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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Nutrition Week, #1: Corn, Wild Diets, Grain-Free

Pet nutrition is a bit of an interest for me, and while I'm not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, I've looked into a lot of the common issues and have spoken with many board-certified experts.  Much of what I've learned goes contrary to what you will see in some corners of the Internet or by talking to some food reps, but it is still accurate and true.  Over the years of blogging I've discussed some of these issues, but thought it might be fun and helpful to dedicating a week's worth of posts to clearing up some misconceptions.  Let's begin!
 
Myth #1:  Corn is a bad ingredient, has no nutritional value, and causes allergies
Ground corn and corn gluten meal are important nutrients, providing good energy and an excellent source of secondary protein.  In pet foods it is over 95% digestible and is not a "filler".  It is one of the lowest sources of food allergies, causing a problem in only around 1% of patients with a confirmed food allergy.  Corn gluten is also an important source of fatty acids such as linoleic acid, antioxidants, and several vitamins (B complex, E, and A).
(also see other discussions on this topic here and here)
 
 
 Myth #2:  Dogs need to be fed a diet that resembles their wild ancestors
Dogs are NOT wolves and their digestive tract has significant differences.  Over 10,000-15,000 years of domestication their diets have involved greater consumption of grains and their genetic makeup has changed to accommodate this change.  Modern dogs are different from wolves in several key genes that involve starch digestion and gulcose uptake.  There is no benefit found to feeding a dog the same diet that would be fed to a wolf.
(also see another post on this topic)
 
 
 Myth #3:  Dogs should be fed a grain-free diet
This myth is currently popular and is not based on any scientific evidence.  As with the above myth, dogs have gentically changed to be able to handle grains and other carbohydrates.  Unless an individual pet has a sensitivity or allergy to a specific type of carbohydrate, there is no proven health benefit of grain-free diets.  Any perceived benefits may be due to a higher fat content in grain-free diets, which can help improve coat quality, and a lower fiber content, which can reduce stool volume.  But these factors are independent of the grains themselves and can be achieved even with diets containing grains. 
(also see another post on this topic)

10 comments:

  1. All IMO of course:

    Myth #1 - I don't go looking for a food with corn specifically, but if its in there, and otherwise a quality food I wouldn't pass it up either!

    Myth #2 - Nope, they don't need to eat a species appropriate diet, however, if that's what they thrive on, then feed it. If they thrive on kibble, feed it. We all need to be more supportive (vets/clients) of what diets are being fed, so long as variety, balance over time, making sure the foods have readily available, high quality nutrients and species appropriate foods are being adhered to.

    I feed both kibble and raw (not in the same meal) as part of a balanced diet for my dogs. I feed as much variety of whole, fresh, raw meats, organs and bones as I can and use kibble for travel or days when I forgot to take something out of the freezer. My dogs do well on kibble, but when I started feeding raw I saw a whole slew of amazing changes, so why not feed it if it works!

    Myth #3 - Dogs can survive on just about anything. I recently read an article that stated a portion of our dog population has evolved to more readily process grains - again, if it works for that dog, feed it. If it doesn't don't. If an owner chooses not to include grains, that's there choice too.

    As far as feeding dogs, so many things work for most of the population, but I always encourage owners to break free from generalizations when feeding their dogs and go with what works for them and their particular dog. I just wish more vets were open to discussing other diet plans, however, I understand the AVMA's stance on Raw Feeding can be limiting.

    I also understand that some people think feeding raw is putting ground burger in a bowl, it does take more research, knowledge and work to put the diet into practice that scooping kibble - so as a vet even if you wanted to recommend another diet path, it would be hard.

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  2. Niomi, I actually agree with all of your points! We can make some generalizations, but we also need to look at each patient and their needs individually. Like you I wouldn't seek out corn as an ingredient, but I also don't mind it being there. And like you I don't have a problem with people feeding grain-free diets, as there's nothing unhealthy about doing so. However, for most dogs a grain-free diet doesn't give any additional benefit even though clients often think they do (and some food companies perpetuate the myth).

    My goal with this series of posts this week is to try and bust some of the myths surrounding current fads in pet nutrition, and I've actually talked about many of these in the past. Busting the myth doesn't mean that each point is inherently dangerous, as in feeding grain-free diets. I want to give the information for a client to make an informed decision about what their pet eats.

    When evaluating a patient, I want to make sure they are on a healthy, well-balanced, quality diet. If we can do that through a commercially prepared diet it's certainly a lot easier for the clients and for us. But if the pet is so used to human foods that it won't eat kibble, or the owner insists on feeding home made diets, then let's work together to make sure that home made diet is healthy and balanced. I have several recipes from one of my nutrition text books that are high quality but made with ingredients at home. I'm perfectly fine with this as long as the client is willing to take the time and great effort to make it.

    Niomi, I enjoy your thoughtful and intelligent comments! I look forward to seeing what you think about my other posts this week, as this is obviously an area that interests you as well.

