Cereal = Human Kibble?

Even fleeting comments can provide great blog fodder.

 

Now don’t get me wrong – I like cereal.  I like it for breakfast, as a snack (no milk denotes “snack” status), or as a quick meal when I’m pushed for time, out of groceries, or just plain lazy.

But when I put too much thought into it, lots of things about cereal strike me as very similar to commercial, dry pet food.

Is this photo of pet food or cereal?

The first obvious similarities are the physical properties kibble and cereal share.

They’re both processed, mass-produced dry foods that come conveniently bite-sized.  We put milk on cereal, and many people put water on their dogs’ kibble before serving.  Both cereal and kibble provide quick and easy meals, can be purchased in bulk, and unused portions keep and store well.

And both kibble and cereal are marketed to any specialty purchaser in a variety of price ranges.

Looking for a whole grain cereal?  They’ve got that.  Looking for a low-fat or low-calorie cereal to accommodate your diet?  They’ve got that, too.

Looking for a kibble “designed” specially for your dog’s breed, age or size?  Options abound!

And what about nutritional value?  A lot of our favourite cereals are “part of a complete breakfast”, right?  With lots of essential nutrients and whole grains?  Well, this website informs us that many of our trusted brands are not what they seem.  General Mills Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, a personal favourite, is reportedly 42% sugar – but what about all those whole grains? Do they count for nothing?!  I can’t  say this revelation will mean I’ll cease buying it immediately, but I’ll consider cutting back.

And what about those dog foods with pictures of meat on the packaging?

Well, even though the first ingredient of Iams Healthy Naturals is actually chicken, the inclusion of water content for the portion analysis means that after processing upwards of 80% of the volume is lost and it would no longer remain the main ingredient.  And the second ingredient is chicken by-product, which certainly doesn’t include those delicious-looking drumsticks.  The following ingredients listed by volume are rice, corn meal, whole grains, and barley.  What about all that promised meat and protein?

Which brings me to my final similarity between cereal and kibble:  the ingredients.

Ingredients: 

Corn Meal, Chicken By-Product Meal, Ground Whole Grain Sorghum, Dried Beet Pulp, Chicken, Dried Egg Product, Chicken Fat, Ground Whole Grain Barley, Chicken Flavor, Potassium Chloride, Brewers Dried Yeast, Salt, Flax Meal, Calcium Carbonate, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Beta-Carotene, Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin A Acetate, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate (source of vitamin B1), Niacin, Riboflavin Supplement (source of vitamin B2), Inositol, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (source of vitamin B6), Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid), Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Caramel, Fish Oil (preserved with mixed Tocopherols, a source of Vitamin E), Minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Manganese Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Manganous Oxide, Potassium Iodide, Cobalt Carbonate), Choline Chloride, DL-Methionine, L-Carnitine, Rosemary Extract.

340 cals/cup

Ingredients: 

Corn meal, sugar/glucose-fructose, corn bran, fancy molasses, salt, oat flour, baking soda, colour, vitamins (niacinamide, d-calcium pantothenate, thiamine hydrochloride, pyridoxine hydrochloride, folic acid), minerals (iron, zinc oxide). BHT added to package material to maintain product freshness.

120 cals/cup

I put in bold above all of the duplicate ingredients between the two products.

Take out anything in kibble intended to represent meat and the two are quite similar, are they not?

What does this say about kibble? Or about cereal?

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The Beef on Raw

Blogging about diet almost seems to be a rite of passage for those who focus on dog-related topics.  Every dog blogger does it eventually, and they do it with vigour and enthusiasm.  It solidifies your status as “that kind” of dog person.  And now it’s my turn.

Perhaps the enthusiasm stems from the notion that feeding your dog a raw diet is controversial and ground-breaking.  I disagree.  On the surface maybe it does seem somewhat controversial because raw-feeders appear to be the minority, but dig just a little deeper and the whole thing – to me at least – seems pretty obvious.  The soapbox issue here is pet owner education (or the lack thereof).

The reasons behind feeding your dog a raw diet are pretty straightforward.  Dogs are primarily meat-eaters and therefore should be fed meat.  Thus, raw food is good for your dog; grain-based kibble is not.  In fact, the commercial kibbles are so bad that they are responsible for most pet allergies (due to the wheat and soy ingredients), periodontal disease, skin issues, and even some behavioural problems.  It makes sense – these kinds of things can happen to an animal when fed an insufficient diet.  So why the debate?

Well, giving pet owners the benefit of the doubt and assuming everyone wants the best for their animals, it must be that people just aren’t aware of this or don’t read ingredients labels.  Someone has to be buying the big name grain-based foods for their pets or the folks selling them wouldn’t be in business.

Unfortunately, those selling poor-quality, mass-produced, grain-based kibble appear to dominate the market.  Their frequent, high-budget, cutesy commercials and print ads can be found nearly everywhere, and their products are sold in pretty much every big name grocery and pet store.  They speak to your love for all things furry and tell you “if you love your dog (or cat), you will feed them [insert brand here], because we love them too and only want to give them the best”. 

