W. Jean Dodds, DVM
Veterinarian for more than 50 years, graduating when women were pioneers. Dedicated career to helping animals stay healthy, thrive and have long lives. Experienced and widely published in clinical and research fields of hematology, immunology, endocrinology, nutrition and animal welfare. Co-author of two popular books (The Canine Thyroid Epidemic and Canine Nutrigenomics).
Laboratory diagnostic tests play an important role along with a thorough physical examination and patient history in the overall evaluation of both human and animal patients.
For more than 60 years, human healthcare has benefited from detecting various chronic diseases before clinical symptoms appeared. Numerous clinical studies have identified the most useful diagnostic parameters in detecting early disease states and the effect of early intervention on disease progression. Certainly, early detection of various risk factors for chronic diseases and therapeutic intervention has significantly reduced human morbidity and mortality.
Until recently, however, veterinary medicine remained focused on the diagnosis and treatment of disease once symptoms were manifested, when an owner brings the pet in for diagnosis and treatment. Fortunately, this paradigm has changed significantly to the extent that more dogs, cats and domestic farm animals are diagnosed with health issues before they become serious. Further, recent studies in these species have shown the value of early intervention in greatly improving patient survival and life span.
Wellness programs emphasizing annual or semiannual examinations, blood and urine testing and even radiography have routinely been offered by veterinarians for more than a decade for the older (senior and geriatric) pets. Results of laboratory monitoring of healthy geriatric pets, for example, showed that 20% of dogs and 17% of cats studied were found to have clinically significant disease.
The logical assumption from these findings is that earlier discovery of disease should lead to improved treatment response and longevity. The fact that chronic disease is observed more frequently in older animals is logical as the incidence of many diseases increases with age.
Young Adult Animals
While results of available studies could not predict how many of these patients will develop clinical disease or even if the abnormalities were confirmed upon further testing, ongoing monitoring of these pets should be informative. Regardless, the results document that a number of chronic diseases occur at much higher rates in dogs and cats than in humans. It is also clear that early intervention in the case of renal disease shows promise of slowing morbidity and mortality.
In 2018, results summarized by the Idexx Laboratories found abnormal laboratory results warranting further diagnostics for:
- 1 in 7 adult dogs and cats
- 1 in 5 seniors
- 2 in 5 geriatrics
Understanding Your Pet’s Blood Work
What does it mean to run a CBC on your pet?
- Complete blood count (CBC) is one of the most common blood tests used
- It analyzes the three major types of cells in the blood:
- Red blood cells (RBC)
- White blood cells (WBC)
- In addition to counting the blood cells, the CBC:
- Measures hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying molecule in the red blood cells)
- Estimates the RBC volume
- Sorts the WBC by type, and
- Determines platelet size (MPV= mean platelet volume)
Red Blood Cells (RBCs)
- RBC count determines the actual number of these cells in a sample of blood.
- Hemoglobin measures the total amount of this oxygen-carrying protein in the blood.
- Hematocrit (packed cell volume, PCV) measures the percentage of the blood volume that consists of RBCs.
White Blood Cells (WBCs) = Leukocytes
- WBC count includes:
Neutrophils are the most abundant type of WBC
- First cell that arrives at the site of infection
- What does it mean when these are high?
- Acute stress
- Inflammatory disorders
- Eosinophils contain red-staining granules
- What could it mean when the eosinophil count is high?
- Allergic reactions
- Parasitic infestation
- Basophils, a rare type of WBC, play a role in immune surveillance and wound repair.
- Basophils can release histamine and other cell mediators, and initiate allergic reactions.
- What could it mean when the Basophils are high?
- Inflammatory reactions, particularly those that cause allergic symptoms
- Monocytes fight certain infections, help other WBCs remove dead or damaged tissues, destroy cancer cells, and regulate immunity against foreign substances.
- After leaving the bloodstream they become tissue Macrophages
- What could it mean when the Monocyte count is high?
- Chronic infections
- Autoimmune disorders
- Blood disorders
- Certain cancers
- Lymphocytes act in immune defence by recognising antigens, producing antibodies, and destroying cells that could cause damage.
- There are three main types:
- Natural killer cells
- These tests evaluate organ function, electrolyte status, and hormone levels
- These tests are used for:
- Baselines as pets age
- Pre-anesthetic evaluation
- Evaluating sick animals
- When on long-term medications
- Elevations typically show pancreatitis or kidney disease
- Pancreatic inflammation, necrosis, or pancreatic duct blockage releases amylase into the blood and peritoneal cavity. This elevates serum amylase levels to several times normal.
Alkaline phosphatase (ALK P)
- Elevations may indicate:
- Liver damage
- Cushing’s disease (hyperactive adrenal glands)
- Active bone growth in young pets
- This test is especially significant in cats as even slight elevations are usually indicative of liver disease.
Alanine aminotransferase (ALT, SGPT)
- Sensitive indicator of active liver damage but does not indicate cause or reversibility of the damage.
- Increased serum activity indicates recent or ongoing liver cell damage. An increase of at least three times normal indicates significant liver damage within the previous several days.
Aspartate aminotransferase (AST, SGOT)
- Mitochondria-bound enzyme found in several body tissues but is especially high in liver and striated (striped) muscle.
- Rising levels indicate continued, severe insult to liver cells. Normal half-life of this enzyme in blood is about 12 hours in dogs and only 2 hours in cats.
