|LE Magazine April 2001 |
For Your Pet
by Richard E. Palmquist, DVM and Terri Mitchell
Page 1 of 2
Pets are like members of the family to many people. The death of a pet can be as devastating as the loss of a relative (some say worse). When pets get ill, we will do almost anything to help them. Unfortunately, by the time an animal is sick enough for us to notice, it may be too late to help them. In order to protect the longevity of our pets, we must take steps to prevent serious diseases from developing. Life-threatening illnesses develop much sooner in animals than in humans.
An understanding of what a cat or dog should be eating is important for keeping them healthy and vital. The rewards of feeding an animal properly are worth the effort, yet few people really comprehend this until their pet gets seriously ill. But making the extra effort today will pay off tomorrow.
Most commercial pet food (products that come in bags or cans) is made from meat that's unfit for human consumption. For example, chicken beaks and feathers are counted as protein in commercial pet food. To be “nutritionally complete,” this kind of pet food is fortified with vitamins and minerals. In some cases, this restores what never was; in other cases, it puts back what was cooked out (see chart above). Dry pet food is similar to Cheerios® in that an animal can survive on it much as a human could survive on fortified cereal. But in order to really thrive, animals need more. In order for a cat or dog to live its full life span, free of disease and full of vitality, it needs better nutrition.
Cats and dogs have critical differences in their nutritional needs. Cats, unlike dogs, are pure carnivores-they must have meat. High quality animal protein is crucial for the health of a cat. Cats do not handle carbohydrates very well. Their ability to convert carbohydrates to energy is very limited. The best diet for a cat begins with raw meat. Raw meat provides a concentrated form of protein that a cat can readily utilize. Don't worry that your cat will get sick from raw meat. Remember, cats are not humans! They have evolved very strong stomach acids that destroy bacteria that would make a human sick.*
*(The exception is pork. Pork may contain parasites that will make an animal sick.)
Meat contains high amounts of the amino acids cats must have. Taurine is critical for cats. A lack of it will show up as heart problems (cardiomyopathy), eye problems, seizures and kidney problems. In one study of 220 cats, those with dilated cardiomyopathy had only 38% as much taurine as the ones without. Those same cats had 20% lower levels of vitamin E, and 40% higher levels of vitamin A (which might indicate that vitamin A was not being utilized).
Arginine, another amino acid found in meat protein, is also important for cats. In fact, so important that a single meal without arginine can kill a cat (arginine detoxifies ammonia in cats' kidneys). Arginine is important for heart function, the pancreas, and for keeping the gut healthy, in addition to its detoxification role.
Taurine Content of Selected Foods
(Mg/Kg, Wet Weight)
Source: Rationale for Animal Nutrition, by RL Wysong.
Cats also need animal fat. Going “lean” is not healthy for a cat (remember, animals have different nutritional needs than we do). Cats need animal fat to make the essential fatty acid, arachidonic acid (AA), which is used by every cell in the body. Cats do not possess the same enzymes dogs and humans do for converting plant oils such as omega-6 to AA. Unlike humans, they must have animal fat as a source of fatty acid. Arachidonic acid is particularly important for feline immunity. It has been shown that cats with feline leukemia virus (FeLv) infection have depleted levels of AA. Restoring this important fatty acid may enhance longevity in the FeLv-infected cat.
Vitamin A is another nutrient cats must get from their diet. Cats cannot convert beta-carotene to vitamin A: they must get vitamin A itself. They do, however, use beta-carotene. It appears that beta-carotene is important for feline (and canine) immunity. Recently it was shown that the lymphocytes and plasma of cats (and dogs) take up large amounts of the carotenoid. The question of what they're doing with it is still up-in-the-air. However, some research indicates that beta carotene protects lymphocytes from radiation and preserves the natural antioxidant, glutathione. In human cancer patients, beta-carotene jump-starts immune cells. It's very likely that in cats and dogs beta-carotene is also being used to protect and enhance immunity. But remember, beta-carotene cannot be substituted for vitamin A in cats. They must have vitamin A, but not too much. This vitamin is toxic in high amounts. Cats fed too much liver or fish will develop vitamin A toxicity which is life-threatening.