They’re lying, of course.  Considering over one-third of Canadian and American households have a pet dog, there is a large market for pet food,[1] and these companies exist to turn a profit.[2]  And they certainly don’t do so by filling their foods with the quality ingredients your dogs and cats should be eating.  This, of course, has resulted in many pet food recalls in recent years, such as the infamous 2007 Menu Foods recall that involved dog food sold under 53 different brands and cat food sold under 42 different brands, including the familiar labels Iams and Eukanuba.[3]

But marketing dominance is not the only problem.  The lack of education does not only plague the average pet owner, but also the person they often turn to for advice: our trustworthy neighbourhood veterinarians.  The majority of vets are insufficiently educated about nutrition.  There.  I said it.  Firstly, this is because the average veterinary degree only requires that 40 hours/one week of study be dedicated to the subject of nutrition generally, out of a total three years of schooling.  Secondly, I did a quick search on companies that sponsor many nutrition education programs for vets in North America, and guess what names came up.  Hill’s.  Purina.  Great, so our “experts” are taught by the bad guys. 

Before you write this off as the least interesting conspiracy theory ever, think for a second: what brand is often found on your vet’s shelves?  Hill’s Science Diet, of course.

Using my favourite website on this issue, www.dogfoodanalysis.com, take a look at the breakdown of Hill’s Science Diet Canine Maintenance Beef and Rice.[4]  The analysis gives this food the lowest possible rating.  Its sole meat ingredient (beef) isn’t properly accounted for because they’ve included water content in the weight which is removed as it’s made into kibble.  The next three ingredients by volume are grains: brewers rice (low quality by-product); rice flour (grain fragment, filler); and corn meal (difficult for dogs to digest and thought to be the cause of allergies and yeast infections).  Tell me, when exactly was the last time you saw a wolf or dog (or cat) down a cob of corn in the wild?  The next two ingredients are soybean meal (low quality protein, cause of canine allergy problems) and chicken by-product meal (by-products are low-quality unidentified meats, usually rejects from human food processing that could not be used elsewhere).  The several remaining ingredients are more unidentified by-products, beet pulp (cheap filler, thought to be responsible for allergies and kidney and liver problems), and chemical preservatives (possibly carcinogenic).

So why does the vet sell or promote this junk food?  Either they don’t know any better, or they do but would rather profit from sales-based incentives from selling the food and getting business from ailments that plague our pets as a result of the food.  Ahh, the old debate of ignorance v. malevolence

I’ll pick ignorance as the perpetrator, because I really don’t (want to) think most vets are inherently evil (although Blofeld did have that cat…).

It’s simple.  Look at the ingredients in the kibble analysed above.  Why would you feed that stuff to your pet?

Dogs and cats are biologically carnivores.  Consider their teeth, jaw and neck muscles, stomachs, colons and other internal organs – they are anatomically designed to be the eaters of raw meat.[5]  Because (some) humans have been feeding their pets grain-based kibble in recent decades does not change that, and just because they can “get by” on a sub-par diet doesn’t mean they should.  You shouldn’t eat Doritos every day for dinner, either.[6]

My favourite fanciful objection to raw diets (I’ve even heard it cited by a vet[7]), and one that misses the point entirely, argues wolves and dogs are actually omnivores, meaning their natural diet is made up of primarily both plants and animals.  This often is supported by the suggestion that wolves eat the stomach contents of their prey – the prey having ingested a diet of primarily herbs and grains.  Thus, the wolf is getting its necessary corn, wheat, or grain intake from the deer/rabbit/whatever’s stomach.  And because your dog isn’t out there eating stomach contents, his everyday meal should be a kibble made of cheap corn and wheat.

To answer this – and pretty much any other objection you may have heard about raw diets – I recommend a visit to http://www.rawfed.com/myths/.  They look to biologists and other wolf experts to explain the carnivorous activities of wolves:

Wolves do NOT eat the stomach contents of their prey. Only if the prey is small enough (like the size of a rabbit) will they eat the stomach contents, which just happen to get consumed along with the entire animal. Otherwise, wolves will shake out the stomach contents of their large herbivorous prey before sometimes eating the stomach wall.

No, dogs and wolves are not omnivores.  They are “facultative carnivores”, which means while they are primarily meat-eaters, they do occasionally eat a non-meat meal.  Note the emphasis on occasionally, meaning that their diet should still consist primarily of meat, not corn or wheat.

On the other hand, as a feline, your cat is an “obligate carnivore”, and a meat-only diet meets his nutritional requirements, and housecats actually lack the physiology necessary to effectively digest plants and vegetables.[8]  So not only is a raw or meat-based diet the best for Felix, too, this also means that grain-based kibbles can have an even more detrimental effect on your feline friends.

So the topic sums up as follows: to feed your pet a diet most suited to his natural needs, and closest to what he would eat if left to his own devices, is to feed him a raw diet.  It is more appropriate and healthier, and many pet owners report a variety of improvements in their pets once having switched to a raw diet, including better dental and digestive health, a reduction or even complete elimination of allergies, and better coat and skin health.

And I should note that to feed your dog or cat a raw diet doesn’t mean you have to fill your deep freeze with an entire cow carcass (although you could if you wanted).  There is a tonne of selection when it comes to raw diets, you just have to look.  Sure, you can purchase your own raw meat in bulk and add fruits and vegetables at meal time,[9] or there are many brands that offer convenient pre-packaged and prepared raw patties – fruit and veggies included.  All you need to do is thaw the food and give it to your dog.  It can be as simple or as involved as you want.  Granted, the cost does increase when you switch your pet to a raw or otherwise quality diet, compared to feeding your dog cheap, commercial garbage kibble, but it’s a matter of proper diet and the overall health of your pet.  The advantages are worth the expense, and so is your pet.

