What do you feed your dog?
“What do you feed your dog?” you perfunctorily inquire, while completing your examination.
“Cooked chicken and rice,” the pet owner boasts.
“Is that on top of the kibble?”
“No. Just chicken and rice. I buy premium, cooked chickens at Costco. I make sure it is lean, white meat, no skin, no bones, no fat. Then I cook some white rice.” The owner pauses for impact. “Gosh, I love my little Mr. Woofington’s Worth so much. I only give him the best. I would never give him those big-name company foods, which don’t care about my Woofy at all. I would never give my dog corn, by-products, or that other stuff.”
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Podcast: Harry Potter, Snow White, and Chicken Breasts
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Harry Potter chicken breasts?
At this conversation point, I resist glancing beneath the client’s feet for a self-toted soapbox – one more advantage of curbside. A quick clarification question just released diluvial passion and misinformation. With a busy schedule and patients waiting, why not avoid this emotional minefield and let it go? After all, how bad can this be? At least this diet is high in amino acids, the building blocks of protein, right?
Yes and no. Just as a series of letters comprises a book, a string of amino acids forms a protein. Instead of 26 letters, nature uses 20, and on rare occasions 22, amino acids to create our molecular novels.
Mammals generate between 80,000 and 400,000 unique proteins to survive. The lean myofibrils that generate the plump pectorals of a Gallus domesticus only utilize a small set. While chicken breasts hold essential amino acids, their “alphabet signature” remains unique.
Think of chicken breasts as the novel Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. To make more books, you’ll require this same amino-acid ratio, with a high demand of “H’s” and “P’s.” If Snow White makes collagen, you will need a set of letters leaning heavily towards “S’s” and “Ws.” From the works of Shakespeare to Moliere, to J.K. Rowling, to Lev Tolstoy, we need a variety to support our lives. Our bodies manufacture some molecular letters (non-essential amino acids) but not others (essential).
What occurs when you need to print Snow White but have run out of essential “W’s?” As collagen supports tendons and ligaments, the pet’s joints will suffer. The other amino acids, lacking the bottleneck “W,” will process through the liver, kidneys, and ultimately into the urine. Feeding chicken breasts and rice may lead to amino acid deficiency despite the high protein content.
If You’re Going to Feed Your Chihuahua’s Inner Wolf, Do It Right!
Wild canines start with eating the intestines, liver, and kidneys of their prey. Mr. Woofington’s owner has already deprived him of the initial prize of by-products. Wild animals consume skin, bone, fat, and organ meat. What is Woofy left with? Sole copies of Harry Potter. Important but not comprehensive.
Making matters worse, lean chicken breast and cooked rice provides little fat. Lipids support brain, skin, and endocrine function, not to mention provide energy and assist with vitamin absorption. Compared to rice, ground, cooked corn provides five times more fatty acids, as well as more fiber, vitamins, and antioxidant flavonoids.
MyFoodData.com shows that chicken breasts (6 oz) provide 10.2 mg of calcium and 409.7 mg of phosphorus, and white rice (1 cup) contributes 35 mg calcium, and zero mg phosphorus. Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) requires formulated food to adhere to calcium: phosphorus (Ca:P) ratio of 1:1, with an outer limit of 2:1.
This delicious chicken-and-rice formula rates 1:8.87 – so much phosphorus for those poor kidneys, yikes! AAFCO levels require “minimums to sustain life.” The worst commercial pet food easily outpaces home-cooked chicken and rice. Additionally, chicken and rice holds deficiencies of trace minerals and other nutrients, such as vitamins A and D.
How Would Your Personal Physician Respond?
Cooked chicken breasts and rice inflicts malnutrition at a level deemed illegal to sell as primary nutrition for dogs in the United States, for safety reasons. Most nutritionists allow this combination as an “intermittent supplemental food,” not to exceed 10% of Woofy’s diet. Add a dog biscuit, or even a carrot, and you’ll need to pull back on the “arroz con pollo.”
When confronted with this poultry predicament, I employ the Socratic method and ask, “If you told your personal physician that you only eat cooked chicken and rice – nothing else, what would your doctor say?”
Despite the resulting awkward silence, forcing an answer from the owner helps establish the genuine quandary that the pet is in. Then empathy can help release the tension and reinforce the message, “I know how much you love your best friend. Let’s maximize Woofy’s time with you. My recommendations include…”
Anna Karenina Nutritional Imbalance Theory
Concerning poorly conceptualized diets, Tolstoy might have written, “Well balanced diets are all alike, every unbalanced diet is unbalanced in its own way.” No matter which imbalanced diets we correct, or how, we must protect our patients from malnutrition and consistently be the voice for the voiceless.
First Published in the Pulse Magazine
Dr. Christopher Lee pens the monthly column, Medical Leeway, in the popular Southern California VETERINARY MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (SCVMA) magazine, Pulse. The SCVMA published this article in their January 2021 magazine on page 16.
Access to these magazines is free and holds wonderful content. Whether you live in Southern California or not, consider joining the nation’s largest regional VMA. Veterinary and technician students can join for free. Become a member today!
References and Further Reading
1. de Carvalho, C., & Caramujo, M. J. (2018). The Various Roles of Fatty Acids. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 23(10), 2583. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules23102583
2. Kim, H., Do, H. W., & Chung, H. (2017). A Comparison of the Essential Amino Acid Content and the Retention Rate by Chicken Part according to Different Cooking Methods. Korean journal for food science of animal resources, 37(5), 626–634. https://doi.org/10.5851/kosfa.2017.37.5.626
3. MyFoodData. (2020). Nutrition Facts for Lean Chicken Breast (Cooked). Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://tools.myfooddata.com/nutrition-facts/171140/wt9
4. MyFoodData. (2020). Total Nutrients in Cooked White Rice and Jasmine Cooked Rice. Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://tools.myfooddata.com/recipe-nutrition-calculator/168878-528742/wt1-wt1/1-1/1
5. Ograin, CVT, VTS, MBA, V. (2020, November 27). The Quandary of a Chicken and Rice Diet [Telephone interview].
6. Sanderson , BS, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, DACVN, S. (2013, September). Nutritional Requirements and Related Diseases of Small Animals - Management and Nutrition. Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://www.merckvetmanual.com/management-and-nutrition/nutrition-small-animals/nutritional-requirements-and-related-diseases-of-small-animals