Should Your Pet be a Vegetarian?

There are so many human vegetarians that some of you may have wondered if your beloved four-legged friend is able to share the same passion and cause as you. If you have ever been interested in having your pet become a vegetarian it should be helpful to know the certain nutritional needs that your pet has, in order to make the right decision regarding vegetarianism.

There is no scientific basis on the idea that a specific breed of cat or dog would fare better as a vegetarian, it is simply an issue between the species.

In the Canine world, being a vegetarian has no negative effect on their nutritional needs.

“Dogs are opportunistic carnivores” said Dr. John Bauer, M.L. Professor of Clinical Nutrition at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, “which means they will eat meat when they have the chance or when no other type of food is available. For wild dogs, prey is not guaranteed, so especially in the colder seasons dogs will eat more plants and vegetables as meat is difficult to find. As for pet dogs, they can easily be converted to vegetarians, and if done properly, it is just as healthy as an omnivorous diet is for a dog.”

Dogs have the same types of protein balances in their bodies that humans have, therefore making it easy and safe for them to convert back and forth from a vegetarian diet to one of an omnivore.

“One problem with having your dog become a vegetarian” said Dr. Bauer “is that it is easier to feed him meat and vegetable based diets, without having to worry about protein types. There are commercial plant and vegetable based diets around for dogs, which seem to work well for the animal’s health and overall well-being.”

If you happen to be a cat lover, you must be aware that feline nutritional needs are entirely different from those of dogs.

“Cats are obligate carnivores” said Bauer. “It is essential for cats to have animal-based material in their diets for five specific reasons. The first reason is because cats have dramatically higher protein requirements than other mammals. Secondly, cats have an absolute requirement for one protein component called taurine (an amino acid) that is present in meat products, muscle and skeletal tissue. Both dog and human bodies are able to produce taurine, but cats cannot. Thirdly, cats have a special fatty acid requirement for a specific “omega 6″ fat, which is not present in vegetables. This particular Omega 6 fat is only present in high enough concentrations in animal tissues and cannot be manufactured by a feline’s body. Reason four is cats cannot make Vitamin A from Beta-Carotene that both dog and human bodies produce from vegetables such as carrots. Vitamin A is only present in animal tissues. The fifth and final reason cats are required to eat meat, is because the B Vitamin, Niacin, cannot be made from protein precursors, and is readily found in meat products.”

The five nutrients mentioned above, cannot be manufactured by a cat’s body. The exclusive place to get these nutrients is from animal derived tissues. Trying to make your pet cat become a vegetarian would be an ill-experiment, as you can be sure it is unhealthy.

“There is always the possibility that new vegetable based sources for cats may be discovered” said Bauer. “Also, as we learn more about metabolism in cats, it might be possible to make plant and vegetable based diets for them. Of course it is a very low possibility at this point, so it is best to not try out vegetarianism on your own cat, as it would be hazardous to their health.”

About Pet Talk

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Angela G. Clendenin
Director, Communications & Public Relations
Ofc – (979) 862-2675
Cell – (979) 739-5718

Joint Health

As the winter season settles in, the chill of the cold air often make us more aware of our joint health problems- the same goes for your pet. Though commonly bothersome in the winter, joint discomfort can be a year round-pain that affects your pet’s quality of life.

“Joints are areas where bones come together,” explains Dr. Sharon Kerwin, an associate professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “They are a combination of bone, ligaments, cartilage, and the joint capsule and fluid. If anything damages the cartilage or another structure in the joint then arthritis or deterioration results.”

Unfortunately, at this point in time, there is no cure for arthritis. Symptoms can be treated but arthritis is often progressive and gets worse with time.

Though no cure has been found yet, there are ways to prevent or postpone the onset of your pet’s joint problems.

“While genetics do play a role in the development of some joint issues, weight control and proper diet are essential in both prevention and treatment,” notes Kerwin. “Keeping a young dog, particularly large breeds, on a diet that does not have too much energy from carbohydrates and fat is essential to keeping them from growing too quickly. This is important because if they grow too quickly it can result in both excessive fat and the formation of a “mismatch” between bone growth and muscle development, which can lead to excessive stress on cartilage.”

The specific ingredients in your pet’s food, and the amounts of each ingredient can have astounding affects on your pet’s joint growth and health.

“One of the main ways diet can be a contributing factor for joint health issue is if there is an imbalance in the ratio of calcium to phosphorous,” explains Dr. Dan Bauer, a professor of animal nutrition at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science. “For growing animals an imbalance in this ratio can result in metabolic bone diseases which greatly affect joint health.”