And, of course, if you simply can’t stomach feeding a raw diet, there is a decent middle-ground compromise of high-quality kibble, which you can supplement with fish oil and the occasional raw bone or turkey neck, as you are willing or as is necessary.  To find a suitable brand of food, simply examine the ingredients.[10]  Look for foods that include actual meat as the first ingredients:  beef, bison, turkey, chicken, eggs, pork, salmon, etc.  Potato is an acceptable ingredient and is a good source of carbohydrates.  Ensure the food you select is void of grains, but look for fruit and vegetable ingredients (pumpkin, carrots, turnip, apples, etc.), which do provide necessary nutrients alongside meat.

And if you’re ever unsure or concerned about your pet’s diet, just think back to that ingenious Wendy’s ad campaign from the ‘80s and ask yourself: where’s the beef?


[1]  To see where I first mentioned these stats in more detail, visit https://backalleysoapbox.wordpress.com/2010/09/20/in-defence-of-big-dogs/
[2]  Really?  Daschund-specific kibble?  Terrier-specific kibble?  There’s a scam if I’ve ever seen one.
[3]  The pet food sold was responsible for poisoning 471 animals and 104 deaths.  The related litigation in Canada and the US recently settled for US$24 million.  See: http://www.menufoods.com/Recall/
[4]  http://www.dogfoodanalysis.com/dog_food_reviews/showproduct.php?product=125&cat=7
[5]  http://rawfed.com/myths/omnivores.html
[6]  Sorry.
[7]  Score one for ignorance.
[8]  If your cat is in the back yard eating grass, they’re probably just trying to induce vomiting.  Hairball, anyone?
[9]  Not corn, soy or wheat.
[10]  Or visit www.dogfoodanalysis.com and look for brands given the highest (6 star) rating.

To Blog or Not to Blog: Pedigree Adoption Drive

To Blog or Not to Blog:  The Pedigree Adoption Drive

Pedigree Adoption Drive Ad

Perusing some dog-related blogs this week, I stumbled upon this campaign.  Blog about the campaign by Sunday, September 19, 2010, and Pedigree will donate a 20 lb bag of dog food to a shelter.  “Like” them on Facebook and they’ll donate 8 oz. of dog food.  Watch their video online, and they donate $1.00.

Granted, the last two actions can be completed by anyone, and the Facebook campaign lasts all year.  But as far as the blogging campaign goes, it is organized by BlogPaws, which is a Pedigree-sponsored organization, so I’m not sure if every blog by just anyone count or not – I tried to find some fine print, but still remain unclear.

And you know what?  I think I’m okay with the idea that this won’t count.  Actually, I know I am.

Yes, the advertised sentiment behind the Pedigree campaign is great.  No one can argue that.  Supporting shelters and adopting rescue dogs is an important cause.  And Pedigree’s marketing department has amazing skill when pulling at the heart strings of animal lovers.  Their impervious tagline is “PEDIGREE® Brand. Everything we do is for the love of dogs, from the nutritious dog food we make to the dog adoption drive we support.”  Who could disagree with that?

But before I decided to jump on board and declare my undying support for their campaign, I looked up the food they were donating, as the campaign also seems to serve as advertising for some of their new kibbles.  The dog food donated with our support is PEDIGREE® Healthy Longevity Food for Dogs.  Sounds great, doesn’t it?  Healthy.  Longevity.  Both things I want for my dog, don’t you?  They go on to advertise the food includes “special nutrients” like antioxidants, fish oil, and Omega3s.  That’s great!  In fact, the spin is almost enough for me to compulsively “Like”… or is it?

Pedigree is a well-known brand.  We’ve all seen their commercials, and they have a wide range of products that you can find in most pet stores… and even grocery stores.  Are alarm bells ringing yet?

The ingredients of PEDIGREE® Healthy Longevity Food for Dogs are posted online (http://www.pedigree.com/really-good-food/product-page.aspx?id=1037). 

They are, in the exact order as found online and presumably as on the packaging:

Ground Yellow Corn, Chicken By-Product Meal, Brewers Rice, Ground Whole Wheat, Corn Gluten Meal, Animal Fat (Preserved with BHA and Citric Acid), Lamb, Plain Dried Beet Pulp, Vegetable Oil (Source of Linoleic Acid), Natural Flavor, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Calcium Carbonate, Monocalcium Phosphate, Fish Oil (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols, a Source of Vitamin E), Vitamins (dl-Alpha Tocopherol Acetate [Source of Vitamin E], Choline Chloride, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate [Source of Vitamin C*], Vitamin A Acetate, Thiamine Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Biotin, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin Supplement [Vitamin B2], Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement), Dried Vegetables (Peas, Carrots), Minerals (Zinc, Sulfate, Zinc Proteinate, Copper Sulfate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Potassium Iodide), Added FD&C Colors (Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Blue 2).

Well now.