Blood urea nitrogen (BUN)
- Indicates kidney function
- Increased blood level is called azotemia and may be caused by kidney, liver, heart disease, urethral blockage, shock, dehydration, or even intestinal or stomach foreign body.
- Low BUN may indicate a cirrhotic liver, or portal vascular liver shunt, but please note that pets fed raw diets normally have higher BUN levels.
- Essential for proper functioning of cells
- Should be interpreted together, along with patient’s hydration status
- Intake primarily achieved via diet
- Excretion/Regulation achieved mainly through the kidneys
- Comprehensive lab work, including minerals and electrolytes, recommended annually in veterinary patients
- Critically ill patients (those receiving fluid therapy) or patients with renal dysfunction should be monitored frequently
- Important in specific cellular processes, particularly Muscle and Nerve cells
- Found almost exclusively in bone
- Regulated mainly by the Kidneys
- Major negatively charged ion in the body
- Affected by both water and sodium concentration. Should always consider patient’s hydration status
- Important in many cellular processes
- Found mostly in bone and muscle cells
- Regulated mainly by the Kidneys
- Vital to specialized cellular processes.
- About 70% of body potassium is found in Muscle cells
- Regulated by the Kidneys and cellular shifts (translocation)
- Major positively charged ion in the body
- Linked to body water balance. Should always consider patient’s hydration status
- Regulated by the kidneys via specialized cells that retain both sodium and water
- BUN (see above)
- Product of normal muscle metabolism
- Used to measure kidney filtration rate. Only the kidneys excrete this substance, and if it builds up to abnormal levels, it indicates decreased or impaired kidney function
- This test helps distinguish between kidney and non-kidney causes of an elevated BUN
- Low levels are sometimes seen in kidney damage, protein starvation, liver disease, or pregnancy
- Pets on raw diets normally have higher levels
- Involves checking appearance, concentration and content of urine
- Evaluates kidney function, bladder pathology, presence of infection, urine concentration, checks if bladder stones or their precursor crystals are present, and other diseases.
Urine Specific Gravity (SG)
- Used to determine whether urine concentrating ability is adequate
- High levels of glucose or protein
- Dilute urine
- Renal failure
- Urine pH is typically acidic in dogs and cats, and alkaline in horses and ruminants, but varies depending on diet, medications, or presence of disease.
- Urine pH will affect crystalluria because some crystals, such as struvite, form in alkaline urine, whereas other crystals, such as cystine, form in acidic urine.
Urine Protein: Creatinine Ratio
- Measure of kidney failure
Urine Cortisol: Creatinine Ratio
- Measure of adrenal gland cortisol output
- Urine must be collected at home before the pet exercises in the morning
Herbs that support the kidneys
- Vitamin B Complex
- Bromelain = enzyme from pineapple, reduces inflammation
- Chinese Rhubarb (Rheum officinale)
Antech Diagnostics News (2001). Laboratory data in geriatric dogs & cats. April 2001
Antech Diagnostics Monograph (2008). An analysis of canine and feline wellness profiles in young adults: the case for early detection of chronic disease.
Idexx Laboratories. Graphic chart. JAVMA, 253 (10):1203, 2018.
The history of veterinary transfusion medicine began in 1665 with the first reported transfusion of canine blood. From that time to the present day, whole blood and blood components have been used to treat many disease states and for surgery in veterinary medicine.
The need for establishing local, regional, and national blood banking services for animals has become apparent in recent years with the development of sophisticated medical and surgical support for animals that parallel those of human medicine. At the same time, the emergence of pet animal health insurance programs helps to provide a means of financial support for advanced critical care. Despite these efforts, however, most of the world needs are not being met today. The demand exceeds supply and individual programs still need to be standardized to ensure safety and efficacy.
Present and Future Needs
Until recently most veterinarians gave whole blood transfusions from donors that had not been blood typed or cross-matched as emergency life-saving measures to combat traumatic or surgical shock, severe anemia, hypoproteinemia, and bleeding. This would usually be the animal’s first transfusion. Today, while animal blood typing reagents and cards are commercially available for the major blood group antigens of dogs (DEA 1) and cats (A, B), more complete typing services and reagents are provided only by veterinary researchers and certain blood banks.
Need for Compatible Blood
It is important that veterinarians use typed, compatible blood whenever a transfusion is given.
For cats, cross-matching the recipient and donor beforehand is an essential standard of practice, to avoid serious or life-threatening transfusion reactions. Further, hemolytic disease of the newborn kitten can occur with type-incompatible matings, and result in significant neonatal morbidity and mortality. A parallel situation is well known in people, and also occurs in other species like the horse and pig.
All cats have naturally-occurring antibodies against the other blood type, such that strong incompatibility reactions are seen when blood type B recipients receive blood from type A donors [because type A cats have potent anti-B antibodies.] Knowing the blood type of in-clinic feline donors (and recipients) is also advisable.
Dogs, in contrast to cats, do not have naturally-occurring antibodies against other canine blood group antigens. However, because it is usually impractical from an economic and timing standpoint to determine the blood type of dogs requiring immediate transfusion, most blood bank programs depend upon in-clinic or local canine donors that have been pre-screened. The donor dogs are selected for overall health and vigor, ease of bleeding and docile temperament, and they should have what is termed the "universal donor" blood type [negative for all canine red cell antigens except DEA 4, which is essentially present in all dogs]. This means that their red blood cells do not carry any of the surface antigens associated with transfusion reactions or incompatibilities.
