Feeding your EPI pet the right diet can make a HUGE difference in it's health- however finding the right diet may be tricky. The most important dietary fact when feeding an EPI animal is that most times it needs to be a low fiber diet......but that is where the simple ends and the difficult begins.....
Dogs and cats have shorter digestive tracts than humans and are basically carnivorous meaning that their nutritional requirements overall are better served with meat vs. plant materials. However, much of the food we purchase for our pets does have some fiber in it, so it would be better for us (and our pets) if we understood the various types of fibers and how they function.... and why so many of the grains/fiber in various pet food can be detrimental to our EPI pets and yet why "some" EPI pets do better with some grain while others do horribly on the same product.
Usually finding the right diet for the EPI pet is the last cornerstone of effectively managing EPI.
My hope with this FIBER page is that if we understand the various types of fiber and their functions that this will better help us understand why some of our EPI pets do fine on one food, while another EPI pet might do horribly on the exact same food...
According to extensive research by dog food companies such as Eukanuba and IAMs, dogs and cats maximized nutrient digestibility with optimal crude fiber levels from a range of 1.4 to 3.5%.
However… we know we cannot apply this to EPI dogs and cats simply because:
So, not only do "most" EPI pets do better on low fiber food.... if possible it would be even better if we could understand what type of fiber is being used in a particular product.
There are different types of fiber such as “SOLUBLE” and “INSOLUBLE” fiber and within these two fiber classifications is another consideration, and that is how “FERMENTABLE” the different fibers are.
Complicating things further is that both types of fibers are usually found together in the same plant, but classification is often made by which fiber type is more predominant and/or the different fiber types are attributed to different portions of the plant.
For example.... a label may claim that there is only 6% fiber content.... but... with an EPI pet it makes a HUGE difference if that 6% fiber is composed mainly of soluble fiber such as sweet potato or insoluble fiber such as sweet potato skins (discussed below)
Both soluble and insoluble fiber are called “Dietary” fiber. Dietary is known to influence bowel habit and gastrointestinal mucosal cell morphology and function.
Chemically speaking, dietary fiber consists of non-starch polysaccharides such as arabinoxylans, cellulose AND other plant components that are resistant dextrins, inulin, lignin, waxes, chitin, pectins, beta-glucans and oligosaccharides.
Dietary fiber inhibits enzymatic activity but in varying degrees according to experiments using both soluble and insoluble fibers such as wheat bran, cellulose, guar gum, pectin, psyllium and lignin. Inhibition seems to also be dependent on incubation time; proportional to fiber concentration and inversely related to enzyme level.
• Soluble fiber dissolves easily in water. Think “gel”. Some foods rich in soluble fiber are fruits, oats, some beans, barley, and vegetables. Such foods result in an increased absorption of nutrients. This type of soluble fiber actually slows digestion down. Because of this, it has a tendency to stabilize blood glucose, and permit better absorption of nutrients. It tends to reduce blood cholesterol. It also increases satiety, so individuals aren’t inclined to eat as much. Sources of soluble fiber include flax, beans, peas, oatmeal, berries, apples, and some nuts and seeds.
• Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water- -however retains water. Some foods rich in insoluble fiber are vegetables, whole grains, and wheat bran. It is tough, and doesn’t easily break down. Insoluble fiber tends to increase the “speed of transit” through digestive systems, and increases regularity of bowel movements.
What is “fermentable” fiber ? Some fiber will ferment in the colon, producing compounds that help support colon health, and possibly have other benefits. Most soluble fiber is highly fermentable. Pectins (found in apples and berries) and the fiber in oats are examples of fiber with a large fermentable component. Inulin and oligofructose are also highly fermentable, as is resistant starch.
• Highly fermentable fiber results in poor stool quality. Foods rich in highly fermentable fiber are cabbage, pectin and guar gum.
• Moderately fermentable fiber results in adequate production of short-chain fatty acids and maintains excellent stool quality. Examples of foods rich in moderately fermentable fiber are beet pulp and rice bran.
• Slow fermentable fiber doesn’t result in adequate production of short-chain fatty acids and is found in plant hull cellulose. This type of fiber is helpful in weight management as it increases bulk and thus the dog feels full even though he has consumed lesser amounts of food.
Too much fiber can cause problems as can too little fiber. Just the very nature of EPI and the relationship of fiber with enzymes require that “most” EPI cat and dog patients need to consume lower fiber content in their diet….but depending on the individual animal and what is going on in their gut, some may need a little bit of fiber. And here in lies the conundrum.
