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Functional foods are for the dogs.

Pet food formulations are getting fortified too.

It has always been far easier to get a dog to eat his food than to make him swallow a pill or suffer an injection. And it's better still if the animal doesn't get sick at all. Because health insurance is a relatively new phenomenon in the veterinary realm, people have always been prevention-minded when it comes to their pets. It's just that now, with wellness and prevention looming larger on their owners' radar screens, pets benefit even more. And we are in the age of mass customization, so there are more products than ever to suit the particular needs of each animal at each stage of its life.

The idea of functional foods for humans has roots (pun intended) as far back as human existence, The renewed enthusiasm for this style of health maintenance can be tied to more access to information about nutrition than ever before. The functional foods reincarnation has also been fueled in recent decades by rising health care costs, managed care, aging boomers, food technology and biotechnology. It is in the marrow of this age, and it's not about to go away.

In the pet food game, it's all about owning a health claim such as "relieves arthritis" or "aids digestion and mineral absorption." Pet care companies are continually refining their food products and developing new ones to deliver specific health benefits. Let's take a look at just a few examples of the panoply of functional foods available for dogs.

Food feeding good

This year, Friskies Pet Care Co. of Glendale, Calif., launched ALPO wet dog food with whole chicory root. The chicory plant has long been known for its digestive benefits for humans, who eat its leaves, endive, in salads and drink it as a coffee substitute. And dogs' digestive systems are less absorptive than humans'.

According to Friskies, only the whole root of the chicory plant has enough natural concentrations of the beneficial starch inulin to effect significant improvement in the bacterial balance of a canine digestive system. Chicory root promotes digestive health by nourishing the good bacteria in a dog's digestive tract.

Friskies' dry ALPO products have contained this patented ingredient for about two years. The addition of whole chicory root to ALPO wet dog food extends the digestive benefits of the dry ALPO food for owners who like to feed both wet and dry. They can now feed both and still maintain high enough levels of inulin to promote bacterial equilibrium in their dogs' digestive tracts. Antibiotics, old age, stress, infections, steroids used to control allergies and itching, and poor diet can all upset the balance of good and pathogenic bacteria in a dog's digestive tract.

"Any time the system is stressed," says Dr. Dan Christian, D.V.M. and director of professional communications for Friskies Pet Care, "whether through bacterial infection or viral infection, the pathogenic bacteria, they love that, they flourish."

Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Clostridium perfringens (C. perfringens) are examples of pathogenic, or bad, bacteria. Lactobacillus and bifidobacteria are probiotics, or good bacteria, that promote health in their animal hosts by colonizing the intestinal mucosa, thus inhibiting the invasive capacities of bad bacteria. In addition to undermining bad bacteria, bifidobacteria and lactobacilli have been found to stimulate cell-mediated immunity, improve nutrient absorption, optimize digestion and synthesize vitamins. In the past, pet food companies have explored the possibility of fortifying their products with probiotics.

"The problem with probiotics," says Christian, "is getting them to survive the processing of pet food." Neither good nor bad bacteria can withstand the high temperatures inherent to extrusion processing for dry and retorting for wet food. Speculating about companies that have tried it, he says: "To actually say those bacteria have survived has yet to be shown."

Instead, Friskies researchers incorporated another solution for promoting good bacteria in the canine digestive tract, Years of research had identified inulin in the chicory root as an ideal prebiotic for stimulating the growth of bifidobacteria in dogs and other animals. Like any organism, bacteria will grow and multiply when they are well fed. A prebiotic is a substance that nourishes only these good bacteria. Chicory root is a fiber source known as a non-digestible oligosaccharide (NDO). It is not broken down by stomach enzymes and is thus able to nourish good bacteria in the lower part of the intestine.

"There are synthetic prebiotics, and there are other natural sources of prebiotics," says Christian. Friskies found chicory root to be more robust in processing than other alternatives. "[With] the excess heat generated [during processing], you're at risk of losing nutritional benefits of any ingredient. Quality control has to be top-notch. We always check the finished product for adequate levels of inulin."

Friskies R&D conducted animal feeding trials in the United States and Europe with hundreds of dogs before launching the dry ALPO formulation with chicory root, and again before launching the new wet ALPO dog food this year. Although there were some initial concerns about palatability, it was very well accepted, says Christian. In other words, dogs ate it up.

