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Healthy Trends In Pet Nutrition

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The pet care market has a value of $28 billion worldwide, with the U.S. market valued at $12 billion (Pet Food Industry, November 2002). As consumers have become increasingly attracted to, and comfortable with, the use of natural and organic products themselves, they are becoming equally receptive to the use of natural products, including pest control and herbal supplements, for their pets.

Pet product margins in the overall health and natural sector average approximately 34%. Additionally, 14% of natural food store customers purchase pet care products, pet food and pet supplements at least once a year (Pets International Magazine, Vol. 12, No. 4, 2000). Lastly, a 1999 study lead by One Source U.S. Business Research found that 22% of pet owners had used some form of alternative therapy on their pet.

In terms of health conditions, there are several that have caught the attention of the consumer and the R&D dollars of the pet care manufacturer. These include joint therapy, skin and coat health and obesity/overweight.

Joint Therapy
Active dogs, especially younger ones, can suffer joint sprains and strains. In older dogs, degenerative arthritis leads the way. And in canine athletes, anterior cruciate ligament tears (rips in the tough, fibrous bands that hold the knee in place) can be an issue.

Many large-breed dogs develop two joint problems: hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia. Hip dysplasia occurs when the head of the hip bone doesn’t fit properly into the hip socket, causing joint laxity (looseness), inflammation, pain and lameness. Elbow dysplasia occurs when the bones involving the elbow of the foreleg fail to unite and move properly; the condition can also result from bone fragments within the joint. Young, large-breed dogs often suffer from osteochondritis dissecans, a problem with cartilage development that usually affects shoulder joints but can also affect the elbow, hock and stifle (knee) joints (Dogfancy, Vol 34, Number 1 January 2003).

As in the human market, there are a number of therapies that are being used to promote joint health. The goal of using glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate in pet foods is to assist animals in their routine movements such as walking, climbing stairs and rising. Glucosamine and chondroitin are used together in pet food to aid in joint cartilage synthesis. Articular cartilage acts as a shock absorber and a smooth gliding surface for bones with the joint. This cartilage is a matrix made up of collagen, hyaluronic acid (component of synovial fluid contained with the joint cavity) and glycoaminoglycans. Glucosamine is responsible for the synthesis of hyaluronic acid and glycoaminoglycans.

Chondroitin is one of the major glycoaminoglycans. Supplements of chondroitin are generally provided in the sulfate form. Chondroitin sulfate is thought to strengthen and add flexibility to the protein filaments that compose connective tissue, such as tendons and cartilage. Chondroitin sulfate may also reduce swelling and inflammation in joints and therefore is speculated to assist in the prevention of overuse injuries to connective tissue or in rehabilitating connective tissue from previous injuries.

Another popular ingredient is green lipped mussel (GLM), which is a species of shellfish—Perna canaliculus—unique to the New Zealand marine environment. As a whole food, people have been taking advantage of its chondroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties for quite some time. There is also a great deal of data demonstrating the efficacy of GLM for its similar properties in canines. GLM contains glycosaminoglycans that are similar in function to glucosamine and chondroitin. GLM also works by reducing the level of key lipid intermediaries that trigger cellular inflammation.

In a recent study—“Influence of Green Lipped Mussels (Perna canaliculus) in Alleviating Signs of Arthritis in Dogs”—researchers found that at fairly low application rates, GLM significantly aided in the alleviation of arthritic symptoms. This study also found that GLM, when included in a canine diet, decreased joint pain and reduced swelling in the animals (Veterinary Therapeutics, Vol. 2, Number 2, Spring 2001).

Finally, omega 3 fatty acids are also well known for their anti-inflammatory properties, which operate similarly to GLM in inhibiting prostaglandin formation that triggers inflammation. However, omega 3’s have not gained the same level of popularity in the companion animal market as they have in the human nutrition segment.

Skin and Coat
While omega 3 fatty acids may not have the same association with joint health as in humans, there is a definite connection between omega 3’s and a healthy skin and coat in animals. The essential nature of fatty acids was reported nearly 70 years ago by George and Mildred Burr at the University of Minnesota. These experiments documented that when young animals were fed a fat free diet they ceased to grow, developed dermatitis, dry skin and thickened and brittle hair, experienced kidney dysfunction and failed to reproduce. These conditions were reversed with the addition of linoleic (an 18 carbon omega 6 fatty acid) and alpha-linolenic acids (an 18 carbon omega 3 fatty acid) to the diet (“Prospective Roles of Omega 3 Fatty Acids in the Prevention and Treatment of Cancer,” Dr. Douglas Bibus, University of Minnesota; Petfood Forum 2000).

