The Grain Free Pet Food Fallacy

The grain free pet food craze has stuck in my craw as an integrative veterinary medical practitioner for years, but the final straw for me to post this article was a 5 year old female Labrador Retriever that presented for her well visit a few days ago.  The previous year at 72 pounds, I had listed her as overweight and recommended “portion control, and/or weight loss diet, increased exercise to facilitate weight loss.”  The owner had asked me for dietary recommends at the time and I gave her a few options.

This year, my Lab patient not only failed to lose weight, but presented at a whopping 84 pounds, progressing her body condition from overweight to “morbidly obese.”  The owner was noticeably frustrated, so I asked her which diet she had chosen.  As it turns out, some time after last year’s visit, a friend of her’s convinced her that grains were the root of obesity and most other diseases that occur in dogs, and that her best way to get weight off her dog would be to per her on a grain free dog food.  When the owner saw the pretty wolf on the bag and its fantastic label claims, then even saw that the diet had its own TV commercial airing during prime time, she was sold…and succeeded only in transitioning her dog from a fat dog to an obese dog.

This grain free pet food craze that is pulling pet owners in hook, line and sinker, reminds me of the fat free craze in the early to mid 90’s.  The thought process was that if fat is eliminated from food items, we could eat the things we wanted and stay lean.  Like the grain free pet foods, the opposite actually occurred and people eating fat free foods only found themselves getting fatter and less healthy.

The problem was that in order to take the fat out of cookies, muffins, etc., sugar was added in its place to maintain its taste appeal and consistency.  Sugar, or glucose, is absorbed and utilized much more readily as an energy source than fat, resulting in the intake of a food additive that resulted in a great deal more calories per unit volume than fat.

Like the fat free human foods of the 90’s, grain free pet foods are also commonly loaded up with glucose to make up for the lack of grains.  But the grain free pet foods are even worse, because without the grains, the foods lack adequate amounts of soluble fiber.  Why is dietary soluble fiber important?  There are several reasons!

Soluble fiber unlike simple carbohydrate is not itself absorbed by the gut, but attracts water as it passes through the gastrointestinal tract.  This helps to control hunger by filling the bowel and contributes to regularity by bulking the stool, thereby facilitating bowel health and increasing the basal metabolic rate.  Soluble fiber also reduces the reliance on simple sugars in the diet, offering the pet more stable blood glucose metabolism, reducing obesity, and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, pancreatic disease, and other diseases.

Truly, the only thing that is impressive about grain free pet food companies is their marketing departments.  With images of wolves and wildcats and proclaiming that your domestic pet should be fed more like its wild ancestors, the message is hitting to millions of pet owners.  Let us set aside from for one moment that our domestic dogs and cats are different from their wild ancestors physiologically and metabolically (that is a whole other topic for another day), I am quite certain that after killing their prey, a pack of wolves did not add a pound of sugar to their fresh kill.

Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms.  In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport.  He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health  blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.

Pheromone Treatment For Dogs And Cats? Really?

There’s always something new coming out that is the next great thing to make your pet’s life better. Myths get perpetuated on social media like gospel truth. What’s real and what’s just hype?

Pheromones sure sound sketchy. What are they? A pheromone is a chemical secreted by the body that is emitted and detected by other individuals of the same species. Pheromones are a means of “silent communication” so to speak. They can be used to communicate such messages as danger, food, territory, desire to breed, or calming. They do not have a smell that we can detect, but are detected through nasal passages or organs in the mouth.

Scientists have figured out which chemicals communicate what message in a variety of species. They also created synthetic versions of these chemicals for production. For instance, cats will often rub their face and cheeks against an object (or person!). Why are they doing this? They are applying a pheromone to that surface that “marks” that object or pant leg as “theirs.” Once many objects in a house are claimed, they can relax, knowing they are in their own domain. With dogs, a pheromone has been discovered that nursing mother dogs emit. It has a calming effect on the puppies. Puppies that know mom is there will eat better, sleep better, and eliminate better.