The guaranteed analysis shows:

Crude Protein – Min 25.0%
Crude Fat – Min 12.0%
Crude Fiber – Max 4.0%
Moisture – Max 12.0%
Linoleic Acid (omega-6 Fatty Acid) – Min 3.0%
Vitamin A – Min 10,000 Iu/kg
Vitamin E – Min 350 Iu/kg
Docosahexaenoic Acid* (DHA) – Min 0.05%
Ascorbic Acid (vit. C*) – Min 100 Mg/kg
Omega 3 Fatty Acid* – Min 0.30%
Glucosamine* – Min 400 Iu/kg
Chondroitin* – Min 300 Iu/kg
*not required as an essential nutrient by The AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles.

And we have officially entered the realm of dog food controversy.

25% protein?  But isn’t my dog largely a meat-eater?  Why do they want to give him corn?  Or wheat?  If left to his own devices in the wilderness, he certainly wouldn’t go devour the nearest farmer’s crop.

There is a great website, www.dogfoodanalysis.com.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t added this particular Pedigree brand to the reviews yet, but here is the review of Pedigree Complete Nutrition (Adult) kibble, which has a strikingly similar ingredient list, though guarantees 21% protein instead of the 25% promised by the Healthy Longevity stuff:

Pros: None
Cons:  Insufficient meat content, by-products, low quality grains, fat and meat products of unidentifiable origin, carcinogenic preservative, artificial colourant.
Recommended?  No.

They gave this kibble a one star rating out of a possible six.  Why? Well, they can explain it better than I:

This food receives a 1 star rating simply because there is nothing lower.

 
The primary ingredients in the food are grains (it should be meat!). Corn is a problematic grain that is difficult for dogs to digest and thought to be the cause of a great many allergy and yeast infection problems. We prefer not to see this used in dog food.

 
Meat and bone meal is a low quality meat product for which it is impossible to determine the source.

 
Corn appears a second time as corn gluten meal. The AAFCO definition of corn gluten meal is “the dried residue from corn after the removal of the larger part of the starch and germ, and the separation of the bran by the process employed in the wet milling manufacture of corn starch or syrup, or by enzymatic treatment of the endosperm”. In plain English, that which remains after all the nutritious bits have been removed.

 
The next ingredient is by-products. It is impossible to ascertain the quality of by-products and these are usually products that are of such low quality as to be rejected for use in the human food chain, or else are those parts that have so little value that they cannot be used elsewhere in either the human or pet food industries. The AAFCO definition of chicken by-product meal is “a meal consisting of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered chicken, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidable in good processing practice.”

 
Animal fat is a further low quality ingredient and is impossible to determine the source. Unidentified ingredients are usually very low quality. AAFCO define this as “obtained from the tissues of mammals and/or poultry in the commercial processes of rendering or extracting. It consists predominantly of glyceride esters of fatty acids and contains no additions of free fatty acids. If an antioxidant is used, the common name or names must be indicated, followed by the words “used as a preservative”.

 
This food uses chemical preservatives (BHA, BHT) which is believed to be carcinogenic, and is banned from use in human food. It also uses artificial colourants.

 
The 6th and 12th ingredients are fragments of wheat. The use of wheat is a significant negative: wheat is believed to be the number one cause of allergy problems in dog food. This is another ingredient we prefer not to see used at all in dog food.

 

For more information on bad ingredients often found in commercial dog food, visit http://www.dogfoodproject.com/index.php?page=badingredients.  Many of the ingredients in Pedigree kibble are listed.

So, a very brief look into the ingredients and now we find that Pedigree is not so great after all.  Sure, they use a lot of positive words, but this only redirects your attention to your own affection for your pet rather than the details of the product they’re selling you.

I invite you to check out your own dog food against these sources, and the many other good resources out there.  There is a plethora of information about dog food nutrition, and poor quality kibble recalls have been common occurrences in the recent years.  There are many good quality options out when it comes to what to feed your dog, and what is actually good for them.  Take a moment and look into raw diets and their many benefits, or if that’s just not an option for you, check out the brands given 6 star ratings by the Dog Food Analysis folks (Origen and Innova make that list along with a few others).

So, should I support this campaign?  The sentiment of helping rescue dogs still seems worthwhile, but the associated marketing and promoting of the Pedigree brand doesn’t sit well with me.  And I imagine the shelters supported by this promotion receive a lot of financial help from Pedigree and therefore are obligated to promote it to the adopters of their rescue dogs. 

Do I want to see people feeding this food to dogs?  Absolutely Not.  On the other hand, is Pedigree food better than no food at all?  Well… you got me there.  Do I just wish our support guaranteed the donation of a good quality dog food?  Of course, but I won’t hold my breath.  Pedigree is out there to make money, you know.

In the end, though, I’ve still blogged about the campaign, so perhaps they’ve bested me there.  Touché, Pedigree, touché.

Bloat / Gastric Torsion

Bloat / Gastric Torsion:
A Compilation of Available Information (or the lack thereof)

Prelude

Written after having an alarming episode of bloat with Moses (Newfoundland, 1½ years old at the time) in October 2009, the severity and unexpected nature of the experience prompted me to, in my typical fashion, immediately start to learn everything about bloat that I possibly could, and find an answer to my favourite question: why?  Thankfully, Moses survived and recovered well after his surgery.  Our emergency veterinarian credited our quick response and his young age to his speedy recovery.  And, for those of you who are curious, the surgery – at a 24 hour vet at midnight on a Friday – cost us $4,500.  But it’s Moses, and he’s absolutely worth it.