The key enzyme—Delta-6-Desatuase—in the metabolic transformation of dietary fatty acids into long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCP’s) is extremely sensitive and in humans its activity is severely compromised by a variety of lifestyle factors, diseases and even aging. The same is true in most species studied, including the dog, while in cats the enzyme is non-functional. Deficiency of LCP’s in the cat and dog leads to a whole range of distressing clinical conditions, skin lesions and poor coat condition.

In the mid-1980’s LCP supplementation with marine fish oils (omega 3’s) and evening primrose oil (as a source of omega 6’s) was found to be successful in the treatment of a diverse range of human conditions associated with LCP deficiency. In clinical trials, dermatological conditions such as atopic eczema and seborrheic dermatitis responded particularly well to supplementary LCP’s, leading veterinary investigators to adopt this novel oral approach. Dr. Lloyd at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), London, U.K., had success in several studies dealing with the treatment of canine atopy. Additionally, his colleague at the RVC demonstrated the benefits of LCP’s in the treatment of feline dermatitis. At the same time researchers in the U.S. showed similar results in clinical trials on cats and dogs (“Atlantic Salmon Oil,” Dr. J.B. Iain Cloughley, Pet Food Supplement 2001).

Over the past few years the emphasis has shifted from LCP supplementation in capsule form to the LCP enrichment of pet foods. Another significant development, again paralleling discoveries in human nutrition, has been the recognition that it is important to balance the omega 3’s and omega 6’s in the diet by dramatically increasing the amount of omega 3’s. Recent clinical studies in dogs and cats, particularly in the U.S., have demonstrated the benefit of this approach and omega 3 LCP enhanced pet food products are now proving a successful innovation in the marketplace (“Atlantic Salmon Oil,” Dr. J.B. Iain Cloughley, Pet Food Supplement 2001).

Approximately 20-40% of dogs and cats are obese. Furthermore, many more dogs and cats experience a tendency to be overweight. Such excess weight over the desired norm for the genetics and physical frame of the animal predisposes increased illness, disease and reluctance to activity (“Anti-Obesity Nutrient,” Dr. John Lowe, Tuttons Hill Nutrition, Petfood Forum 2001).

The objective of any obesity management regime for pets is to supply a complete and balanced diet with appropriate calorie restriction. In addition to calorie restriction, there are a number of nutrients and techniques that have been investigated as aids in weight loss and management (“Anti-Obesity Nutrient,” Dr. John Lowe, Tuttons Hill Nutrition, Petfood Forum 2001).

The following are examples of novel components for use in calorie restricted diet plans:

Defatted-Jojoba Meal contains many unique cyanoglucosides that have been shown to decrease food intake and increase weight loss in rats and broilers. A study in dogs reported similar data. The dogs receiving the jojoba consumed less food and lost more weight than the controls, although the addition of this material did not affect satiety and thus was considered to have limited applications in isolation in diets for obese dogs.
L-Carnitine is a naturally occurring cofactor of fatty acid metabolism. It is synthesized de novo in the kidney and liver from lysine and methionine and involves vitamin C, B6, niacin and Fe+2. Studies have shown L-carnitine to enhance fatty acid and ketone oxidation and enhance muscle contractile force, while other studies have shown L-carnitine to reduce body fat and increase lean tissue mass by favorably affecting fatty acid oxidation. Recent data also show that weight loss in cats and dogs improves through L-carnitine supplementation.
Chromium is a trace metal that has been evaluated in both canine and feline diets. Both indicated improved ability to use insulin and improved clearance rates of glucose when fed chromium. Chromium has also shown an ability to maintain lean body mass, while depressing fat mass, thereby increasing energy expenditure.

In summary, pet owners are not only concerned with treating specific injuries or diseases, they are also reviewing their animal’s diet as a means of improving overall health, including the extension and quality of life. Pet food manufacturers are responding with a great deal of research devoted to evaluating the potential for novel ingredients to maximize the health benefit to the animal. The idea behind including such ingredients in companion animal diets is to offer a balanced diet that stimulates metabolism and immune response to improve overall health.

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