Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How, when and why did corn become so evil?

Fall is the most beautiful time of year in northeastern Ohio.  As I drive to work in the morning, I pass by fields of soybeans and field corn maturing in the fall sunshine.  I love watching the fields of corn change from green to brown and the ears of corn go from upright to hanging downward as the kernels mature and dry out.  Bunches of cornstalks are showing up on front porches and mailbox posts everywhere as people decorate to match the season. My husband's last planting of sweet corn should be maturing this coming week.  There is nothing better than picking an ear of sweet corn, taking it directly to a pot of boiling water and 7 minutes later, putting it on your plate to eat.  Not to give the other veggies in the garden short shrift because everything is ripe and fresh for the picking, but this blog is about corn.  There is a lot to love about fall and well, fall just wouldn't be fall without corn.

Maybe I shouldn't be writing this blog because I love corn and you know how it goes when someone says bad things about something you love.  You want to stand up and defend your love.  Of course fresh sweet corn is the best, but grind corn into meal and you can make all sorts of yummy tortillas and muffins and breads and cakes.  If you want a snack food free of artificial this and that, what could be better than good old corn chips?  Ok so they pack a good amount of calories and salt, but in limited amounts, they can be a tasty treat.

 My first recollection of corn being portrayed as evil was with the high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) controversy.  How many years later are we in this debate and there is still no proof that HFCS is the evil root of this nation's obesity epidemic.  Do I think all the sodas and sweetened foods full of HFCS that we consume are good for us?  No, but I also believe that obesity stems from consuming too many calories and these foods typically have a big caloric wallop.  You see I was majoring in nutrition before I got into vet school.  It is very hard for my scientific brain to wrap my head around the notion that the body reacts differently to a molecule of fructose or glucose in HFCS vs a molecule of fructose or glucose in table sugar.  I just can't make that make sense.  Back when I was an aspiring nutritionist, I learned the 10% rule.  It is ok to eat foods that have minimal nutritional value as long as they don't account for more than 10% of your daily calories.  That means for most people who eat in the 1800-2000 calorie per day range, no more than 180-200 calories per day in sweets and snack foods.  Hard to do in this hectic life, but if we all lived by this, I think we would all be a lot healthier (and thinner).

So that brings me to the corn in dog food controversy.  I don't even know the history of how corn in dog food became so evil.  But I see and hear it around me everyday.  I have clients who tell me they only feed dog food without corn because they read on the internet that corn is bad.  Pet food companies have jumped on the band wagon and specifically marketed foods that are "corn free".  And don't even get me started on the raw diet craze.  It seems to me that I hear one of several concerns over corn.  I'll go through the most common arguments one at a time.

One is that corn is not digestible.  Well, that would be true if whole corn kernels were in dog food, but they are not.  Once corn is ground, the inner goodness of the inside of the corn kernel is open to the digestion process.  Corn does have protein and some good amino acids and fatty acids that help make a balanced diet.

Second is that corn causes allergies.  I've heard the veterinary dermatologists and nutritionists talk about this for years and corn is WAY down on the list when food allergies are diagnosed in a patient.  Foods that are a lot higher up on the list are foods like wheat, beef, dairy products, eggs and chicken.  Not to say that an individual cannot be allergic to corn because they can.  It's just that it is not very common.

Third is that corn is added to dog food as "filler".  This is the one argument against corn that I have the hardest time understanding.  Why would a pet food manufacturer put anything in a pet food that has no nutritional purpose for being there and it costs money?  The truth is that corn has a purpose for being in pet foods.  It is part of the nutritional balancing act to make a food balanced and complete.  People seem to have no problem with feeding pet foods with rice or peas or barley or one of many other plant based carbohydrate sources that are found in pet food companies that are jumping on the corn is evil bandwagon.   When it comes down to it, the reason that corn is the most popular carbohydrate source in dog food is that we live in a country that has a climate that is perfect for growing corn.  This makes corn cheap.  It does not make it bad.  If we lived in a country that had a climate perfect for growing rice, then rice would be the most common carb in dog food.