Happy joints

It is painful indeed to watch the family dog struggle to walk, develop swollen joints, or have trouble getting up from a nap or climbing stairs. According to Waltham, "One in five dogs entering a veterinary hospital has some degree of clinical arthritis."

A special new dog food can help alleviate arthritis. In May, Waltham launched its Waltham Canine Joint Support Veterinary Diet, which contains New Zealand Green Lipped Mussel (GLM). This patented ingredient is an exclusive source of eicosatetraeonic acid (ETA), an omega-3 fatty acid that has been found to work well as an anti-inflammatory. GLM is also a source of other omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA, chondroitin sulfate and glutamine--important nutrients for cartilage--and minerals and antioxidants that are believed to help reduce free radical damage to joints.

Dr. James Sokolowski, of Waltham USA Inc., Vernon, Calif., says the idea of using GLM in a food for dogs came from Waltham scientists in Australia and New Zealand. GLM was being used there to treat arthritis in humans, with very good results. "It's the only product available anywhere that uses this mollusk--farm raised, specially harvested, specially processed," explains Sokolowski.

Several years of development and extensive clinical testing have gone into this unique product, culminating in clinical trials in 1999. The studies were blind tests using a test group fed the Waltham Canine Joint Support Veterinary Diet and a control group fed a similar formula without GLM. "Over a period of six weeks we did evaluations--blind tests," says Sokolowski, "The animals had joint swelling, pain mobility, crepitus-joints creaking. The ones fed the green-lipped mussel showed significant improvement, while the others didn't."

Last July, Waltham also launched Waltham Canine Selected Protein, a food designed specifically for dogs with food sensitivities or food allergies. "This food is free of materials that generally cause allergies in dogs--soy, corn, wheat, milk products, lactose," says Sokolowski. It includes no synthetic preservatives and colorings, instead using natural preservatives like betacarotene that carry added benefits such as increasing blood levels of antioxidants.

Sokolowski points Chicory out that Waltham also offers a prebiot-includes dried chicory ic fiber benefit. pulp--though not whole chicory root--in its dog food formulations, and touts chicory as a "prebiotic soluble fiber." Waltham dog and cat foods are available exclusively through veterinarians.

C-food for dogs

Dogs are also benefiting from the past three decades' romance with nutraceuticals. Inter-Cal Corp., Prescott, Ariz., holds the patent on a special vitamin C ascorbate, Ester-C, that many premium dog food manufacturers are now including in their formulations. Natural Life Pet Products Inc. in Frontenac, Kan., includes Ester-C in all of its dog food recipes. Precise Pet Products in Nacogdoches, Texas, includes Ester-C in three of its dog food formulas, in both wet and dry form: Precise Competition Formula, Precise Endurance Formula, and Precise Growth Formula.

What is the big deal about dog foods having vitamin C in them? Research in humans and animals has shown that vitamin C plays an important role in immune response as well as in the regeneration of collagen.

Lauren Romero is a consumer research consultant and principal of Park Bench Research, Chicago.

The color of pet health

Dogs are rumored to be colorblind. Nevertheless, the colorings industry is important to pet food makers because pet owners are important to pet food makers. The food has to look like what the label describes--red meat should look red, corn should look yellow. Unfortunately, some FDA-certified colorings, such as red #40, blue #1 and yellow #6, have raised health concerns in humans as well as animals.

"Everybody is concerned about certified colorings because they are so concentrated," says Owen Parker, vice president of research and development for D.D. Williamson in Louisville, Ky. His company is now focusing its product development efforts on colorings derived from natural sources. As consumers become more aware of health concerns associated with synthetic colorings, food manufacturers are under pressure to find uncertified alternatives--that is, colorings derived from natural food sources that don't require FDA certification for use in food.

There are challenges, according to Parker. "Extrusion is tough on products. We've actually gone out to the heart of the pet food industry and worked with them to produce kibbles that actually mimic ones made with red and blue dyes." These alternatives tend to be caramel colorings derived from ingredients like annatto, beet and beta-carotene. These soup-ready ingredients should satisfy even the most demanding dog owners and the food companies that supply their chow.
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Comment:Functional foods are for the dogs.
Author:Romero, Lauren
Publication:Food Processing
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2000
Words:1597
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