGR Lipase Assay (Precision PSL® test). This test can be run at a reference laboratory with results obtained usually overnight; there is no in-hospital test kit.

The diagnosis of pancreatitis is not made solely on the basis of a lab test. These tests are not used to screen patients that are not sick; the entire clinical picture of a given patient is considered in making this or any other diagnosis.

Imaging

Dr. Jon Perlis of DVMSound performs an ultrasound exam on a dog. Photo by MarVistaVet

Radiographs can show a widening of the angle of the duodenum against the stomach, which indicates a swelling of the pancreas. Most veterinary hospitals have the ability to take radiographs but this type of imaging is not very sensitive in detecting pancreatitis and only is able to find 24 percent of cases.

Ultrasound, on the other hand, detects 68 percent of cases and provides the opportunity to image other organs and even easily collect fluid from the belly. Since pancreatitis can be accompanied by a tumor near the pancreas, ultrasound provides the opportunity to catch such complicating factors.

In some cases, surgical exploration is the only way to make the correct diagnosis.

Treatment

The most important feature of treatment is aggressively rehydrating the patient with intravenous fluids as this restores the circulation to the pancreas and supports the natural healing mechanisms of the body.  This means that the best route to recovery involves hospitalization. Fluids are continued until the patient is able to reliably drink and hold down adequate fluid intake, a process that commonly takes the better part of a week. Pain and nausea medication are needed to keep the patient comfortable, restore interest in food, and prevent further dehydration.

Plasma transfusion is somewhat controversial in treating pancreatitis. On one hand, plasma replenishes some of the natural blood proteins that are consumed by circulating digestive enzymes and would seem to make sense. In humans with pancreatitis, however, no benefit has been shown with plasma transfusion. Whether or not the protection afforded by plasma is real or theoretical is still being worked out. Higher mortality has been associated with patients receiving plasma but this may be because they were sicker than patients who did not receive plasma to begin with.

Drawing by Dr. Wendy Brooks

In the past, nutritional support was delayed in pancreatitis patients as it was felt that stimulating the pancreas to secrete enzymes would encourage the on-going inflammation, but this theory has been re-thought. Currently, earlier return to feeding has been found to be beneficial to the GI tract’s ability to resume function. If nausea control through medication does not give the patient a reasonable appetite, assisted-feeding is started using a fat-restricted diet. Return of food interest and resolution of vomiting/diarrhea generally means the patient is ready for return to the home setting. Low-fat diets are crucial to managing pancreatitis and their use should be continued for several weeks before attempting return to regular dog food. Some dogs can never return to regular dog food and require prescription low fat foods indefinitely.

How Much Fat is Okay?

There are several ultra-low fat diets made for pancreatitis patients and your veterinarian will likely be sending your dog home with one of them. Remember that pancreatitis is a diet-sensitive disease so it is important not to feed unsanctioned foods or you risk a recurrence. If your dog will not eat one of the commercial therapeutic diets, you will either need to home cook or find another diet that is appropriately low in fat (less than 7 percent fat on a dry matter basis). In order to determine the fat content of a pet food, some calculation is needed to take into consideration how much moisture is in the food.

The Guaranteed Analysis on the bag or can of food will have two values that we are interested in: the % moisture and the % crude fat. To determine the % fat in the food, you must first determine the % dry matter of the food. This is done by subtracting the moisture content from 100. For example, if the moisture content is 15%, the dry matter is 85%. If the moisture content is 75%, the dry matter is 25% and so on.

Next, take the % crude fat from the label and divide the % crude fat by the % dry matter. For example, if the moisture content is 76%, this means the dry matter is 24%. If the crude fat content is 4%, the true fat content is 4 divided by 24 which =0.16 (16%). Such a food would be way too high in fat for a dog with pancreatitis. You want the number to be 0.07 (7%) or less. Simply reading the fat content off the label does not take into account the moisture content of the food and will not tell you what you need to know. If this is too much math, the staff at your vet’s hospital can help you out.

When in doubt, canned chicken, fat-free cottage cheese and/or boiled white rice will work in a pinch.

Beware of Diabetes Mellitus

When the inflammation subsides in the pancreas, some scarring is inevitable. When 80% of the pancreas is damaged to an extent that insulin cannot be produced, diabetes mellitus results. This may or may not be permanent depending on the capacity for the pancreas’ tissue to recover.