Another issue surrounds the transfusion of incompatible blood to breeding females, as it poses a potential risk of immunologic sensitization (alloimunization). If a sire also mismatched in blood type is subsequently mated with this female, hemolytic disease of the newborn can be exhibited by some of the puppies. This can be a significant cause of the "fading puppy syndrome" in dams that have had more than one litter, but can be avoided by blood typing the sensitized dam and selecting only type-compatible sires for future breedings.
Need for Safe Blood
A second, but equally important aspect of veterinary transfusion medicine, is to ensure that all blood used for transfusion is properly screened for blood-transmitted infectious diseases. In 2005, an expert task force of the ACVIM concluded that safety issues are of major concern, because about 60% of blood transfusions given in private practice settings use blood from local animal donors (non-commercial source) that may not be blood-type compatible and are usually not screened for infectious diseases. This practice poses a significant potential liability for malpractice should an adverse transfusion event occur.
Blood Component Therapy
Whole blood is no longer the treatment of choice, nor is it desirable for the primary therapy of most veterinary transfusions. Processing freshly collected blood into several clinically useful components is a more cost-effective, efficient and safer use of this precious life-saving resource. The most commonly used blood components in veterinary medicine parallel those in human medicine: packed red blood cells and fresh-frozen plasma. The red blood cells are primarily used to treat acute blood loss anemia from trauma, surgery, or acute hemolytic disease, and for chronic anemias caused by internal (hookworms) and external (fleas, ticks) parasites, bone marrow failure and chronic hemolytic disease. Fresh frozen-plasma is used mostly to treat or control bleeding disorders and to provide other plasma proteins and globulins to help alleviate or protect against acute or chronic infectious diseases, such as parvovirus infections.
Hemopet, the Non-Profit Canine Blood Bank
Hemopet, began in 1991 as a US federally registered non-profit, charitable organization. Our licensed facility houses a colony of healthy, canine blood donors, all of which have the universal blood type (DEA 4), are screened for an inclusive list of disease pathogens, and are current on all vaccinations. These dogs are all Greyhounds rescued because they were unsuitable for the racing industry. We maintain around 200 donors at present in our large facility in Garden Grove, and have initiated a novel rescue-donor-adoption program for them. All the dogs have been neutered and receive on-site 24 hours-a-day veterinary care and maintenance. After serving up to a year in the donor program, they are adopted out as family companions. https://www.hemopet.org/
Hemopet’s full-service blood bank provides state-of-the-art blood components and supplies for transfusions to veterinary clinics. These include: Canine whole blood, canine packed red blood cells, canine fresh-frozen plasma, canine platelet-rich plasma, canine cryoprecipitate, canine cryo-supernatant, canine frozen plasma, disposables and speciality products for transfusion, transfusion consultation.
Dodds WJ. Update on animal blood banking services. Vet Pract STAFF 1993; 5(2): 1,4-7.
Henson MS, Kristensen AT, Armstrong PJ et al. Feline blood component therapy: retrospective study of 246 transfusions. J Vet Int Med 1994; 8: 169-172.
Callan MB, Oakley DA, Shofer FS, Giger U. Canine red blood cell transfusion practice. J Am An Hosp Assoc 1996; 32:303-311.
Harrell K, Parrow J, Kristensen A. Canine transfusion reactions, Part II. Prevention and treatment. Comp Cont Edu Sm An Pract 1997;19: 193-200.
Wardrop KJ, Tucker RL, Mugnai K. Evaluation of canine red blood cells stored in a saline, adenine and glucose solution for 35 days. J Vet Int Med 1997;11: 5-8.
Wardrop KJ, Reine N, Birkenheuer A, Hale A, et al. ACVIM Consensus Statement: Canine and feline blood donor screening for infectious disease. J Vet Int Med 2005; 19:135-142.
Balanced nutrition is now recognized as the key factor in providing for health and longevity of human and animal populations. Achieving this balance depends upon each individual’s genetic and geographical needs and lifestyle. However, nutritional imbalance and food intolerances are seen more than ever today, with the rising number of environmental challenges,
The following three case examples illustrate how diagnosing food intolerances with Nutriscan and then removing any reactive foods from a pet’s diet has a successful outcome:
Brandy 5 years old, entire female, 40 pounds, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
- Very itchy puppy scratching, skin rashes and loss of patches of hair
- Hypoallergenic shampoos and wearing a T-shirt didn’t help much
- Reactive foods identified with Nutriscan and removed
- 2 weeks later scratching abated
- More reactive foods arose, especially soy
- Strict dietary control has kept her healthy as an adult
Healthy and happy after reactive foods were removed from her diet
Rosie 6 years old, spayed female, 35 pounds, Border Collie mix
- Intense itching on limbs and feet, dry cracked foot pads, constant rubbing of face, muzzle and around eyes
- 10 Nutriscan reactive foods removed from diet
- 3-5 weeks later, itching and rubbing subsiding; face and limb redness fading and healing; foot pads softened
- 2 months later, almost healed and happy
- Inhalant and contact allergens addressed as well
Red and itchy face before Nutriscan testing
Face almost completely healed after removing foods identified by Nutriscan as reactive
Jojan 19 years old, spayed female, Silver Domestic Shorthaired Cat
- Experienced intermittent weight loss and poor appetite
- Thyroid profile was normal
- Food reactivities on Nutriscan were Cow’s Milk, Corn, and White-Colored Fish
- All sources of these foods in diet and supplements (including cornstarch) were removed
- Gave only homemade diet of grass-fed meats plus some vegetables and blueberries
- Mood and appetite improved and has remained good
Sleek haircoat, calm, and good weight after Nutriscan adjustment of diet
The debate about the most accurate and predictive clinical and laboratory diagnosis of food adverse reactions in companion animals has been ongoing for two decades. Should we rely upon the patient’s clinical response and outcome, patch testing, extended food elimination trials, the presence of allergen-specific serum antibodies, direct bowel surface food-sensitivity testing and fecal immunoglobulin levels, or the novel validated saliva-based Nutriscan test described here?
