I wrote about avocados and what they can do if a dog eats the fruit back in 2018. Three years on and the idea of including avocado in pet food is becoming a reality. Some companies are using it based on nutritional benefits of the berry, others rely on avocado meal as a fibre replacement for beet pulp or cellulose. But does it mean that avocado is good for our spaniels?
Essentially, avocado is still considered toxic to dogs by WSAVA, ASPCA and veterinary manuals. As I’ve previously written, the fruit, skin, leaves, stems, bark and stones are high in persin. If you give persin to a human, the substance may actually fight cancer and increase effectiveness of cancer fighting drugs. If you give it to an animal, including dogs, it can cause an accumulation of fluid in the lungs, breathing difficulties and death. Small quantities of the fruit will lead to diarrhoea and vomiting. The high fat content will increase the risk of pancreatitis or weight gain (and cockers are genetically prone to both). And the stone can cause obstructions or, if it’s crushed, repeat the worst-case scenario as above.
Of course, the parts of avocado contain different levels of toxin. Leaves and bark are the worst. The light green flesh you’d use in a guacamole, is least toxic, which does not make it safe – it simply means you are less likely to lose your dog. Studies have shown that feeding dogs small quantities of avocado didn’t always make the canines unwell visually, but their bloods had elevated levels lactate dehydrogenase, alanine aminotransferase and alkaline phosphatase. When rats were given avocado oils in another study, their livers showed abnormalities.
What is also important to consider is that avocados are usually used in pet food in a form of meal. And the meal can contain any parts of the plant due to natural contamination during manufacturing process. In other words, you may be lucky and have “light green parts” or not to lucky and give your dog a treat or food containing traces of bark or leaves.
Does it mean that avocado is bad? Avocado is a fantastic source of fatty acids (the “good” fats), vitamin A, E, K and folate, minerals magnesium and potassium, as well as fibre. It’s packed with antioxidants, too. But this only applies to human diet.
This also means that simply because something is really good for humans, it does not necessarily need to become an ingredient in canine diet.
And please do check the ingredients list on your dog food and treats to ensure that they are avocado-free. Maybe one day there will be long-term studies to prove us wrong or a new process developed to make avocados safe for dogs. But honestly, why not simply focus on other sources of the above mentioned vitamins and minerals that are known and proven to be safe for dogs than trying to alter a fruit known to cause problems. Not everything in nature is meant to be tamed to suit the human brief or financial interests. But that’s how I feel about it.
What is yellow, has ears and can be used to make food, coffee, fireworks and fuel?
Yes, today we are going to talk about corn and the role it plays in dog diet. I know corn often gets bad press and has been dismissed by many pup parents because the grain is often presented as “the worst” ingredient in dog food. But is it really?
Let’s discuss a few curious facts today.
Corn isn’t just a “filler”. Corn is a nutrient-rich grain that adds proteins important for body’s growth and maintenance (the grain is 6.8-12% protein), carbohydrates for energy, fibre for healthy digestion and potentially reduced risk of GI cancers, antioxidants such as carotenoids to protect and strengthen the immune system and, importantly, linoleic acid that is essential for dogs.
Based on the amino acid content, corn has a biological value of 74, almost the same as beef and chicken (both are 75). When combined with other sources of amino acids, corn can help create food with the gold standard value of 100.
Dogs can digest corn because they evolved and became omnivores that have a genome different to the wolf’s, particularly when it comes to digestion of carbohydrates. When fed a diet containing corn starch, dogs showed 99% digestibility of the starch and 87% of the protein (the highest digestibility compared to diets containing other grains). The diet containing corn flour showed 98% of carb digestibility.
If I am to put it all in a (long) sentence – grains are least likely to cause allergies in dogs and corn is considered an “uncommon food source of allergens”, the type of corn used in food production plays a role (in a study dogs with potential allergy to corn were less likely to react to cornstarch than kernels and flour), there is always a small chance of a dog reacting to ANY food ingredient simply because dogs are unique and there are several diet, lifestyle, health and genetic factors that can contribute to the reaction, just because a dog had a reaction to some food where corn is an ingredient, it does not mean the dog reacted to corn, the only way to know for sure is through extensive and labour-intensive veterinary exam, months-long elimination trials under veterinary and nutritional supervision and a review and potentially complete overhaul of the environment the dog in question lives in.
