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With the introduction of a new pulse-based dog food, there will be a whole lot more tail wagging going on. Pulsar dog food from Horizon Pet Nutrition at Rosthern, Saskatchewan, is a grain-free dog food that uses red lentils and peas as a healthy grain substitute. Research on humans has shown that pulses are rich in protein, high in antioxidants, gluten-free, and have negligible sodium and low glycemic index (GI).

“The nutritional benefits of pulses are many with one of the most prominent being an extremely low GI that many of the pulses possess – particularly red lentils. So, we felt the use of pulses as the carbohydrate alternative versus potato was another step-jump advancement in the nutritional benefits of grain-free food,” explains Jeff English, president of Horizon Pet Nutrition.

The pet food market is divided into two main segments. Low price is the driver in the mass retail/grocery market and low cost ingredients such as corn gluten meal, corn, wheat flour, rice flour, and brewers rice are commonly used. In the specialty market, better grains and carbohydrates such as whole brown rice, oatmeal, rye, flax and barley are used. Some specialty dog foods also go grain-free using potato and tapioca as a carbohydrate source and to act as a binder.

English says Horizon Pet Foods was the first in the industry to start using peas in their Legacy line of grain-free products in 2007. Their launch of Pulsar in Dec 2011 includes red lentils along with pea to help improve the nutritional profile further.

The market for pet food sales is large and growing. In Canada, the market is worth $5 billion annually and has been climbing steadily for decades. Internationally, the pet food market is worth $49 billion and is growing at five percent annually. The move to include pulses in pet food could significantly expand the pulse market.

Good for dogs and their owners

While the inclusion of pulses in pet foods will be good for the pulse industry in Canada, it will likely be good for the health of the pets as well. Dr. Lynn Weber at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan says various studies have found that approximately 30 % of dogs are considered obese and up to 50 % are considered overweight.

“The statistics vary depending on the country, affluence and lifestyle of the owners, but pet obesity is a concern,” says Dr. Weber.

Much like humans, obesity can lead to health issues. In dogs, Weber says obesity can lead to joint, cardiovascular, kidney and cancer problems.  She is currently conducting research into the benefits of pulses in dog food. The three-year project will be completed in the spring of 2012, and is funded in part by the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers Association. Horizon Pet Nutrition is also contributing to the project, which is comparing the health effects of pulse-based dog food with corn, rice and barley diets.

The research is a double-blind study, so Weber can’t comment on how the research is looking until after the data is analyzed. Part of the basis of the research is to test the effect of low glycemic index (GI) foods on dogs.  Glycemic index is a measure of how quickly carbohydrates break down and release sugar into the bloodstream. High GI foods like white bread, corn and sugars have a high GI rating, and quickly spike blood sugar levels.

Low GI foods, like pulses, whole grains and most unprocessed fruit have a lower GI index. These foods help improve glucose and lipid levels in diabetics and can help control weight and dietary hunger.

English is looking forward to the results from the WCVM research, and hopes to see more independent research of this type in the future. He is, though, sold on the benefits of pulses in humans, and believes they are of benefit to pets as well.

“The broader science of the benefits of low GI and pulses in the human diet are well documented. It is our view that the key tenets of the benefits of pulses in humans are transferrable to pets. In fact, the need to have highly digestible components in pet foods is amplified when compared to humans given their much shorter digestive system,” explains English. “So we spend our own time understanding the broader science and then formulating foods we think take the best qualities and science available and choose to be an innovator in the products we put forward. It is not our goal or heritage – even though we are a reasonably new company – to be a nutritional follower. We choose to lead and we felt strongly the benefits of pulses are widely unquestioned.”