What of Legumes and the Risk of Bloat in Dry-Fed Dogs?

The Recent Trend of Adding Even MORE Fermentable Fibre via Grain-Free Foods Might Pose More, as of yet Undisclosed, Issues for Dogs…

Over the last month, there has been a lot of concern regarding “grain-free” dry foods. Our recent article on the risk of DCM in dogs fed grain-free diets explained what was going on. In short, grain-free is no much better than regular cereal-based dry food. They are still high in sugar and their replacing of cheap cereal with cheap legume seeds can hardly be considered a step forward. It’s great they’ve stopped using the likes of wheat and corn but 40-50% legume seeds come with its own problems. One concern was Dilated Cardio Myopathy (a result of a taurine deficiency). However, it’s not just grain-free dry foods we should be worried about in this respect but all high-carb, high-plant fibre containing, extruded dry foods. However, another concern has just been brought to my attention and that is the fermentation of inappropriate foods in a meat-eaters stomach and the risk of bloat in dogs.

It’s not easy to feed an animal biologically inappropriate foods, as we have learned repeatedly to our cost…

For years, we humans have tried taking nutritional shortcuts in our meat industry and it rarely works out for them or for us. The recent BSE crisis being the prime example.

We have known for many years that you can’t feed meat, at least too much of it, to a ruminant. Their ultra slow systems adapted to the slow microbiological digestion of plant fibre, hang on to the meat too long in the systems. Over the course of an hour to a day, a lot of gas can build internally which causes a thick foam in their stomach. The increasing internal pressure slowly shuts off vital processes and, together with the rotting meat in their intestines, they die slowly and in great pain.

The same process is seen with cattle housed in deplorable CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feed Operations) who are fed almost exclusively on feed rations such as wheat and corn. These rapidly digested carbohydrates cause a similar issue, akin to when cattle eat too much lush clover in Spring.

With BSE, we thought we had found a great way of adding using animal heads and spinal columns. They processed this waste material into meat and bone meal and feed it back to the cattle and sheep as a way of boosting their winter rations. This resulted in the catastrophic development of a fascinating disease called Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE, or Scrapie in sheep). I say fascinating as the root cause of the issue, prions, are difficult to categorise. They are akin to viruses but are their own creatures entirely. For example, they have no nucleus and yet can reproduce, or at least replicate, inside the animal. This disease is utterly devastating for man and beast, as we came to find to our cost in the late 1980’s when both cattle and humans (though it’s called variant Creuzfeldt-Jakob disease, vCJD, in us) began to die horrible deaths once infected. 185,000 cases of BSE were confirmed in the EU alone, resulting in entire herds, millions and millions of perfectly healthy animals, being slaughtered and incinerated in giant mounds worldwide, as farmers watched on in tears. Thousands of people died. Despite getting the issue under control, in 2013, researchers calculated that one in 2000 people in the UK carries the prion, by counting the number of removed appendixes that contained it. Only recently, I know personally of a death just a few years ago from it, from my own county.

Lessons learned in the meat industry, we continue to feed entirely inappropriate foodstuffs to dogs, meat eaters…

It thus comes with no surprise that studies highlight major concerns of feeding the dog an ultra-processed diet high in carbohydrates and plant ingredients as a whole including dry, high carbohydrate diets causing kidney disease in cats and grain-free dry foods dry foods) causing DCM in dogs (though it’s likely to be many kinds of dry foods as it’s more of an ingredient thing). And this is leaving aside the vast amount of circumstantial evidence that shows it is not working out for them, such as the obesity epidemic that is decimating pets worldwide, it’s just that the concrete link to the explosion in the disease over the last 40 years, mirroring our own, is yet to be made.

Highly processed foods are calorie dense but not filling…[they] contain, besides salts, sugars, oils and fats, substances such as additives that imitate the taste and texture of foods prepared from scratch…future generations will look at today’s food consumption in the same way we view sending children up chimneys

Professor Carlos Monteiro from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, who conducted for the WHO the largest analysis of obesity in humans worldwide entitled “Public Health Nutrition special issue on ultra-processed foods

Most telling is that biologically-appropriate meat-based diets out-compete high-carbohydrate dry foods when the two are studied in head-to-heads, NEVER the other way around, including dry diets causing significantly more stress metabolites in dogs with atopy, raw diets can protect against the developments of Canine Hip Dysplasia in German Shepards as well as raw diets being better digested, producing better faecal and promoting gut health in dogs when compared to extruded kibble, among a number of published surveys that show many diseases resolves on raw fed diets.

But the data is woefully behind (only the cash-rich dry-food sector have produced studies up to this point, most of which are self-serving). As a result we can expect more and more issues to slowly come to light. I want to highlight one that is yet to be discussed and that is the risk of bloat in dogs fed inappropriate food stuffs.