Corn may lower glycemic response in adult dogs meaning that dogs will not have insulin spikes following a meal.
Corn can be a very useful ingredient in a diet formulated for dogs with diagnosed health condition or dogs undergoing tests or treatment. If you vet prescribes a food made with corn, he is doing it to help your dog, not because he’s got an evil canning plan!
But before you rush and grab a bag of dog food made with corn, remember the following…
The corn used in pet food is often a hybrid type that may be higher in proteins and lower in phytates. This, however, means that corn used in dog food, may undergo genetic modification, which can put many people off for a number of reasons. The subject is controversial, especially when it comes to pet food industry because long-term studies of GM corn and its potential role in cancers are lacking.
If you are concerned, look for UK and EU produced foods and check the label. By law “animal feed materials and compound feeds which contain GM or GM-derived material must be indicated on the label”. And even though many ingredients, including corn, are exported from the countries that allow genetic modification, the UK/EU rules will highlight this for the consumer.
Corn can be a source of aflatoxins and at the moment the official recommendations and safety limits differ greatly when it comes to grains used for human food and those used in animal feed. There have also been a few recalls due to aflatoxin contamination in pet food, however, not of them were necessarily caused by corn.
It is worth remembering that pet food manufactures do test ingredients and have measured in place to ensure food safety. There have also been considerations for the use of special supplements such as Hydrated sodium calcium aluminosilicate, which is natural clay that coats the food and prevents potential aflatoxin poisoning even if the food is contaminated.
However, according to the review by Maxwell Leung et al. published in 2006 “government regulations of mycotoxin contamination are often compromised by the analytical detection limits, regional prevalence, as well as trade relationships amongst different countries instead of fulfilling the scientific approach of risk assessment and safety determination”.
If you are concerned, buy the food produced by PFMA-registered members. Personally I would stick with bigger food manufacturers that have resources and facilities for testing ingredients and products and actually inform their customers of food recalls should the worst happen.
Choose shops that are more likely to store the food with great care.
Check the label on the bag for best before date and keep the food in a cool, dark place, and use the bag the food came in – just remember to seal it well.
And if you choose to make treats with corn for your dog, shop in supermarkets for organic polenta or organic corn flour known as masa harina.
Something happened two weeks ago. Something that meant a lot to me.
I published Treats – my second and much-treasured cookbook for dogs. I know I should probably be cool and content, but this recipe book was such a joy, such a heartwarming venture, that I wish I could sing about it from the roof tops.
Treats was a natural progression of Beyond the Doughnut. Same concept, different ideas. The Doughnut was all about meals and treats directly inspired by some of the famous staples to allow dog parents make a meal or treat that looked like human food but was definitely dog-friendly and safe.
Treats were purely about treats. Treats that are easy to prepare. Treats as we see them when we think of our dogs. Treats in a form of biscuits. Lots and lots of different biscuits. Treats for summer because it’s lovely to have some ice-creams a pup can enjoy. Treats for holiday celebrations and birthday parties because “party without a cake is just a meeting”.
I looked for inspiration in my boys’ eyes… places we visited… flowers and seasons… Even books. I spent hours in the kitchen, inventing, cooking, testing over and over again. I got into food styling because everything had to be beautiful, tell a story, put a smile on my readers’ faces. And I fell in love with my camera for helping me to capture my ideas. I became a small animal nutritionist, food stylist and photographer in one. It was a huge challenge to take on, but life is dull without challenges.
And once I was done with the images, I designed the text pages to compliment the photos, take you away daydreaming with me. Even if for a second. It was a one-woman project that instilled me with happiness… and anxiety for the unknown future of my paper baby…
This book makes me buzz. It makes me want to dance.
Do get a copy. I know you and your pup will adore it.
Available on amazon worldwide as paperback, hardback (selected countries only) and Kindle
Image credit: cover and pages design by me, illustration of the dog by Xenia Voronicheva, food styling and photography by me, photo of me, Cooper and Fred by Elizabeth Clarke