Cats require more vitamins B1 (thiamin), B6 (pyridoxine), folic acid and B3 (niacin) than dogs. Vitamin B6 may be important for stopping viruses. A researcher at Purdue University has shown that adding vitamin B6 to FeLv and lymphosarcoma cells in culture dramatically inhibits their growth.
|A Leading Cause of Death in Cats and Dogs|
It has been estimated that as much as 90% of all cancer is caused by environmental chemicals. According to J. Robert Hatherill in his book Eat to Beat Cancer, 600 chemicals can now be detected in the human body-that's 600 out of the 70,000+ chemicals now known to be in the environment. We can assume that our pets have as many or more. Chemicals are in our food, water and air. Of the 70,000 chemicals, it's estimated that about 2% have been extensively tested for safety. The question of whether combinations of chemicals we routinely eat and drink cause cancer has never been addressed in scientific studies. Because of their smaller size, our animals are particularly susceptible to chemical exposure.
Dogs and cats eat animal-based diets. Unfortunately, some of the most toxic chemicals in the environment wind up in animal fat. Dairy products and meat are the primary source of pesticides in our bodies as well as our animals'. You have probably heard the names of these toxins before-dioxin, PCBs, DDT, atrazine. These happen to be chlorine chemicals-made from the same chemical you find in laundry bleach. One-hundred seventy-seven of these chlorine-based chemicals can be detected in human tissue. In 1995, researchers at the State University of New York tested MacDonald's Big Macs®, and other fast foods for chlorine chemicals. DDE (the major metabolite of DDT) was found in the highest levels in Häagen-Daz® ice cream and Big Macs®. It and other chemicals were detected also in Kentucky Fried Chicken® and Pizza Hut's Personal Pan Pizza Supreme®. The researchers warned that children, with their small body size are ingesting significant amounts of chlorine chemicals. If humans are getting this in their diet, what are animals getting in theirs?
At the same time it has been estimated that chemicals cause most cancers, it is also estimated that a third of all cancers could be prevented by proper diet. That means there's something in food that can make us and our animals resistant to the effects of chemicals.
Unlike the cat which is a strict carnivore, dogs are omnivores. They tolerate more plant-based food. However, dogs also need high quality meat protein in their diet. Carnitine, an amino acid in meat, is especially important for dogs. Carnitine controls energy production inside mitochondria, the power plants of cells. Because of this, carnitine is an important nutrient for the heart and vascular system. Studies show that carnitine can help heart function, and enhance energy production in dogs. Carnitine deficiency can cause triglycerides to accumulate in cells.
In addition to amino acids, dogs require vitamin B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B5 (pantothenic acid), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), biotin, folic acid and vitamin B12 (cobalamin) from the diet. If an animal is old, sick or under stress, it will require greater amounts of these and other nutrients, including vitamins C and E. Don't forget to boost your dog's nutrition if he or she undergoes trauma, or a bout of illness.
Vitamin E is especially important for the heart and immune response. A study from the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that dogs with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy don't have enough vitamin E, and that the lower the vitamin E levels, the more severe the disease. They concluded that free radicals play a major role in this condition.
Antioxidants such as vitamins E and C are just as important for our animals as they are for us. Cats make their own C, but environmental and other stresses can deplete an animal's reserves. Maintaining your pet's antioxidant supply might help save its life one day. Studies show that antioxidants can lessen the damage caused by traumatic injuries, heart failure and stroke. But the antioxidants must be in the animal’s body already.
Be aware that anesthesia is one of the things that can deplete your animal's antioxidants. Drugs used for anesthesia generate large amounts of free radicals. If your animal has to undergo surgery, you may want to boost his or her antioxidants before and after. Your dog's immunity can be affected by a lack of vitamin E. A study from the American Journal of Veterinary Research finds that dogs with vitamin E deficiency have depressed immune cell proliferation.
Diseases of dogs and cats
Companion animals suffer from many of the same diseases we do. Cancer, heart liver and kidney diseases are major causes of death in our pets. Given that our animals share our lifestyle and eat a version of our own diet, it's not surprising they get the same diseases. In 1978, a researcher at the National Cancer Institute published a study of the prevalence and similarities between cancers in dogs, cats and humans. He found that not only was the prevalence of certain types of cancers similar, the cancers themselves were similar.