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  3. "When evaluating a patient, I want to make sure they are on a healthy, well-balanced, quality diet. If we can do that through a commercially prepared diet it's certainly a lot easier for the clients and for us. But if the pet is so used to human foods that it won't eat kibble, or the owner insists on feeding home made diets, then let's work together to make sure that home made diet is healthy and balanced. I have several recipes from one of my nutrition text books that are high quality but made with ingredients at home. I'm perfectly fine with this as long as the client is willing to take the time and great effort to make it."

    ^^ This is something I wish MORE vets would be willing to do. My vet is the ONLY vet where I live who would even let me talk past getting "I feed Raw" out of my mouth. Every other vet cut me off, bombarded me with fear mongering statements and from then forward ANY issue my dog came down with was "because you feed raw".

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  4. I love all the comments that often get attached to these sorts of articles (though they haven't infested this series yet) that say something like "My pet was eating Cheapo-Chow I got from the Dollar Store and got sick. Now he only eats only organic free-range antibiotic-free meats, supplemented with BillyBobsMegaNutrient Pills and he's doing great! Therefore all kibble is bad, Corn/GMO/by-products are evil, and you are all shills of the pet food companies!"

    Persistently unnoticed is that most pets that go their entire lives on nothing but halfway-decent kibble from Target do just fine, and whatever it is that eventually ails them isn't diet-related.

    Certainly it's possible to feed a pet a well-balanced homemade diet, but why go through all that trouble? Feed 'em whatever they'll eat that your vet signs off on. (If for no other reason than the vet can tell you how much to use; the feeding guides on the pet food bags are so vague as to be useless.)

    I will mention (as I think you have) that cooked meat is good for pets for the same reason it's good for people: it kills food-borne bacteria. I don't think there's any reason to believe pets have any more natural immunity to GI tract pathogens than humans.

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  5. SirWired, if you go back to some of my previous discussions on these topics (linked in the blog posts) you'll actually see people making those kinds of comments! For whatever reason, those folks have stayed away recently.

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  6. Would you agree that a cooked diet full of a variety of different meats, veggies, fruits, grains and other such diverse sources of nutrition would still be best, compared to a kibble, in general?

    I mean I certainly can't see how it would be worse at all, or even hard to supply all the necessary nutrition as long as you figure out good proportions of everything? Isn't it better to eat things that are minimally processed, most of the time? (Yes I understand cooking and other preparation is processing, and that some foods actually are more nutritious when processed moreso, but generally speaking..?)

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    Replies
    1. I don't disagree that a hand prepared diet can be good quality. However, you really need to have it designed by a board-certified nutritional specialist. Simply putting a bunch of ingredients together is NOT a quality, balanced diet.

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    2. Hm.. but is dog nutrition so different from human nutrition that you would need specialists to figure out what to give them?
      I mean is it really that easy to go wrong? If you feed a healthy variety of different meats and plants, doesn't that virtually assure your dog will get all the various amino acids, vitamins and minerals, etc. that are necessary?? Some research would be best too obviously, but is it really so lofty of an understanding that someone couldn't figure it out based on "these here are all sorts of things a dog can digest, I'll feed it to him"?

      I feel like we'd all need diets designed by a nutrition specialist..

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    3. Actually, animal nutrition IS very different from human nutrition. Their physiology has some similarities to ours, but enough differences that a balanced diet for one species may be deficient in nutrients for another. A human nutritionist will NOT know the best foods for an animal. Dogs and especially cats don't absorb the same level of nutrients from many plant materials that humans do, and therefore wouldn't get much benefit. And just because an animal can digest it, doesn't mean that they will absorb it or their body will utilize it. You also need a balance of nutrients, which a layperson can't figure out. If you simply pile together every kind of food that is safe for a dog to eat, you won't automatically get a nutritionally balanced diet. Make the same implication for a human....simply get a variety of meats and veggies and a human will have everything they need, right? No, not necessarily. And this is why you need specialists in nutrition to help formulate pet foods.

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    4. All right, fair enough --
      although when you say "Dogs and especially cats don't absorb the same level of nutrients from many plant materials that humans do, and therefore wouldn't get much benefit" and "And just because an animal can digest it, doesn't mean that they will absorb it or their body will utilize it" ...
      doesn't that mean it's better just to stick with meats? I mean it sounds like their bodies are better designed for it, after all?

      Which plants ARE an exception to this, if any? Or, perhaps, are you talking more about plants pre-processing, rather than in the processed and more available form found in pet food? IS it more available when processed, aside from the fact that it's more digestible, if you get my meaning?

      and on THAT note, why would it be less available in a plant food if it's been completely ground up and destroyed, etc.. I mean I guess in the first place, it's because the amino acids are bound up in proteins that for whatever various reasons, the body can't take apart effectively, right? but if the plant goes through total processing, does that not break up the proteins and should that not consequently make the amino acids just as absorbable as those from meat proteins??

      thanks :) !

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