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Dr. Patrick Mahaney Debunks Dog Nutrition Myths for AOL PawNation

Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 1.13.57 PMThis article originally appeared on AOL pawnation as Dog Nurtition Myths Debunked  Most pet owners admit that while their canine companions are wonderful, intelligent and talented, they can sometimes be a little confusing. And by a little, we mean a lot. Thankfully, there are experts who can help us better understand our furry friends. Celebrity veterinarian Dr. Patrick Mahaney is here to answer all of your perplexing questions about feeding your dog. Q: Is it OK to feed your dog table scraps? A: Yes, it's OK to feed some dogs certain table scraps that are whole food-based (i.e. non-processed), low to moderate in fat and calorie content, and deemed safe/appropriate for dogs to consume. I feel table scraps have gotten a bad rap in the world of veterinary prescribed canine wellness. Before the advent of commercially available dog foods, our canine companions just ate the same food that we did (the scraps from our tables). Yet, dogs that are used to eating processed foods (kibble, most canned foods, etc.) have digestive tracts that adjust less easily to food changes. Therefore, when table scraps are fed to our pets, there is the chance that digestive upset (vomit, diarrhea, pancreatitis, etc.) can occur. Additionally, as greater than 50 percent of pets (an estimated 90 million cats and dogs) in the United States are overweight or obese according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), providing additional calories from table scraps contributes to this veterinary health epidemic. Before you give any table scraps to your dog, first cross-reference the food on Pet Poison Help Line’s list of poisons. Additionally, discuss with your veterinarian the best people foods to serve to your pooch to enhance health and well-being without adding too many calories. My recommendations can be found here: Human Foods That Make Great Pet Treats. Q: I've read that I should avoid food with "by-product" ingredients listed. Is that true? A: In general, avoiding pet foods and treats containing by-products is a safe bet. By-products are simply parts of a whole that are repurposed to serve a need that the entire source does not suffice. There are some by-products that are relatively safe to eat, while others potentially contain ingredients that could be harmful to your pet on a short or long-term basis. The most common by-products featured on pet food and treat labels are from meat and grain sources. These products come from feed-grade instead of human-grade sources and therefore have been deemed unfit for human consumption. Unfortunately, feed-grade foods can contain a variety of potential toxins (i.e., mold-based aflatoxin, etc.) in larger quantities than that which is permitted in that human-grade foods. So, by feeding your pet commercially available food made with feed-grade ingredients, you could be unknowingly sickening your pet. I always suggest my clients question the value in serving their beloved canine and feline companions foods containing ingredients they would not permit to pass their own lips. Additionally, feed your pet meals made with whole-food ingredients instead of those made with meat and grain by-products. Q: Chicken bones are the only type of bones that I should NEVER give to my dog, right? A: No, there are many other types of animal bones and other tissues that can potentially be harmful if ingested by our pets. Chicken bones traditionally get a bad rap in terms of the commonality of the problems caused in pets that consume them. Not all dogs are sickened by eating chicken bones (or bones from any animal source). Yet, since enough dogs suffer mild to severe health consequences, we veterinarians recommend owners not feed their pooches chicken bones. Cooked bones from any animal can splinter when chewed and irritate a dog’s esophagus, stomach and intestine. Any bone can fracture teeth in dogs that are aggressive chewers. Raw bones are softer and less apt to break into shards and cause gastrointestinal damage, but raw bones can potentially contain pathogenic bacteria (salmonella, E. coli, etc.) that could sicken the pets or people in the household. Bone marrow is high in fat and can cause digestive upset, such as pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) when consumed. In general, my recommendation is to provide a dog with chewing alternatives to bones, such as fruits and vegetables—like carrots—which have firmness that replicates a bone. Q: True or false? A raw meat diet is best for dogs. A: False, a diet made exclusively of raw meat is not best for dogs. Like humans, dogs are omnivores; this means they need both meat and vegetable material as part of their diets. Dogs lean more to the carnivorous side than humans, but they still greatly benefit from plant material in their breakfast, lunch or dinner. If you want to see how wild dogs eat, I suggest examining coyote feces when you are next out on the hiking trail. You'll likely see bones, berries, fur and other various components which displays that if left to their own devices, wild dogs eat a diverse array of nutrients and not just an exclusively meat diet. Yes, if meat is all that is available, then any canine will eat an all-meat diet. I am an advocate of dogs (and cats) eating a diet rich in whole-food nutrients, which means that the ingredients appear very similar to the format that nature creates. Animal protein should be whole instead of "meals" (beef, chicken, fish, lamb, and other meals) and by-products that are conventionally found in commercially available dog foods. Besides meat, dog diets should also contain vegetables, fruits, some whole grains, animal-based omega fatty acids and other ingredients that contribute to a nutritionally complete and balanced state. Q: Dogs cannot digest grain and should therefore only be fed grain-free food, right? A: No, dogs actually can digest grain. A study published in Nature magazine proved that dogs’ domestication complements environmental and geographical changes associated with their role as companions to humans. It’s proven in their genes, which have evolved similarly to man’s and reflect the canine ability to metabolize grains and starches. The authors of the study entitled "The Genomic Signature of Dog Domestication Reveals Adaptation to a Starch-Rich Diet" identified that, "adaptations allowing the early ancestors of modern dogs to thrive on a diet rich in starch, relative to the carnivorous diet of wolves, constituted a crucial step in the early domestication of dogs." Yet, dogs should not subsist on commercially made or home-prepared diets that are high in starch and grains, especially considering the quality of grains contained in most commercially available dog foods and treats. Such grains are considered feed-grade instead of human-grade grains and have higher allowable levels of toxins, including mold-based aflatoxin and vomitoxin, which are harmful to the kidneys, liver, and digestive tract and are also carcinogenic (cancer-causing). I am an advocate of dogs having some grain in their diets, but the grains should be whole and not exceed 25 to 33 percent of the food portion. Thank you for reading this article.  Your questions and comments are completely welcome (I’ll respond). Please feel free to communicate with me through Twitter (@PatrickMahaney) and follow my adventures in veterinary medicine by liking Patrick Mahaney: Veterinarian Acupuncture Pain Management for Your Pets  on Facebook. Copyright of this article (2014) is owned by Dr Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. Republishing any portion of this article must first be authorized by Dr Patrick Mahaney. Requests for republishing must be approved by Dr Patrick Mahaney and received in written format.
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