Grain Free Diets and Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs: An Update

Ahead of the Pack

KC Pet Collective was ahead of the pack last year as we provided breaking information about the possible link between grain free diets and cardiomyopathy in dogs, particularly Golden Retrievers.  This post will give you the latest information about this developing topic.  We’ll help you understand the issue and make an informed decision about feeding your dog.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dilated cardiomyopathy  (DCM) is a condition caused by a weakening of the heart muscle that leads to poor contraction strength.  Ultimately, both the left and the right chambers of the heart become dilated, with thin walls.  The disease is most often progressive and fatal.  Dilated cardiomyopathy is linked to genetics, and some breeds are predisposed.  But in some cases, dogs with no genetic predisposition may develop this condition.  Although the cause of the disease is not fully understood, diet may be a contributing factor in some dogs.

Over the past few years, veterinary scientists at several prominent universities, including Dr. Josh Stern at the University of California, Davis,  have observed increasing incidence of DCM in breeds predisposed to the disease, like golden retrievers, and also in dogs with no genetic predisposition.  These investigators believe they have uncovered an association with feeding grain-free diets in certain cases.

What is the evidence for a link between grain free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs?

To date, there are no published studies that confirm a link between grain-free diets and DCM.  However, veterinarians have documented at least 150 cases where they suspect diet was the cause of DCM.  Owners and veterinarians have reported many cases to the to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).   As of July, 2018, the FDA had fully evaluated thirty of these cases. Many of these cases have occurred in dogs that are not genetically predisposed to the disease, and the affected dogs were fed grain-free diets. Specifically, these diets contain legumes like peas and lentils, potatoes, including sweet potatoes.  Derivates of these ingredients like pea protein, fiber, or starches, are also associated with DCM, according to the FDA.

Should dog parents avoid feeding grain free diets?

It’s important to remember that the ingredients found in grain-free diets are also present in other types of dog food. It’s still unclear exactly how these types of ingredients may lead to DCM in dogs.  These ingredients may lack certain types of nutrients, like the amino acid taurine, that are necessary for proper heart function in dogs.  They may affect how dogs process essential nutrients.

The FDA is not recommending that dog parents change their pet’s diet based on the available information.  The FDA is working with veterinarians and pet food companies that produce these diets to better understand the situation.  Always seek advice from a licensed veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet.

What are the benefits of feeding grain free diets?

Veterinary nutritionists are not convinced that there are real benefits to feeding grain-free diets for most dogs.  Grain-free diets are not necessarily more digestible for dogs.  And grain-free diets do not necessarily contain fewer carbohydrates than other types of dog food.  According to Dr. Angela Witzel of the University of Tennessee, about 1/3 of grain free diets are actually low carb, and 1/3 are actually high carbohydrate diets (Witzel, The veterinarian’s guide to alternative diet trends: Grain feree, raw, ketogenic, and more, abstract FETCH DVM 360 Conference, KC, MO, 2017).

Some grain-free diet advocates suggest that these diets are more natural for dogs, because dogs have evolved to be predators.  According to this theory, dogs are not able to digest starches very well.   In fact, scientists have discovered that dogs have evolved to produce more of the proteins associated with starch and fat digestion than their ancestor, the wolf (Axelsson et al, The genomic signature of dog domestication reveals adaptation to a starch-rich diet, Nature, 2013: 495(7441)).

Where can I learn more?

You can learn more about this topic at the FDA website.  The FDA has also published a Question and Answer document about dilated cardiomyopathy and grain-free diets.

Begging for Food: the Random Schedule of Reinforcement

Are you fed up with your pet’s constant begging for food? Chances are you are perpetuating the problem without even knowing.  It’s time to get off the random schedule of reinforcement.

Why is your pet begging for food?

Dogs and cats are programmed to respond to food cues.  In the wild, an animal never knows when it will get the next meal.  Instinct tells him that it’s literally a matter of life and death to get to your pot roast.  And it doesn’t hurt that your pot roast smells just as delicious to him as it does to you.

As your faithful subordinate, your pet will most likely wait and watch patiently until you finish that pot roast.  This is also an instinctual response.  Animals in packs or prides take turns eating, and your pet is certain that you will provide some of the leftovers.  But most of us really don’t enjoy being the subject of such intense scrutiny while we eat.  If there’s drool involved, we like it even less.

So we make firm rules, and we promise ourselves never to feed our pets from the table.

Just one bite, please!

The problem is that our pets are cute.  They know how to work us with the melting stare, the upraised paw.  When they beg, we respond.  We make eye contact, or we talk to them.  And, worst of all, we give them a handout.  Just that easily, a pet learns that begging for food is sometimes rewarded.

