I’ve always believed in the adage ‘you are what you eat’.
This is not a new concept. Way back around 600 BC Hippocrates famously said: “Let medicine be thy food, and food be thy medicine”.
Prudence, my Miniature Bull terrier, Mr Binks my English Toy Terrier, and Gremlin my cat, all eat a raw diet.
They’re benefitting from my study with the College of Integrated Veterinary Therapies where I learnt about the new science of Nutrigenomics.
I learnt that key nutrients have an influence at a cellular level to boost the immune system, prevent disease, prevent obesity, and even delay aging.
Nutrigenomics reveals how functional foods nourish deep at a cellular level to influence our genetic make up through gene expression.
Nutrients interrelate with our epigenome, which is a clever structural layer that surrounds our DNA.
Luckily ready prepared convenience foods have never appealed to me. I’m conscious of not consuming too many processed foods, and don’t own a microwave.
I want to balance the inevitable negative health effects triggered by modern environmental stressors like air pollution, over medication, intensive farming, pesticides, insecticides and the like that are all ubiquitous to modern living.
It’s been easy for me to transfer my eating values to my pets. It all began 16 years ago when Molly my first Miniature Bull terrier arrived.
Her breeder advised me not to feed the standard dry ‘cremated’ pellets so often recommended by vets. Instead to feed her raw green tripe mixed with some vegetables, and some fruits.
Raw green tripe (not to be confused with the white, bleached tripe prepared for human consumption) is a rich source of nutrients for dogs – it’s an elixir!
The stomach of a ruminating (grazing) animal including cows, and sheep, green tripe is packed with key nutrients, proteins, fats, pre and probiotics and is low in fat.
This is because the unique stomachs of these ruminants have four chambers to naturally process grasses with a slew of digestive enzymes, gastric juices and amino acids.
Over the years Molly championed an awareness of raw green tripe as a superfood for dogs.
It may not smell like a bed of roses, but I’ve got used to the aroma! It’s a small inconvenience to bare, in return for one meat ingredient that boasts so many health benefits as a functional food.
I like to combine some muscle meat like lamb, or venison. Another staple functional food that’s always in our fridge are lamb’s hearts.
Rich in amino acids, especially Taurine, Gremlin eats one or two hearts a day. Without Taurine a cat’s immune system shuts down. A cat cannot survive without Taurine.
Cats are known as obligate carnivores, which means they are biologically and physiologically designed to eat meat.
The interrelationship between diet and health is inextricable. By feeding as nature intended, we can impact so positively on the health and well-being of our pets.
I feed strategically and add a variety of fresh very finely chopped leafy greens like kale, spinach or watercress for a mineral and vitamin boost.
I’m fascinated by recent research that highlights the brain boosting capacity of Coconut oil, which we all take in moderation, and I use probiotics.
Whilst dogs do produce Vitamin C, I never underestimate the potential of berries like a blackberry or a blueberry as anti-oxidants that absorb unwanted C02 and free radicals from our system, boosting our immune system.
I’ll add some small fish like sardines or sprats for an Omega boost as well as a raw egg beaten up and served as a low calorie, Omega rich snack.
Even if everyone made tiny steps towards a raw diet, beginning with home cooked foods, it’s a way of helping to manage your dogs’ health, naturally.
“Let food be thy medicine” Hippocrates.
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
Over the years, Professor Ronald Schultz has been a pioneer in creating vaccination guidelines for our pets.
So when Professor Schultz comes up with the statement “Be Wise and Immunize, But Immunize Wisely”, what is the take home message?
A Concept Change for Pet Vaccination
The routine administration of vaccines in dogs and cats has been one of the most significant factors in the consistent reduction of serious dog and cat infectious diseases.
Although all veterinarians agree vaccines are necessary, the frequency in which some of them are given, is now debated.
It is known that dogs and cats, after vaccination, often maintain protective antibody to what is called the “core diseases” - Canine Hepatitis, Parvovirus and Distemper and Feline Panleukopenia, Herpes and Calici Virus for three or more years. So, our dilemma is knowing that we may not need to revaccinate our pets for core vaccines, how can we know that the antibody levels of our pets through vaccination are indeed adequate?
Titer Testing to Determine Protection for Our Pets
Antibody or titer testing can be used to show levels of protection after vaccinating our pets with core vaccines.
Therefore, when an antibody is present, there should be no need to revaccinate.
How Often to Titer Test?
Professor Schultz has offered the following advice:
“Neither a titer nor annual vaccination is necessary every year because of the core vaccines’ duration of immunity. However, a blood sample taken yearly from an animal for a titer check is preferential to an unnecessary vaccination as a vaccine may cause harm.”
The Canine and Feline VacciCheck are Core Vaccine Tests
One of the titer tests available and, easily performed by vets, in their clinics, is VacciCheck.
VacciCheck tests for your pet’s antibodies and can determine if a dog or cat needs an additional core vaccine vaccination. This may save the dog or cat unnecessary vaccinations.
VacciCheck also confirms if puppies or kittens have received immunity from vaccination.
Also unique about VacciCheck, results can be received on the same day.
So vets now have a quick and simple test that can be performed in their clinic, at a reasonable cost to the pet owner.
It is no wonder that The World Small Animal Veterinary Association recommends in clinic titer testing, such as VacciCheck.