Record your pet’s life in a diary

Monday, February 17th, 2020

Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

A Life in Words

Pet Connection
By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

When you find a diary, are you tempted to read it? Do you keep a diary yourself, under lock and key? Diaries feature in some of the world’s most famous literature, social history, fiction and children’s books: Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl.” The diary of Samuel Pepys. “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” “Harriet the Spy.” “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.”

Diaries bring history to life, store secrets, record lives. They can make for fascinating reading. But they can also make for fascinating writing, especially if they focus on your best friend: your dog, cat, bird or other pet. It’s not just in Nancy Drew mysteries that a diary is filled with clues.

Susannah Charleson is a K-9 search and rescue handler and author of “Where the Lost Dogs Go: A Story of Love, Search, and the Power of Reunion.” She spoke last month at the K-9 Sport Scent Work Conference in Palm Springs, California. While her topic was the importance of logs for search and rescue handlers, she also touched on how keeping a log can make a difference in the health, confidence and success of any dog-human team — including the partnership between people and their companion dogs. And there’s no reason to leave out cats, birds, rabbits, horses or other pets. Anyone can benefit from tracing the story of their relationship with an animal.

“I think for pet owners it’s invaluable,” she says. “If you’re doing any kind of training, even just to be a good companion animal, it’s all coming fast — the dog is new, the training is new, how the dog views the world versus how we view the world is completely different.”

When you keep a diary and document the changes you see in your pet and yourself, you are capturing the journey of your developing friendship, as well as making observations that can help you solve behavior problems and identify health issues before they become serious.

Bringing a record to your veterinarian or behaviorist of when a behavior began and how frequently it occurs can be the first step in solving a problem.

Some owners track daily blood sugar curves and insulin doses for diabetic pets, delivery of medication, occurrence of seizures, and pets’ eating habits or weight.

People who participate in dog sports log trials and practice sessions to track their progress.

“Log entries allow you to start seeing a pattern and learning about your dog,” Charleson says. “They assist in self-evaluation. You’ve got all these beautiful signals that can tell you where your strengths and weaknesses are and find areas where you can improve, where your dog can improve and where you can improve together.”

Keeping track of a pet’s life can be done with a paper journal, on computer apps or social media, or on a calendar. I have a pile of calendars that I can’t bear to throw away because they record so many of the events of my dogs’ lives. Supplement diaries with photos and videos.

At the end of a pet’s life, a diary is a way to look back at the journey you and your pet have shared. The memories can help to heal grief and establish a foundation for the next partnership.

“When a career or life ends, logs trace the journey that you and a dog have shared,” Charleson says. “Logs tell a story. They trace the arc of our understanding and our ability as separate entities and together. They’re a history of the earliest days that we might forget. Write it all down. You’ll have a wealth of information to learn from, and at the end of a life, those words may save you.”

Q&A

Do kittens need

socialization?

Q: Do kittens have the same type of socialization period as puppies?

A: They do, but it starts even earlier and doesn’t last as long. My colleague Nicholas Dodman, a veterinary behaviorist and emeritus professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, says the social period in kittens is between weeks 2 and 7.

During those early weeks, kittens soak up knowledge of everything around them, that clever kitty brain making new neural connections daily to generate learning and behavior. Kittens who see, hear, smell and experience many different people, animals, sights and sounds during this sensitive period grow up to be sociable, smart and curious.

Young kittens need to have many different positive experiences with children, friendly dogs and cats, people of all ages and appearances, common household sounds such as vacuum cleaners and blenders, car rides, being transported comfortably and safely in a carrier, and visiting the veterinarian. In an ideal world, they haven’t had any bad experiences with those things, and they don’t have preconceived ideas about what to expect from such experiences.

Limiting fear during this impressionable time is also important to a kitten’s development. A normal amount of fear is valuable because it helps kittens to avoid things that might hurt them, but protecting them from aversive experiences can help them to have more fulfilling lives as adult cats because they are more calm in the face of new experiences.

When young kittens encounter these things in a positive way during the socialization period, their brains store the good memories and help the kittens develop resiliency if they later have negative experiences with, say, dogs or scary noises. The neural connections their brains make during this period is how they become well-rounded, adaptable cats.

