Iams nutrition symposium reveals diet connection to major illnesses

Implications for human diet


More than 400 veterinarians and academics in canine and feline nutrition gathered in San Francisco April 30-May 2 to discuss nutritional connections in pet diabetes, renal failure, old age, and cancer, connections that have implications for humans as well.

More than 40 papers were presented on diabetes management, growth and development, obesity, neonatal health, immunology, gastrointestinal health, renal health, geriatric nutrition, and physical stress and nutrition.


More than 16 million Americans suffer from diabetes and the number is increasing. The number of dogs and cats with diabetes is also on the rise. Although there are obvious differences between humans and animals, Iams and leading universities have found some connections between diet and the disease that may ultimately benefit humans.

Starch is the food component most likely responsible for the rise in blood glucose immediately after a meal, according to researchers. However, it has been proven that certain forms of starch, including sorghum and barley, actually help control a dog's blood sugar levels.

“We have found that a dog's glycemic response, which is the increase in blood sugar and insulin levels after eating, is affected by the type of starch used in food,” said Greg Sunvold PhD, a nutritionist with The Iams Company. “We know that by nutritionally managing blood sugars, we can potentially reduce insulin therapy and minimize diabetic episodes in both animals and humans. This recent animal science establishes new options for human diets.”


Like humans, pets are affected by the aging process and changes in immune systems. Differences between old and young animals and how function and disease resistance are altered show that some medical conditions related to aging can be managed nutritionally.

Research by Simin N. Meydani DVM, PhD of Tufts University shows that several antioxidants, especially Vitamin E, can help animals avoid viral infections and live long, healthy lives. With age, Vitamin E levels in dogs naturally decrease, which means the older immune system may not be able to adequately defend itself against disease. Meydani's research shows the addition of Vitamin E in an older dog's diet can enhance the immune response so that it resembles the response of a younger dog.


Many human cancer patients find they are unable to maintain adequate body weight. These patients suffer from a form of malnutrition called protein-calorie malnutrition. Healthy animals can combat long periods of starvation through decreased metabolic rate, but animals that are sick or injured require more energy, which increases metabolism.

A study by Glenna Mauldin DVM, MS, DACVIM of Louisiana State University showed that animals suffering with cancer, receiving radiation, and fed a high protein, high fat diet maintained body weight better than those fed typical diets.

“Humans undergoing cancer treatment might benefit from the findings in our study, which shows that a highly digestible and energy-dense diet can be effective in maintaining nutritional status,” Maudlin said.

Kidney failure

Renal failure, characterized by the inability of the kidneys to perform normal functions, is a common illness of humans and animals. Symptoms such as vomiting, anorexia, lethargy, pruritis, and tremors can result from renal failure and prohibit humans and animals from pursuing normal daily activities.

Chronic renal failure is one of the most frustrating conditions a veterinarian faces because it is common, irreversible, and inevitably fatal. However, recent findings enable veterinarians to nutritionally manage the condition so the pets can maintain healthy, normal lives. Some researchers believe that physicians may find the research helpful to manage renal conditions in humans as well.

The research has spawned a new theory about protein and its effects on kidney disease.

“For years, physicians and veterinarians have treated renal failure by reducing protein levels in diets,” said Gregory Reinhart PhD, an Iams researcher. “After working with leading universities, we have now found that restricting protein in a dog's diet may do more harm than good by potentially putting the companion animal at risk of protein malnutrition.”

Iams found that a diet with moderate protein levels does not have adverse effects on canine renal patients: it helps animals maintain muscle mass, increase energy levels, and maintain normal activity. A moderate protein diet has been found beneficial in managing renal failure in humans as well.

The Iams Company has also discovered that fermentable fiber sources can aid a dog's kidney function by using the colon to dispose of toxic compounds. This proprietary process, called the Nitrogen Trap ™, shifts excretion of nitrogen waste products from the urine to the feces, allowing the animal with renal problems to eat a higher protein diet with beneficial effects.

Researchers learned that humans and dogs have similar reactions to fermentable fiber and have incorporated this approach into a liquid product developed for humans who require kidney dialysis.

High blood pressure in the kidney deteriorates the organ rapidly, and a decrease in blood pressure can slow the progression of kidney disease. Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids found in fish oil and flax decrease high blood pressure in the canine kidney, a process that could have application for human patients as well.

“Pet owners should look for food that includes the optimal balance of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids, which is a ratio of five Omega-6s to one Omega-3,” said Dan Carey DVM of the Iams Company.

“With careful monitoring and planned management, dogs can have reduced clinical signs and slower progression of renal failure. However, renal failure is a complex disorder, and Carey advises pet owners to consult a veterinarian if the pet shows signs of renal disease.

Norma Bennett Woolf

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