The Happy Beast - Blog - Safe Feeding

What to Know about Grain-free Diets & DCM

Over the last year, and especially ramping up over the last couple of months, we have had a lot of discussions with customers regarding grain-free diets, and concerns about their potential of causing heart disease in dogs – more specifically, canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). We feel it is important to address this topic and review new research with an open mind by looking at all the information and facts available.

What is the issue? 

The concern being raised by some in the veterinarian community is that the legumes and/or potatoes in grain-free diets are either interfering with the absorption of taurine, or that these diets simply do not have enough taurine in them, which is leading to diet related Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). However, not all dogs that develop DCM are taurine deficient and the causes of DCM can also be hereditary or unknown. At this time, the research is inconclusive and the information that is available is rather difficult to navigate. 

What is DCM?

Canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a heart disease in dogs that is characterized by weakening of the heart muscle, which leads to a decreased ability of the heart to pump, and if untreated, to cardiac failure. 

This article, “DCM in Dogs: Taurine’s Role in the Canine Diet” in Whole Dog Journal is another great resource if you’re looking for more background information.

What is Taurine? 

Taurine is an essential amino acid found in meat, fish, and in smaller concentrations in dairy products. It is an essential building block of protein. From our perspective, the current debate shouldn’t be about Grain-Free vs Grain-Based, but what happens when we feed a carbohydrate-based food? All kibble is produced with a heavy amount of carbohydrates. Making kibble is like baking –you have to have a flour source, whether that is grain, potatoes, or legumes. All companies add a synthetic vitamin and mineral pack to their kibble diets in order to compensate for the lack of fresh ingredients, especially meat, in order to meet minimum nutritional requirements. Because kibble is so heavily processed, there could be other factors affecting the levels of taurine found in the food and how it is absorbed in the body. 

What should I take away from all this? 

We feel there are valid reasons to question the nutritional completeness of all kibble formulas; not just grain-free diets. It has always been our motto to incorporate as much fresh, less-processed food into your animals’ diets as possible. 

We need to broaden our considerations when it comes to the food we traditionally feed our animals. For example, asking, “What happens when we feed our dogs one diet for most of their lives?” “Can any one brand, protein, or flavor meet the nutritional needs of every animal on an individual basis?” “If humans cannot thrive on a fortified cereal for our entire lives, why do we expect our animals to be able to?”

Long story short, we recommend: 

  • Adding fresh, unprocessed meat into the diet. Taurine is an essential amino acid derived from meat, so if the concern is that these animals are developing DCM from a taurine deficiency then we conclude that adding meat is the solution.
  • Use kibble for additional calories and a budget buffer and consider fresh food as your animal’s nutritional foundation.

Other Resources

Feline Nutrition with Veterinarian Dr. Angie Krause

As many of you know, we spend a lot of time educating our customers about appropriate feline nutrition and which commercially-available foods meet our criteria for a proper diet. You can imagine my shock and disappointment when a coworker of my husband’s was told by his vet that cats are omnivores! I couldn’t believe my ears. The domestic cat is part of the Family Felidae which consists of 41 known species, all of which are known to be obligate carnivores.

An obligate carnivore requires a diet of meat and organs to survive, their bodies do not produce enzymes that can convert plant matter into essential amino acids and vitamins. Taurine is the most commonly known essential amino acid that cats must acquire from meat alone.

Over the years, we have had several personal conversations with local vets about feline nutrition and what their nutrition curriculum consisted of while in veterinary school. I decided to take this opportunity to sit down with veterinarian Dr. Angie Krause, DVM, CVA, CCRT from Boulder Holistic Vet, and formally interview her about feline nutrition.

As it turns out, our conversation about feline nutrition was short and simple: proper nutrition means feeding a biologically-appropriate diet that is high in moisture, high in protein, and low in carbohydrates. In essence, we should come as close to feeding a mouse, or other typical prey animal, as possible. This also means that for your cat to achieve optimum health, you should eliminate or feed as little kibble as possible. Kibble is too high in carbs and too low in moisture to meet the needs of a strict carnivore.

Of course my burning question was “why have vets recommended a kibble-based diet?” Dr. Krause said that by the time she had entered vet school in 2003, she was taught that veterinarians had gotten it wrong when it came to feeding cats. Cats had previously been lumped into the same category as small dogs, and were fed as such. However, it is now a well accepted truth that cats have very specific needs and that a diet high in carbs and low in moisture is not well suited for these strict carnivores.

