Healthier Pets Make for Healthier People
by Toni Tarver
Cats and dogs can have some of the same health problems as humans—namely, obesity, diabetes, and cancer. Presenters for the symposium “Innovations in Biofunctional Ingredients for Optimizing Pet Health” provided insight into pet health and how treatments being used to counter inflammatory disease in pets may have positive implications for human health.
Demian Dressler, a veterinarian specializing in dog cancer, detailed the striking similarities between pet health and human health. Only 5–10% of cancers are attributable to genes. Consequently, the main factors affecting the rate of cancer in both humans and their pets are diet and lifestyle. Dressler says that three dietary factors leading to an increased risk of cancer are excessive consumption of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), inefficient consumption of omega-3 PUFAs, and excessive calories in food. Modern Western diets for humans have a 16 to 1 ratio of omega-6 PUFAs to omega-3 PUFAs; the same is true for pet food. This highly disproportionate ratio leads to inflammation, which provides an ideal environment for cancer. Tissue proliferation, blood supply, and cell movement also provide ideal conditions for cancer growth.
Dressler’s study of apoptosis in animals, a natural process by which cells die off to prevent tissue proliferation, shows promise for cancer elimination. The loss of apoptosis is a hallmark for cancer, and apoptogens initiate apoptosis in animals. Polyphenols (found naturally in fruits and vegetables) are dietary sources of apoptogens. Dressler revealed that a new pet drug containing apoptogens has been tested on pets, and it shows great promise. The drug halts the growth of tumors in pets, causing the abnormal growths to disappear. Dressler emphasized that the study and use of apoptogen drugs is still in its infancy, but if trials continue to be successful, a version of the drug for humans may eventually become available.
Professor John Bauer of Texas A&M University presented research findings on the effects of omega-3 PUFAs on neurological development in pets. Discussing the outcomes of administering docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to dogs, Bauer relayed how DHA improved visual function in puppies, appears to reduce seizure activity in epileptic canines, and may mitigate aggressive behavior in dogs.
Closing the program, Kelly S. Swanson, Associate Professor with the University of Illinois, gave an illustrative talk on the use of fibrous and prebiotic ingredients to promote pet health. Through his research, Swanson has determined that the same dietary components that promote intestinal health in humans also promote healthy gut health in dogs and cats: dietary fiber, yeast products, probiotics, and prebiotics. However, Swanson cautions that pet owners should not administer large amounts of dietary fiber to their pets; too much causes loose stools, so moderation is key.