Monthly Archives: January 2015

What is the Ideal Level of Carbs?

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A few years ago I went to a nutrition program at the Hills headquarters in Topeka, Kansas. At this “educational” (read “promotional”) conference I had the opportunity to speak directly to one of Hills’ lead nutritionists. I phrased the burning question on my mind at the time like this, “I understand that there is no requirement for carbohydrates in the diets of dogs and cats. What do you think is the IDEAL level of carbs in dog and cat foods?”

Of course, me being a common, ignorant, veterinary practitioner and he being a glorified, all-knowing veterinary nutritionist, he had to knock me down a peg or two. He responded, “Well, that depends of what you mean by carbohydrates. You see there are soluble fiber, insoluble fiber, and starch.”

Very well, we all do need to be more precise with our language when talking about nutrition. Carbohydrates are compounds that consist of multiple sugar molecules linked together in more or less long chains. Both fiber and starch are carbohydrates. The difference is that animals cannot readily break down fiber into its constituent sugars while starch is easily converted to sugar.

So, instead of talking about the carbs in pet foods we should be talking about starch. But, not so fast – when we talk about the starch we are not including the sugar that some pet foods contain. Recent research has divide pet food macro-nutrients into protein, fat, and “nitrogen-free extract” which includes starch, fiber, and sugar.

These different names and definitions may sound a bit ridiculous. After all, we all know what we’re talking about when we bash the level of carbs in pet foods. On the other hand, it is important to be accurate as we communicate our points about nutrition.

Meanwhile, back in Topeka, I responded to the nutritionist, “OK, what is the ideal level of starch in pet foods?” He answered, “The ideal level of starch in dog food is 40% – 50% and for cat food it is 30% – 40% on a dry matter basis.”

WOW! This is so far from the levels that dogs and cats have evolved to handle that it is amazing to hear it said out loud by a veterinary nutritionist. When an animal eats a load of starch like this it increases his blood glucose levels which increases his insulin level which increases inflammation and promotes cancer. And yet, this is what conventional veterinary nutrition accepts as ideal.

The IDEAL level of starch is 6-7% for dog food and 2% for cat food! I’ll show you research in to back this statement up in my next blogs.

Have you seen improvements in your pet after switching from high-starch, commercial diets?

I Oppose Raw Meat Diets

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Yes, you read that correctly; I am not in favor of any raw meat diet! I know this may sound like a big change coming from me, but it is not. Anyone who has been reading this blog or who has brought their pet to me knows that I am a huge promoter of balanced raw diets for pets. The key word here is BALANCED.

Of course, different experts have different ideas of what constitutes balance in a pet food. The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has their concept of balance based on the minimal levels of various nutrients to avoid diseases caused by nutrient deficiency. And I am in favor of conventional nutrition research. There is a lot for all of us to learn from this research. Unfortunately, because most pet nutrition research is funded by pet food manufacturers, the results must be taken with a grain of salt.

Those of us who favor the ancestral diet concept look to nature to determine balance. What would a dog or cat eat in the wild? What do their wild counterparts eat? What did their ancestors eat (from whom our pets have inherited their nutritional needs).

Instead of watching Purina commercials for nutrition advice, watch the wolves on Animal Planet. They do not graze in grain fields or dig for potatoes. They also do not whip out a George Foreman Grill and cook their catch. Our pets were designed by natural selection to eat a low-carbohydrate, raw diet.

While raw meat is a major part of the diet, an all-meat pet food would be very unnatural and unbalanced. Watch the wolves and wild cats closely. When eating their prey, usually the first place they go is to the abdomen. They eat the internal organs (loaded with unique vitamins and trace minerals) and get a dose of bacteria and veggies from the GI tract. Wild animals also eat many of the bones of their prey from which they get needed calcium.

Raw foods are important for pets because when food ingredients are heat processed, vital nutrients are destroyed. Not only that, the extreme heat processing that commercial pet foods are put through also causes cancer-causing compounds to form. For these two reasons I conclude that processed pets foods are unhealthy. However, unbalanced raw diets are equally unhealthy.

Raw meat alone does not make for a healthy pet diet! If you are homemaking your pet’s food it is important to get the balance right. I suggest reading Dr. Karen Becker’s book for more details on making a balanced homemade diet.

What is your experience with raw foods for your pets?

My Spay/Neuter Recommendations

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As a veterinarian, the recommendation to spay/neuter pets has always been very simple – do it and the sooner the better. Spaying and neutering involves the surgical removal of a pet’s ovaries and uterus (spay) or testicles (neuter). We have all been taught that this procedure helps thwart many health, behavioral, and population problems. However, recent research is refuting the health benefits of spaying and neutering. Now, making the decision whether or not and when to spay/neuter is much more difficult. (See the research in a recent post)

There are flaws in every one of these studies and no single piece of research should ever be looked at as conclusively proving anything. On the other hand, the weight of research now indicates that sterilizing pets is not as innocuous as most people (and vets) think. It turns out that when you upset the intricate balance of the endocrine system, by removing the source of sex hormones, bad things can happen.

We have known for decades that sterilizing immature pets delays the closure of their bones’ growth plates, causing the bones of the legs to grow abnormally long. The thing we’re just now realizing is that extra-long bones can throw off the biomechanics of the legs, apparently leading to an increased risk of ACL ruptures and hip dysplasia. It is also becoming apparent that the upsurge in cancer we have been seeing in pets may, in part, be due to us inadvertently screwing up their hormonal balance.

So what’s the answer? One size does not fit all. In general I recommend delaying spaying and neutering until the pet is 1 – 2 years old, if and only if you can handle the responsibility of keeping your pet from reproducing. This will give the body the benefit of fully maturing before the hormones are removed. Of course if the mess of a female in heat or the annoyance of unwanted male behavior is too much to handle, then by all means, spay/neuter your pet earlier.