Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dog food

*Deep Breath*  I should have a ton of references for this post, but unfortunately I’m 6 days away from a huge final of a very disorganized block.  If you have papers to share or links, please post them in the comments.  If you have questions, or have found a study you think I might be interested in, I will respond!

There’s a couple of subjects that real Really REALLY make me vault onto my soap box, even while my good sense tries to drag me off.

The raw food debate is one of them. 

Let’s get a couple things straight. 

This post is NOT advocating that you go out and prepare your own dog food.  There are those people who do this and do it successfully - but it can be tricky to get everything right especially if you are feeding a large breed or growing dog.  I don’t have any experience preparing my own dog food and although I know people who do it, and do it well, I completely understand vets’ position on these homemade diets - especially if the dog is having a medical issue.  The vet doesn’t know for sure what is going into the diet, how educated (or not) the client is, and may be dealing with a disease that has a nutritional basis.  HOWEVER (and you knew there would be a however), what annoys me is this:

The overwhelming amount of vets that advocate switching to a kibble (specifically AAFCO certified), upon hearing that client is feeding a commercial raw diet - a recommendation that isn’t based on real facts - even though we vets (or in my case - vet students) are lectured day after day about the importance of practicing “evidence-based medicine”. 

Argument 1 - Your dog or kitchen will make you sick

During one of my rotations, the dog was obese and the vet’s recommendation was to switch from the raw food diet to a kibble diet.  I asked why she didn’t recommend just feeding less of the current diet - it was an AAFCO certified, the dog was generally healthy even at a relatively old age and the client was very well educated about nutrition. 

Her response - “because of the Salmonella risk to the owner associated with feeding a raw diet”. 


I challenge you to find a study that demonstrates that dogs fed raw diets shed pathogenic salmonella at a higher rate than dogs fed kibble. 

You weren’t successful?

Ok Ok Ok…. Find me a documented case where a human developed Salmonella illness from a dog fed a raw diet……or a kibble diet. 

Another strike out? 

To the best of my knowledge, there are NO DOCUMENTED CASES where a dog gave his owner Salmonella. 

Assuming that we aren’t getting Salmonella from our dog’s bums (maybe because we have a strange aversion to ingesting fecal material or having it in our house? Or the fact that not all species of Salmonella are pathogenic?), the next argument is usually related to food prep areas.  The argument usually goes something like this: the raw meat has pathogens in it that can make us sick.  Preparing raw meat for our dogs in our kitchens will contaminate counters, utensils, and containers. 

They are right - raw meat DOES have pathogens.  That’s why you don’t cut your veggies on the same board you cut your chicken up.  You don’t serve your cooked chicken on the same platter you defrosted it on.  I’ve been cooking raw chicken since I was 9 and have yet to poison myself.  I very much doubt that defrosting the raw dog food patty in my fridge contributes to the overall bacteria load in my kitchen and if I DO get the urge to reuse the defrosting bowl for my breakfast cereal, I’ll try to restrain myself and get a clean one from the cupboard instead. 

Of course, there’s always the dog that eats their meal and immediately licks your face, however I don’t see vets advocating for letting kibble-fed dogs lick your face either…..

Let’s not forget that kibble based foods are not exactly salmonella free either…..but we’ll save that for the “recall” argument. 

Bottom line - there is no good research that feeding your dog raw food will cause it to become a shedder of pathogenic organisms, and if you’ve managed to feed yourself on a partially meat-based diet, you can probably manage to survive preparing raw meat for your dog in your kitchen. 

Argument 2 - AAFCO and meeting the nutritional standard

AAFCO is a minimum standard.  AAFCO is a starting point for making sure you are meeting your dog’s minimal nutritional needs.  BUT - just like you COULD get your daily requirement of energy and nutrients by eating McDonald’s and taking a multi-vitamin……SHOULD you?

I tok a variety of upper division nutrition classes as an undergrad.  The biggest point in all of them was that nutritional needs are met by the most basic dog foods (i.e. cheap) sporting that the AAFCO label (which is like….ALL the kibble you see in the grocery store) - and you are throwing your money away by buying high end dog food. (by the way, most of the high end kibbles are AAFCO certified, just like the lower end kibble, and there is raw food that is AAFCO certified as well....)

In summary, my professors taught that it doesn’t matter how you get the required nutrient and energy, as long as it’s there. 

What’s interesting is even though this is what they still teach in vet school (so far….) - on the human side there’s a real shift.  You can’t hardly throw a piece of kibble without hitting a new piece of research or recommendation that you get your vitamins and other nutritional essentials by eating REAL food.  Like veggies and fruit, and lean protein.  Turns out there’s a whole lot more in those wonderful structures we call “WHOLE FOOD” than we thought.  A tomato may have calories and minerals and vitamins, and fiber……but it also has all these other things in it that may contribute to health. 

Here’s something to remember.  WE DON’T HAVE IT ALL FIGURED OUT WHEN IT COMES TO NUTRITION.  Seems like the human side has figured out this much out.   Why can’t the vet profession admit it?  That perhaps there’s more to real whole foods than the components we can currently measure?  That perhaps dogs, like humans, have a need for other substances other than the established carbs, protein, fat, minerals, vitamins etc?

Dogs have a digestive tract that is remarkably similar in many ways to an adult human.  This should come as no surprise as dogs domesticated in our refuse heaps, eating our scraps.  I think the notion that dogs are wolves have perhaps hurt the raw food movement - dogs and wolves may share some characteristics, but dogs are not wolves.  In fact, it’s not technically correct to refer to dogs as domesticated wolves - wolves and dogs have the same ancestor.  Modern wolves and dogs are the product of that wolf-like ancestor.  However, I think that the unfortunate wolf-dog comparison is a marketing tactic that works for the general public and the smart owner and vet will set that image aside and evaluate the diet on it’s own merits, not on a marketing scheme. 