Making sure your pet is getting a complete and balanced diet can help to prevent joint problems in younger pets or ease joint health problems for older animals.

Large dog breeds such as German Shepherd’s, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers and Irish setters are especially susceptible to joint health problems, such as hip dysplasia. Getting your pet the proper nutrition at an early age can potentially help avoid such problems.

Dietary supplements such as glucosamine and Omega 3 fatty acids can also help ease your pet’s joint pain.

“Recent research has shown that the dietary supplement glucosamine, which is an important dietary adjunct that supports joint health, increases mobility and decreases pain,” adds Bauer. “It is not a cure, and more research needs to be done, but many people believe it might be able to slow down progression of joint health problems. ”

Omega 3 fatty acids can also help ease joint pain by reducing inflammation.

“When joints rub together it creates inflammation, the Omega 3 fatty acids potentially can alleviate some of that,” notes Bauer. “Human grades of these dietary supplements can be used on animals and are worth a try if your pet is in pain, however, it is important to first talk to your veterinarian about dosages and specifics regarding your animal.”

If joint health problems are plaguing your pet, Dr. Kerwin suggests keeping your pet slim and trim as good body condition is important in maintaining your pet’s health. Muscle mass should be promoted by moderate, low -impact exercise like swimming and walking.

If your pet has more severe joint problems and more drastic medical attention is needed there are a variety of treatment options available.

“Specific problems, such as cruciate ligament (ACL) tears in the stifle (knee) joint can be treated by stabilizing the joint to decrease the wear and tear on the cartilage,” explains Kerwin. “Arthritic hip joints can be replaced surgically as is done in humans, and medical management of joint problems can include pain management with medications such as nonsteroidal inflammatory drugs, joint supplements, and physical rehabilitation.

If your pet is at risk for or suffers from joint health problems, talk with your veterinarian to make sure they are receiving the proper nutrition and medications if needed.

About Pet Talk

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Angela G. Clendenin
Director, Communications & Public Relations
Ofc – (979) 862-2675
Cell – (979) 739-5718

Cat Food for Thought

Anyone who owns a dog or a cat knows that they will typically eat anything they can get their paws on. While it is not harmful for a dog to eat a cat’s food, it can be potentially hazardous for a cat to eat a dog’s food. In moderation, a cat eating a dog’s food is probably safe, but if the cat is only eating Fido’s dinner, they are probably not getting the nutrients that are essential to their specific health needs.

“Cats’ nutrition requirements are different than dogs’, they have unique needs,” explains Dr. John Bauer, a professor of animal nutrition at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine &Biomedical Science. “Your cat is not going to get ill from eating the occasional pieces of dog food, but if they are only eating dog food, then they are not getting nutrients they need for a healthy life.”

If you have a cat that prefers to feast on their canine pal’s dinner, it is important to know that there are five main nutrients, essential to feline health, that are not balanced properly for proper feline nutrition. “First, cats require a higher protein to calorie ratio than dogs,” notes Bauer. “Cats eat less than dogs. Therefore, they need to be getting the protein needed from a smaller amount of food. By contrast, dogs will eat a larger amount of food, thus getting the proper balance of protein to calories.

Also, cats are not able to make their own Vitamin A, which has to be added to their food and is essential to their health. “Dogs are able to make Vitamin A from beta-carotene,” explains Bauer. “Since their bodies can create this vitamin, it is not necessary for it to be in their food per se. . A dog could live with only small amounts of vitamin A added into their food as long as they are also getting beta-carotene, a cat cannot.”

Thirdly, Bauer explains that cats are not able to make the amino acid, Taurine. According to the Iam’s website, Taurine is important to maintain proper feline heart function, vision, and reproduction. It is also needed to form bile that helps with digestion.

A lack of Taurine can lead to the weakening of the heart muscles, which in turn can cause heart failure. In addition to maintaining cardiac health, this amino acid is also necessary for the proper development and function of the retina cells in cat’s eyes. A taurine deficiency can lead to the cells dying which can cause impaired vision and blindness. Taurine also effects reproduction. To ensure proper structural development of a kitten, both the mother and the baby must maintain proper levels of taurine.

“Dogs are able to make taurine, meaning it does not have to be a specific ingredient in their food,” notes Bauer. “Cats eating lots of dog food will not be getting the necessary amount of taurine they need to maintain their health. Bauer also states that dog food does not need to have arachidonic acid, a fatty acid essential to feline nutrition.

According to the article “Special Nutrition Needs of Cats,” found on peteducation.com, arachidonic acid is necessary to produce an inflammatory response that helps the body protect itself. It is necessary for proper blood clotting, aids in regulating skin growth, and is necessary for the functioning of reproductive and gastrointestinal systems.