I guess there are those who want to live complicated lives.  That is fine with me.  For myself, I try to live under the K.I.S.S. principle of life (keep it simple, stupid).  I've been a vet for over 20 years and dogs are living longer and healthier lives than ever before.  And most dogs that come to see me eat a store bought commercial dog food their entire lives with scraps of this and that thrown in for good measure.  Commercial dog food has way less of an impact on overall health than does things like obesity and poor dental health or at least that is how it seems to me.  So I am happy letting the pet food manufacturers do the research and balance my dogs' diet for me.  It saves me time and money and my dogs are just as healthy as anyone else's.  And they eat dog food with corn in it.  Keeping it simple.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Odo and the power of healing

Every once in awhile I like to do a profile of a case that is somewhat unique.  Today's story is about Odo.  Warning: a few of the pictures in this blog are quite graphic.

Odo is a very cool friendly 18 year old black cat.  One Saturday last month, Odo's owner brought him to the clinic to check out some wounds.  Seems as though Odo, who lived his life as an indoor cat, decided that he just couldn't live his whole life without seeing what the outdoors was like.  About a week earlier, he had escaped from the house and was gone for a day.  At first when he came back home everything seemed ok until the night before he came to the clinic when his owner noticed some draining wounds on his back and sides.  When I walked into the exam room, Odo's owner said that the wounds were REALLY bad.  I hear that all the time, but since I have been looking at wounded animals for 20 years, my REALLY bad and an owner's REALLY bad are usually two very different things.  Most wounds are gross, but not bad at all.  In Odo's case, his wounds were REALLY bad.  Even so, Odo was standing on the exam table and bright and alert and happy.  His "dad" even reported that Odo had wanted to eat that morning.  When an animal that is obviously in serious trouble is gosh darn happy, you just have to go along with it.  (Reminded me of a golden retriever I saw over 20 years ago.  It had disappeared for 3 days and when it came home, it had been shot with a high powered rifle through the lower part of the back leg.  The entire lower leg was just hanging on by a thread of skin and the dangling lower leg was even twirling around.  That dog was happily wagging its tail and hopping on three legs all over the clinic. Can't keep a good dog down.  geez!)

Back to Odo.  So we took Odo to the treatment area in the clinic where we can clip fur and wash infected wounds.  With no tranquilization and no fussing at all on Odo's part, he let us clip all the fur away from the sides of the chest and back area.  He just stood there and purred.  Go figure.  The wounds were large, full of pus and went 360 degrees all the way around his chest.   As best I can describe it, the holes in the skin looked like holes in Swiss cheese. There was dead and dying skin and tissue everywhere.  Odo let me trim off most of the dead skin and flush the wounds out with sterile saline.  I think the word "wow" was uttered about 137 times between myself and the staff.  I told Odo's dad that I was really worried that there may be some sort of underlying disease going on to cause the wounds to get as bad as they did.  He did not want to get into an extensive medical work-up due to Odo's age and I had no problem with that.  But since Odo was so gosh darn happy, we decided to put him on antibiotics and see what happened.

What happened next is amazing.  And it's not like I haven't seen it before, but every single time it amazes me.  The healing power of the body.  Given a little help and some tincture of time, it is amazing to watch the transformation.  Again, the first pictures are pretty graphic so you have been warned.

I really think this first picture does not do justice to how bad this was.  This was taken before all the fur was shaved off.  This was only one side.  The cat's top of his back, both right and left sides and the bottom of his chest all had the same amount of holes and pus.

Unfortunately, I did not take a picture of what this all looked like after shaving the fur, but I did take this pleasant close up shot.

One week later this is what one side of Odo's chest looked like.

And two weeks after this, here is what Odo looked like.  A little scarring as the skin regrows and contracts, but the wounds are almost healed and Odo is doing fantastic. 

Amazing.  Every single time.