Tag Archives: pet food

Do pulses belong in pet food?

By Christina Weese

A three-year study at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) may find a new use for some of the province’s most popular pulse crops — peas, faba beans and lentils.

The study plans to look at the digestibility and glycemic index of different pulse starches for cats and dogs. Researchers are hoping to demonstrate that by replacing corn (a common pet food ingredient) with pulses, they can achieve lower blood sugar levels in cats and dogs.

“Our overall goal is to find diets that provide a low glycemic index and all the health benefits that come with it,” says WCVM research associate Kayla Zatti. She and graduate student Jennifer Briens are working with Dr. Lynn Weber, an associate professor in the Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences. The project team also includes Drs. Murray Drew and Tom Scott from the U of S College of Agriculture and Bioresources.

“When an animal (or human) eats starch, some of that starch is metabolized as sugar in the bloodstream,” Zatti explains. “This rise in blood sugar levels is measured by the glycemic index (GI). In humans, diets that provide a low GI are linked to a lower incidence of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, among other health benefits.”

The wide-ranging study will compare the effect of four different starches (peas, faba beans, lentils and corn) in omnivores and carnivores across three different species — cats, dogs and two varieties of fish. Corn is included as a control starch.

One of the study’s goals is to develop GI indexes for these starches in cats and dogs. That will help to determine which pulse starch can provide the highest digestibility and the lowest GI.

“Omnivores (dogs) and carnivores (cats) digest and use carbohydrates differently. Carnivores in nature eat a strict protein diet. The problem with pet food is that it’s very high in carbohydrates, which carnivores have a hard time digesting. We’re looking for the best mix of carbs and protein,” says Zatti.

If researchers can provide pets with a more compatible diet, health effects from diseases such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease may be mitigated.

“This is especially true for carnivores such as cats,” says Zatti. “Cats don’t have as high an activity of the enzymes that break down carbohydrates, so they’re more vulnerable to high blood sugars (and resulting insulin spikes) which contribute to Type II diabetes.”

“We know it’s true for humans,” Briens adds. “When you compare pulses to rice and corn — two common pet food ingredients — pulses are definitely providing a lower glycemic index. But there’s little actual research done on GI on cats.”

The study will also include two fish species: Nile tilapia (omnivores) and rainbow trout (carnivores). The WCVM researchers hope to be able to make recommendations on the use of pulses in commercial fish food for aquaculture operations.

The study starts with the eight cats that have already arrived at the university. The research team will eventually repeat the study in a group of beagles.

In the first part of the study, researchers will feed a whole-food diet containing one of the test starches for a total of eight weeks. They’ll then test feces collected from the animals and fish to see how much undigested starch travels through the species’ digestive tract.

“For the digestibility trial, we acclimate them for a week on the diet,” explains Zatti. An indigestible “marker” is included in the feed at a ratio of 30 per cent starch to one per cent marker. Researchers will weigh and measure the ratio of starch to marker in the feces to determine how much of the starch was digested.

In the second part of the study, the animals will be fed small amounts of pure starch in both extruded and non-extruded forms. “Extruding changes the digestibility of the starch, much like cooking changes the digestibility of food—so we want to test both kinds of pure starches,” says Briens.

For this part of the study, the cats will only participate one or two days per week. Researchers will feed each cat a small amount of a specific starch and then perform a few simple tests such as a blood pressure test and a cardiac ultrasound examination. Researchers will also take a number of blood samples over several hours to determine a GI curve index for corn and for the pulses.

“The cats have to sit for these tests without any sedatives,” says Zatti, “so we have to make sure the research room is a happy place with lots of treats and play time.”

Zatti and Briens also take pains to ensure the cats are happy and well socialized. The animals are kept in group housing and are in constant contact with people and with each other. After the three-year study is complete, they’ll be adopted out to homes in the community through a selective adoption process.

Any animals that are withdrawn from the study for handling reasons or health concerns are adopted out right away.

Collected data will help to flesh out other parts of this wide-ranging study. For example, blood samples will be studied for biomarkers of inflammation, oxidative damage and stress. Another graduate student, Marina Subramaniam, is also using the project’s results to study a genetic component of nutrition.

With funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, Alliance Grain Trades and Horizon Pet Foods, this study is a great example of collaboration between U of S researchers and partners in industry.

—Reprinted with permission from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine’s Companion Animal Health Fund (cahf.usask.ca).

Is a raw food diet right for your pet?

