Thursday, July 22, 2010

Helping man's best friend by Jerry Brainum

While the main cause of death in humans is cardiovascular disease, in dogs, the main killer is cancer. Why cancer is so prevalent in canines is still open to debate. Some suggest that is has to do with the "nasal curiosity" of dogs. This refers to the fact that dogs like to sniff things; they perceive the world mainly through their sense of smell, as well as their acute hearing capacity, both of which are far superior to that of humans. I would also suggest that most dogs are far superior to humans in their capacity to love unconditionally and in their steadfast loyalty, but that's just my opinion.
    For many, dogs are not just pets, but companions. Those who love their dogs try to do anything that they can to keep those dogs happy and help them live a longer life. As with humans, one way to help maximize lifespan in dogs is through diet and exercise. In recent years, it has become clear that many who have dog companions are unknowingly killing their canine pals by promoting bodyfat gains in the animals. Most often this added bodyfat occurs because of providing either too much food, including human table scraps, or too many high calorie treats. Admittedly, it's hard to resist the pleading eyes of a dog as he eyes you eating, but in the long-run, the seemingly loving act of providing extra food to your dog can result in a lower lifespan due to the effects of obesity, which can include increased cancer incidence, arthritis, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
    In my neighborhood, many people appear to get dogs for the sole purpose of acting as animal security guards for their home. These dogs are often kept outside the home, and not let in regardless of the outside temperature. I know a scumbag lifeguard supervisor who lives up the block that does just that. Dog lovers in the neighborhood who feel sorry for this bastard's pooch often throw dog toys and even a bed over the fence for this poor mutt. One person even offered to build a doghouse for the dog. As you might expect, this dog is never walked or exercised. He just sits there forlornly in the backyard day after day. Walking a dog is necessary for the dog to burn off calories and prevent the onset of cardiovascular disease, arthritis, diabetes, and cancer. If you get a dog, you must accept the responsibility of walking that dog a few times each day, or just don't get a dog. Besides, the walking helps you,too. I get some of my best ideas for writing projects when walking my buddies, Bruno and Molly.
      In new research presented at the 2010 Institute of Food Technologists Annual meeting, it was noted that one out of three cancer deaths in both humans and dogs could be prevented by reducing the intake of omega-6 fatty acids and cutting overall calorie intake. Omega-6 fats are found primarily in vegetable oils, as well as grain-fed meats. The relationship of omega-6 fatty acids to cancer onset is that omega-6 fats act as precursors for various inflammatory substances produced in the body. Recent studies confirm that cancer is an inflammatory disease, so that anything that increases inflammation in the body can hasten the onset of cancer. This is true for both dogs and humans.
      In the research presented at the conference, Demian Dressler, DVM, also known as the "dog cancer vet," because of his expertise in canine cancer, suggested snack foods containing high amounts of omega-6 sources, such as those containing vegetable oils, corn oil, and grain-fed meat, should be severely limited in both humans and dogs as a means of helping to prevent cancer onset. If you check the ingredients of most snacks for dogs, they are loaded with omega-6 fat sources. Yet they are often advertised as being "healthy and nourishing for dogs," because linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, is essential to both human and canine health and must be obtained from food sources. The trouble is that food is rich in this fatty acid, so you and your dog wind up getting too much, which promotes out-of-control inflammation in the body. In dogs, it's a particular problem since most commercial dog foods are lacking sufficient amounts of the dietary antidote to excess omega-6, namely omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 is found mainly in fatty fish. Many purveyors of dog foods mislead their customers by proclaiming that their brand of dog food is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. A glance at the ingredients,however, usually shows an abundance of alpha-linoleic acid, which is a precursor for the two active omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, both of which exist pre-formed in fatty fish sources. But dogs, similarly to humans, can only convert a small amount--about 2%-- of ALA into the active EPA and DHA forms. The ostensible reason for not including actual EPA and DHA in most dog food is that these omega-3 fats are highly subject to oxidation, and therefore decrease shelf life. This effect can be prevented simply by also adding the a correct blend of antioxidant nutrients, and not just vitamin E, as many products do. They are also much more expensive than the cheap ALA. But they also offer a measure of cancer protection for your dog. I would strongly suggest either purchasing dog food that contains the preformed active omega-3 fats (EPA and DHA), or using a separate fish oil supplement added to your dog's food. I do this, and the dogs don't seem to mind the taste at all. The amount added depends on the weight of the dog. I give Bruno, who weighs in at a muscular 14 pounds, a tablespoon of preformed fish oil, considerably more than is found in any commercial dog food that I know of.