But what of the undiscussed bloat issue from dogs being fed inappropriate food stuffs?

Bloated Dog
Image courtesy of https://gsrne.org/bloat/

Bloat in dogs, also known as gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), is when the stomach fills with gas and twists. With exits now blocked gas builds, causing excruciating pain. They will struggle to breathe and vital processes can be quickly shut off. Symptoms include severe distress, pacing, a bloated stomach, excessive drooling and dry heaving. It is very possibly death if not treated very quickly by a vet. If he makes it to the operating table, they have an 80% chance of survival.

It comes with some dismay that two articles were brought to my attention over the weekend. The first was the Pet Food Industry’s attempt to fight the fire of our concern regarding the use of legumes in pet food, in particular concerning the resulting cases of DCM in dogs fed grain-free dry foods. Their article opens with

Once again, pet food ingredients are in the news and under the regulatory spotlight, and possibly for all the wrong reasons…”there is a troubling lack of information behind this announcement — and that could very well result in an unnecessary panic that would have catastrophic impact on the pet food industry,” wrote Mark Kayalgian, publishing director and editor-in-chief of Pet Business magazine…

You can read the rest of it at your leisure. In particular, I wanted to draw your attention to what Greg Aldrich, president of Pet Food and Ingredient Technology said in the piece about the use of legumes in pet food

“These legume seeds bring great variety to the pet aisle, have more protein than the cereal grains and possess other phytonutrients considered valuable to overall health,” Aldrich wrote. “However, they carry with them significant quantities of fermentable oligosaccharides. In small amounts these may be beneficial to the animal, but at large concentrations they can become an issue.” He added that limited-ingredient, grain-free diets especially tend to have very large amounts of legume seeds, up to 40 percent of the formula, which can have a significant impact on the level of fermentable fiber in the colon.

“Yes, there may be some benefit, but there can also be some challenges,” Aldrich continued. “Notably, this amount of excess fermentable substrate can tip the balance in the colon, shifting the populations within the colonic environment and altering the osmotic balance and gas production. That is to say, the contents of the bowel become more fluid and the result is soft stools, diarrhea and flatulence. There may also be alterations to nutritional balance by changing things like the enterohepatic recirculation of taurine and reductions in mineral utilization.”

This coincided, coincidentally, with something Morkel Piennar, an incredible vet in the UK, highlighted to me on the phone last week, and that was how little bloat he has been seeing in raw fed dogs. With 20 vets working in his practice (all promoting raw feeding) it’s fair to say Morkel’s practice has seen a lot of bloat cases. I asked some months ago his thoughts on bloat and recently he sent me a study that clearly shows bloat is not a matter of too much swallowed and trapped air in the gut (termed aerophagia), but is actually a build-up of fermented gas. The study took 10 bloat cases and measured the gases released from the swollen gut. They found that carbon dioxide, a byproduct of fermentation, represented 13-20% of the gas present in these bloat cases (in normal air it is less than 1% CO2). This showed for the first time that it was gas resulting from fermentation that caused this build up. And what produces A LOT of fermentation gas?! You guessed it, inappropriate foodstuffs such as legumes, for one, though a great variety of veg material could be substituted here.

Is this a sure-fire solution to bloat in dogs? Of course not. While a large, retrospective study of 1,667 bloat cases have indicated a dietary role, including the consumption of dry foods that listed more than one corn ingredient among the first four label ingredient, as well as 320% increase in risk for dogs who ate dry foods containing citric acid that were also moistened prior to feeding by owners and a 53% increase in risk when dry foods contain rendered meat meal with bone among the first four ingredients, the same study also seemed to directly implicate aerophagia by finding that speed of eating and raised feeding stations, increase the risk of bloat. We also know that large breeds are more affected and deep-chested dogs suffer this issue more. But our ears should certainly prick forwards at this point. Interestingly, it seems that

Incidentally, I asked Morkel how many bloat cases in raw fed dogs he has seen in the last eight years of moving his entire practice to all-raw. Maybe two was the answer. Just two cases.

The question becomes, what sort of plant material were these raw-fed dogs fed on? And has there ever been a case of a dog fed just a meat and bone diet?

Best advice to reduce the risk of bloat in dogs…

If you own an ageing, large to giant, deep-chested breed of dog, then the best advice to reduce bloat in dogs is to feed them a biologically appropriate, meat and bone diet from the ground, and limit exercise for at least 45mins before and after food.

Dr. Conor Brady

After a doctorate studying the effects of nutrition on the behaviour and gut morphology of animals, five years with Guide Dogs as a trainer and supervisor, some success on Dragons Den with the finest raw dog food company and the last few years both writing and speaking on canine nutrition and health, I can say with some confidence that the pet food and drug industry cares not a jot for the health of your pet.
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