You can learn more about feline development at FearFreeHappyHomes.com. — Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

Cold Weather Can Kill Your Pet — Follow These Tips

Sunday, January 19th, 2020
from Mercola.com   Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker  January 18, 2020

STORY AT-A-GLANCE

  • Cold weather has arrived, which means it’s time to make sure your four-legged family members stay safe, warm and comfy over the next few months
  • Frigid temps are as hard on pets as they are on people; always keep your pet indoors with you during the winter months
  • Additional tips to help keep dogs and cats safe and healthy this winter include taking them for a veterinary wellness exam and ensuring they get regular exercise

Winter is in full swing, and unfortunately, cold weather can be just as hard on our pets as it is on us — especially dogs and cats left outdoors for any length of time (which I never, ever recommend). Pets left outdoors in cold weather can fall victim to a long list of injuries and illnesses, including hypothermia and frostbite.

The following is a list of things you can do to help keep the furry members of your family warm, safe, and healthy over the next few months.

Tips to Keep Pets Safe and Warm All Winter

Keep them indoors — I recommend keeping cats inside at all times (unless you have a secure outdoor cat enclosure for use during nice weather, or you take him on walks using a harness), but especially during winter. Accompany your dog outdoors for potty walks or to get some exercise. When you get cold enough to go back inside, chances are your dog is also cold.

If your dog is a large breed, chances are he’ll be able to tolerate cold temps and snow much better than a smaller dog. If your pet has a condition like diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease or an endocrine disorder, it can compromise his ability to regulate his own body heat.

Pets with a chronic disease and very young and older animals are more vulnerable to the cold than healthy youngsters and adults. Also never leave your pet unattended in a car in cold weather. Hypothermia can be just as deadly as heatstroke.

Let their coats grow — Don’t shave or clip your pet’s coat short during the winter months. A longer coat will keep her warmer. And make sure long-haired pets are brushed and groomed regularly, since matted fur can interfere with their ability to regulate their body temperature.
Make sure they get regular exercise — It’s really important to maintain your pet’s physical condition year-round. If you allow your dog to become a couch potato all winter, you increase his risk of injury when he starts exercising again in the spring. Especially if you live in a location that gets really cold and wet during the winter months, it can be challenging to ensure your dog stays physically active. Some ideas to consider:

  • A hydrotherapy or warm water dog pool
  • An indoor dog park (this is also a great idea for those of you who live in climates where the summers are too hot for strenuous outdoor exercise)
  • Indoor agility or tracking training, or nose work
  • Cross-country skiing

Kitties can actually be easier to keep exercised during bad weather: 10 ways to help your cat exercise.

Provide sweaters for shorthaired, hairless, older, and frail pets — Some pets won’t wear clothing no matter how chilly they are. But if your pet tolerates it well, a sweater can help keep your dog or cat warm, especially when you take her outdoors. But keep in mind that pets lose most of their body heat through the pads of their feet, their ears and their respiratory tract, so there’s a limit to how much warmth a sweater or jacket will provide.

Signs your pet is uncomfortably cold include whining, shivering, appearing anxious, slowing down or stopping, and looking for a warm place to burrow.

Take extra care with senior, arthritic or feeble pets — Cold weather can be especially hard on senior pets and those with degenerative joint disease or another chronic, debilitating condition.

Talk with your integrative veterinarian about physical therapy and other safe, natural methods for improving your pet’s comfort and mobility during cold weather. And make sure your pet has a thick, soft, non-toxic (organic) bed in a warm room for naps and at bedtime.

Take them for a wellness exam — I recommend twice-yearly exams for all pets, and especially seniors, so making one of those visits in the fall or early winter is a good way to ensure your dog or cat is healthy before the cold weather arrives. Your integrative veterinarian will measure muscle mass, joint range of motion, check vital organ function and make a wellness plan for the upcoming cold months.
Make sure ID tags are current and keep pets leashed outdoors — More dogs go missing in the winter months than any other time of year. It’s very easy for your pet to lose his scent and get lost when snow or ice is on the ground, and especially during snowstorms.

Snow accumulation can make it impossible for him to know if he’s in his front yard or standing out on a street or highway. Light-colored dogs with snow on their fur can quickly blend into the background, making them nearly impossible to spot.