     Obesity in dogs fosters the development of cancer not only because of increased body inflammation, but also because  excess bodyfat lowers the levels of a substance called adiponectin. This is a substance released by fat cells that lowers inflammation and increases insulin sensitivity. It also inhibits cancer cell growth. You can increase the levels in your dog by providing plenty of exercise for your dog,and also limiting daily caloric intake to help prevent obesity. All this is relevant because dogs get similar cancers to that found in humans,and many of the same drugs used to treat human cancer are provided to dogs with cancer. In fact, many such drugs were originally developed by providing them to dogs.
     Another researcher at the conference suggested that the ideal fiber blend for dog food is 75 to 80% insoluble and 20 to 25% soluble fibers. These ratios not only help eliminate excess fat, but also provide a feeling of fullness for the dog (same is true for humans), which results in less food intake and decreased risks of obesity. Adding prebiotics, which some dog foods do contain, is also beneficial because it creates an optimal gut environment to help prevent gastrointestinal cancers.One other pertinent suggestion: don't follow the typical feeding guidelines listed on the labels of pet food products. Many of these usually list suggested amounts for "less active" and "active" dogs. The amounts listed for "active dogs" are almost always far too much in terms of calories, particularly for dogs that are already too fat. Instead, use the amount listed for "less active" dogs. Keep in mind that the main impetus for pet food companies is to sell as much food as possible, rather than any concern for the long-term health of your dog. Of course, if your dog is very active, then you can feed he or she more food. The same is true for pregnant dogs and puppies that need the extra calories. And read food labels closely. Many dog foods use a lot of useless fillers, such as cheap grains or soy, which have little or no nutritional value, but do speed up bodyfat synthesis in dogs. I prefer to use grain-free dog foods, which are a more natural way of feeding dogs.One company, often recommended by vets (most of whom know little or nothing about nutrition, a trait that they share with those that deal with human patients), uses peanut hulls are their primary ingredient in their weight-loss formula. This, of course, is nothing more than discarded peanut shells. The rationale is that it helps provide a filling effect for the dog, which promotes less food intake. But my question is: how would you enjoy living on peanut shells?
    Then there are those that claim that a raw food diet is the most natural way to feed dogs. They base this on the fact the grey wolf is thought to be the original ancestor of all dogs, and nobody cooked food for the wolves, who ate other animals raw, including the bones. I switched my dogs to a commercial raw canine food diet after the Chinese melamine scandal a while back, in which melamine, a toxic substance, was added to pet food to boost its nitrogen content (melamine is 66% nitrogen), and higher nitrogen usually means higher protein content. Instead, it caused severe kidney disease, mainly in cats, but many dogs also were affected. While the raw food that I purchased claimed all sorts of advantages over processed dog foods, they also were said to be free of microbial contamination, a major risk for raw meats. But eventually, I must have purchased a bad batch, since both my dogs were afflicted with gastroenteritis, with one having to be treated by a vet that charged a small fortune. That was the end of my raw food experimentation. These days, I use a premium, high quality brand of kibble,with some premium canned food, too. I don't believe that there is no difference between cheap, low quality dog food and the higher quality foods. While it's true that the higher quality dog food is considerably more expensive than the cheaper versions, in the end it will even out, since cheaper food is more likely to result in higher vet bills, as well as a shorter lifespan for the dogs.

©,2014 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited

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