Understanding Your Pet’s Body

By Dr. Dave Summers

I often use analogies when trying to explain how different food components work in the body. It sometimes makes it easier to understand new concepts when you can relate it to something you already know, like a campfire or a water pump. Here are some examples that might help you understand nutritionally what is going on in your pets body and why.

Free Radicals and Campfires

A free radical is not something left over from the 1960’s. In the body there are thousands and thousands of chemical reactions in a day. To make all these necessary reactions happen, your body needs energy. The energy comes from oxidizing something.

Think of a big camp fire. To get heat, which is energy, we burn the wood. In chemical terms, the wood is being oxidized. Occasionally sparks fly out of the fire. If the sparks fall on the wrong place, they can cause damage by burning something. To avoid burning something you may have a shovel, water or other various methods of putting out an uncontrolled spark. In the body there are thousands of chemical reactions taking place. Each of these reactions release a tiny bit of heat, like a little fire. Some of these reactions accidentally produce a free radial (a spark). A free radical has the potential to damage other parts of the body, such as destroying a part of the DNA in a cell, the cell could then die, and in the worst case, turn cancerous.

Aging is thought to be a life time accumulation of free radical damage. The body has many different ways to eliminate free radicals. Antioxidants are one of the most important ways. Like having various ways to control camp fire sparks, the body makes use of dozens of different antioxidants. Depending on where the free radical occurs, different antioxidants are more effective, which is why a variety of antioxidants are better than just more of a few antioxidants. The most common source of naturals antioxidants are vegetables, fruits and herbs.

Kidney Failure and a Water Pump

As pets get older, kidney health can be a concern. Kidney or renal failure occurs when the kidneys can no longer remove the wastes products produced by the body. Understanding the two stages of kidney failure can help you select the best food for your pet. During the first stage the kidneys are wearing out, but they can still eliminate harmful waste products from the body. At second stage, or renal failure, the kidneys can no longer get rid of all the waste products.

My analogy is like the water pump at the cottage. The pump draws water from the lake and the water intake is held up off the sandy bottom, because if sand gets into the pump it causes the pump to wear out. At first the pump just has to work a little longer because it is less efficient, but it can still generate enough water pressure. Everyone is still happy. But as the pump wears out more and more, it gets to the point where it cannot generate the same water pressure. Now the person taking a shower is not happy. In the body it is sodium and phosphorus that play the role of the sand, and can cause the kidneys to wear out. Initially there are no health issues, but a veterinarian checkup can show that the kidneys are losing their ability to function. At this stage of kidney failure, a diet that is low in sodium and phosphorus is recommended to preserve the time left that kidneys can still get rid of waste products. The lowest sodium and phosphorus non-veterinarian foods can be found in some senior foods. As the kidneys continue to wear out they reach a point where they can no longer get rid of the waste products from the body. One of the major waste products is nitrogen, which comes from the breakdown of protein. The pet now needs a diet that is low in sodium, phosphorus AND protein. Other than a home prepared food, this type of food is only available at veterinarians.

Prebiotics and Row Boats

Most of the good and the bad bacteria that live in the intestinal tract or the urinary system have the ability to attach to the cells lining the intestinal or the urinary tract. Why do they do this? If they don’t attach themselves, they will get swept away because they cannot swim fast enough to keep up with the current. Picture a small row boat, with little oars, on a big river in flood. In order not to get swept out to sea, it has to tie off to a branch of a tree. The bacteria also need to find a branch to attach to. Now bacteria are not known for their intellect. All they know is they have to tie off to a branch, even if the branch is attached to a floating tree going down the river. And out to sea they go. All bacteria do not tie up to the same branches. Different bacteria tie up to different branches. Wouldn’t it be nice if some of the bad bacteria were tricked into tying off to a floating branch? That is what some prebiotics do, like cranberry extract and yucca schidigera. They mimic the binding sites the bacteria are supposed to attach to, so bad bacteria will attach themselves and out of the body it goes!

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