Food patch testing was recently reported to be reliable as a tool to identify suitable ingredients for an elimination diet due to its high negative predictability. However, patch testing also is time-consuming, expensive and because of its low positive predictive value cannot identify offending allergens. Most pet owners would prefer faster and easier performed diagnostic tools.
Intradermal tests with food components or tests for food-specific serum immunity have so far failed to reliably identify dogs with adverse food reactions and thus cannot be recommended for this diagnosis in clinical practice. Measuring serum antibody levels to specific food ingredients does not correlate well with clinical patient outcomes or dietary re-challenge studies.
Many commercial pet foods contain meat and flavorings not listed or specified on the label. Current studies have examined the presence of these undeclared ingredients which:
- critically assessed published discrepancies between ingredients and labeling in commercial pet foods, including those with “novel” or “limited” ingredients and containing micronized hydrolysates
- found that the median mislabeling was 45 % of tested diets with a range of 33-83% for the “novel/limited” ingredients ones that are used for food elimination trials, and one hydrolyzed diet
The authors concluded that before ruling out a food component as an allergen, a novel protein home-made diet trial should be performed, if the dog is unresponsive to a commercial regimen.
The data summarized above are further confounded by the fact that many pets also receive a variety of supplements, preventive pharmaceuticals such as those for heartworm, flea and tick exposures, as well as puppy and periodic booster vaccines. These products usually contain meat, especially beef, pork and chicken, as well as other flavorings and several types of fish oils, and nearly all vaccines contain fetal calf serum.
The problem is more complicated when veterinary therapeutic and supplement items and over-the-counter products may not accurately list the ingredients or their antigen sources on the label or product insert. When recommending food elimination trials, only non-flavored oral or topical therapies, pill pockets, and supplements should be used. Additionally, gelatin capsules may contain either beef or pork proteins and should not be administered during a trial.
In summary, Hemopet’s patented test for food-specific antibodies in saliva is available worldwide for dogs, cats and horses. The test is easy to perform and noninvasive, and thus is very acceptable to pet owners. The cases described above attest to its reliability and efficacy.
For more information on Nutriscan, please visit the official website at http://bit.ly/2SPZHsl
Dodds WJ. Diagnosis of canine food sensitivity and intolerance using saliva: report of outcomes. J Am Hol Vet Med Assoc 2017/2018; 49:32-43.
Dodds WJ. Challenges in food quality, safety and intolerances. Timely Top Clin Immunol 2018; 2 (2):16-20.
Olivry T, Mueller RS. Critically appraised topic on adverse food reactions of companion animals (5): discrepancies between ingredients and labeling in commercial pet foods. BMC Vet Res 2018: 14:24-28.
Forty to fifty years ago, two weed killers still in major use worldwide today (chlorpyifos and glyphosate) were introduced for use on agricultural crops, lawns, private gardens and golf courses.
They are used on alfalfa, citrus, vegetables, soybeans, and almonds, and to protect hundreds of thousands of acres of grass seed production, where it is intended to control aphids, cutworms, and other pests.
Although they have been extensively studied for efficacy and safety, questions about their safety and cumulative effects continue. Exposure to these chemicals has been associated with adverse neurodevelopmental effects in infants and children, and with certain cancers. While these safety concerns have largely been ignored or overlooked by regulatory authorities, recent efforts have seen the North American and European courts cancel approvals for their use or at least to require a 10-fold additional margin of safety.
The major concern since then has related to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s delay in taking action to limit exposure to chlorpyrifos, a ubiquitous weed killer. Consequently, in August 2018, the 9th Circuit Court ruled again – giving the EPA 60 days to revoke all tolerances and cancel all registrations for this pesticide!
In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO)’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reclassified glyphosate as a Category 2a (probable carcinogen). However, to add even more confusion and obfuscation to this controversy in 2016 and 2017, 3 other groups, namely the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) division of the WHO, along with the European Food Safety Authority and European Chemicals Agency have continued to hold the official viewpoint that glyphosate does not pose a genotoxic or carcinogenic risk to humans. A growing number of scientists disagree and contend that bias among the political, industrial and regulatory agencies is prevalent. It is no wonder then that the consumer public and even many scientists cannot agree on this most contentious and controversial topic.
With respect to glyphosate, and its metabolite AMPA, the growing emergence of glyphosate resistant weeds demands increased herbicide levels to maintain the same level of control. The compound itself is being used in new roles for pre-harvest crop desiccation, which involves the deliberate spraying of glyphosate- sensitive crops with the chemical to speed cessation of growth and prepare the crop for harvest in a more controlled manner – a process that can leave chemical residue on the desiccated crops.