Wipe them down after a trip outdoors — Pets who go outside during the winter months can pick up rock salt, ice, antifreeze, and other toxic chemicals on their footpads.

To keep your pets’ paws from becoming chapped and raw, and to prevent ingestion of toxins, thoroughly wipe off their feet, legs, and underside after they’ve been outside in the snow and ice. Also regularly check paws for any signs of injury or bleeding from walking on frozen or snow-packed surfaces.

Be careful near water — If you live near a pond, lake or other inland water source that tends to freeze over during cold weather, take care when letting your pet off the leash. Animals can easily fall through the ice, and it’s very difficult for them to escape on their own, or for humans to rescue them.
Stay alert for outdoor cats — Hopefully you keep your cat inside, but your neighbors may not, or there could be strays or feral cats in the area. Kitties left out in cold temps will sometimes crawl up under the hoods of cars or into the wheel wells. Starting or moving the vehicle can hurt or even kill a cat taking shelter inside a car.

During winter months, it’s a good idea to bang loudly on your car hood before starting the engine as a warning to a cat that might be in or around your vehicle.

Keep them safe from potentially dangerous heat sources — If you use a fireplace or space heater, expect your pet to lie near it for warmth. Keep a close watch to ensure no part of her body comes in contact with flames, heating coils or other hot surfaces. She can easily burn herself or knock a heating unit over and put everyone in the house in danger.
Have your furnace inspected and change your air filter — It’s a good idea to have your heating unit checked for carbon monoxide leaks before winter sets in. Carbon monoxide is odorless and invisible, but it can cause serious health problems in both people and pets. Since your dog or cat very likely spends much more time at home than you do during the winter months, she’s more vulnerable to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Changing your whole house air filter twice a year is a great idea. Most people are shocked to learn how much dust, dirt, allergens, pollen and mold can accumulate in filters over the summer.

Dust mites thrive during the winter months, making your home a ripe environment for year-round misery, in terms of itchy paws and bellies. Providing pets with filtered air is one way to help reduce the allergen load in your house during winter.

Breaking: Taurine might not be behind heart disease from kibble

Monday, December 30th, 2019

From Dogs Naturally Magazine

By:  –

They alerted pet owners about the potential for heart disease in dogs on certain diets … diets that may be deficient in taurine.

Everyone panicked … but was this panic warranted?

The Tale Of Taurine

Taurine is an amino acid found mainly in meat. Unlike other amino acids, which are used mainly to build proteins, taurine is a loner. It has many special functions, including:

  • It’s a component of bile, which breaks down dietary fat.
  • It’s vital for the proper function of muscles (especially the heart), eyes, brain, and the immune system.
  • It has beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Dogs manufacture their own taurine from the sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cysteine.  But, with advancing age, taurine production decreases.

The first inkling about taurine’s importance came in the 1980s. Researchers at UC Davis discovered that taurine deficiency was impacting cats. Thousands of cats were going blind. Some were even dying from a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).

This happened because pet food companies were making ingredient substitutions. They substituted more and more plant proteins, such as soybeans or corn gluten meal, in place of real meat.

The trouble is … soybeans and corn are poor sources of sulfur-containing amino acids. They also contain zero taurine.

Unlike dogs, cats (and ferrets) must consume taurine in the diet and cannot produce their own.

So the manufacturers started supplementing all cat foods with taurine. The epidemic then faded away (although DCM can still occur, unrelated to diet). Pet food makers saw no reason to add taurine to dog foods, so they chose not to incur the added expense.

However, DCM is common in dogs, especially large breeds. And there is such a thing as taurine-deficiency DCM in dogs; it was discovered in the 1990s.

Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, Newfoundlands … and a handful of other breeds … appear to be genetically predisposed to DCM. It’s also recognized that big dogs produce taurine more slowly than small dogs. This increases their risk of DCM.

[Related: NEWS: FDA Reports Some Dog Foods May Cause Heart Disease]

What The Research Has To Say

Recent research suggests that diet is a factor in less than 20 to 30 percent of dogs with DCM. Some (but not all) of these dogs will improve with taurine supplementation. And that raises even more questions about it!

For one thing, taurine may not even be the real culprit. Taurine production relies on adequate methionine and cysteine in the diet. So the problem may be a deficiency of those amino acids, rather than a lack of taurine itself.