Moses’ x-ray:

Moses' x-ray

The information that follows is easy to come by.  As soon as Moses was in surgery, I began reading everything I could find.

Anyone who undertakes a similar task will likely meet the same frustrated realisation about the lack of empirical, scientific research concerning bloat/gastric torsion.  Many of the resources conflict and many are even internally inconsistent.  A lot is based on opinion and personal experience of reputable breeders, but there is limited information from the veterinary sciences.  The most quoted is the Purdue University study by Lawrence T. Glickman, VMD et al., which, while it does provide limited insight, still falls short of providing an understanding of the causes of bloat, and definitive methods of prevention for those of us with at-risk dogs.

One resounding fact is that any actual causes of bloat remain unknown, despite the multitude of speculations.  Even the renowned Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan’s website simply states “the causes of bloat are not yet well understood”.

My ultimate goal then was to compile the research and information on bloat available to the layperson.  This will undoubtedly expose the shortfalls, but more importantly, I aim to educate fellow dog owners to the best of my ability.

I also specifically note I cannot claim any authority or expertise with respect to the enclosed information.  I do not have a degree in veterinary medicine or anything of the sort.  On the whole, most of the information below is accessible to anyone with an internet connection.  The Purdue study results are easy to find and oft-cited by breeders and kennel clubs, and what is mostly found is the same information repeated over and over.  In addition, I have inquired of three different veterinarians on the issue: our emergency vet from Vancouver, our two local veterinarians, and another local vet here who came highly recommended.  The bottom line remains, and they all agree: there is no known cause of bloat, yet it statistically remains the second leading killer of dogs.  No theories on the cause of bloat have been scientifically proven and all seem to be only partially true.

What is “bloat”?

Bloat is a generic term for two occurrences:

1.  Gastric Dilation-Volvulus (GDV): the accumulation of gas and fluid in the stomach that cannot be expelled.  GDV can and often does escalate to Gastric Torsion.

2.  Gastric Torsion:  the rapid enlargement of the stomach caused by the twisting of the stomach in such a way that it is impossible for contained gases and fluid to escape.  GDV may result in a stomach that is rotated by anywhere from 90° to 360°.

GDV results in physiological changes that create a medical and surgical emergency. Changes are both localized (limited to the organs involved, i.e. the stomach and the spleen) and systemic (affecting other vital organs in the body).  Increased pressure inside the stomach causes blood flow there to slow and eventually stop.  Severe torsion can tear the short branches of the artery between the spleen and the stomach, thus increasing the potential for necrosis (death of cells) of the stomach wall.  Displacement of the spleen can cause blood clots in the blood vessels there or even torsion of the spleen.  Obstruction of blood flow from these abdominal organs to the heart causes systemic changes.  The rapid and often massive reduction of blood returning to the heart reduces cardiac output and therefore deprives tissues of sufficient nutrients and oxygen.  Furthermore, the abdominal organs become engorged with blood, which makes the intestines more permeable to the bacteria and bacterial products within them, thus releasing bacteria and their toxic substances (endotoxin) into the bloodstream.  The reduced blood flow to the heart, coupled with the circulation of substances released from the pancreas, spleen and other organs severely impair cardiac functions, and cause cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats).  Blood flow to the kidneys falls which increases the risk of acute kidney damage.  A condition called Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC, a life threatening bleeding disorder of the blood clotting mechanism) may occur. Finally, the stomach and/or intestines may perforate, resulting in the contamination of the abdominal cavity with stomach contents and bacteria. A combination of shock, septic peritonitis (acute and painful inflammation of the membranes lining the abdominal and organ walls), and DIC, together with multiple organ failures, results in death within hours of the initial signs of bloat.

A diagram of how the stomach bloats:

How the stomach bloats

Treatment

In a simple case of GDV, in which the stomach fills with gas, the veterinarian will insert a tube down the throat, relieve the gas, pump out the stomach and give the stomach a thorough washing.  Acute GDV or torsion requires immediate veterinary care and surgery.  Post-operative treatment for shock often requires prolonged hospitalization.  In the case of torsion, the stomach is surgically “tacked down” to the body wall to prevent the twist from occurring again (called “gastroplexy”), because once a dog suffers from bloat, there is a 75 to 90% chance it will happen again, often within days of the first attack.  After the stomach has been “tacked down”, the chances of torsion occurring again are reported to be between 2 and 6%.

The reported mortality rates in dogs suffering from bloat ranges from 10 to 60%, even with treatment.  With surgery, the mortality rate is reported between 15 to 33%.  If tissue damage is so bad that part of the stomach must be removed during surgery, the mortality rate is said to be between 28 and 38%.  If the tissue damage is so bad that the spleen must be removed, the mortality rate is 32 to 38%.

The immediate aim of surgery is to return the stomach to its normal position and to evaluate it and the spleen for signs of irreversible damage (such as tissue necrosis – cell death).  Long-standing or severe twisting may occasionally cause necrosis in portions of the esophagus (the food canal down the throat).  If so, chances for survival are poor.  If gastric perforation at any site (perforation of the organ wall) has occurred, then the chance for survival is extremely poor.  Barring any sign of irreversible damage, the veterinarian will perform gastropexy.  There are a number of techniques of gastropexy, and debate continues as to which method is more effective. The fact that there is still heated debate in the techniques indicates that none is currently totally satisfactory.  Medical and dietary management after GDV is important to help prevent recurrence.