Which type of fiber should be avoided ???
Which type of fiber might be needed ???
How much how little ???
What do they need it to do ???
Needless to say, this explains why finding the right diet can be so tricky and why veterinarian nutritionists are concerned when we say “grain-free”. It really is not necessarily grain-free but rather low fiber that we should consider for a diet for most (not all) and then even what will depend on the individual animal is which type of fiber (if any) it can tolerate or needs to avoid or include at a low dose.
The overall consensus is that for "most" EPI animal patients do best with a LOW FIBER diet.... and the little bit of fiber that is in these diets most do better with “Soluble” (highly digestible) fiber that is also low in "poorly-fermentable" fiber. But specifically how much and predominantly which one can vary from one EPI pet to another.
This is why it is HIGHLY advisable to do trial and error with food, start with a low 4% or less fiber content food first... and adjust more or less fiber from there. ALWAYS watch the diet output (the poo!), the volume, color, texture and frequency for 3-5 days before implementing the next change to see if the "new" diet appears to be working or not.
We, at epi4dogs, have been able to help most pet owners help their pets achieve a normal well-functioning digestive systems.... most times... the last piece of the puzzle has been finding the right diet. It may take some time, and many tweaks.. all depending on your dog's individual system's requirements.... but it can and has been done with a little bit of patience and a lot of support from others who have found the perfect diet for their EPI pet and are willing to share their experiences with others!
I thought long and hard about how to write about the multitude of possible interactions with fiber and the EPI animal and quite honestly, even I became overwhelmed! But while researching this topic (as I promised to the veterinarian nutritionists that I would do and encourage folks to stop using the “grain-free” term) I did discover that there were a lot of “aha!!!” moments while reading the research. I now better understand why we see so much variance in the diets with these EPI animals… why something works for one but not another…..There is a lot of excellent eye opening info that others might also find of interest. So, I have included the next section of “Interesting Tidbits” regarding this topic. There are also links below at the bottom of this page, from where I gathered much of this information. Please feel free to read the sources in their entirety.
SOME INTERESTING TIDBITS ABOUT FIBER
1. Different fibers (even those in the same category) have different fermentation rates.
2. Adding soluble fiber to the diet can be especially beneficial for animals especially those that develop secondary bacterial overgrowth (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or SIBO). Fibers that moderately ferment in the intestinal tract have been shown to create a therapeutic amount of short-chain fatty acids (called SCFAs). There is much exciting research evolving with regards to prebiotics in relation to this. (Prebiotic soluble fibers containing inulin or oligosaccharides are being looked at in giving relief to IBD)
These fatty acids (SCFAs) act as fuel to build up healthy intestinal cells, feed “good bacteria,” and provide bulk for better movement of materials through the gut. A diet higher in digestible fiber also helps reduce the amount of potential “fuel” available for bad bacteria to use. This reduces the amount of damage that can potentially be done to the intestinal cells if these bacteria are allowed to proliferate unchecked.
3. Large-bowel function is particularly influenced by insoluble, poorly fermentable fiber sources.
4. Mucosal function is affected by fiber sources that are soluble and highly fermentable.
5. SOLUBLE FIBER “some” examples:
6. INSOLUBLE FIBER “some” examples:
7. POTENTIAL SOURCES OF FIBER IN A PET’S COMMERCIAL DIET
8. Lignan, an insoluble fiber, may alter the fate and metabolism of soluble fiber
9. Although most fiber sources are carbohydrates, fiber doesn’t raise blood glucosem so low carb diets don’t “count” fiber. So….. while fiber does fall under the category of carbohydrates, in comparison, it does not provide the same number of calories, nor is it processed the way that other sources of carbohydrates are.
10. Various FIBER Definitions
The US Dept of Agriculture previous definition of fiber was the part of plants that were resistant to the digestive enzymes… however, the new definition of fiber is the components of plants that resist digestive enzymes including lignin and polysaccharides and resistant starches along with inulin and oligosaccharides.
The US Food and Nutrition Board assembled a panel that came up with the following definitions:
• Dietary fiber consists of nondigestible carbohydrates and lignin that are intrinsic and intact in plants. This includes plant nonstarch polysaccharides (for example, cellulose, pectin, gums, hemicellulose, and fibers contained in oat and wheat bran), oligosaccharides, lignin, and some resistant starch.
• Functional fiber consists of isolated, nondigestible carbohydrates that have beneficial physiological effects in humans. This includes nondigestible plant (for example, resistant starch, pectin, and gums), chitin, chitosan, or commercially produced (for example, resistant starch, polydextrose, inulin, and indigestible dextrins) carbohydrates.