It doesn’t matter that you do not give in to your dog nine times out of ten, or 99 times out of 100.  What she remembers is that you gave in once.  It’s a little secret that casinos and lottery managers use with resounding success.

The secret is reinforcement

Reinforcement is a behavioral term for the process of encouraging a behavior through punishment (negative reinforcement) or reward (positive reinforcement).  Reinforcement is a powerful tool for intentionally training a new behavior.  Unfortunately, it’s also a powerful way to accidentally teach an undesirable behavior, like begging for food.

When you occasionally give in to your pet and reward begging with a scrap of table food or a treat, you engage in a random schedule of reinforcement.  As casino owners and lottery managers have learned, random reinforcement can be a very powerful behavioral motivator.  It’s what drives people to sit for hours in front of slot machines.  And it drives your dog to keep begging, time after time.

Get off the random schedule of reinforcement

If your pet begs for food, stop randomly rewarding her.  Set a strict no treats at the table rule and stick with it.  Enforce this rule with your children and your guests.   Remember that scolding your pet for begging rewards your dog with your attention. That is also a form of reinforcement.  It’s best to ignore your pet when she begs.

Until you train a new behavior to replace begging, your dog will continue to beg.  Here are some training tips to help curb begging.

Dogs
  1. Train your dog to go to another room or a kennel when people are eating.
  2. Train your dog to go to a specific location in the room and lie down or sit.
  3. Use a time-out when begging occurs.
Cats

Dogs aren’t the only pets that beg for food.  Cats are also notorious beggars.

If your cat is food obsessed, first make sure that there is not a medical reason. Older cats are prone to metabolic diseases, like diabetes mellitus and hyperthyroidism, that may cause them to feel ravenously hungry.

If your cat is healthy, try these tips.

  1. The best response to a begging cat is to ignore him.
  2. If the problem persists, move your cat out of the room at mealtimes.
  3. Feed your cat on a schedule.
  4. Never leave food on the table or kitchen counters.
  5. Never let your cat on the table or kitchen counters.

 

 

 

 

Pets’ Microchips Are Useless If You Can’t Be Located

August 15 is Check the Chip Day.  Is your pet microchipped?  When was the last time you updated your contact information with the microchip registry?  If your information isn’t accurate, your pets’ microchips won’t help you recover your pets.

Pet microchips work

It’s a heart-breaking scenario that unfolds far too often: a shelter recovers a lost pet, but they have no way to locate the owners.  Unless they happen to make it to the right shelter at the right time, the family may never see their pet again.

Microchips that contain the owner’s contact information can successfully reunite families with lost pets. Dogs with microchips are twice as likely to be returned to their families as those without microchips.  Cats with chips are about 20 times more likely to be returned to their families.  But pet parents must register the chips with the manufacturer and keep their information up to date.  Unfortunately, only about 6 in 10 families register pet microchips.

Register your pets’ microchips

When your veterinarian implants a chip into your pet, you need to register the chip with the manufacturer.  Some veterinarians may do this step for you, using your current contact information.  If not, you must use the chip number provided to you by the veterinarian to complete all information on the website.  Always ask your veterinarian what additional steps you need to take to ensure that your microchip is fully registered and up to date.

Shelters, rescue organizations, and veterinarians can search the registries from most microchip companies.  The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) maintains a database of microchip registries, called the Universal Microchip Lookup Tool.  As long as your contact information is correct, anyone with access to a chip reader can find you to return your pet.

Keep your pets’ microchips up to date

Check the Chip Day reminds us to keep contact information up to date with microchip manufacturers. Most of us don’t think about our pets’ microchips very often.  When we move house, updating that microchip information is probably the last thing on our minds.  Log in today and update your contact information.  It’s a simple step that could make all the difference if your pet is ever lost.

If you aren’t sure your pet is microchipped, or if you have lost the manufacturer’s information, make an appointment with your veterinarian today.

Infographic: Microchip Your Pet

 

 

 

 

 

Is Your Dog Done with Summer? Spice Things Up at a Dog Swim Party

At the end of a long, hot summer, a dog swim party may be just the thing to bring back the joy of life to your dog.  We have had a brief break from dangerous summer heat in Kansas City this week, but hot summer weather is sure to return.  Our dogs are bored with early morning and late evening walks, and they’re ready for some serious day time play time.  Lucky for them, dog swim party season is just around the corner.

Dog swim parties are a growing trend

A growing number of municipalities across the US are opening public pools to canine guests after the last human swimmers have toweled off and flip-flopped out of the park.  And why not?  Thousands of gallons of water will go straight down the drain at the end of the season.  This water can be used one final time for family fun when the pool is opened to dogs.  Cities use the proceeds  to fund dog park improvements, rescue organizations, and more.

dog swim party, dog pool, kiddie pool, water slides, frisbee
Friends with a frisbee.

