Monday 19 August 2019

Dog's dinner


Alan Alda as Hawkeye Pierce
Alan Alda as Hawkeye Pierce

Boutique-style meals for your family pets may be stressing their flabby hearts, writes Maurice Gueret, who has a teaspoon of healthy advice about portion size

Super Vets

The veterinary world is going the same way as medicine, with ever-increasing specialisation. Knowing much about very little is more lucrative for professionals in all walks of life. Whether it is always in the best interest of patients is debatable. The old veterinary staples of either running a small-animal city clinic or a larger-beast rural practice may disappear, as more vets opt to specialise in heart ailments, tummy troubles, or orthopaedic surgery, like television's Supervet. You could soon be paying through your whiskers for that kitten with a heart murmur who needs the urgent services of a paediatric feline cardiologist.

Lentil Stew

I mention this as a story breaks in the USA about the possible dangers of 'boutique' doggy diets that are rich in peas, lentils, spuds and chickpeas. Grain-free dinners are big business in the competitive world of animal nutrition. A large practice of almost 20 veterinary cardiologists in Maryland has alerted the Food & Drug Administration to a number of cases of dilated cardiomyopathy in dog breeds that aren't normally susceptible to the condition. This rare flabby-heart condition causes tiredness and breathing difficulties, and may tip the organ into failure. Large dogs such as Irish wolfhounds and Great Danes are genetically prone to it, but vets are now diagnosing the condition in small animals like poodles, shih tzus and other breeds. The number of affected animals is relatively small, but research is under way to see if this heart condition may be triggered either by an absence of grain from the diet, or from an excess of lentils, beans or peas. We'll be watching with tongues out.

Dr Hawkeye

Fans of the army medical series M*A*S*H will know that Alan Alda has Parkinson's disease. The actor played the heavy-drinking chief battlefield surgeon, Hawkeye Pierce, pictured, who hated the endless flow of Korean War casualties and longed for a country practice, where he might have time to listen to patients. Alda went public with his illness to reassure patients that it is possible to have an active life after the movement disorder is diagnosed. For the past three-and-a-half years, he has been playing tennis, juggling, marching to music and boxing in the gym. I hope he is only throwing punches and not receiving them. Taking boxes to the head isn't useful in most brain disorders. Alda told fellow patients to keep moving as much as they can, and to chase real science rather than quackery. Sound advice from every doctor's favourite fictional surgeon.

Teaspoon of Sugar

There were calls this summer for mandatory traffic-light labelling on all breakfast cereals. I'm not sure if we need red, amber and green, but we sure as hell do need to feed a lot less sugar to our children, especially first thing in the morning. Replacing fancy cereal cartons with plain porridge next winter might be a good start. Complaining children might be placated with an easily measurable half-teaspoon of jam mixed in. Current advice is that kids should consume no more than 25 grams, about 6 teaspoons, of added sugar a day. Seeing as breakfast cereals, and, indeed lax EU regulations, are designed to confuse, the wiser parent might abandon them completely. I'd vote for leaving traffic lights on the roads, and labelling all processed foodstuffs with the precise number of teaspoons of sugar they contain in each packet and in each defined portion.

Sugar Buttons

Allow me to give you another example of unhelpful labelling. I purchased a packet of milk-chocolate buttons the other day. A smallish-sized bag of 70 grams that supported sustainable cocoa farming. But there wasn't a single mention on the packet of how many buttons were inside. It did say there were three servings, but didn't mention how many buttons were in a serving. Well, I did the maths, and discovered that my little bag of buttons contained a whopping 39 grams of sugar, or about 10 teaspoons. I don't believe the EU will bring in my proposal for mandatory teaspoon labelling. No more than I believe they will opt for mandatory traffic-light labelling either. The European Union is the biggest food-lobby factory in the world. When you encourage lobbying on an industrial scale, the usual result is fudge. And we all know how high in sugar that is.

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