• Total fiber is the sum of dietary fiber and functional fiber. It's not important to differentiate between which forms of each of these fibers you are getting in your diet. Your total fiber is what matters.
11. Some key components of food that "might" help you identify soluble and insoluble fiber:
Most foods containing fiber contain both soluble and insoluble fiber to certain degrees, with some having a higher degree of one fiber or the other.
• The food is a whole grain, nut, legume or seed. These foods contain both soluble and insoluble fibers..
• The food looks fibrous. Foods like sweet potatoes and carrots look very fibrous. This is good indication that the food is high in fiber.
• The food is a whole fruit or vegetable. Processed fruits and vegetables tend to retain soluble nutrients, but lose the fiber. The best way to get the fiber from fruits and vegetables is to eat them whole.
• The food becomes soft and creates a “sauce” when cooked. Foods like beans, oats and rice contain starch and fiber that are responsible for the creamy consistency. This is a good indication the food will be high in soluble fiber.
• The food is a fruit, vegetable or whole grain and does not dissolve readily in your mouth. A good example of this is potato skin; it is edible, but requires extra chewing. The same is true for many fruits, like pears and apples. This is a good indication the food contains fair amounts of insoluble fiber.
• Many processed foods have added fiber, either to replace what was lost during processing or add extra health benefits. If these foods do not state added fiber on the label, check the nutrition facts panel and ingredient statement to find out. The food should contain 1 or more g of dietary fiber. This can be naturally occurring or it can be added. The added fiber is considered functional fiber, but may also be classified as dietary fiber. Some of the added fibers, that are mostly soluble, are cellulose, gums (guar gum, carrageenan, etc.), inulin, and pectin. Some of the added fibers, that are mostly insoluble, are polydextrose and bran.
• Psyllium fiber, a common fiber supplement sold under the brand name Metamucil, is 70% soluble fiber and 30% insoluble fiber and has the health benefits of both types of dietary fiber.
• Too much fiber in the diet can cause bloating and gas, and it may interact with certain medications. \
• The Institute of Medicine has recommended moving away from the terms soluble and insoluble for fiber, and, instead, using fermentability and viscous to describe the different types of dietary fiber. Nutritionists feel that measuring these instead of solubility gives a more accurate portrayal of the health benefits of fiber by category.
12. Soluble and insoluble fiber are the labels most commonly used to describe fiber. However, two other properties of fiber are turning out to be important: fermentability (how easily the fiber ferments in the colon), and viscosity (the ability to gel with water) of the fiber, which may be more important than solubility.
(From Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dietary_fiber )
13. Chemically defined as oligosaccharides occurring naturally in most plants, inulins have nutritional value as carbohydrates, or more specifically as fructans, a polymer of the natural plant sugar, fructose. Inulin is typically extracted by manufacturers from enriched plant sources such as chicory roots or Jerusalem artichokes for use in prepared foods. Subtly sweet, it can be used to replace sugar, fat, and flour, is often used to improve the flow and mixing qualities of powdered nutritional supplements, and has significant potential health value as a prebiotic fermentable fiber.
Inulin is advantageous because it contains 25–30% the food energy of sugar or other carbohydrates and 10–15% the food energy of fat. As a prebiotic fermentable fiber, its metabolism by gut flora yields short-chain fatty acids which increase absorption of calcium, magnesium, and iron, resulting from upregulation of mineral-transporting genes and their membrane transport proteins within the colon wall. Among other potential beneficial effects noted above, inulin promotes an increase in the mass and health of intestinal Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium populations.
Vegetable gum fiber supplements are relatively new to the market. Often sold as a powder, vegetable gum fibers dissolve easily with no aftertaste. In preliminary clinical trials, they have proven effective for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. Examples of vegetable gum fibers are guar gum and acacia Senegal gum.
The main action of dietary fiber is to change the nature of the contents of the gastrointestinal tract, and to change how other nutrients and chemicals are absorbed. Soluble fiber binds to bile acids in the small intestine, making them less likely to enter the body; this in turn lowers cholesterol levels in the blood. Soluble fiber also attenuates the absorption of sugar, reduces sugar response after eating, normalizes blood lipid levels and, once fermented in the colon, produces short-chain fatty acids as byproducts with wide-ranging physiological activities (discussion below). Insoluble fiber is associated with reduced diabetes risk, but the mechanism by which this occurs is unknown.
.........................and now you know WHY finding the right diet can be so confusing! ...............