Dishing Up Nutritional Advice

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Posted by Pets Best on 6/18/2007 in Nutrition

Listen in as Pets Best correspondent Kim Campbell Thornton chats with nutritional expert Jean Hofve, DVM, a holistic veterinarian who lives in Jamestown, Colo.

Q. Good morning, Dr. Hofve. Thank you for talking with us today. To begin, many pet owners have been asking what’s new in pet nutrition?
Dr. Hofve: The biggest news is in feline nutrition. Most pet nutritionists have woken up to the fact that it’s unwise to feed excessive carbohydrates to our carnivorous cats. They’re now recommending more canned food for cats to prevent obesity and a wide variety of health problems.

Q. What about dogs?
Dr. Hofve: Taurine, which was a big deal in the 1980s when it was discovered to be essential for heart and eye function in cats, now appears to be important for certain dog breeds, too, including Dobermans and Newfoundlands. Taurine is naturally found only in meat. As the trend toward less meat in dog foods has become more pronounced, some dogs are also developing heart disease—the same dilated cardiomyopathy as cats—from lack of taurine. Look for increasing taurine supplementation in dog food in the near future.

Q. There are a lot of myths about pet food. Can you address some common ones?
Dr. Hofve: Dry food does not clean the teeth. If it did, you and I could floss with toast. At best, dry food produces a little less tartar than canned food. Regular vet checkups and proper dental care are essential, no matter what your pet eats.

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* High protein diets do not cause kidney disease. In humans and dogs, a reduced phosphorus diet helps manage symptoms when kidney disease is already present. This effect is less clear in cats. Protein and phosphorus are found together in meat, so in order to reduce phosphorus, protein also has to be limited. However, many experts feel that—especially for cats—it is much more important for the cat to eat and maintain body weight than to try to feed any particular food. If the cat doesn’t like a food and won’t eat it, the resulting loss of weight and body condition can be as deadly as kidney disease itself.

* Lamb and rice foods don’t prevent allergies. Lamb and rice foods were initially created to address common food allergies to proteins like chicken and beef. The reason such diets worked was not due to any particular properties of lamb or rice, but simply because most animals had never been exposed to them; they were “novel” ingredients. It takes exposure over time to develop a food allergy. A dog or cat who develops a food allergy in the first place is apt to become allergic to any food if they eat it over a long period of time.

Q. What are the most common food allergens facing pets?
Dr. Hofve: Chicken, beef, fish, corn, wheat and dairy products.

Q. We learned during the recent pet food recall that one company was making many different pet foods. Does that mean they’re all basically the same?
Dr. Hofve: You can have a company that makes cake and you can buy just a plain cake from that company. But if you’re Brand X Cake, you might ask for nuts in your cake and butter cream frosting and swirls and marbling.

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Q. So different companies have different recipes and ingredients?
Dr. Hofve: Yes. Some companies provide the ingredients and then the manufacturer makes the food.

Q. Can you give some tips on reading pet food labels?
Dr. Hofve: Make sure the top ingredients are high-quality protein sources, such as chicken, lamb, turkey, etc. Beware of foods that list by-products or other meat substitutes first or as the top three ingredients. Don’t buy it. Avoid foods containing corn, corn gluten, corn gluten meal and soybean products. Soy and corn gluten are often substituted for animal protein. Dogs and cats are carnivores and although dogs can do well on vegetarian or even vegan diets, cats need meat, not meat substitutes, for optimal health. Corn and rice have a very high glycemic index—a measure of the body’s insulin response—about the same as a chocolate bar. Starchy grain carbs are a big contributor to obesity and diabetes, especially in cats. Corn and soy are also common allergens in pets.

Q. With all the concern about what’s in pet food, is it a good idea for people to prepare homemade or raw diets for their pets?
Dr. Hofve: Homemade diets are definitely on the rise, as are raw diets. There are even complete frozen diets on the market that make feeding a raw diet very easy. The advantages of homemade diets include known ingredient quality; fresh, whole ingredients; ability to fine-tune the diet to the animal’s particular needs and tastes; and the presence of natural enzymes.

Q. Are there any disadvantages?
Dr. Hofve: Disadvantages include possible severe dietary imbalances if using a poorly constructed recipe or failing to include all needed supplements; a tendency to use the same ingredients all the time—variety is important—and possible contamination of raw meat. A bad homemade diet is more dangerous than poor quality commercial food. It must be done right.

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Q. What are some of the concerns about feeding raw meat?
Dr. Hofve: The contamination issue is the most common argument against raw diets. Healthy dogs and cats are relatively resistant to most food-borne bacteria and rarely become ill from them, but when switching a sick animal to a homemade or raw diet, caution is warranted. Raw meat can contain parasites. When feeding raw, it’s a good idea to have your pet’s stool checked periodically and treat for parasites if necessary. Feeding organic meat may help minimize contamination, and freezing can eliminate some parasites. It’s crucial to do enough research so you understand how and what to feed and why. Work with your veterinarian or find a holistic vet who can guide you.

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