The Plant Protein Science and Technology Forum's final week will begin looking at plant proteins in canine diets. Join the live session on October 20, Relationship between Canine Diets & Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) – Pet Food Health & Nutrition, to learn from experts and participate in the discussion on dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a polarizing issue in the pet food industry since the FDA first announced a possible link between certain pet food diets and DCM in July 2018. Additional research since the first FDA report has included research which showed that dietary-associated DCM may occur with some grain-free diets, but that the cause is likely multifactorial, resulting from a combination of dietary, metabolic, and genetic factors. A cause-and-effect relationship between DCM and grain-free diets has not been proven to date, however, there is much concern and debate among pet food formulators, veterinarians, and pet owners. This session is intended to inform AOCS and meeting attendees on the latest developments in this research area and stimulate ideas for any needed further research.
Presenter spotlight: Anna K. Shoveller, Ph.D
Her presentation, The Pulse of Innovative Ingredients for Foods Intended for Dogs: Then, Now and the Future, will help attendees:
- Understand our current knowledge on amino acid targets for canine foods and how these come together to define protein quality
- Understand how perturbations in sulfur amino acid metabolism may contribute to DCM
- Consider consumer trends and the role these play in the selection of grain-free foods
Meet. Dr. Shoveller
1) What discoveries from your previous research inform the work you plan to discuss at the Plant Protein Science and Technology Forum?
We had previously spent time looking at sulfur amino acid metabolism and sulfur amino acid requirements in multiple species, but most recently in the dog. Furthermore, I'm really interested in plant-based ingredients to meet some of those protein and amino acid requirements for dogs, and, hopefully, one day, cats. Obviously, the cat dilemma, with them being obligate carnivores, is going to require a lot more thought.
But in dogs, for sure, considering plant-based proteins was important. We had already started doing some of that work, for example, the sulfur amino acid work, and then the warning from the FDA in July of 2018 came down, suggesting an association between canine diets, where the grain was largely with legumes. And those diets were associated with diet dilated cardiomyopathy.
Since July of 2018, we first published a multi-author paper which I will start within my presentation and then I'm going to add the data that's not only been coming out of my laboratory but I'm also going to make mention to data that's coming out of Kansas State and Greg Aldrich’s lab and out of the University of Illinois and Maria Godoy’s Lab with regards to the inclusion of legumes in diets intended for dogs with the characteristics of those legumes and how they should be processed, how they affect digestibility, etc.
You'll also see some data about meal responses to grain-free or high legume diets, and supplements of either amino acids or micronutrients. One of the most exciting things I'm going to present is some emerging consumer data that we have in a global survey where we segregated consumers between those who are buying these “grain-free,” or high legume, dog foods and why people might be selecting those in North America, the United Kingdom, Germany and France. And then, I'm going to end off with the tremendous amount of work that needs to be done from here.
2) What is the significance of the research you plan to discuss at the Plant Protein Science and Technology Forum, either for future research routes or for real-world applications?
Well, the biggest implication and the reason why we really need to consider the role of alternative proteins, of which plant proteins are one, for dog and cat nutrition is because the human population is growing, as is the canine population. As we think about how we're going to spread ingredients across these populations, we need more food options in general. The largest part of the market is a chicken and corn-based format and we need alternatives to those ingredients.
Given the population growth, there will not be enough of these single ingredients to feed all the agricultural animals and companion animals. As the human population grows and we're dealing with the same amount of landmass, we need to innovate and diversify to meet these needs.
3) Describe the biggest problem you encountered and solved during your most recent project?
I wouldn't say it's just my own research; I think it's the body of evidence that's building that this association with dilated cardiomyopathy and the inclusion of legumes in diet is not a simple relationship as it was first presented in 2018.
There was a really strong hypothesis that those legumes were increasing taurine excretion, which was being done through greater amounts of bile acids, particularly, what other groups have seen and we also have seen is an increase in primary bile acid excretion.
The thing is it is not altering taurine sufficiency. And so, there may be another component in legumes that may be contributing to DCM, but this is unclear and unsupported at this time. So, is that chemicals that reside? Is it an unaddressed antinutritional factor? And when I say unaddressed, I mean not reduced using processing techniques, as an example.
