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Why is this Dog Goofy?

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Recently I went on a special house call to Disney World to answer this age-old question. You will never believe what I discovered.

It all has to do with a nutrition study sponsored by the Iams Company in 2004. The research revolved around the idea that feeding extra DHA (an essential fatty acid found in fish oil) can improve brain function.

DHA and the Brain

In fact, 30% of the brain is fat – so the next time someone calls you a “fat head” you should respond, “Oh, thank you very much.” A large portion of that fat (up to 5% of the brain) is DHA. That would seem to make DHA an important nutrient for the brain. (Imagine flying in a jet that has 5% of its engine parts missing).

The Iams Study

The Iams study started with two groups of pregnant female dogs. The first set of dogs (the experimental group) was fed Iams diet plus fish oil. The second group (the control group) was fed plain Iams diet. Now, the puppies from the first group of dogs were also fed Iams diet plus fish oil. The pups from the second group were fed the standard Iams food.

When the puppies got older, they were put through training performance testing. Amazingly the puppies that got the fish oil in their diets were found to be twice as intelligent as those in the control group. The researchers concluded that “since the number one killer of dogs is euthanasia due to behavior problems, we should be recommending high DHA diets.”

Unintended Conclusions

I agree with the findings of this study. However, this research leads to an interesting conclusion. Remember the control group – the stupid dogs. They were being fed standard Iams diet which we all know from the label is “100% complete and balanced.”

If you believe that statement then it follows that dogs are inherently stupid, but feeding them this “new” nutrient can make them smart enough for us to keep them alive. I think a more rational idea is that we have created and continue to create behavior problems in dogs due to our arrogant attitude toward nutrition. We think we know everything but we do not.

Two troubling corollaries to this study are:

  1. DHA is still not on AAFCO’s list of required pet food nutrients
  2. It makes one wonder how many other health problems are we inflicting on pets because of nutritional deficits we are unaware of?

The bottom line is that Goofy and his mother had been fed conventional pet food all their lives and that is what led to his mental deficiencies.

Do you supplement your pets with fish oil?

Dr. Doug in the Raw

Dr Doug Raw

Yes, I’m going to bare it all for you right now. I am one of a rare breed of veterinarian who actually recommends raw pet food. This is in spite of my veterinary educational indoctrination that processed pet food is scientifically validated. Initially I bought the propaganda – hook, line and sinker. The reason I changed my mind is that:

  1. I was open-minded enough to try raw food on a pet and saw positive results
  2. My experience with raw food led me to do my own research into why it worked

Here is some of what I learned.

Evolution

Although dogs and cats have been domesticated for thousands of years they have been fed processed kibble for less than 100 years. It takes millions of years for significant evolutionary changes to happen. Although pets often do not closely resemble their wild counterparts, their digestive systems do.

Lift the lip of your dog or cat and take a close look at their teeth. Notice the long fangs for ripping flesh off a carcass. See all those sharp premolars and molars behind the fangs. Those teeth are made to cut meat. They are not the flat teeth of an omnivore (like us) that are meant to crunch vegetation.

The mouth is the most visible part of the digestive tract. If dogs and cats had evolved away from their carnivorous ancestors enough to benefit from currently popular pet foods then their teeth would have changed in the process. Dogs and cats are carnivores.

Processed Convenience Foods

The processing of pet foods helps to extend their shelf-life and make feeding easy. This fits with our modern, active lifestyles. Unfortunately, processed foods are not healthy for our pets.

High-heat processing of food destroys vital nutrients (you’ve never seen a wolf cook its food). Pet food manufacturers understand that and add back in synthetic vitamins and other nutrients. The problem with that is twofold:

  1. Synthetic vitamins are not identical to the nutrients in whole foods and the body does not recognize them as food
  2. Companies can only balance diets based on our current understanding of nutrition – which is incomplete

Also, high-heat processing of meat and carbohydrates creates carcinogens. Since currently half of all adult animals die of cancer, the link between what we feed and cancer in pets needs to be addressed.

Carbs

Research shows that dogs and cats do not require dietary carbohydrates. Also, excessive consumption of starch is linked to obesity, insulin resistance, inflammation, and cancer. There are only two reasons pet foods contain carbs:

  1. Cost (They are a cheap source of calories)
  2. Convenience (Convenient, dry pet food requires starch to hold the kibble together)

No matter what you hear from the pet food industry about the benefits of corn or other sources of carbs, nutrition has nothing to do with their inclusion in the diet.

Yes, I have shed my vet school training and gone raw. I hope you will join me.

Sometimes the Tail Wags the Dogma

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The word “dogma” has been defined as “a belief or set of beliefs that is accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted.” This word is usually reserved for religious doctrine but is also used in the area of biology.

The so called “central dogma” refers to the idea that the DNA of an organism carries information that is responsible for the traits of that individual. Furthermore, that information flows only in one direction – from the DNA to the body and not from the body to the DNA.

The significance of the central dogma is that the experience an animal has does not change the DNA that he will pass on to his offspring. The only significant changes to DNA occur when periodic accidents happen as the DNA is copied which causes a mutated gene. This abnormal gene may end up helping the mutant offspring survive better than the “normal” members of the population and the new trait is passed on (a process called natural selection).

For example, giraffes did not end up with long necks because as their ancestors stretched up to eat leaves, their necks lengthened. Rather genetic mutations accidentally caused some animals to have longer necks than others and these longer-necked individuals survived better and passed on their long-neck genes. After millions of years of accumulating changes, viola, we have the giraffe!

A study published in the January issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience seems to poke a hole in this central dogma. (Here is a discussion of the study) The researchers exposed a group of male mice to a distinct odor while simultaneously delivering an electrical shock to them. Very soon, the rodents displayed a stress response to just the smell.

These mice were then bred. Amazingly, this odor-related stress reaction was passed on to their pups, despite the fact that they had never smelled the odor before. In fact, the “grandchildren” of the original mice also inherited the reaction. The central dogma of biology does not seem to allow for this outcome.

This study reminds me of my own experience. As a veterinary student, one of my odd jobs was dog sitting for a dog family that included a couple of interesting breeds; Komondors and Pulis. The Komondor is a large sheep herding breed with a white corded coat. They resemble sheep.

The Puli is a medium sized, sheep herding dog with a black, corded coat. Pulis have a very unique way of herding sheep. If a sheep wonders off from the herd, the Puli jumps on its back and rides it around until the sheep gets tired. Then the dog drives it back to the herd.

The thing that intrigued me was that commonly the Pulis I cared for would jump on the backs of the Komondors and ride them around the yard. These Pulis had not been trained to herd and had never even seen another Puli exhibit this behavior. They were apparently born with this strange behavior programmed into their DNA.

Given the central dogma, how could the trained behavior of an animal (mouse or dog) get passed down to future generations? Perhaps there is more to life than DNA and the proteins it codes for. Maybe the word and concept of “dogma” has no place in any science, especially biology – the study of life. Possibly there is more to learn if we loosen our rigid beliefs and open our minds to all the possibilities.

Have you experienced inexplicable animal behavior?