Diagnosing Bloat

If you think your dog is suffering from bloat, the most important thing is to get him/her to a vet immediately for treatment.  Call your veterinary clinic to tell them you’re on your way with a suspected case of bloat.  Early diagnosis and treatment are the most important factors for a successful outcome and speedy recovery.

Symptoms to watch for include extreme restlessness, excessive panting, salivation, drooling, and unsuccessful attempts to vomit or defecate.  The dog may whine, and will seem to have trouble getting comfortable.  As the condition progresses, the stomach area appears swollen and distended.  Bloat can usually be detected when you make the dog stand up and you gently feel his/her abdomen.  The abdomen should feel soft and tapered inward when the dog is relaxed; with bloat, the abdomen feels hard, and will have a hollow “thump” when gently tapped.  Rapid breathing, pale-coloured mouth membranes, and collapse are signs of shock due to a more advanced phase of bloat.  High numbers of dogs with bloat have cardiac arrhythmias (40% according to one study).  

If bloat is untreated, the dog will die within hours, and in a worst-case scenario, the dog may die within 30 minutes of the first recognised symptom.  Sometimes a dog will progress from bloat to torsion in minutes, so do not attempt home remedies yourself: get him/her to a veterinarian immediately.

Of course, because immediate treatment is the most important factor in a favourable prognosis, it is a good idea to know where your local emergency veterinary clinic is located and the quickest routes there.  If you’re not convinced your dog has bloat, it is better to err on the side of caution.

Which dogs are at risk for bloat?

Breed

While any dog can suffer from bloat/gastric torsion, it is largely agreed that large-chested breeds are at the greatest risk for bloat.  According to the University of Purdue, the following breeds, in order, have the most reported incidents of bloat:

1.         Great Dane
2.         Saint Bernard
3.         Weimaraner
4.         Irish Setter
5.         Gordon Setter
6.         Standard Poodle
7.         Bassett Hound
8.         Doberman Pinscher
9.         Old English Sheepdog
10.       German Shorthaired Pointer
11.       Newfoundland
12.       German Shepherd
13.       Airedale Terrier
14.       Alaskan Malamute
15.       Chesapeake Bay Retriever
16.       Boxer
17.       Collie
18.       Labrador Retriever
19.       English Springer Spaniel
20.       Samoyed
21.       Dachshund
22.       Golden Retriever
23.       Rottweiler
24.       Mixed
25.       Miniature Poodle

The sources are split on whether or not bloat is a hereditary condition, and some even disagree with themselves on this issue, stating that while bloat is not hereditary, you shouldn’t breed dogs with a history of bloat.  The Purdue University study suggests that the incidence of GDV is closely correlated to the depth and width of the dog’s chest, and several different genes from the parents determine these traits.  If both parents have particularly deep and narrow chests, then it is highly likely that their offspring will have deep and narrow chests and the resulting problems that may go with it. 

Age

The Purdue University study concluded that dogs over 7 years of age are more than twice as likely to develop gastric torsion than dogs 2-4 years old.  Some believe that the ligaments that hold the stomach in its normal position stretch with age, causing the increased risk.  This does not mean bloat in young dogs is unheard of, and stories of bloat in young puppies thought to have over-eaten are common.

Sex

While many sources report that male dogs are at an increased risk for bloat, many other sources report that male and female dogs are at an equal risk.  It is widely agreed that spaying/neutering your dog has no impact on the dog’s potential for bloat.

Non-genetic factors which may or may not affect the risk of bloat

The other factors which may or may not have an impact on the risk of bloat are largely disagreed upon from one source to the next.  Most, if not all, have no scientific backing or research evidencing the claim, and many are simply based on common sense or personal experiences.  It is important to note that since the veterinary community acknowledges there is no known “cause” for bloat, much of the following is speculation.

Eating Habits

The Purdue study suggests that dogs fed once a day were twice as likely to develop bloat as those fed twice per day, and it is widely recommended to feed your dog 2 or 3 smaller meals per day.  The reasoning behind this is that dogs that eat more hurriedly are at a greater risk for bloat because they gulp air.  Smaller, more frequent meals will help prevent this.  All three vets I spoke to recommended this as a basic preventative measure, although doing so will not guarantee prevention of gastric torsion, and many dogs who are fed two or more meals in a day have still experienced bloat.  It is also recommended that dogs be fed individually if possible and in a quiet location.  Dietary changes should be made over the course of 3-5 days.

Raised Food/Water Dishes

As the older sources demonstrate, it used to be widely believed that feeding your dog from raised food and water dishes was an important measure to help reduce the risk of bloat, and many breeders still recommend this practice.  However, recent studies suggest that eating off raised dishes actually significantly increases the risk of bloat, with some sources suggesting the risk is increased as much as 200%.  It appears that the more recent sources (2007 and newer) seem to agree that eating off of raised dishes is not recommended, and the Purdue research says that dogs at an increased risk should eat at floor level.

Access to Water

While opinions here differ, it is often suggested that providing your dog constant access to water throughout the day will help prevent bloat – perhaps because it will prevent them from becoming overly thirsty and gulping water.  However, a number of sources recommend limiting the dog’s access to water during meals and shortly thereafter.