The microbiome may also play a major role in taurine deficiency. This turned out to be the primary factor in cats.  The taurine from bile is reabsorbed in the colon … but bacteria can “steal” taurine and prevent this crucial recycling.

Processing may also play a significant role in dogs as well as cats. This has not, to date, been considered or investigated.

Grain-Free And “Boutique” Foods

The FDA reported a link between DCM and “grain-free” dog foods with large amounts of:

  • Potatoes
  • Legumes
  • Exotic proteins

One expert called these “BEG” (Boutique, Exotic and Grain-Free) diets.

The increase in reported taurine-DCM cases caught the FDA’s attention. Not because it was a new concern … but because the dogs weren’t breeds previously known to develop taurine-deficiency DCM. 

These included:

  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Whippets
  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Shih Tzu
  • A Bulldog and an unspecified number of mixed-breed dogs (and 7 cats).

The FDA said, “potatoes or multiple legumes such as peas, lentils, other pulses (seeds of legumes), and their protein, starch, and fiber,” were the main ingredients of the food in several cases of DCM reported to the agency.

In practical terms, this means that a pet food containing related ingredients … such as “peas, potatoes, pea starch, pea protein, potato protein” could be problematic. This is a common label trick known as “splitting.”

Listing ingredient fractions separately helps a small amount of meat rise to the top … as the ingredients are listed by weight. But, in reality, if they totaled all the plant products, they’d outweigh the meat. This means the food is primarily plant-based.

If the meat is itself is low in taurine, as it is in …

  • Beef
  • Venison
  • Lamb
  • Rabbit
  • Kangaroo

…  that exacerbates the problem in diets with these ingredients.

Interestingly, most vegetarian and vegan dog foods already contain added taurine and carnitine. Evidently, this issue was not hard to anticipate in low- or zero-meat diets.

Manufacturers whose products have been implicated quickly retuned to add supplemental taurine to their foods … but even that may not be enough to correct the problem.

The link between canine DCM and diet is not restricted to exotic meats, potatoes or legumes. Current and past research notes that any of these ingredients may be correlated with DCM:

Animal Products

  • Bison
  • Duck
  • Lamb
  • Kangaroo
  • Salmon
  • Venison

Plant Products

  • Barley
  • Beet pulp*
  • Chickpeas
  • Fava beans
  • Lentils
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Rice/rice bran**
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tapioca

* While it was not named by FDA in this situation … beet pulp is known to decrease taurine status in dogs under some conditions. 

** Previous studies found taurine deficiency from eating diets containing rice or rice bran. 

[Related: The Truth About Grain-Free Dog Foods And DCM]

Consider All Factors

It’s important to remember that correlation does not equal causation. Just because taurine is a common factor in a bunch of dogs with DCM … it does not mean that taurine deficiency is the sole cause.

Taurine may just be an innocent bystander! Moreover, this list is counter-intuitive, because salmon and duck are high in taurine. Therefore, processing, bioavailability or other factors are also playing a role. 

For example, taurine from fish is diminished by heat processing; the loss is about 30 percent.

The FDA claims … food made by small “boutique” manufacturers is more likely to be problematic.

However, in one set of 18 cases, 15 were from foods with “boutique” brand labels … but those brands are owned and produced by some of the world’s biggest pet food manufacturers …

  • Purina
  • Mars
  • Champion

It appears that the size of the pet food company is largely irrelevant. And now the FDA has done irreparable damage to small brands’ reputations … with its premature and inaccurate assessment.

DCM occurs in all kinds of dogs eating all kinds of foods …

  • Foods with a simple ingredient list
  • Food with a very complex ingredient list
  • Homemade diets
  • Commercial raw foods.

And while the FDA listed ingredients that have at some point been associated with DCM in dogs … they seem to only be concerned with potatoes and legumes.

It’s very important to note this: Not all dogs with DCM … and not all dogs with very low blood levels of taurine … respond to taurine supplementation. 

Many dogs with DCM have perfectly normal taurine levels. A few dogs with low taurine levels can develop DCM …  but so can dogs who are eating high-taurine foods.

This implies that taurine itself isn’t the problem (at least in those cases). It could be a lack of methionine, cysteine or any number of completely different factor(s).