Labrador retriever puppyCommercial pet food has only been around for about 100 years but animals have hunted prey or scavenged for millions of years. Unfortunately, many commercial pet foods contain lots of carbohydrates in the form of corn, wheat, rice or potato, which our dogs and cats find difficult or impossible to digest.

Over the years, an increase in the number of health problems in our pets such as itchy skin, allergies, dental problems and sore ears to name a few, were thought to be related to what our pets were eating.

In 1993, Australian veterinarian, Dr. Ian Billinghurst, published his groundbreaking book, Give Your Dog a Bone, which is said to have started the raw food diet movement. Now, with some science under our belt and much anecdotal evidence, feeding raw seems to be gaining momentum with both veterinarians and pet guardians.

What is a raw food diet?

A raw food diet usually contains bones, muscle and organ meats, vegetables, fruit and other whole foods. The theory behind feeding raw food is that our pets’ ancestors ate raw meat and bones, and represents a more natural diet for our dogs and cats.

These days there are several different types of raw food diets including frozen raw and freeze-dried. As with all pet foods, some are better quality than others, so make sure you do your homework to ensure you make the right choice for your pet.

What are the benefits of feeding a raw food diet?

Just some of the benefits of feeding a raw food diet include:

  • Cleaner teeth and fresher breath
  • Low stool volume
  • Healthy skin
  • Shiny coat
  • Fewer arthritic symptoms
  • Higher energy levels
  • Improved circulation

What health issues are known to respond well to raw diets?

Raw diets, with additional Vitamin A may help prevent cancer. Cancer cells feed on carbohydrates, which are not present in a raw diet. Organ meats, which are part of a raw diet, are an excellent source of Vitamin A, which is also thought to prevent the growth of cancer cells.

Most kibble-fed dogs have a tendency to develop tartar and plaque that can lead to periodontal disease. Dogs do not produce the enzyme amylase, normally present in human saliva, which helps break down carbohydrates and prevent tartar and plaque build up. A raw diet contains few, if any, carbohydrates, minimizing the risk of tartar and plaque build up and dental disease. Other health issues that may respond well to a raw diet include diabetes, obesity, epilepsy, allergies and gastrointestinal problems.

How much raw food should I feed my dog?

The amount to feed will vary from one dog to another depending upon age, activity level and size. Generally you will feed adult dogs 2 per cent to 2.5 per cent of their body weight, active dogs 3 per cent and puppies 5 per cent per day. Overweight or senior dogs need 1.5 to 2 per cent of their body weight per day. Let your dog’s activity levels, appetite and body condition be your guide!

Is raw food safe?

Preparing raw pet food is no different than preparing raw meat for your human family. Raw pet food from a reputable manufacturer that takes safe food handling seriously combined with safe food handling at home poses no bacterial threat to your pet or your human family.

What about salmonella?

Salmonella is found in about 40 per cent of healthy dogs and about 20 per cent of healthy cats regardless of whether they are fed a raw diet or not. Salmonella is a normal part of a pet’s gastrointestinal system and they naturally shed salmonella bacteria in their feces and saliva.

There is no risk to humans of being infected with salmonella from pets who are fed a raw diet. The risk of getting salmonella poisoning lies in how raw pet food is handled. As when preparing meals for people or pets, you need to wash your hands before and after handling any raw meat or other foods. Make sure to disinfect counters, bowls, cutting surfaces and utensils that came in contact with raw pet food. Also, wash your pet bowls often.

Can I feed my cat a raw diet too?

Cats are true carnivores and need a meat-based diet. Cats derive the same benefits as dogs from a raw diet. In fact, raw meat is one of the best sources of essential amino acids pets need to grow healthy and strong.

Hunting cats will eat the contents of their prey’s stomach and small intestine. This provides them with a source of dietary fibre and nutrients like Vitamin E that are available primarily from plant sources. In order to mimic this, you can give your cat access to some natural greens like cat grass and supplement their diet occasionally with Vitamin E.

How much should I feed my cat?

Adult cats should eat about 5 per cent to 8 per cent of their body weight per day, depending on their activity level. Also, it’s best if cats are fed two or three times a day — do not leave raw food out for cats to graze on. Kittens require about 8 per cent to 10 per cent of their body weight per day (Weigh your kitten each week and adjust the amount fed accordingly). This amount should be split into three to four small meals daily. As kittens reach their full adult weight around 10 to 12 months, you can gradually reduce the amount and times per day you feed to adult levels. These percentages are meant to act as a guide only — every cat is different. Adjust the amounts to keep your cat at a healthy weight.