“Again, arachidonic acid is something that unlike dogs, cats are not able to manufacture. Therefore, it is found in food for cats but is not necessary in dog foods,” adds Bauer.

Bauer says the fifth nutrient cat’s need is Niacin, a B vitamin. As stated by peteducation.com, Niacin deficiencies can cause loss of appetite, inflamed gums, weight loss, and hemorrhagic diarrhea. “Cat’s can’t make Niacin, they need to ingest this nutrient from their food,” comments Bauer.

Cats and dogs require different levels and sources for nutrients they need to maintain their health. If they are not getting proper amounts, it can lead to health problems. “If your cat sneaks dog food once in a while, it is not going to compromise its health,” notes Bauer, “but if they are only eating dog food then they are not going to be getting nutrients needed to maintain their health. It is important your animal is eating food designed for its specific nutritional needs.”

Likewise, a dog that eats cat food won’t be in danger of a lack of needed nutrients, but that doesn’t mean it is healthy. “Animal foods are made specifically for that species,” states Bauer. “It’s all about ratios; cats eat smaller amounts of food, so their food contains higher amounts of nutrients per piece. Even if dog food had the proper nutrients for felines, the cat would have to eat larger amounts of the dog food to get the same nutrients they would receive from a serving of cat food.”

About Pet Talk

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Angela G. Clendenin
Director, Communications & Public Relations
Ofc – (979) 862-2675
Cell – (979) 739-5718

The Importance of Supplements for Your Pets

We all want our pets to live long, happy and healthy lives. In order to achieve this, we take them for their annual veterinary appointments, make sure they get plenty of exercise and feed them the best pet food we can afford. Some of us even go so far as to give our pets vitamins or supplements to add an extra degree of protection. But are these supplements necessary?

“Healthy animals with complete and balanced diets should not need supplements and therefore, they are not necessarily recommended,” states Dr. John Bauer, Professor of Small Animal Medicine & Faculty of Nutrition at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

Just as a healthy diet should provide people with their essential vitamins and nutrients, the same is true for our pets.

“Pet food companies use a vitamin pre-mix for the particular species to which it is marketed,” says Bauer. “For this reason a good quality food should already meet the nutritional needs of your pet.”

If you formulate your own pet food at home, there are easy and affordable options to make sure your pet is getting these vitamins as well.

“When I formulate home diets for patients I have the owner add a human multi-vitamin,” explains Bauer. “The amount will vary based on the size and breed of your dog so if you are formulating your own diet make sure to check with your veterinarian before for dosage guidelines.”

While most pets do not require an additional vitamin for general health, Bauer does add that there is the rare exception.

“One example I can think of is vitamin C production in cats and dogs. Under normal conditions both cats and dogs can produce their own vitamin C,” notes Bauer. “However, under times of stress it has been found that they may not make enough and may need to be supplemented.”

Bauer explains that the problem with supplements in general is that although we know what the minimal recommended amounts are, there is little scientific data regarding what the “optimal” level of a particular nutrient is. Therefore it is difficult to address whether supplements beyond the recommended allowance are of additional benefit for normal healthy animals.

“While I wouldn’t suggest throwing a lot of vitamins at healthy pets, there are a few that are commonly prescribed by veterinarians because there is some evidence that they have positive effects,” states Bauer. “These supplements, namely glucosamine, fish oil and antioxidants, may have a place in consultation with a veterinarian, but there is no proof they will be effective in preventing ailments in a healthy animal.”

Although extra vitamins may not be proven to cure or prevent disease in a healthy animal, because there is some evidence that a few may either put off or lessen the effects of some ailments in pets there are owners who may want to give them just in case.

“While supplements can add up monetarily, it is possible that they might save you some vet bills in the long run by slowing down the effects of some subclinical problems,” advises Bauer.

It’s important to remember however, that there is a safe upper-limit to any vitamin so if an owner wants to supplement their pet’s diet they need to consult with a veterinarian.

“The difference between a food and a poison is the dosage,” explains Bauer. “Safety is always subjective based on the individual so it’s imperative that you check with your veterinarian and you can even consult with the supplement manufacturer.”

As pet owners we want what is best for our animals and while it’s impossible to say right now if supplements will help, it’s safe to say that they will not hurt if they are within the guidelines prescribed by your veterinarian. Because of this lack of absolute proof and the fact that these supplements can be costly it’s up to every pet owner to weigh the facts and decide what’s best for their furry family member.

About Pet Talk

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Angela G. Clendenin
Director, Communications & Public Relations
Ofc – (979) 862-2675
Cell – (979) 739-5718