Further, this herbicide has been shown to disrupt endocrine pathways and the microbiome, which has been shown to affect the endocrine and immune systems, as well as increase the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), changes which affect the body’s ability to fight cancer.
Finally, glyphosate’s water-soluble nature does present a risk of runoff into adjacent areas. The compound can accumulate in streams and especially irrigation ditches close to treated areas. Areas further from treatment sites can be at risk as well.
The August 2018 9th Circuit Court decision in San Francisco ruled that glyphosate, the most popular weed killer in the world, was responsible for causing a former school groundskeeper to suffer from terminal cancer. The jurors awarded him $289 million in damages – apparently with intent to punish the commercial manufacturer. This legal decision could set a massive precedent for thousands of other pending cases claiming that this famous herbicide causes non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Lastly. current and future studies regarding glyphosate and AMPA’s potential impact as a human carcinogen and genotoxin should employ mechanisms which would go largely undetected in traditional toxicology studies, such as microbiome disruption and endocrine mimicry that is revealed only at very low concentrations. When calculating total exposure potential, both glyphosate and AMPA residues in organisms and the environment should be measured.
A third widely used herbicide of concern is dicambra, which functions by increasing plant growth rate such that at sufficient concentrations, the plant outgrows its nutrient supplies and dies. It is used to kill weeds on crops, pastures, legumes, cacti, range lands, and roadsides. However, it volatilizes readily and can damage adjacent agricultural and private lands, home gardens and water supplies. Further, dicambra has come under serious scrutiny recently as two of the largest independent seed sellers have pushed the regulatory authorities to bar farmers from spraying this weed killer in the summertime during the rapid plant growth phases.
By limiting the spraying of this chemical to the springtime before crops are planted, its use on the widely sold GMO dicambra-resistant soybeans would be curtailed. In prior summers, after farmers planted these dicambra-resistant seeds, the herbicide drifted onto nearby farms and damaged an estimated 3.6 million acres of non-resistant US soybeans.
Summary and Conclusions
The major industrial manufacturers of these weed killer products compete in the world marketplace today with many other companies as the original patents have all expired. It is estimated that more than 750 commercial herbicides are sold today. Furthermore, most crops of genetically modified origin (GMO) were invented so they could be sprayed with more weed killing herbicides such as glyphosate and dicamba without harming the genetically engineered plant. As a result, the increasing availability of GMO crops has led to substantial increases in the use of herbicides and insecticides, often in amounts that have never been tested for safety in humans, animals, or other plants. Most commercially prepared pet and livestock foods use GMO crops as their main ingredients such as corn and soybeans.
When will the science, political, medical, agricultural, and regulatory communities finally implement measures that include full transparency, open science, and an end to the revolving door oversight and research in the food and feed sectors?
Food Safety News. 9th Circuit Court in California orders EPA to stop stalling and ban agricultural use of popular pesticide. August 10, 2018.
World Health Organization Report. The WHO recommended classification of pesticides by hazard and guidelines to classification 2009. World Health Organization 2010
Davoren MJ & Schiestl RH. Glyphosate based herbicides and cancer risk: a post IARC decision review of potential mechanisms, policy, and avenues of research. Oxford University Press; https://academic.oup.com/carcin/advance-article-abstract July 2018.
Temkin A. Breakfast with a dose of Roundup? Weed killer in $289 million cancer verdict found in oat cereal and granola bars. Children’s Health Initiative/ Environmental Working Group. August 16, 2018. https://www.ewg.org/childrenshealth/glyphosateincereal/#.W3W0Qs5KiUl
Polansek T. Exclusive: U.S. seed sellers push for limits on Monsanto, BASF weed killer. Reuters, Chicago. August 2, 2018.
In the previous Blog, we discussed the ongoing debate about raw versus cooked food diets for pets.
Here we are going to address some lingering questions.
Should it include raw meat or cooked meat?
Many of us in the veterinary community, including myself, have seen first-hand the health and vigor of dogs and cats fed raw diets. These animals just 'shine' in all respects; the experiential findings based on years of observations by dedicated holistic veterinarians and animal nutritionists support this conclusion. To criticize all raw diets on the basis that they are inherently harmful is misleading, and conveys an inflexible message.
In the USA, the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine controls the pet food industry, and this organization mandates a zero-tolerance policy of Salmonella for all pet foods, not just the ‘cooked’ products. Further, the top raw food manufacturers also test each batch of food before releasing it into the marketplace.
As anyone who follows pet food recalls knows, commercially produced kibbled products and treats are recalled on a regular basis due to contamination with Salmonella spp., E. coli and Campylobacter spp.
Should the meat be grass-fed rather than grain-fed?
Grass-fed meats are preferred over those meats derived from grain-fed animals, because grain residues reside in the flesh of the carcass. The most commonly fed grain is corn, which often is of genetically modified origin (GMO) and field grade. Rice, soy and sorghum are also commonly fed. Additionally, some pets are intolerant of these grains.
What about fish?
Both white-colored fish and salmon and their oils are common ingredients in pet foods and provide an important source of the omega-3 fatty acids needed to sustain the skin and coat, brain and other body metabolic functions. The fish should be farm raised or at least be assured to be free of mercury.
