Did you ever wonder about the dose and frequency of vaccines recommended for your pet?
Can overvaccination occur and are there attendant risks?
Perhaps you are unaware that vaccines are not just made up of the intended vaccine antigen(s) but also contain a long list of other excipient materials:
- Adjuvants like aluminum salts and squalene to enhance the immune response (for killed inactivated vaccines).
- Preservatives added to prevent bacterial or other contamination (thimerosal = mercury salts).
- Stabilizers to keep the vaccine potent during transportation and storage (sugars or gelatin).
- Residual trace materials used during the manufacturing process and removed. These include: cell culture materials, used to grow the vaccine antigens (fetal calf serum, egg protein, culture media); inactivating ingredients, used to kill viruses or inactivate toxins (formaldehyde); antibiotics, used to prevent contamination by bacteria (neomycin, gentamicin).
Given this background, it is easy to imagine the potential adverse effects of overvaccination.
BUT, even today only about 40% of veterinarians are estimated to follow the current WSAVA, AVMA, AAHA and BVA vaccine policy guidelines. Further, there is no such thing as an ‘up to date’ or ‘due’ vaccination. Enlightened veterinarians now can offer separated vaccine components, rather than give them all together, since the published data show more adverse reactions when multiple vaccines are administered together.
Killed, inactivated vaccines containing adjuvants make up about 15% of veterinary biologicals used, but have been associated with 85% of the post-vaccination reactions. While adjuvants have been used safely in human and veterinary medicine for decades, but there is increasing worldwide concern about the safety of using thimerosal (mercury) and aluminum
How and Why do Adverse Events, called Vaccinosis, Occur?
- Millions of people, pets and livestock vaccinated annually.
- Reactions are relatively rare --- about 3-5 events per 100 vaccines given.
- Affects those genetically predisposed.
- Can be acute, sub-acute, and delayed for 30-45 days.
- New data links reactions to integrity and function of gut microbiome.
- Heavy metal exposure from vaccines is an emerging concern for humans, pets and livestock. Aluminum and mercury found in brains of autistic people, and from vaccine adjuvants that cross the blood –brain barrier after injection, and then persist life-long.
Vaccines containing aluminum are commonly used in sheep herd management and have been found to cause the ASIA syndrome (Autoimmune Inflammatory Syndrome Induced by Adjuvants). Studies from Spain evaluated sheep divided into 3 groups: control, aluminum adjuvant only and aluminum adjuvanted vaccine.:16 inoculations were given to the groups over an 11-month period. Results showed behavioral changes, aggression, stereotypic and excitatory responses, compulsive eating, and reduced sociability in both the adjuvant alone and adjuvanted vaccine groups but not in the controls. Changes were more pronounced in the vaccinated group; and some began after only 7 inoculations.
What About Vaccine Dosage in Relation to Age & Size?
Neonates & Infant Children
- Urgent need to remove heavy metals, like aluminum and mercury, from infant vaccines.
- Currently, neonates receive 17 times more aluminum from vaccines than allowed if doses were adjusted for body weight.
- Body weight is ignored in human vaccines, as they use these heavy metals to enhance immune efficacy.
- Experts now urge that aluminum and mercury not be given in vaccines until after brain maturation (6-7 months of age but preferably 12 months).
- Alternatives being considered are calcium phosphate and zinc.
Small Breed Dogs
- Small breed adult dogs, between 3-9 years of age, were studied.
- Dogs were healthy and had no vaccines for at least 3 years.
- Purpose was to determine if just half-dose of bivalent CDV and CPV vaccine elicited protective serum antibody titer responses.
- Titer levels compared 1- and 6-months later vs pre-vaccine titers.
- Half-dose vaccine resulted in sustained protective serum antibody titers for all dogs studied.
Vaccination May Not Equate to Immunization
But, vaccinated and truly immunized animals should be fully protected from disease. Immune memory cell immunity should persist life-long.
Giving boosters to immunized animals is unwise, as it will introduce unnecessary antigen, excipient adjuvants, preservatives and the other materials described above.
What is Sterilizing Immunity?
- An immune response that completely prevents and eliminates an infection.
