January is here! The month of resolutions! I know I typically make some sort of resolution about my health, so I thought I would talk about something that impacts my patients’ health greatly. It’s time to talk about nutrition.
If there is one thing that is talked a lot about in veterinary medicine, it is nutrition. You can’t turn on the television without seeing at least one commercial about dog and cat food. There are literally hundreds of options out there to confuse you. Each company claims they are the best. Each diet claims it will cure your dog of all ailments. Dry food, wet food, raw diet, grain-free, high protein – it is never-ending! Now, part of me as a veterinarian is glad that nutrition is getting so much attention. Because nutrition IS important! It is the basis for your pet’s overall health. The age-old saying of “you are what you eat” is true! If you are eating poorly, your body will show it. However, part of me gets a little frustrated because veterinarians seem to be the last place people go to for insight on nutrition. Those shiny commercials appeal to us on an emotional basis and make us feel good about buying their products without a second thought as to whether it is actually healthy for our furry loved ones (sorry, but your Pomeranian is not a direct descendant of the wolf).
Probably the biggest and most controversial craze right now is grain-free diets. This craze has been extrapolated from human nutrition. If I am sensitive to grains or gluten, then my animal must be too, right? Actually, no! Consequently, many dog and cat foods market themselves to be grain-free while implying that grain is harmful. This is a marketing ploy at the expense of what we know scientifically to be best for your pets. There is NO scientific evidence that grain-free diets for dogs or cats are nutritionally superior. In fact, it is now evident that grain-free diets are being linked as the cause of major heart disease in dogs! Pet owners commonly regard grains like barley, wheat, corn, and oats as “fillers”; however, they contain a dense nutritional composition including carbohydrates, fatty acids, and proteins. These nutrients are essential in the diet, so instead of using these great ingredients, companies use more expensive substitutes such as potatoes, beans, peas, and tapioca. These ingredients often provide fewer nutrients, less fiber, and cost more. Another reason many pet owners are scared of grains is that they are concerned about food allergies. While food allergies are something we see commonly in veterinary medicine, allergies to grains are exceedingly rare!! The number one and two food allergens are actually beef and chicken proteins. When owners change to a grain-free diet and see improvements in their pet’s skin, it is usually because they are higher in omega fatty acids. These fatty acids have a strong anti-inflammatory component to them, so they help with the actual underlying allergy. If a dog truly has a food allergy, the only way to diagnose and treat them is to place them on a hypoallergenic diet. These are specialized, prescription diets that are not available over the counter.
About the Author
Dr. Heritage Enevoldsen