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Myths and facts about pet nutrition

Karen Miller, DVM

Guest Columnist

Gluten free is healthier for our dogs and cats? This is a myth. Gluten induced enteropathy (celiac disease) is extremely rare in dogs. It has been reported mostly in Irish Setters. Pets with celiac disease react to the proteins (gluten) in wheat, rye, and barley — not corn. Gluten is the concentrated protein from grain after all the starch has been removed. Gluten is an excellent source of high-quality protein. Corn gluten meal contains 60-70 percent protein.

Grain free diets are healthier? This is a myth. Uncooked grains are poorly digested by dogs and cats but properly cooked grains in pet foods are highly digestible. Our pets can digest the carbohydrates from grains at an efficiency for more than 90 percent and carbs are an important source of energy. Grains also contain fatty acids, fiber and amino acids. True food allergies are caused by immune reactions to proteins in the diet and the reactions are more likely from beef and dairy protein sources versus grain sources.

Wheat commonly causes food allergies? This is a myth. Any ingredient can cause an allergy but beef and dairy proteins are the most common food allergens for dogs and cats. That being said, food allergies constitute only a small percentage of allergy problems in pets, probably only 10 percent. Flea bites and environmental allergens such as grasses, weeds, trees, and mold are much more common triggers of allergies. Wheat is a wonderful source of complex carbs for energy and is a source of protein. The only way to diagnose a food allergy is by an elimination diet trial, which can be prescribed by your veterinarian.

Senior dogs and cats need a low protein diet to protect against kidney disease? This is a myth. Research has now proven that protein levels in complete and balanced diets do not adversely affect the kidney function of healthy, older pets. The old myth was based on rodent research done in the 1940s. Phosphorus restriction versus protein restriction is important once dogs or cats develop kidney disease. Senior dogs and cats have greater protein needs than young adult pets. Increased protein can actually aid in slowing age related loss of lean body mass and support a healthy immune system.

A raw food diet is more natural and therefore a better diet for our pets? This is a myth. Raw meat and poultry can contain harmful bacteria such as salmonella and can also expose our pets to parasites and protozoa. Preparing a raw diet can expose human members of the household to these same harmful organisms. Bones in a raw diet can fracture teeth, puncture the esophagus, stomach, or intestines, and can cause a blockage in the gastrointestinal tract. Raw diets are commonly deficient in vital nutrients including calcium. If large amounts of raw liver are fed, Vitamin A poisoning can occur.

Natural, organic and holistic all mean the same thing? This is a myth. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) defines the term “natural” as a feed or ingredient derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources that have not been produced by a chemically synthetic process. The USDA defines “organic” in the way a crop or animal is grown or raised and handled. Organic crops must be grown on land that is free from pesticides for three years. Organic livestock is fed organic feed, is not given antibiotics or hormones, and has access to the outdoors. The USDA does not claim that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food. Not all foods labeled organic contain only organic ingredients. Pet foods with the UDSA organic seal have to contain 95-100 percent organic ingredients. Holistic is a vague term and is not defined or regulated by any regulatory body. Your veterinarian is an excellent source of information and guidance about the nutrition of your pet. Please ask questions. Vets are ready to help with all aspects of your pet’s health.

Karen Miller, DVM is veterinarian and owner of Lincolnton Animal Hospital.


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