IW Nutrition

The IWF-sponsored health talk featured Lisa Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVN. Speaking on “The real scoop on optimal nutrition for the Irish Wolfhound”. Dr. Freeman, who also is an Irish Wolfhound owner, is a specialist in dog nutrition from Tufts University. She spoke on the problems that have been seen lately with some diets resulting in heart disease in certain breeds.

The problem was originally found in certain breeds that didn’t typically have problems with heart disease and were showing up in clinics with dilated cardiomyopathy that responded to change in diets. While some of these had taurine deficiencies, many of them did not. In breeds with predispositions to heart disease it is even harder to be sure whether the disease is related to genetics or is caused by food. The Irish Wolfhound, which has an adult onset cardiomyopathy, is one of those breeds.

Dr. Freeman characterizes these foods as Boutique Exotic-ingredient Grain-free (BEG) diets. There has been an explosion in small pet food manufacturers, some without basic knowledge of nutrition and without their own manufacturing facilities or quality control. Boutique ingredients such as wild animal meats are often advertised (i.e. kangaroo meat, avocado, wild boar, smoked salmon, goose, quail) Some of these meats have not been characterized thoroughly for nutritional content. Grain free diets substitute mostly legumes and potatoes for the grains (wheat, corn and rice) previously used in kibble.

She talked about reading a dog food label for the important information. While she talked briefly about ingredients lists she pointed out that was really not as critical as finding out where the food was manufactured, whether it had been tested in AAFCO feeding trials, or at least formulated to meet the AAFCO recommendations for nutrition of the life stage and size of dog.

Dr. Freeman briefly discussed the work she is doing with the Irish Wolfhound Foundation to relate diet, body condition score (BCS), and heart disease. Last fall we did taurine measurements and detailed diet information on 26 dogs that were getting echo measurements. In addition we have been collecting data on diet and BCS as part of the Life Cycle Study. During the Specialty heart testing Dr. Freeman and Drs Tyrrell and Rosenthal also collected more detailed information on the feeding of dogs undergoing heart testing.

Dr. Freeman pointed out that one of the most important things we can do for our dogs is control their weight. She discussed BCS and demonstrated a way to assess it based on the feel of the ribs.

Much of what Dr. Freeman discussed can be found in her blog “Petfoodology” from Tufts. Additional information on the testing and research being done under the IWF will be forthcoming in future issues.