- Animals properly immunized against the clinically important viral diseases have sterilizing immunity that not only prevents clinical disease but also prevents infection. Only the presence of antibody can prevent infection.
- An animal with a positive serum antibody test is protected from infection.
- Vaccinating that animal would not cause a significant increase in antibody titer, but hypersensitivity to vaccine components (e.g. fetal bovine serum) may develop.
- Furthermore, the animal doesn't need to be revaccinated and should not be revaccinated since the vaccine could cause an adverse reaction (hypersensitivity disorder).
- But, not all vaccines produce sterilizing immunity
- Those that do include: distemper virus, adenovirus, and parvovirus in the dog, and panleukopenia virus in the cat.
- Examples of vaccines that produce non-sterile immunity would be leptospirosis, bordetella, canine influenza, rabies virus, and herpesvirus and calicivirus --- the upper respiratory viruses of cats.
- While non-sterile immunity may not protect the animal from infection, it should keep the infection from progressing to severe clinical disease.
The bottom line here is to avoid overvaccination and, whenever possible, measure serum antibody titers instead.
- J Am Hol Vet Med Assoc. 41; 12-21, winter 2015.
- Ivanovski et al. J Trace Elements in Med and Biol. 51:138-140, 2019.
- Pinczowski, et al. Pharm Res, Nov 3, 2018; org/10/10.1016/ j. phrs.2018.10.019
- Weiler & Ricketson. J Trace Elements in Med and Biol. 48: 67-73, 2018.
Of the primasry fasctors that help control aging and memory, balanced nutrition and modest amounts of exercise are the most important for ourselves and the pets with whom we share our lives.
Functional foods are those that provide optimal nutrition and body function and improve the memory and cogniftive activity of aging. These include vitamins E and C, and resveratrol (acting as antioxidants) along with a mixture of fruits and vegetables to reduce free radical damage. Also important are alpha-lipoic acid and L-carnitine as they are cofactors of the mitochondria of all cells. Mitochondria are responsible within cells for providing for their respiration and energy production.
Exercise in modest amounts should be given along with tasks for the pet to learn and perform.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for dogs especially as they age because they help improve brain health and function and slow the loss of cognitive function associated with aging.
The requirement for essential nutrients increases not only during periods of rapid growth or reproduction but also in geriatrics, because immune function and bio-availability of nutrients generally wanes with aging.
Top 10 Great Foods for Brain Health and Memory
- Leafy greens (folate, vitamin B 9) - kale, spinach, collard and mustard greens
- Cruciferous vegetables (folate, carotenoids) - broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, Brussel sprouts
- Beans/ legumes (choline)
- Whole grains (gluten-free = quinoa, millet, rice, soy, corn, flax, sorghum, TEFF, tapioca)
- Berries/cherries (anthocyanins, antioxidants, vitamins C and E)
- Omega 3 fatty acids (anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory)
- Yellow Squash, asparagus, tomatoes, carrots, beets (folate, vitamin A, iron)
- Nuts (omega fatty acids, vitamins E and B 6, folate, magnesium) CAUTION macadamia, and walnuts are unsafe for pets
- Seeds (zinc, choline, vitamin E)
- Spices (anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory)
Other Functional Superfoods
- Eggs - high in quality protein and choline for brain and memory
- Kiwis - antioxidant-rich, vitamins A, C and E, potassium, high in fiber
- Quinoa - high in protein and fiber, iron, zinc, vitamin. E, selenium
- Salmon - high omega-3 and iron, low calorie and low saturated fat
- Sweet Potatoes - high in vitamins A and C, calcium, potassium
- Mediterranean type diet - fish, nuts (for dogs: not macadamia, walnut or hickory nuts; brazil nuts and cashews are high in fat; pistachios, pecans, almonds can be moldy (aflatoxins); some dogs = peanut reactive); whole gluten-free grains; olive oil, fresh produce
- Avoid Trans Fats & Saturated Fats - less dairy, red meat, fried foods
- Heart-Healthy diet - also good for the brain
- Plenty of Omega-3 Fatty Acids – causes 26% less brain lesions
- Smaller meals throughout the day – helps digestion
- Eat Fruits, Vegetables, and Berries - of various colors
- Green Tea - enhances memory and alertness; anti-inflammatory; put on body sores, in foods