What about the need for some vegetables and fruit in a complete diet?
Unlike cats that remain primarily as obligate carnivores and need some meat, dogs have evolved from their ancestral wolves to be obligate omnivores. They have adapted to domestication by developing three additional genes that allow them to digest and assimilate starch. Regardless, an all-meat diet is not balanced for long term use, especially in dogs, and so some vegetables and fruit (making up 30-70% of the total diet) should be included for roughage, fiber and pro-biotics. Some also add organic tripe.
Dogs (and even cats) can be healthy when maintained on strictly vegetarian diets, although these diets must be nutritionally complete and balanced. Pet caregivers should regularly monitor urinary acidity and should add products such as cranberry extracts, if urine becomes too alkaline (i.e. pH > 7.0).
Suggested vegetables and fruits include: Carrots and green beans, as functional carbohydrates, are a source of soluble fiber, and have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Simply chop them up into small raw pieces, or lightly steam them as this helps with digestibility. We also like spinach or kale, and zucchini.
Apples, pears and bananas protect the heart and help control diarrhea. Apples also improve brain health, lung capacity and cushion joints; whereas bananas help strengthen bones and control blood pressure. Pears provide a rich source of fiber. Also use fresh or frozen blueberries and cranberries, plus watermelon.
What about taurine levels in certain types of dog foods and the possible connection between grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), which is also known as canine heart disease (CHD).
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a statement on July 12, 2018 that it is investigating a possible connection between grain-free diets and DCM, which is also known as CHD.
But, many factors need to be considered in addressing this situation:
- Genetic predisposition
- Scientific research thus far
- Taurine requirements for dogs
- Interaction between foods when passing through the body
- Interaction between foods and the body itself
What we do know:
- Taurine is an amino acid. Amino acids are found in animal-based protein sources and plant sources like soy at varying amounts, depending on the type of meat or plant.
- Taurine deficiency can lead to CHD in humans, cats and dogs.
- All breeds and sizes of dogs can develop CHD. However, CHD is more common in larger and giant breeds such as Great Danes, Boxers, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds, Saint Bernards and Doberman Pinschers. American and English Cocker Spaniels also have a higher incidence.
- At this time, taurine is notconsidered an essential, food-sourced amino acid for dogs. It is synthesized in the liver from the amino acids cysteine and methionine.
- Although taurine is present in today’s dog food, the label does not need to reflect its presence or meet any minimum requirement.
- Cats, however, dohave a need for food-sourced taurine to prevent CHD; and there is a minimum required amount for cat food.
- Cooking temperature is stated to adversely affect or significantly degrade amino acid levels in foods.
- A published study found, “The amount of taurine that remained in a feed ingredient after cooking depended upon the method of food preparation. When an ingredient was constantly surrounded by water during the cooking process, such as in boiling or basting, more taurine was lost. Food preparation methods that minimized water loss, such as baking or frying, had higher rates of taurine retention.”
- Cysteine is one the essential amino acids that dogs need to form taurine. Another published study by Weiss et al concluded, “Eight (including cysteine) of the 20 standard amino acids decompose at well-defined, characteristic temperatures, in contrast to commonly accepted knowledge. Products of decomposition are simple. The novel quantitative results emphasize the impact of water and cyclic condensates with peptide bonds and put constraints on hypotheses of the origin, state and stability of amino acids in the range between 200 °C and 300 °C.” Put simply, high temperatures do cause the breakdown or change these amino acids, including cysteine.
- High levels of legumes or potatoes appear to be more common in diets labeled as “grain-free,” but it is not yet known how or if these ingredients are linked to cases of DCM.
- The FDA is simply stating a trend, which no doubt will lead to much needed research.
- The FDA is notdismissing the prior research as invalid. As the FDA puts it, “The underlying cause of DCM is not truly known, but is thought to have a genetic component.”
- The FDA is also notsaying that pet caregivers should stop feeding grain-free foods.
Axelsson, E, Ratnakumar, A, Arendt, MJ, et al. The genomic signature of dog domestication reveals adaptation to a starch-rich diet. Nature 2013; 495: 360–364.
Dodds, WJ, Laverdure, DR. Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health. 2015. DogWise Publishing, Wenatchee, WA, .323 pages.
Ko, KS, Fascetti, A. Dietary beet pulp decreases taurine status in dogs fed low protein diet. J An Sci Technol 2016: 58: August. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4971673/.
Weiss, I, Muth, C, Drumm, R, Kirchner, HOK. Thermal decomposition of the amino acids glycine, cysteine, aspartic acid, asparagine, glutamic acid, glutamine, arginine and histidine. BMC Biophysics, 2018;11(2).
The debate over which type of diet is best for dogs and other pets to live healthy lives and thrive is unlikely to be resolved in the near future. Should it include raw meat or cooked meat? Should the meat be grass-fed rather than grain-fed? What about fish? What about the need for some vegetables and fruit in a complete diet? And finally, the latest pet food scare around the world – what about taurine levels in certain types of dog foods and the possible connection between grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), which is also known as canine heart disease (CHD).
If you’ve stopped feeding grains to your companion dog because of this recent issue, please think back to the many reasons why you stopped. It could be to prevent the “leaky gut” syndrome, to help curb food sensitivities or intolerances to a particular grain, to maintain optimal weight, etc.