Companies have created these two pheromones (one for cats, one for dogs) for people to use at home to help reduce stress in their pets. So this is all well and good, but…really? I know, it sounds bogus. I was a huge skeptic when I first heard about them. It all sounds so abstract, and as a scientist, I need proof.

Well, there is proof! And it’s not the “my friend’s mom’s friend’s cousin says it works” kind of proof. Well designed, controlled, double blinded clinical studies have demonstrated an efficacy of >80% in 30 minutes for both the dog and cat versions. The original product was Feliway (for cats) and DAP, now called Adaptil, for dogs. They are still considered the “gold standard” by many veterinary behaviorists. Now other companies are coming out with their own versions.

These products come in a plug-in diffuser (think room air freshener) that you can use in your house. Large houses take a few diffusers to cover the space, as one diffuser covers 600-800 square feet. They also come in spray, which you can apply to a bed, carrier, or, for dogs, a bandana you can spray and the dog wears. The spray lasts 24 hours or less, so it’s not an easy long term solution, more for situational needs. They also come in collars the pets wears, and are replaced monthly (as are the diffusers).

I recommend pheromones often. They have no side effects, no odor, and can only help. If it doesn’t help, worst thing that happens is you’re out about $40 depending on the product. Some of my cat owners swear by them for helping inter-cat aggression, or most commonly, urinating outside of the litter box. My dog owners have been pleased when using it for dogs with generalized anxiety, separation anxiety, or situations like thunderstorms and fireworks. These are just a few examples of potential applications.

So while it sounds mystical, the science behind pheromones is sound, and many veterinary behaviorists have been recommending them for years! If you have a cat urinating outside the litterbox, or a dog that can’t cope with you leaving, these alone will not fix the problem. However, when coupled with a positively based approach, can help speed along improvement.

Here’s my article on other effective OTC anxiety treatments for dogs and cats.

Dr. Roger Holistic Vet guest blogger Dr. Karen Louis is a practicing small animal veterinarian.  See more of her articles at her blog at VetChick.com

Phytosphingosine Vital Component In Management Of Skin Disease In Dogs And Cats

Phytosphingosine is naturally occurring lipid compound on the outer layer of the skin of dogs and cats.  It is produced by the break down of wax-like compounds secreted by glands within the deep layers of skin.  This break down occurs via the skin’s natural flora, a population of good bacteria and yeast that are a normal component to normally functioning, healthy skin.  Phytosphingosine subsequently forms a transparent layer that protects the skin against drying, ultraviolet damage, harmful bacteria and yeast, and antigens that may trigger allergy.

Following a major inflammatory episode of the skin that may involve infection, allergic skin disease, parasitic infestation, autoimmune disease, or other diseases of the skin, despite resolution of disease, to varying degrees the skin’s ability to maintain the protective phytosphingosine layer becomes compromised for some time (as long as 3-6 months).   Subsequently,  although treatment for the resolution of skin disease may have proven successful, the canine or feline patient is often prone to relapses of disease for prolonged periods of time.

Thus, the inclusion of phytosphingosine as a natural prevalent ingredient to our canine and feline therapeutic shampoos has proved to be an invaluable, side effect free tool in the treatment of any number of skin diseases.

With few exceptions, phytosphingosine based shampoos are excellent adjunctive topical skin diseases, including (but not limited to):

  • Skin infections that do not involve puncture or deep ulceration of the skin
  • Allergic skin disease
    • Hair loss
    • Itching
    • Redness/irritation
  • Mange
  • Autoimmune disease

Even in the absence of disease of the skin, a phytosphingosine based maintenance, conditioning shampoo helps to maintain a full, shiny, healthy hair coat.

As the largest organ of the body, maintaining healthy skin is essential to maintaining optimal health and quality of life.  Phytosphingosine is a proven natural compound that aids in the maintenance of a healthy skin and hair coat.

Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms.  In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport.  He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health  blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.