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction
Clinical Signs of Cognitive Dysfunction
- Confusion/disorientation in familiar surroundings
- Increased sleeping/insomnia
- Loss of interest in people and events
- Forgetfulness of housetraining habits
- Failure to recognize familiar people and animals
- Wandering aimlessly/pacing
- Loss of appetite/forgetting to eat
- Staring into space
- Decreased activity level
- Lack of response to name/commands
- Failure to pay attention
Nutrients of Genera Benefit for Cognitive Dysfunction
- Milk thistle and SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine)
- Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs)
- DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids
- Avoid glutens
- Avoid carbohydrates with high glycemic index
Silibinin (milk thistle extract) prevents impairment of both short-term and recognition memory
- prevention for cancer as well
- works as antioxidant, protects brain from oxidative damage
SAMe (S-adenosyl methionine) improves neuron membrane fluidity
- increases serotonin and dopamine metabolites
- reduces effects of depression in people
- may help human Alzheimer’s patients
Phospholipid choline is critical for cell membrane structure and function
- increases production of acetylcholine
- helps reverse signs of cognitive and other neurological disorders of aging pets
Medium -Chain Triglycerides, like coconut oil, break down and absorb rapidly, unlike fats; quick source of non-carbohydrate energy
- readily cross blood-brain barrier, supplying 20% of brain energy requirement
- important for ketone production
- help body use omega-3 fatty acids more efficiently
- helps age-related cognitive decline by providing alternative source of brain energy
- give berries their rich pigment; antioxidants; also benefit cognitive health of senior dogs
- most potent is aronia, the chokeberry. Greater antioxidant than all other berries; anti-cancer; anti-bacterial, anti-viral and even anti-diabetic; and anti-inflammatory
- protect brain function in geriatrics and those with gluten intolerance by avoiding wheat, barley, rye, oats unless labeled gluten-free, kamut, spelt, farro, and couscous
- linked with impairment of brain function, including learning disabilities, attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder, and memory problems
- gluten sensitivity may manifest exclusively as a neurological disease
Avoid Carbohydrates with a high glycemic index (GI)
- impaired glucose metabolism caused by sugary foods can promote brain starvation, leading to memory problems, like canine cognitive dysfunction
- foods with high GI can also lead to hunger-related behavioral problems
- simple carbohydrates digest and absorb quickly (hence rapid rise and fall in blood sugar concentrations), so pets feel hungry again quickly
The scientific era began centuries ago with the Scientific Revolution of 1543 and the teachings of Copernicus, Gallileo, Kepler, Newton, Harvey, Kuhn, Huygens and Shapin. They and other pioneers brought us to the early 1800s. At that time, the practice of homeopathy as founded by Samuel Hahnemann was widespread, and the first homeopathic medical school opened in 1832. In 1920, the last of these schools closed as homeopathic practice declined in favor of today’s allopathic medicine. Despite this change, however, homeopathy has devoted followers and is still practiced throughout the world.
The Scientific Era of the 1900s began after that:
1940s – biomedical research is based on clinical observations and hypotheses are tested in laboratories
1960s –laboratory and applied clinical research becomes more molecular, including the first concept of gene therapy
1970s –molecular science and genetics become mainstream. Laboratory animal welfare and vaccine issues become recognized
1980-1990s –clinical and drug therapies evolve from this science; stem cells are cloned and the animals benefit too
1990 – evidence -based medicine becomes the key, and the first gene therapy success is achieved in the USA with ADA (adenosine deaminase) deficiency
2000s - present -- human, dog and cat genomes are sequenced which launches more gene therapy studies, and stem cell therapy for people and pets becomes clinically available
History of Integrative Medicine and Veterinary Medicine
Integrative medicine is the term that applies to the combination of conventional Western medicine with alternative (complementary or adjunctive) medicine. This combination when applied to all sentient species equates to “One Health”.