Proponents of raw food diets cite numerous benefits, including:
- Closely mirrors the evolutionary diet of wolves and wild
- Dogs are carnivores (actually, cats are truly carnivores and dogs have evolved to become obligate omnivores) -- designed to consume raw meat, bones and
- Dog caregiver controls ingredient selection and
- Higher in enzymes, vitamins and minerals than cooked
- Greater nutrient availability than cooked
- Improved skin and coat.
- Reduced or eliminated ear infections.
- Fewer, less bulky, less foul-smelling stoo
- Increased energy
- Reduced incidences of chronic
- Enhanced immune function and overall optimum
Opponents of raw food diets cite negatives, including:
- May expose humans to higher bacterial
- Lack of documentation that raw-fed dogs live healthier, longer
- Exposes vulnerable dogs to dangerous
- Home-prepared raw meat-based diets are often unbalanced, with deficiencies and/or excesses of certain nutrients.
- Unbalanced raw diets are of particular concern with regard to growing
- Bones, even raw, pose risk of obstruction and
Proponents of fresh, home-cooked diets cite numerous benefits, including:
- Dog caregiver controls the ingredient selection and
- Fresh, whole foods provide higher levels of nutrients than processed commercial
- Nutrients contained in fresh foods are more bioavailable than those contained in processed commercial foods.
- Fresh meat, fruits and vegetables are more species-appropriate than commercial food.
- The next items are those listed above as the last 7 for raw diets.
Opponents of fresh, home-cooked diets cite numerous negatives, including:
- Are nutritionally unbalanced and can contribute to long-term vitamin/mineral
- Are often those invested in the mass-market commercial pet food industry.
- Many mainstream veterinarians are also opposed to home-prepared
- We believe the vast majority mean well and base their beliefs on information provided by the commercial pet food industry.
The main objection veterinarians typically raise regarding raw meat-based diets has more to do with human food safety issues than the validity of the diet for the animal. It goes without saying that proper food handling and safety techniques should be used when feeding a raw meat-based diet, just as they should when handling raw meat prior to cooking. In addition, vulnerable individuals, such as young children, the elderly, sick or immune-impaired people, young puppies or ill dogs should not be exposed to raw meat due to potential health risks. Common-sense precautions can greatly minimize the potential of bacterial contamination from raw food.
In our view, neither a raw nor cooked diet is inherently “better” than the other. We work with many dogs that thrive on raw food diets, and others that do not do well on raw foods but thrive on freshly prepared cooked foods. As we keep coming back to, every dog is an individual, and we believe that individual needs should outweigh a devotion to any one way of feeding. od diet is far superior to the highly processed, species-inappropriate
What About Food Recalls
Many of us prefer to believe that the foods we and our pets eat are healthy and safe, even if we and they overeat fatty foods or those with a high glycemic index (high sugars and starches). However, both the human and pet food industries have more recently been inundated with food recalls for contamination with microbes including bacteria, viruses and parasites. Every food type has been implicated, even candies.
Bacterial, Viral & Parasite Contamination
Food recalls in human and pet foods have primarily concerned contamination with Salmonella (many sources from animals, fish and plants), Listeria (mostly from bovine species), and Campylobacter bacteria, Hepatitis A virus in undercooked shellfish, and parasites like tapeworms.
The most recent pet food recall in the United states was for a cat food that was contaminated with both Salmonella and Listeria spp. and caused acute illness in 2 kittens and one died. It should be noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) quoted a study from 2004 and stated, “Although L. monocytogenes can infect many animal species, dogs and cats rarely get listeriosis and they usually don’t show signs of disease. One reference mentions only six reported cases in dogs from 1947 to 2000, and the dogs showed a wide range of signs.”
Campylobacter spp. are now considered to be major triggering agents of an acute immune-mediated peripheral nerve disorder in dogs that shares many similarities with Guillain-Barre syndrome in humans. However, there is little information about its relationship to Campylobacter spp. in dogs. Potential risk factors were investigated, particularly consumption of raw chicken in 27 client-owned dogs suspected of suﬀering from it and 47 healthy dogs, client- or staff member owned. Where fecal samples were collected within 7 days from onset of clinical signs, the clinical cases were 9.4 times more likely to be positive for Campylobacter spp. compared to control dogs. Further, a signiﬁcant association was detected between aﬀected dogs and the consumption of raw chicken (96% of cases; 26% of control dogs). Dr. Frieda Jorgensen, Public Health England, states 90% of Campylobacter cells are killed slowly by freezing, making it much less likely that the bacteria will be passed to humans. The temperature range for growth is 30- 45°C, with an optimum of 42°C. Survival at room temperature is poor, but Campylobacter can survive for a short time at refrigeration temperatures – up to 15 times longer at 2°C than at 20°C.
Escherichia coli is a common fecal contaminant that can be found in many consumed human and animal foods.
Dodds WJ, Diagnosis of canine food sensitivity and intolerance using saliva: report of outcomes. J Am Hol Vet Med Assoc 2017/2018; 49:32-43.
Dodds, WJ, Laverdure, DR. Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health. 2015. DogWise Publishing, Wenatchee, WA, .323 pages.
Over 50 years ago now, my friend and colleague, Prof. Ron Schultz, and I were the only two people saying we were over-vaccinating pets. I was called irresponsible in public at a large veterinary conference because others were unwilling to consider the idea that vaccines might not always be needed or safe. Since then, people aren’t shooting arrows at us now because our backs are full of them! Joking aside, despite the criticism, we were and remain determined to continue to educate about this topic.