Dr. Krause believes nutrition is everything and that if individuals fed their animals a biologically-appropriate, less-processed diet, the need to see a vet would decrease by 50%! She said that when she first started practicing at a conventional vet clinic, a majority of the feline cases she saw were inflammatory in nature (e.g. Pancreatitis, Irritable Bowel, etc.). When she switched to an integrated vet practice, where patients were feeding healthier foods, she saw a huge shift in the type of conditions she would see. This furthered her belief that nutrition plays a vital role in the overall health of companion animals; cats in particular.

The importance of nutrition became clear to Dr. Krause through her own health crisis. When she was just 18 years old, Dr Krause got mono, followed by chronic fatigue syndrome. The doctors told her that she would suffer the effects of her illness for the rest of her life. Dr. Krause was incredibly active and couldn’t accept this prognosis. At just 18 years old, Dr. Krause followed her intuition and used nutrition to make a full recovery. The key to her recovery was the removal of sugar!

We are all shaped by our experiences and what I valued most about my conversation with Dr. Krause was that she has personally experienced the effects that nutrition can have on our overall health and the power it has to bring us back from disease and illness.

Learn more about Dr. Kraus and her practice with Boulder Holistic Vet.

 

Digestive Enzymes for Pets

What are digestive enzymes? Enzymes are responsible for making the chemical reactions in our body faster and more efficient. Digestive enzymes aid the body by breaking down proteins from food into amino acids which can be absorbed and utilized. Enzymes facilitate proper absorption of foods.

Digestive enzymes are found in raw foods. They are what cause foods to break down and decay. For example, bananas contain the enzyme, amylase. Amylase breaks down raw starch into sugar, which is why green bananas become softer and sweeter as they sit on the counter. All raw foods contain the right amount of the specific enzyme required to break the proteins they are made of.

Why is this important? Cooking destroys the enzymes that are required to break food down, so when we eat cooked food our bodies have to source enzymes from an internal supply. If the body is focused on producing enzymes for digestion, less energy is allotted to the metabolic enzymes used in organ, muscle and cell function.

Efficient and complete digestion is essential to good health. When the digestive system is functioning well, the rest of the body is prepared to maintain good health and fight disease. Digestive enzymes can take the body from merely surviving to truly thriving. This is especially important in animals with allergies, compromised immune systems, IBD, IBS, and pancreatitis. Symptoms of an enzyme deficiency can include bloating, gas, irritability and fatigue.

How should this affect your choices for pet food?

  1. Feed raw. Any food that hasn’t been cooked over 118 degrees will retain its required enzymes. Choose a frozen, dehydrated and freeze-dried raw food that is complete and balanced. See some of the foods we recommend here.
  2. Supplement with a digestive enzyme. Choose a plant-sourced enzyme as they survive under more diverse conditions. Avoid enzymes called “animal pancreas extracts” which may not survive the acidic environment on the digestive tract. We like InClover’s Optagest.
  3. Choose raw treats like frozen marrow bones and raw goat milk. These treats contain live enzymes to support the digestive tract and overall good health and your animals will love them!
  4. Read our blog post on “Helping Pets with Digestive Problems for more info and recommendations.

Helping Pets with Digestive Problems

Many pets will likely suffer from one type of digestive problem or another in their lifetimes. The symptoms may be mild, including bad breath, excessive gas, a rumbling tummy; or more severe, including chronic diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, or mucus or blood in the stool.

The causes of digestive problems include food sensitivities and allergies, low-quality or species-inappropriate diets, overeating, stress, and ingestion of contaminated water or “found” foods (i.e. from the trash or picked up from the ground.) They can also be a side effect of another health condition, medication, or a result of parasites or bad bacteria in the digestive tract.

If your animal is suffering from chronic or acute digestive problems, including colitis, parasitic infection, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), irritable bowel disease (IBD), or bacterial infection, be sure to consult with your vet. Often treating pets with digestive problems can be done through diet and inexpensive supplements.