It evolved from the desire to improve patient care and reduce harm. It also reflects today’s bias towards allopathic medicine and the need to be judged by our peers. A more balanced approach would be to apply Evidence-Based Practice, which is the combination of evidence-based medicine and practice-based experience. This focuses on the patients and collaborative application of complementary alternative medicine therapies (termed “modalities”). These could include acupuncture, acupressure, chiropractic, Chinese and Western herbal therapy, massage therapy, nutrition and supplements, aroma therapy, and other means of healing. These alternative methods have been documented to be of benefit to human and animal patients for alleviating chronic pain, arthritis, infections and inflammation, bowel disorders, depression and anxiety, seizures, and even certain cancers. Education in the human and allied health care medical sciences includes these teachings today.
The relevance of evidence-based practice becomes obvious when a particular effective therapy is novel and not yet widely known or accepted. It is the experience gained by those initiating these methods that needs to be applied to patient care even before the evidence of benefit is proven, otherwise the patient can be harmed and suffer. This is the judicious use of what is known as “current best evidence”.
The Human-Animal Bond
Emphasis on the interaction and co-dependency between humans and animals on our planet has developed into what is widely appreciated as the “human-animal bond”. As we share the earth, skies and waters with them, the lives and health of domesticated, companion, free-living and captive wildlife, aquatic species and birds have become intertwined in our very existence. This is a symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit and conservation -- not only from the food and fiber animals, fowl and fish we use to sustain ourselves, but also for the love and companionship shared between us and the dogs, cats, horses, birds and exotic species that we call pets.
Figure 1. Illustrating the human-animal bond of One-Health
The Current ‘OMICs Era
Scientific validity and efficacy studies have led to the ‘omics medical sciences we practice today:
Genetics represents the DNA genomic “blueprint” of heredity
Diet influences include: Epigenetics, DNA methylation and histones; Transcriptomics, RNA; Proteomics, proteins; and Metabolomics, metabolites generated
Nutrigenomics is the emerging science that studies molecular relationships between nutrition and the response of the body’s genes in promoting health. Different diets alter the expression of one’s genes and the resulting production of proteins and metabolites, thus leading to individualized, functional nutrition.
Specific nutrients affect the body responses in a way defined as that body’s “molecular dietary signature”. This is unique for each individual person or animal, unless you have an identical twin.
Therefore, certain diet-regulated genes play a role in the onset, incidence, progression and/or severity of chronic disease. Dietary intervention and optimization can thus be used to prevent, mitigate, or even cure chronic disease. Nutrition, when combined with modest or moderate exercise, is the most important factor for maintaining human and animal health and longevity.
Figure 2. The picture of optimal health
Pharmacogenomics deals with the influence of genetic variation in the response of individual humans and animals to specific drugs. Genotype-specific therapy is used in some cases today to correlate the gene expression of an individual with the efficacy or toxicity of a drug. The aim of this approach is to develop a rational means to optimize therapy as related to a particular patient’s genotype. The would maximize drug efficacy with minimal adverse effects.
What Does the Future Hold?
Current developments are aimed at:
Targeted gene therapy for genetic diseases
Stem cell therapy to correct physical and clinical traits, disorders and mutations in embryos, fetuses, and fully developed individuals
Nanotechnology which uses just minute atoms and molecules to study genetics, drug therapy, and other fields of science
Cloud technology which involves precision data gathering and data mining of medical information on the internet cloud
3-D printing offers powerful design and modeling of body parts to allow for exact precision surgeries, dentistry, and even production of human and animal organs
Self-health where internet and home diagnostics and monitoring are becoming available remotely, which includes virtual doctor visits for ourselves and our pets
Duggal M, Menkes DB. Evidence-based medicine in practice. Int J Clin Pract 2011; 65(6): 639-644.
Dodds WJ. Keynote Address: Celebrating 30 years of magic – extending frontiers in the art of medicine. Proc Am Hol Vet Med Assoc 2012, Birmingham, AL Sept 9, 2012.
Palmquist RE. Perspective: Evidence-based practice: what is it ? J Am Hol Vet Med Assoc 2014; 35, Spring Issue: 7-10.
Dodds WJ. Epigenetics: programing for health and longevity. J Am Hol Vet Med Assoc 2014; 37, Fall Issue: 16-22.
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.
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