Dog swim party basics

  1. Bring a friend.  There’s something about water that brings dog joy bubbling to the surface.  You will want to share the experience.  If you don’t have a dog, you may want to go just to watch.  Dog swim parties are that good.
  2. Stay out of the water.  Most public pools that host a dog party ask humans to stay out of the pool.  The hosts permit wading up to the knees but discourage swimming with the dogs.  These parties are popular and the pool will be quite crowded with rowdy dogs.   Parks host these parties after the regular season.  Park staff do not test and re-treat the water to appropriate levels for human swimmers.  For this reason, disease-causing agents may not be eliminated from the water.
  3. Pay careful attention on the pool decks. Dogs don’t know that the pool area isn’t a dog park.  They will run wild on the pool decks.  Slippery surfaces plus running dogs make a dangerous situation.  Always watch out for the dogs, because they won’t always watch out for you.  Consider leaving small children at home.
  4. Keep your belongings on tables.  At one pool party last year, we saw dogs urinate on at least three different backpacks.
  5. Practice good swim safety with your dog. Watch your dog at all times. In a large pool filled with dogs, you may find it difficult to keep track of your dog’s location.  Dogs may not be able to exit the pool in deeper areas.  Be especially vigilant if your dog is swimming in water over her head.  Like small children, dogs can panic in the water, and they may not alert you to their distress.  Use a life vest if your dog is not a strong swimmer.
dog swim party, dipping dogs, life vest, life jacket, labrador retriever, dog swim, pool
Use a life vest if your dog is not a strong swimmer.

Where to find a dog swim party

Contact your local parks and recreation to find a dog swim party near you.  These events are upcoming in the Kansas City Metro area:

Tails on the Trails Pet Festival and Dog Swim, Lenexa

Dippin Dog Swim Party at the Springs

Dippin Dog Swim Party at the Bay

This Smart Litter Box Monitors Your Cat’s Health

Imagine a litter box that monitors your cat’s health and reports issues directly to your cell phone.  A new smart litter box in Japan will do just that.

The Smart Litter Box Technology

Cats are prone to many health issues as they age. Many common feline health conditions can be detected through evaluation of changes in weight and urination.  Unfortunately, cat owners often miss subtle changes in weight and the amount of urine their cat produces over time.  Cats often do not get regular veterinary examinations that could detect problems in the early stages.

A new smart litter box from the Sharp company in Japan will help pet parents monitor their cat’s health.  This box includes detectors and software that will monitor a cat’s weight, the amount she urinates, and the length of time she spends in the litter box.  When the system detects an abnormal change, it notifies the owner’s smart phone directly.

Multiple cats?  No problem.  The box comes with optional sensors that will detect individual cats in a multi-at household.

Why are we excited about this technology?

  1. Cat obesity: Weight gain in cats, just like in people, usually occurs slowly.  Pet parents are notoriously unreliable at recognizing weight gain and obesity in their pets.  This technology will provide consistent and objective evaluation of a cat’s weight over time.  An owner who receives an alert is more likely to take action and have their cat examined by a veterinarian. If the company has thought this through, the box will monitor improvement over time, too. Owners could use this to help evaluate the effectiveness of a diet plan for their cat.
  2. Diabetes: Changes in weight and increased urine volume are indicators of diabetes mellitus.  Cat parents may not recognize increased amounts of urine in the box, unless they are paying careful attention to the litter balls.  A tool to alert owners when their cat is urinating more frequently and with a higher volume could revolutionize the early diagnosis of diabetes in cats.   If diabetes is diagnosed early, cats have a higher chance to go into remission when treated.
  3. Kidney disease:  Kidney disease is common in aging cats.  Increases or decreases in frequency or volume of urination may signal the onset of kidney problems.  Early diagnosis and treatment is crucial to managing the progression of kidney disease.
  4. Urinary blockages: Spending a lot of time in the litter box can signal that a cat is having difficulty urinating.  Bladder infections or blockages due to bladder stones can cause this problem.  Cat parents can easily miss this sign, unless they are carefully monitoring the litter box.
  5. Hyperthyroidism: This common problem in middle-aged to older cats can cause them to drink and urinate more.

These are just the most common problems that this smart litter box could help detect.  Alerts to changes in urination and weight will encourage owners to take their cat to a veterinarian for diagnosis.

How much does the box cost?

The box is rolling out at a cost of about $224 US.  The monitoring app will cost an additional $3.00 US each month.

Will the box be available in the US?

Before you get excited, this smart litter box will be rolled out only in Japan at first.  Hopefully the Sharp company will bring this technology to the US market in the near future.  We hope this box will eventually be used with smart litter to detect things like sugar in the urine (glucosuria), an indicator of diabetes.