Other things you can do to help pets with digestive problems:

  • Feed more fresh, less processed, species-appropriate foods.
    Highly-processed foods like conventional kibble (i.e. “dry food”) are harder for the body to digest. Replace some or all of your animal’s food with dehydrated, freeze-dried, or raw food. (We like Grandma Lucy’s, Sojo’s, Primal, Steve’s Real Food and SmallBatch.) Less-processed foods are more digestible and easier on the digestive tract.
  • Eliminate foods commonly associated with food allergies or food sensitivities.
    Choose foods that do not include “filler” ingredients like corn, wheat, soy, and animal by-products. Moving to higher-quality foods that don’t contain those ingredients often relieve many digestive issues. Some animals have reactions to other ingredients and will benefit from a limited-ingredient diet. Complete and balanced raw foods with simple ingredient profiles are ideal for experimenting with and eliminating potential food-allergens.
  • Add prebiotics, probiotics, and digestive enzymes.
    Digestion requires a lot of the body’s energy. (Think of how tired you feel after a big meal!) Adding enzymes found in fresh foods, raw goat’s milk, raw bones, and supplements (like InClover’s Optagest) can support the digestive system by helping to break down foods. Prebiotics and probiotics work in the intestine and improve efficient digestion. Read our blog post about “Digestive Enzymes for Pets” for more info.
  • Control portions and meal times.
    Many animals can also have upset stomachs from from overeating. (Again, think of how you feel when you eat too much!) Measure out how much food your animal gets at each meal and decrease those portions on days when your dog gets a bone or a lot of treats. Be cautious about feeding your animal too close to playtime/exercise, especially if you have a large-breed dog, in order to avoid bloat.
  • Make a meat stock.
    Adding a meat stock to your animal’s diet can help “seal” the gut. NOTE: Meat stock is different from a bone broth. Bone broth is cooked longer, resulting in high levels of glutamates. Bone broth has numerous health benefits for animals and people who have healthy intestines, but can worsen symptoms in a compromised digestive system.

    • Meat Stock
      • Ingredients:
        • 1 whole chicken or 2-3 lbs. chicken quarters or bone-in cuts, or
        • 2-3 lbs. beef or lamb knuckles, marrow bones or ribs
        • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
        • Water
      • Instructions:
        • Place meats (still with the bone in) into a crockpot/slow-cooker with apple cider vinegar. Add enough water to cover meat.
        • Cook on high for 1 hour, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 3 hours.
        • Remove meat and strain broth through a colander or cheesecloth.
        • Add ¼- 1 cup of broth to your animal’s meal or serve separately.
        • The meat can also be deboned and consumed and the bones can be used to make a bone broth.
    • Bone Broth
      • Ingredients:
        • The bones you just cooked!
        • Water
      • Instructions:
        • Place bones back into a crockpot/slow-cooker. Add new/fresh water; enough to cover the bones.
        • Cook on low temperature for 12-24 hours.
        • NOTE: Bone broth should be reserved for animal and human members of the family not suffering from colitis, IBS or IBD.

Kick Ash: Is a Low-Ash Diet Right for Your Pet?

If you have a cat or dog with kidney or urinary tract issues or a large breed puppy, it may have been recommended that your animal be fed a low-ash diet or foods that are low in ash content. But what exactly is ash?

Ash refers to the inorganic matter or mineral content left over after the organic matter of a food is burned off. We often think of ash as a “bad” component of food, however it is just a general term referring to the collection of minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, etc. that are in some pet foods.

Excess ash content can be the result of using meat meals, especially “meat-by-product” meals, which contain higher amounts of tendons and bones. These foods have higher levels of calcium and phosphorous. A note of caution with large breed puppies is that excess calcium and phosphorous can contribute to irregular or rapid growth that may negatively affect their bones and joints.

In the past, it was also theorized that feeding a low-ash diet reduced the risk of the creation of bladder stones. However, recent studies have shown that the most effective way to reduce the incidence of urinary tract infections (UTIs) is to feed a high-moisture diet. Additionally, reducing stress is an important factor when treating UTIs; especially for cats.

In animals showing signs of compromised kidney function, it is important to pay attention to the ash content, and more specifically the phosphorous levels. It is important to prevent excess phosphorous intake because it may lead to an imbalance of calcium/phosphorous. Calcium is then drawn from the bones and deposited into other tissues and organs, which can cause damage over the long term. The best way to avoid excess phosphorus is to avoid foods that contain “meat meals” because these products contain higher amounts of connective tissue and bone, and thus higher values of calcium and phosphorus.

In summary, ash in itself isn’t bad, but for certain pets, you may want to pay closer attention to those values and consider a low-ash diet. However, the best way to ensure that your animal’s intake of ash is well balanced is simply to include high-quality meat sources and moisture in her diet. The best way to do this is by including raw, canned, dehydrated, freeze-dried, and air-dried foods, which are free of “meat-meals” and “meat by-products.”

Ideal Products

Tiki and Weruva are great about listing their mineral content for each food. Tiki even has a chart of the Veterinary recommendations for animals with renal disease and urinary stones: http://www.petropics.com/petropics-nutrition-facts/