Bottom line - Human nutrition believes it’s important how you get the nutrients, not just that you get them, why are dogs different?  AAFCO is a starting point, not the definitive answer, and YES-THERE ARE RAW DIETS THAT ARE AAFCO CERTIFIED.

Argument 3 - Recalls

Real life scenario - a vet, hearing that the client fed a top end grain-free kibble, along with that company’s raw diet, looked it up on line.  “Ha! - they had a recall for Salmonella a couple years ago”, and then total dismissed food. 

Ummm….because none of those other brands that are regularly recommended by vets have EVER had a recall related to Salmonella or other food safety issue…..

The pet food in question had a recall.  As part of their corrective actions, their pet food is now HPP processed - a very cool technology that is used in the people food industry.  It involves time and pressure to kill any bacteria in the food, including pathogens, that may have gotten there during processing, either because the food is raw or because of cross-contamination post-cooking.  HPP processing is cutting edge technology and expensive.  The fact that this particular company has taken their recall seriously and implemented REAL corrective actions (i.e. process change), comforts me.  Is it fair to dismiss this pet food because of a recall several years ago and not also include Hills, Eukanuba and others that are regularly recommended (and sold) by veterinarians, and have much more recent recalls?  and no discernible corrective actions? 

Bottom line: Kibble has salmonella.  Raw food has salmonella.  Numerous companies have had recalls, both recent and historical - how many recalls, how recent the recalls, and what corrective actions were put into place after the recalls should be the criteria we judge the companies by. 


Why is there no good, controlled, non-biased (i.e., not paid by Purina) research on dog food?  Why do vets continue to use the arguments above to convince clients to switch to a low-grade kibble?  Could it be because Purina/Hills/Eukanuba/Royal Canine all sponsor huge projects at vet schools, give students free food and free stuff, and push their prescription diets at the hospitals?  What incentive is there to perform real research?  Who will fund it?   (speaking of research…..Is the vet community even aware raw diets exist beyond BARF?  It’s like doing all kibble research on a single, non-AAFCO kibble.)

When I started vet school I was upset that I would no longer get free pet food because of the new health vendor policy that doesn’t allow vendors to give free stuff to students, like pet food, backpacks, and books.  After seeing how much money these pet food companies have in our schools, and how much say they have on the direction of the research, now I think it’s a good idea to try and minimize the vendor’s impact.  I see students attending lunch presentations for purina or hill’s food, learning about a research study on Royal Canine’s Dalmation diet, and looking up nutrition information and feeding information in Eukanuba/Hill’s/Royal Canine nutrition books. 

Much like we as humans can get along just fine putting atrocious things in our bodies, dogs can do much the same.  If you think that feeding a high end kibble, or an alternative diet is a bunch of hogwash, that’s fine.  Continue to feed the lower end kibble.  There’s plenty of people that feel the same because of their pocketbooks, or other personal reasons.  However, I think it is a mistake for vets to discourage those of us that do believe it makes a substantial difference if they base it on the arguments above.  Design a controlled study, not paid for by a pet food company, and lets find out some answers.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"10 is the most wonderful number"

10 months.

I LOVE 10 months.

At 10 months, Tess LIKES playing with me.  Actually SEEKS attention in an appropriate manner.  Keeps half an eye on me even when she's DISTRACTED.  Is physically MATURE enough to be a lot fun - hiking, running, biking, tricks that require muscle strength ( don't worry - we aren't over doing any of these activities).  Sees ME as the source of all things fun. WANTS to please me.

I'm torn between wanting to say:

1.  my hard work over the last 8 months is finally paying off.....


2.  she's finally mature enough at 10 months that the most recent training has finally sunk in (and all those hours in the last 8 months didn't make a damn bit of difference)....


3.  I've finally turned into a competent trainer (only took 8 months....) that can finally be effective with Tess. 

Probably a combination of the 3.

Whatever the magic of 10 months, it seems I'm not the only one to experience the miracle.  I've been told over and over that (in dogs of this medium size - obviously doesn't apply to really big dogs!), 10 months is when it starts being REALLY fun.  It's like this switch in their brain turns on and they become these thinking beings that are capable of being companions and partners, instead of just really cute puppies that can do a few tricks.

Tess is still bold and independent, but I matter to her now and she's not as likely to wander afar.  She recently went through her second fear period, and while she's still unafraid and confident, I've noticed that she came out of it more like an adult and less like a puppy.  She doesn't always greet people with unadulterated delight, she has a smidgeon of self of control when it comes to birds, and only goes into "puppy zoomies" if under a large amount of stress.

For those of you with young puppies, or not so-young-puppies....DON'T GIVE UP! It gets better.  I promise.  Even if you puppy is willful, stubborn, and seems to have their own agenda :).  The time and effort you put into them now WILL pay off.  Don't get me wrong - I loved Tess-the-puppy every step of the way - she was endearing even when doing something especially naughty and she enriched my life in too many ways to count.....but I did wonder whether I would ever get that dog that could go off leash on a trail, or that I could trust in the house without constant supervision.  It seems like puppies grow up in leaps and bounds - not necessarily in an ordered progression.

I love my puppy, but I have a feeling I'm going to love my dog even more.....that may be a good thing since puppyhood lasts a year and I'll have the dog 10-15 years!