Or is it really kind of a multi-factorial problem, which is going to be much more difficult to tease apart? So, the biggest difficulty we've had is the key hypothesis hasn't panned out as what underpins this potential increased incidence of dilated cardiomyopathy. That's not an easy causation.
When we see something happen and its diet related, we see a pretty large portion of the population. So, a really good example would be the melamine contamination in 2007 where there was very noticeable increase in health problems, urinary tract problems in particular and a very acute increase in them, right? So, part of the problem is that we're just not reproducing this feeding high amounts of legumes. Are we using the wrong dogs? Are we in the wrong environments? Are we not combining them with something else that humans are doing in their homes because laboratory dogs are different than dogs that reside in homes?
So, so I think it's important to that we consider other factors besides diet when evaluating the health impact of grain-free foods.
The other thing is the grain-free market, which tends to have legumes in them, is huge; it's about half of the US market.
I do however believe that there are gaps in the literature because of a preference for simpler designs and not controlling variables or accounting for them in far more complicated scientific investigations. So, with a complicated matter like DCM, we need complicated designs, diverse expertise, and open collaboration. This is harder than you think to accomplish.
Doing companion animal research is very expensive. So, I own a cat colony here and manage that, but it's a lot of work. So, to do that with dogs, which are even more expensive, I physically will have difficulty getting anybody to pay for that.
So, I was actually introduced to this musher, and what is awesome is he has, at any given point 30 to 40 fairly genetically homogeneous dogs in one spot. So, they all have a consistent environment. They have consistent genetics, and when I approached him, and said, I bet it costs a lot of money to run this kennel and he's like, yeah, it's really going to be what prevents us from growing. So, I introduced myself and said, “Hi, I'm a researcher from the University of Guelph and I would love to have access to your kennel if you'd be willing to work with me.”
And now, we've done everything from exercising work with him to basic nutrition work. Currently, we have a yeast study going on with the sled dogs and looking at gut inflammation, gut permeability and the post-meal nutrient absorption. People think that they're crazy dogs, but truthfully, they are an outstanding breed to work with. The only thing that you have to handle, is they tend to be dirty and want to jump on you a lot.
4) Share a turning point or defining moment in your work as a scientist and/or industry professional.
If you were to track, my career, I seem to have a seven-year itch. I don't generally go and look for something new, it just sort of happens to me, or is presented to me. And it just so happens that I always want the opportunity!
In 1997, I met my to-be Ph.D. Advisor. In 2003, I met an industrial scientist who ended up championing supporting me as a postdoc.
Now it was only three years after that, that the same scientist recruited me to Procter & Gamble. Seven years into working for Procter and Gamble, they were bought by the Mars Company. I simultaneously got offered an awesome job at Mars, but I was already in the queue because I didn't know whether I was going to be offered a job or not because it was a merger and acquisition. At the time, I was already shortlisted for the position here as well.
Mars, almost, almost convinced me not to come home, well I'm not from Guelph, but mine and my husband's family all live an hour south of Guelph. So, when I had the chance to come back to where I was from, and my son was four years old at the time and about to start kindergarten the following year, it wasn’t even a choice. I mean, how can you compete with coming home?
It’s always been strange circumstances that has led me to these defining moments or turning points.
5) What excites you about your work?
Awesome collaborators. Going back and forth, being really focused on the problem, coming up with innovative ways to solve them is better done as a team than any individual can do.
I also think it really has surprised students when they asked me about choosing a career when I say, I could do a ton of things and love it. But the key is that I could be doing something I really love with completely the wrong team and hate it. So, the people I work with really matter.
6) What are potential future directions for the work you are discussing at the 2020 Plant Protein Science and Technology Forum?
So, the potential future work is that we're going to start to explore how high protein diets, micronutrient supply, legumes, and feeding management affect sulfur amino acid metabolism.
7) What do you like to do when you are not in the lab or presenting at meetings?
I would say, hanging out with my family, so, husband and 10-year-old son. In the summer, we spend a lot of time outdoors at our cottage in northern Ontario. That's a lot of fun.
I think eating and drinking socially with friends and family is pretty high on the list and then my son and I both ride horses.
This session is on October 20, but there are more high-quality sessions that are now available on-demand. Find out more about the full technical program.