One study on taurine in dogs concluded, “there was no clear relationship between low (whole blood taurine) and presence of DCM.”

The Bottom Line

Grain-free dog foods have been safely fed to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dogs for many years. The relationship to DCM is far from clear.

The FDA is not recommending a diet change for any dog, as their investigation is ongoing.

The link between diet and DCM is much more complicated than blaming a few ingredients. It’s clear that we need to consider genetics and diet ingredients combined.

Or perhaps the food’s overall content of …

  • Methionine
  • Cysteine
  • L-carnitine
  • Taurine

… And other factors like processing are at the root of DCM in these cases.

But at this point, no one – the FDA or anyone else … has any idea which factors are actually problematic. Nor do they know in what amounts or combinations.

Unfortunately, many veterinarians are now recommending grain-based foods … even though there haven’t been all that many cases.

And the chance of a dog developing taurine-related DCM  is extremely small.

Grain-based foods have their own (significant) set of problems including:

  • Pesticide residues
  • Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
  • Toxic byproducts of processing
  • Mycotoxins from mold

They also tend to use less expensive, poorer quality animal proteins. You’ll see ingredients like poultry by-products, meat meal and bone meal.

So, what should you do?

Ideally, feed your dog a fresh diet that’s high in animal protein. But at the very least, make sure the food you’re feeding has more meat proteins than plant substitutes.

Don’t forget, you can call the manufacturer and ask questions if you’re uncertain! 

Symptoms Of DCM In Dogs

Symptoms of DCM in dogs include:

  • Tiring easily
  • Excessive panting
  • Coughing
  • Weakness
  • Ataxia (being unsteady on the feet)

If you have any concerns about your dog or the food you’re feeding, talk with your vet about testing. Your veterinarian can submit blood and plasma samples to UC Davis for analysis.

However, as expected, their laboratory has been overwhelmed since the FDA’s announcement. So it could take weeks to get your dog’s results.

Keep Yourself Up To Date

The best place for up-to-date information on brands can be found on Facebook, in the Taurine DCM group.

While there is a great deal of speculation and misinformation in the posted comments … you’ll find a few helpful items. They have a current chart of cases, including breeds, as well as specific brand names. You’ll find these in their Files Section. 

It’s way too early to hit the panic button, but it’s certainly good to be aware of this ongoing issue.

The New No-Grain Ingredient Coming to Your Pet Food Aisle

Monday, November 18th, 2019

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Story at-a-glance

  • Despite growing concerns about the connection between grain-free formulas containing pulse crops and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs, the processed pet food industry continues to talk up the use of fava beans in grain-free pet food
  • In addition to the DCM connection, there are many other reasons pulse crops such as fava beans don’t belong in dog and cat food, e.g., they contain substances pets’ bodies can’t digest, that also interfere with mineral absorption

Despite the much-publicized suspected link between grain-free diets high in legumes and diet-related dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs, the processed pet food industry remains very committed to searching out biologically inappropriate pulse crops for potential use in dog and cat food.

A recent favorite is fava beans (also called faba and broad beans), which “may be the next new grain-free ingredient in the pet food aisle,” according to a recent article in a pet food industry publication.1 Last year the same publication promoted a 2017 study that suggests fava beans are an “effective ingredient for use in a commercial dog diet.”2

“It appears fava beans were well tolerated at all levels tested and only influenced digestibility at higher levels,” reported study co-author Greg Aldrich, PhD. “The dehulled fava beans in our study processed well in extrusion. They would be a solid contributor as an ingredient choice in modern pet foods.”3

This study is typical of pet food industry scientific research designed to see how much of a biologically inappropriate ingredient pets can ingest before it interferes with their digestion in an immediately measurable way. The dogs in the study didn’t develop noticeable digestive issues until they were subjected to higher levels of fava beans.

This is a considered a win by the industry, because they now have yet another inexpensive, plentiful, plant-based (i.e., biologically inappropriate) ingredient they can use to inflate the protein percentage in their formulas, and also potentially use to replace meat protein in vegetarian or vegan pet foods.