Nature’s Anti-Inflammatory – Omega-3 Fatty Acids For Dogs And Cats

My expertise of course is veterinary medicine, but since we share much of the same mammalian physiology as dogs and cats, as a biochemist and veterinarian I have long ago jumped on the omega-3-fatty bandwagon for my whole family, human and furry alike.  Omega-3-fatty acids are found in high concentration in non-oxidized (more on this below) fish oils.  They can be found in some vegetables but they are known to be only 10% as bioavailable as that found in fish.  Bioavailability  refers to the body’s ability to absorb and assimilate nutrients.  In both human and veterinary medicine, the discovery of the health benefits of dietary omega-3-fatty acids has been hailed as a major advancement in nutritional science for preventative health care and management of disease.

Omega-3-fatty acids are an integral component to the cellular membrane which essentially is the protective barrier between the base unit of biological tissues that comprise the body’s organ systems and the outside environment.  That barriers allows for selective transport of molecules in and out of the cell, while protecting the interior of the cell from free radical injury and invasion of viruses and bacteria.  Thus, omega-3-fatty acids are invaluable in protecting and repairing cells.

Omega-3-fatty acids also block inflammatory biochemical processes that lead to inflammation.  This occurs by diverting inflammatory reactions from resulting in harmful inflammatory compounds and instead producing inert, non-harmful substrates.  The net effect is to reduce inflammation throughout the entire body.  As a result, I commonly say to my clients that omega-3-fatty acids are a good natural adjunctive treatment for any “itis.”

This combination of beneficial aspects for omega-3-fatty acids makes them invaluable treating for:

  • General wellness, tissue repair at the cellular level, and protection from oxidative injury and microorganism invasion
  • Brain health
  • Lower urinary tract disease
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Allergies
  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Cardiovascular disease

As I stated, any “itis!”

It is important to note that nutritional supplements are not FDA regulated and omega-3-fatty acids are no exception, which is I why earlier in this post I alluded to non-oxidized omega-3-fatty acids.   This means that there is no regulatory agency that is assuring product quality, bioavailability, or and label integrity.

In my next post via the link below, I will discuss the differences in beneficial and bogus omega-3-fatty acids supplements and how choosing bogus product may not only be ineffective, but even harmful to your pet.

The Importance Of Selecting A High Quality Omega-3-Fatty Supplement For Dogs & Cats

Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms.  In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport.  He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health  blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.

The Importance Of Selecting A High Quality Omega-3-Fatty Supplement For Dogs & Cats

Nutritional supplements do not fall under the scrutiny of the FDA and the USDA, leaving them with no regulatory agency assuring product quality or even if product ingredient label claims are even true.  Omega-3-fatty acids are no exception.  Thus, when choosing omega-3-fatty acids for your dogs and cats for general wellness, it is important to understand the difference between a good supplement and a bad supplement.

Nature’s Anti-Inflammatory – Omega-3 Fatty Acids For Dogs And Cats

Many people who engage in dietary nutritional supplementation have experienced the unpleasant “fish burp” some time after swallowing an omega-3-fish oil supplement.  The fish burp results from a product that oxidized to the extent that it has gone rancid and getting burped up after the capsule has dissolved in the stomach.

Oxidation of fish oil is far more than unpleasant.  Oxidation converts omega-3-fatty acids into omega-6 and omega-9 forms.  These forms go beyond being ineffective for the invaluable anti-inflammatory effect of omega-3, but are actually PRO-inflammatory.  Amazingly, companies that produce oxidized supplements such as these even count on a customer base that does not know that difference and go so far as to even admitting on their labels that their product is a “rich source of omega 3, 6, and 9.”

Since I do not write to be a cheerleader for any brands, I advise in order to protect your families and pets from useless – or worse, even harmful – health supplements, ask your veterinarian for brand recommendations.  Since supplement labels are not held to any semblance of substantiation, unfortunately, label and ingredient criteria are not reliable, so it is pointless for me to list them.

Brands that have a big stake in product integrity because of historical quality control, reputation, and having many other product lines in the veterinary health market that do fall under the scrutiny of the FDA and USDA, are usually the best sources of high integrity supplements.  Your veterinarian is the best source for recommendation of these products having extensive experience in the industry and intimate knowledge of quality (or poor quality) products.

Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms.  In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport.  He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health  blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.