Even today, estimates are that only about 40% of veterinarians are following the current WSAVA, AVMA, AAHA and BVA vaccine policy guidelines. * There is no such thing as an ‘up to date’ or ‘due’ vaccination. Enlightened veterinarians now can offer a package of separated vaccine components, when available, rather than give them all together, since the published data show more adverse reactions when multiple vaccines are administered at the same time.
Summary on Vaccine Policy
AAHA 2003 – Current knowledge supports the statement that
- No vaccine is always safe, no vaccine is always protective and no vaccine is always indicated
- Misunderstanding, misinformation and the conservative nature of our profession have largely slowed adoption of protocols advocating decreased frequency of vaccination
From Prof. Michael J. Day
- Vaccination should be just one part of a holistic preventive healthcare program for pets that is most simply delivered within the framework of an annual health check consultation
- Vaccination is an act of veterinary science that should be considered as individualized medicine, tailored for the needs of the individual pet, and delivered as one part of a preventive medicine program in an annual health check visit
Importantly, pet caregivers should understand that the act of giving a vaccine may not equate to immunization of that animal. Vaccines may not always produce the needed or desired immune protective response, not only if the vaccine itself was inadequately prepared (very rare) but also if the pet is a genetic low or non-responder to that vaccine (quite common in certain breeds of dogs and their families). In the latter case, that pet will be susceptible lifelong to the disease of concern and revaccination will not help and could even be harmful.
In response to issues raised above, vaccine experts recently have recommended new protocols for dogs and cats. These include: 1) giving the puppy or kitten vaccine series later (starting not before 8 weeks of age, except in the cases of outbreaks of virulent viral disease or in orphans or those that never received colostrum from their dams) followed by a booster at one year of age; 2) administering further boosters in a combination vaccine every three years or as split components alternating every other year until; 3) the pet reaches geriatric age, at which time booster vaccination is likely to be unnecessary and can be unsafe for those with aging-related or immunologic disorders.
In the intervening years between booster vaccinations, and in the case of geriatric pets, circulating humoral immunity can be evaluated by measuring serum vaccine antibody titers as an indication of the presence of immune memory (e.g. VacciCheck). Titers do not distinguish between immunity generated by vaccination and/or exposure to the disease, although the magnitude of immunity produced just by vaccination is usually lower.
When to Vaccinate Puppies & Kittens? Which Vaccines are Needed? What About Socialization?
- Should receive MLV or recombinant “Core” vaccines (canine distemper, parvovirus and hepatitis/adenovirus) preferably either at 9-10 and 14-16 weeks of age (minimum protocol), or, at 9, 12 and 16-18 weeks of age
- Rabies vaccines are all adjuvanted killed products and are given as required by law, preferably always given separately from other vaccines, and as late as legally allowed – e.g. 20-24 weeks of age. Thimerosal (mercury) - free rabies vaccines are preferred and safer
- Other vaccines are optional, and depend upon circumstances and disease risk in the area
- For the optional Bordetella or kennel cough vaccines, the oral version is preferred over the intranasal although both offer better protection than the injectable version
- Leptospirosis vaccines protect against only 4 serovars of the organism and are second to rabies vaccines in risk of hypersensitivity and other adverse effects. Use if endemic in the area of concern
- While canine influenza viruses (2 strains; H3N2 and H3N8) are highly contagious, most infected dogs have mild to no clinical issues, unless they develop a high fever and are at risk for secondary pneumonia. Vaccination, while being widely promoted, is still optional
- Three or more days after the last round of puppy vaccines, they can be out and about to be socialized. In the interim period, between 10-14 weeks of age, socialization can take place in the back yard or at puppy training classes with known friends and healthy dogs
- Until fully vaccinated, puppies should not walk on unfamiliar or public grounds; they can be carried about, when needed to travel
- If Titer testing is desired, instead of giving another vaccine after 12 weeks of age, wait until at least 16 weeks of age to avoid measuring residual maternal immunity
- Core vaccines (feline panleukopenia, feline calicivirus, feline rhinotracheitis/herpes) given as MLV or killed, inactivated or intranasal products are started in a 2 or three-dose series beginning for example at 7-9 weeks of age and 12-16 weeks, or at 7, 11 and 16 weeks
- Rabies vaccines if legally required are recommended as for puppies, although cats can receive a recombinant non-adjuvanted rabies vaccine which is preferred over the adjuvanted killed rabies vaccines given to dogs. This non-adjuvanted rabies vaccine is not yet available for dogs
- Some people consider feline leukemia virus (FeLV) vaccine as important for cats, especially those that live outdoors or are indoor/outdoor. Options are a recombinant non-adjuvanted or a killed adjuvanted vaccine
- Feline immune deficiency virus (FIV) vaccine is available in an adjuvanted killed virus vaccine for those cats at similar exposure risk to FeLV.
- Other vaccines (Chlamydia, FIP) are generally not recommended or are optional, and depend upon circumstances and disease risk in the area
- Socialization and Vaccine Titer testing options are as for puppies
*WSAVA-World Small Animal Veterinary Association; AVM A- American Veterinary Medical Association; AAHA-, American Animal Hospital Association; BVA- British Veterinary Association