Why Pulse Crops Don’t Belong in Pet Food

Pulse crops, also called pulses or legumes, are plants with a pod. “Pulse” is the term used to identify the edible seeds of legumes, and is derived from the Latin word puls, meaning thick soup. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)4 recognizes 11 primary pulses:5

Dry beans (kidney, lima, azuki, mung, black gram, scarlet runner, ricebean, moth, and tepary) Lentil
Dry broad beans (fava, horse, broad, field) Bambara groundnut
Dry peas (garden, protein) Vetch
Chickpea Lupins
Dry cowpea Minor pulses (lablab, jack, winged, velvet, and yam beans)
Pigeon pea

Because they are high in fiber, folate, iron (when eaten with a source of vitamin C), and complex carbohydrates, and are also low in fat, pulse crops are considered nutritious for humans by some nutritionists, and not by others. Some experts advise keeping legume intake minimal for the same reason I recommend avoiding feeding these foods to pets — the presence of phytates and lectins that are naturally found in legumes.

Phytates are substances that carnivores can’t break down because they lack phytase, the enzyme necessary to process phytic acid. Phytates bind minerals (including zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium), leeching them out of your pet’s body. Lectins are sticky proteins that when consumed in large quantities may contribute to gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances and leaky gut.

Pet food producers and their ingredient suppliers are aware that many pet parents tend to believe foods that are healthy for humans are also healthy for dogs and cats. In fact, they use pet owners’ lack of knowledge about pet food ingredients to create and market biologically inappropriate diets. For example, one of the marketing approaches used to promote pet foods containing bean meal is weight loss.

The nutrient profile in beans may benefit some humans and other omnivores and herbivores, but carnivores thrive on animal — not plant — protein, and they don’t benefit physiologically from starch or high levels of dietary fiber. Cats are true carnivores and dogs are facultative carnivores, not omnivores or herbivores, but that pesky little fact certainly hasn’t diminished the pet food industry’s love affair with ingredients nature didn’t design dogs and cats to eat.

Most Pet Food Research is Conducted for the Benefit of Pet Food Companies, Not Dogs and Cats

Also good news for pet food producers is that fava beans “processed well in extrusion.” Extrusion, as we know, is a manufacturing method that has been used by the pet food industry for decades. About 95% of dry pet diets are produced using the extrusion process.

Batches of raw ingredients are mixed, sheared and heated under high pressure, forced through a spiral shaped screw and then through the die of the extruder machine. Extrudate is the result — a ribbon-like product that is then knife-cut and dried.

The high temperature used in extrusion (nearly 400°F) and the short time frame to process (under 5 minutes) creates continuous chemical and physical alterations to the ingredient mixture. This not only changes the molecular activity of the food, but also potentially contributes to a heavier carcinogenic load and profound levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). So, to review, the pet food industry’s takeaways from the study are:

  • Fava beans hold up well in the extrusion process
  • Fava beans in moderate amounts can be tolerated by dogs
  • Fava beans can be used to boost the protein percentages (misleadingly, in my opinion) in pet food formulas

Honestly, the simple fact that an ingredient such as fava beans must be tested in pets to see how much they can tolerate before they become ill is all the proof anyone should need that they didn’t evolve to eat that ingredient. Therefore, the intent and result of this study is 100% for the benefit of big pet food, and 0% for the benefit of the dogs and cats who will at some point be fed processed diets containing fava beans.

Legumes and Grain-Free Pet Food

As I mentioned earlier, there’s also cause for concern now that a link has been established between grain-free dog food containing legumes and a growing number of cases of the heart disease dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs. Of the DCM cases the FDA reviewed for its report published in June, 91% of the diets were grain-free and 93% contained peas and/or lentils.

It’s important to note that while legumes are being singled out as a potential problematic ingredient, no definitive test results have been released. However, grain-free kibble is often much higher in both whole carbohydrates and purified starches (e.g., pea starch, potato starch and tapioca starch) than grain-based dry dog food.

The higher the starch level in any pet food, the less protein is included (hence my suggestion to avoid both grains and other sources of unnecessary starch in all pet food). You can find my most recent update on the grain-free kibble/DCM issue, including feeding recommendations, here.

Dementia in Senior Dogs

Sunday, November 3rd, 2019

Stages of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Tuesday, September 10th, 2019

From www.dogdementia.com

Don’t Shave Dogs in Summer

Tuesday, September 10th, 2019

Which Dog Is Relaxed?

Wednesday, August 14th, 2019