Exercise

While the cause of bloat is unknown, all sources consulted agree that vigorous exercise, excitement, and stress should be avoided after meals for up to two hours.  Cases of stomach torsion resulting from a dog engaging in high-energy activity after a meal are common according to the vets consulted.

Temperament

The Purdue University study advises that dogs that tend to be more aggressive, fearful, or anxious appear to be at an increased risk of developing bloat.

Weight

It is often reported that dogs that are lean or underweight are at an increased risk for bloat.  Some believe it is because fat takes up space in the abdomen allowing less space for the stomach to “rotate” or move around, but there is really no scientific basis for this suggestion.

Stress

Many sources agree that stress, such as that which occurs during kennelling, can be a significant factor in the increased risk of bloat.  There are many reported cases of dogs experiencing bloat following their first meal once returning home after a major surgical procedure. 

Gas

There is believed to be a relationship between dogs with intestinal gas and dogs that bloat. Dogs that belch or have frequent bouts of flatulence are believed to be at an increased risk.  Whether the cause is due to physiology or diet is not speculated upon.  Many sources recommend avoiding feeding foods that are known to cause flatulence, including beans, peas, onions, beet pulp, etc, as a preventative measure.  Many sources also recommend avoiding soy in a dog’s diet, while there still has been no study that links soy with bloat.  Some sources also advocate the feeding of large pieces of fresh/raw fruits and vegetables (e.g. apples, oranges, carrots) 3 to 4 times a week, effectively adding roughage, to ensure the digestive system functions properly.

Some people even give their dogs over-the-counter anti-flatulent (simethecone products such as Gas X®), just before or after they put their dogs through stressful situations.  It may also be useful when the dog appears to have a lot of gas.  Some sources even suggest providing your dog with anti-flatulent drugs as a short-term remedy for GDV, as it may help as long as torsion hasn’t already begun.  While this and a number of other home-remedies are sometimes discussed, no treatment is equivalent to proper veterinary care.

Diet

When asked, all three veterinarians I spoke to informed me that there is no correlation between diet and instances of bloat, and no scientific research exists to suggest such a relationship.  Despite the hypotheses from a large number or sources, no specific diet or dietary ingredient has been proven to be associated with bloat.  The Purdue study also states that at this time, no cause-and-result relationships between dietary factors and bloat have been established.

It is sometimes suggested that feeding your dog a raw diet may aid in the prevention of bloat, although there is no study supporting this, and there have still been many reports of dogs on raw, natural, or BARF diets that have experienced bloat.  A raw diet is not an insurance policy against bloat.

One source suggests that the raw diet is beneficial because it does not expand in the stomach and is digested faster, thus remaining in the dog’s stomach for a shorter period of time.  On the other hand, it has also been reported that some dogs fed wet or raw food were actually more likely to bloat due to the increased speed at which they ate.  Many studies have found little difference between wet, raw, and dry foods and their effect on bloat.

There has also been speculation regarding specific ingredients in dog food and their relationship to bloat, and many websites advocate avoid feeding your dog food preserved with citric acid, or foods with an oil or fat listed among the first four ingredients.  A nested case-control study was conducted with 85 GDV cases (and 194 controls) consuming a single brand and variety of dry food.  Neither an increasing number of animal-protein ingredients nor an increasing number of soy and cereal ingredients among the first four ingredients significantly influenced GDV risk.  It was found that dry foods containing an oil or fat ingredient (e.g., sunflower oil, animal fat) among the first four ingredients seemed to be associated with an increased risk (2.4 times more likely) of GDV.  These findings suggest that the feeding of dry dog foods that list oils or fats among the first four label ingredients predispose a high-risk dog to GDV, but this is based only on a single study, and more research must be done to confirm the finding.

For those feeding dry dog foods – kibble – the sources seem split on whether or not you should moisten the food prior to feeding or not, as a prevention of bloat.  Many sources say moistening food preserved with citric acid will increase the risk of bloat, while others recommend you moisten the food so it expands before reaching the dog’s stomach.  Again, no cause-and-effect relationship has been established with respect to kibble and bloat.  Occurrences of GDV are still reported even when kibble is moistened prior to being fed.

Basically, and according to the veterinarians spoken to, it is simply advisable to feed your dog a quality diet regardless of any speculations concerning bloat, simply for all the other overall health benefits provided to your dog.

Vaccinations and Bloat

It is reported that the instances of bloat in dogs have increased significantly since the 1960s.  According to one source, this increase is unlikely to reflect changing diagnostic criteria, disease recognition, or genetic factors, but that it could be related to changes in canine vaccines or their pattern of use (i.e. multivalent vaccines).  One specific example speaks of a breeder in the U.S.A. of Standard Poodles who had major problems with bloat in her dogs when multiple modified live virus vaccines started to be given as a matter of course.  When she stopped giving these vaccines and followed a vaccine protocol of giving only single killed vaccines, she stopped getting bloat in her Poodles.

However, there seems to be no study dedicated to this issue, and it appears to be speculation without much evidentiary backing.

Is Bloat a Neurological Disease?

Only one source touched on this possible issue, and suggests that neurotoxins in the environment have begun affecting the production of the hormone motilin in dogs. 

