PORTLAND, OR -- Issues relating to what we eat are in many cases similar to concerns about what our pets eat.
"There definitely is a link," says Dr. Karyl Hurley, director of Global Scientific Affairs for Mars Petcare, who helped organize the Waltham International Nutritional Sciences Symposium here Oct. 1-4.
One example of a dietary issue that impacts both people and pets is obesity, which Theresa Nicklas, professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, called an "epidemic in many nations around the world, especially among children."
Similarly, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, just over half the dogs in America are overweight or obese, and about 60 percent of cats. The parallels to people include a long list of medical repercussions. Just one example is the sharp increase in diabetes among dogs and cats, according to the Banfield State of Pet Health 2011 Report.
Nicklas described various parental styles, some now thought to be significant factors in explaining the rise in overweight and obese children.
Dr. Alex German, of the University of Liverpool in England, suggested that while lifestyle (such as a lack of exercise) has been examined as an explanation for weight gain in pets, "parental" style may also play a important roll. As in people, indulgent or authoritative pet "parents" may unintentionally encourage weight gain in their animals.
"If veterinarians can predict (pet owner) parental style, perhaps they can more effectively prevent obesity," German says.
German also noted that just as in people who diet, weight loss doesn't necessarily solve the problem in the long run for pets. According to one study, half of all dogs who achieved significant weight loss gained it back.
Another topic discussed at symposium relating to people and pets is the diminishing of traditional protein sources, such as beef, pork, lamb, even chicken and turkey.
"In short, the issue is sustainability," said Dr. Kelly Swanson, an associate professor in the Department of Animal Sciences and Division of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Illinois, Urbana, IL. Increasingly, less land is available for raising animals for food production, while simultaneously human populations are rising around the world.
Several speakers suggested that the future for people and their pets may include alternative protein sources. While today some Westerners question animal welfare issues regarding food animals, those ethical issues may one day include the question of feeding diminishing traditional protein sources to pets if people are starving. Also, the price of traditional protein sources is expected to rise, which may ultimately force a change in pet food.
One solution, according to Dr. Guido Bosch, a researcher at Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands, might be insects. Comparing various bugs, it turns out that mealworms are the highest in fat (among insects tested) and protein.
Experts have traditionally said that cats are solely carnivores, but dogs are more like people; they're omnivores. Dr. Wouter Hendriks (cq), a professor of veterinary medicine at Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands, argued that the accepted "Dog dogma that's developed over the past 40 years and has found its way into authoritative scientific reference books, and the popular press."
Hendriks offered data to support his claim that dogs are carnivores. He said that understanding dogs' nutritional needs are obviously important to optimize pet foods.
MORE KIBBLES FROM THE SYMPOSIUM
Researchers from Spain presented the results of their studies which suggest a link between a vitamin B12 deficiency in cats and gastrointestinal inflammation.
Many wild animals will find a way -- if at all possible -- to balance their own diets, even cockroaches and feral cats, researchers suggested.
Military working dogs (who use their noses to find land mines, etc.) might have an enhanced sense smell if corn oil is added to their diet.
(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)
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