Nutrition By The Book: Reducing The Figure Of Obese Pets Is A Priority

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Only 7 percent of pets that could benefit from therapeutic food are  on such a regimen, according to an American Animal Hospital Association study.

This reality led an AAHA task force to develop nutritional assessment guidelines that can not only help identify the right diet but emphasize how proper nutrition can enhance pets’ quality of life and optimal health.


AAHA’s Nutrition Guidelines

The American Animal Hospital Association’s Nutritional Assessment Guidelines for Dogs and Cats are based on the notion that good nutrition enhances a pet’s quality and quantity of life and is integral to optimal animal care.

“Incorporating nutritional assessment into the routine examination protocol for every patient is important for maintaining optimal health, as well as their response to disease and injury,” said Michael Cavanaugh, DVM, Dipl. ABVP, executive director of AAHA.

“The goal of the new guidelines is to provide a framework for the veterinary practice team to help make nutritional assessments and recommendations for their patients.”

The guidelines, made available through an educational grant from Hill’s Pet Nutrition, are available at AAHAnet.org.

AAHA is developing educational workshops and Web conferences based on the guidelines, which will be available this fall.

The task force members who took part in the project are:

  • Joseph W. Bartges, DVM, Ph.D., Dipl. AVCIM, Dipl. ACVN, of the University of Tennessee.
  • Tony Buffington, DVM, MS, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVN, of Ohio State University.
  • Lisa Freeman, DVM, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVN, of Tufts University.
  • Julie Legred, CVT.
  • Kimberly Baldwin, LVT.
  • Mary Grabow, DVM, hospital director at Noah’s Westside Animal Medical Center in Indianapolis.
  • Donald A. Oswald Jr., DVM, Dipl. ABVP, hospital director at Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital in Wheat Ridge, Colo.

“These guidelines are meant to be a tool for anyone practicing companion animal health,” says Jason Merrihew, AAHA’s communications coordinator. “We strongly felt the guidelines should be practical and have the most current medical information.

“Using the guidelines in a private practice protocol will also ensure all members of the practice team embrace and carry out these guidelines.”

Veterinarians have a vast variety of therapeutic diets to recommend to clients. These formulations are under constant scrutiny by manufacturers because of trends, animals’ needs and new research.

“Obesity remains a hot topic in veterinary nutrition,” says Joseph W. Bartges, DVM, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVIM, Dipl. ACVN. “Owners still need to be told it’s more than just being obese, it’s the predisposition to diseases like osteoarthritis, skin diseases, diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease.”

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Americans own an estimated 84 million overweight or obese dogs and cats, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. The problem is so vast that the association chose Oct. 13 as National Pet Obesity Awareness Day.

Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVN, says feeding animals using the basic ideology of “calories in, calories out” is the most effective, but it’s also easier said than done.

“I can tell pet owners to cut back on their animals’ food all I want, but it’s not my head the cat will be walking on at 3 a.m. when it’s hungry,” says Dr. Wakshlag, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at Cornell University. “Sometimes giving the pet a smaller bowl and spreading out the same portion of food into three or four meals a day can work using psychology and science to get what you want.”

What’s New in Food

Dr. Bartges, a professor of medicine and nutrition at the University of Tennessee, says specialty over-the-counter food options are becoming more plentiful, with options that mimic ancestral diets or whole foods increasing in popularity.

“Manufacturers continue offering new formulations in part to improve pet nutrition but also because a big reason for the lack of client compliance with a brand is because the pet won’t eat it and the owner believes the pet doesn’t like it, so they switch back to the regular food. This increasing option in specialty foods and therapeutic diets means a different brand may carry a similar formulation the owner will be happier with,” Bartges says.

Natura Pet Products’ Sean Delaney, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVN, says the company’s California Natural line is popular among owners looking for foods containing fewer ingredients.

“The California Natural line is grain-free and takes a cornucopia approach using fruits and vegetables along with meats to produce a pure and simple line of foods,” says Dr. Delaney, Natura’s senior executive vice president and chief scientific and medical officer. “I think we’ll continue to see a trend in fewer ingredients and more natural products … for health maintenance.”