Motilin is an important factor in controlling the pattern of smooth muscle contractions in the upper gastrointestinal tract in dogs.  It is controlled by the central nervous system and is secreted into the circulation at intervals of every one hundred minutes to sweep out undigested material from the stomach and small intestine.  Motilin also stimulates secretions of bile and pancreatic enzymes into the duodenum. 

The study cited suggests that neurotoxic chemicals, which now persist in the residential environment due to pesticide use, bioaccumulate (meaning the chemicals are taken up and stored in fatty tissue faster than they are metabolized or excreted) in the bodies of our canine companions (and ourselves, for that matter).  Recent studies show that such chemicals are consistently present in the air, rain and surface waters, suggesting a long environmental half-life.  These pesticides (neurotoxins) build up in the dog’s body to lead to the degradation of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, leading to improper and insufficient release of motilin, thus increasing the risk of bloat.

Preventing Bloat

Since the causes of bloat are virtually unknown, it is nearly impossible to prevent it and many dogs that would seem to be at a low risk for bloat still manage to get it. 

All veterinarians spoken to recommend feeding more frequent, small meals throughout the day as a common-sense preventative measure.  They also recommend keeping exercise and activity to a minimum after meals. 

As for the other possible factors listed above, they are left to personal preference and judgment.

One preventative option recommended by some parties is to have your dog in for gastroplexy (stomach tacking) before the first instance of bloat occurs.  Provided the stitches heal properly, once the stomach is tacked to the side cavity, it cannot flip, therefore preventing torsion.  To get this done in advance – often when the dog gets spayed or neutered – is significantly less expensive than to proceed with late-night surgery at an emergency clinic (not surprisingly, most bloat cases occur after 6:00pm).

One source mentions that for dogs known to be highly susceptible to GDV (e.g. ones that have already bloated before), owners may wish to discuss the use of medicinal prevention (such as Metoclopramide Hydrochloride, or Reglan®) with their veterinarian.  The medicine is widely used in humans after abdominal surgery to combat painful intestinal flatulence.  It chemically decompresses the stomach and intestines, forcing the gas out.  Like all drugs, there are side effects, so the benefits and problems of long term use should be carefully weighed and discussed.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, there are very few conclusions concerning bloat at present.  Most importantly, it is a serious medical situation which can be faced by any dog and any owner.  Ultimately, and regardless of any preventative measures taken, or how low-risk you believe your dog to be, the most important thing is to be aware of the signs and symptoms so you can respond quickly when you suspect your dog may be suffering from gastric torsion.

References / Further Reading

  • The Pet Health Library: Bloat, the Mother of All Emergencies
    www.veterinarypartner.com
  • Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, School of Veterinary Medicine, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana:  http://www.vet.purdue.edu/epi/update2.htm
    or:  http://www.vet.purdue.edu/epi/bloat.htm
  • Effect of Ingredients in Dry Dog Foods on the Risk of Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus in Dogs:  Malathi Raghavan, DVM, PhD, Nita W. Glickman, MPH, PhD and Lawrence T. Glickman, VMD, DrPH
  • Non-dietary risk factors for gastric dilatation-volvulus in large and giant breed dogs.  Lawrence T. Glickman, VMD, DrPH; Nita W. Glickman, MS, MPH; Diana B. Schellenberg, MS; Malathi Raghavan, DVM; Tana Lee, BA  (Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Vol. 217, No. 10, November 15, 2000)
  • Understanding Bloat and Torsion: http://www.kifka.com/Elektrik/Bloat.htm
  • www.totallyrawdogfood.com
  • Newfoundland Dog Health: http://www.newfoundlanddog-health.info/bloat.htm
  • The Dog Owner’s Guide: http://www.canismajor.com/dog/bloat.html
  • http://www.briard.com/about/bloat.html  
  • Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America: http://www.bmdca.org/health/Miscellaneous/Gastric_Dilatation_Volvulus_Bloat.php
  • Meyer-Lindenberg A., Harder A., Fehr M., Luerssen D., Brunnberg L. Treatment of gastric dilatation-volvulus and a rapid method for prevention of relapse in dogs: 134 cases (1988-1991) Journal of the AVMA, Vol 23, No 9, Nov 1 1993, 1301-1307.
  • Beck, J.J., Staatz, A.J., Pelsue, D.H., Kudnig, S.T., MacPhail, C.M., Seim H.B, and Monnet, E. Risk factors associated with short-term outcome and development of perioperative complications in dogs undergoing surgery because of gastric dilatation-volvulus: 166 cases (1992-2003). Journal of the AVMA, Vol 229, No 12, December 15, 2006, p 1934-1939
  • Brockman D.J., BVSc, CVR, CSAO, MRCVS, “Gastric Dilation-Volvulus Syndrome in the Dog”, Pedigree Breeder Forum, Vol 3 # 3, 19-23, 1994
  • Woolfson J.M. and Kostolich M., Sch Vet Med, Tufts Univ, “Circumcostal Gastropexy: Clinical Use of the Technique in Dogs With Gastric Dilation-Volvulus”, JAAHA 22:825-830.
  • Hall J.A., College of Veterinary Medicine, Colorado State University, “Gastric Dilation-Volvulus is Associated With Altered Gastric Electro-Electromechanical Activity”, Proc Ann ACVIM Forum, 1990.

Electronic copies of this article can be found at CanadasGuidetoDogs.com and the Tail Blazers website.  I post it here as I am the author.