Ruff Love

By Devyn Bernal – March 1, 2016
photo by Brian Fitzsimmons

One of the hottest topics in the fitness community is diet. Do dogs need a strict food regimen to stay in shape as well? Yes, a lot of pets that I see do require special diets. I work in the Internal Medicine Department at Heart of Texas Veterinary Specialty. I see patients on a daily basis that have been diagnosed with diabetes mellitus, hepatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, kidney disease, and various other disease. Typically, this does require changing their diet to something more suitable for their disease process. For example, if a pet has pancreatitis, this is usually managed with a low-fat diet for the rest of their life.

What is the most preventive way to avoid putting your dog on a certain diet? It is important to feed your pet a veterinary-approved commercial dog or cat food diet. If you do not wish to feed them a commercial diet, it is then best to have a veterinary nutritionist formulate a balanced diet for them. There are multiple online services across the country that can facilitate this. It is also best to not feed your pet human food. A lot of human food can be toxic to pets (such as grapes, onions, garlic, and many others), and can also cause them to get sick (i.e. feeding bacon to your pet can give them pancreatitis). If you feel that you must feed your pet human food as a snack, it is recommended to get approval from your veterinarian first. Also, more and more human products are being made with ingredients that can be toxic. For example, some brands of peanut butter are now being made with a sugar called xylitol. This can cause a drop in blood glucose and also affect their liver. Again, it is best if you try to not feed your pet any human foods. 

What defines a raw food diet? Is it helping or hurting pets? Raw food diets are controversial, and seemingly on the rise. More and more people are feeding their pet a homemade raw diet or commercially prepared raw diet. This usually consists of a combination of the following: muscle meat, bone, organ meats (such as liver or kidney), raw eggs, vegetables (broccoli, spinach, etc.), fruit, and dairy. This is otherwise known as the BARF diet, aka Bones and Raw Food, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. People feel that this diet allows their pet to be healthier, as this type of diet dates back to before dogs and cats were domesticated. This may be the diet that their ancestors ate, but how many dogs and cats in the wild live to be as old as most pets do nowadays? This type of diet is not balanced nutritionally according to AAFCO recommendations. Potential risks to your pet if fed a raw food diet include the following:

-Threats to human and pet from bacteria present in raw meat. The threat is even higher for small children, or those that are immunosuppressed in the household. The two bacteria with the highest pathogenic potential include Salmonella and E. coli. If you feed your pet a raw diet, imagine what is being transmitted to your skin every time they lick you.

-An unbalanced diet can lead to health problems if given for an extended amount of time. There are an increasing number of case reports indicating problems that pets have had while ingesting raw food diets. I personally have seen one dog develop hyperthyroidism from a raw food diet. Some of the organ meats can contain thyroid tissue, which can actually be hormonally active if ingested.

-Potential for bones to cause oral, dental, and esophageal trauma. I do perform after-hours procedures to retrieve foreign bodies that have become stuck in the esophagus. The No. 1 foreign body that I tend to find is bones that the owner has fed the pet. Most recently, I retrieved a wish bone still intact from a dog’s esophagus. This has the potential to cause irreversible damage to your pet.

Also, feeding a raw food diet is not supported by the College of Veterinary Medicine, called AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association). If an owner does not wish to feed a commercial diet, it is recommended that they seek out a diet formulated by a veterinary nutritionist. Please ask your local veterinarian, and they can give you specific contact information for a nutritionist.

What is the best piece of advice you like to share with your animal lovers and their pets?
I actually like to advise owners to get insurance on their pets. I work in a specialty and emergency facility, so we see people all the time in a difficult situation and not prepared financially. They obviously want to do everything for their pet but sometimes are unable. Insurance allows your doctor to perform all of the tests and treatments that are needed and not put you into debt.


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