Eating and Learning


FDA Has Bone to Pick

The tradition of giving a bone to a dog has largely lost favor in the veterinary world. But the practice persists enough that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned consumers about what could happen.

The report, issued in April, lists peritonitis, mouth and tongue injury, constipation, rectal bleeding and fragments stuck in the esophagus, windpipe, stomach and intestines as major health threats.

“Coming from the veterinary world, we all see these incidents involving bones more often than an owner,” says Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVN. “Some dentists may say it helps keep teeth clean, while others warn of tooth fractures, but the fact is a lot of owners like to see their dog enjoying a bone.

"The problems can be serious. Veterinarians who believe this is a health threat should recommend a safer alternative for clients.”  —JT

Consumer education remains a priority for Nestlé Purina PetCare, says Grace Long, DVM, MS, MBA, director of veterinary technical marketing at Nestlé Purina PetCare.

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“We try to help veterinarians educate owners through our website and take-home literature,” Dr. Long says. “Owners have time to feed their pets but often don’t think they have time for a 10-minute walk. In addition to creating foods that meet animals’ nutritional needs, we offer diets that help reduce caloric intake when served appropriately.”

Proactive behavior to maintain a healthy weight is lagging in many pet owners, Long says, but if veterinarians describe obesity in a new way, some owners may respond.

“Think of obesity as a chronic inflammation,” Long says. “Adipose tissue [fat] secretes hormones and inflammatory mediators that can increase the risk of other problems. Relaying the severity of the problem is just hard for some to grasp.”

Hill’s Pet Nutrition Inc. offers diets for dogs and cats at all life stages and participates in clinical research to update products and develop new ones, spokeswoman Amy Thompson says.

“Hill’s new products include Prescription Diet d/d Feline, Prescription Diet j/d Feline and Prescription Diet j/d Canine Small Bites,” Thompson says. “All three formulas feature improved taste, texture and aesthetics. This helps increase compliance and transitioning to the new food while maintaining nutritional benefits.”

The Prescription Diet j/d Feline for cats suffering mobility issues is the first clinically proven therapeutic feline diet to help cats be more active within 28 days, Thompson says.

“Catching arthritis in cats early and incorporating the j/d Feline diet into a treatment program may help prevent the need for more aggressive treatment later,” she says. “Clinical studies revealed radiographic arthritis in as many as 90 percent of cats. In another study, 71 percent of cats showed changes in behavior caused by arthritis, but only 17 percent showed lameness.”

The j/d Canine Small Bites, like the original formula, reduces the need for NSAID dosage by 25 percent, according to the company. The d/d Feline formulation contains more omega-3 and -6 fatty acids to manage inflammation and nourish the skin of allergic cats.

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Royal Canin’s manager of education and development, Brent Mayabb, DVM, says the company is between product releases but continues to research the best ingredients for pet nutrition.

“Animals are living longer through advances in veterinary medicine and diet,” Dr. Mayabb says. “We’re continuously looking at what we as a company can produce to help the needs of aging pets and ways to quantify our findings in a way that can be nutritionally helpful.”

A Safer Choice?

Veterinarians may be looking at the diets they recommend more closely than in the past because of headline-making recalls, Bartges says.

“Reporting systems through the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Food and Drug Administration help monitor foods more closely,” Bartges says. “Despite the pet food recalls of the past, there are still far fewer recalls on the veterinary side than in human foods, but people’s confidence can be difficult to reclaim.”

Cornell’s Wakshlag says some manufacturers may have a built-in advantage.

“A lot of veterinarians, including myself, take the stance of using a larger manufacturer for safety reasons,” he says. “The level of safety is greater. Many companies hired toxicologists after the melamine pet food recalls whether their company was part of it or not. There are just some things the smaller companies can’t compete with.”

Delaney says Natura  implemented an ISO 2200:2005 Food Safety Management System to ensure product safety.

“We’re proud to be the first pet food manufacturer to use this software,” he says. “This isn’t a requirement or mandate; we simply want to ensure food safety.” <HOME>

This article first appeared in the August 2010 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Click here to become a subscriber.

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