Archive for News from Dr. Jean

How to Solve Canine “Dis”-Obedience

The ways in which a dog can get into trouble seem limitless. These unwanted behaviors cause enormous frustration to the human members of the family. The only thing there seems to be more of is advice—from neighbors, the pet store clerk, books, and of course, online. Yet simply understanding the way learning and behavior occur will go a long way toward solving just about any behavior problem that comes up.

The most basic principle is why a behavior occurs, and there are really only two possibilities: negative and positive reinforcement. Every organism, from single-celled amoebas on up, will move away from an unpleasant stimulus and toward a pleasurable stimulus. No matter how complex the behavior is, fundamentally the motivation is one of these two desires: avoid pain, or increase pleasure.

Much of the popular wisdom about dog training emphasizes the first principle, negative reinforcement, using its most extreme tool: punishment. But for punishment to be effective, it must meet three criteria. It must be:

  • Immediate (within 2 seconds of the behavior)
  • Consistent (every single time the animal performs the behavior, whether you’re watching or not)
  • Effective (stop the behavior without causing additional problems)

The problem is that these criteria are nearly impossible to achieve. For instance, a popular dog behavior site give this advice: “If you decide that some action requires correction, *always* give a correction when you see that action. For example, if you decide that your dog is not allowed on the sofa, then *always* correct it when you see it on the sofa.” But what if you’re in another room, or sleeping, or at work? If you’re not there, the dog can get on the sofa with no consequences. So what do you think the dog will learn if you correct him every time you see him on the sofa? He will learn not to get on the sofa when you are in the room.

Other techniques follow the “alpha dog” theory: you must be dominant. To demonstrate your position, recommendations include staring the dog down, grabbing her by the scruff or neck and shaking her, tapping under the chin, and most famously the “alpha roll,” in which you force the dog down onto her back with her feet in the air, exposing her belly. The problem with these techniques, which are supposedly based on natural behavior in wolf packs, is that they bear no resemblance to wolf behavior in the wild. You will never see an alpha wolf roll a subordinate; rather, this position is naturally and voluntarily assumed by the subordinate wolf as a sign of submission. That’s a very big difference! These techniques will terrify a submissive dog, but worse, they will make a naturally assertive dog more aggressive. Staring an aggressive dog in the eyes will be interpreted by that dog as a direct challenge. These physical techniques, often demonstrated by “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan, have the potential to result in injury to the amateur trainner: you.

“Positive” dog training, which is gaining in popularity, operates from a completely different point of view. This technique recognizes that the reason the dog is doing a behavior is because it gets some kind of reward for it. For example, a dog that gets into the garbage gets a powerful and immediate reward in the form of food. The dog who sleeps on the sofa does so because it’s comfortable. The dog who jumps up on every visitor is getting attention—lots of attention—for doing so.

The best way to correct a behavior is to remove the original reward and replace it with something else that is equally or more desirable to the dog, but also acceptable to the guardian. This philosophy respects and works with, not against, the dog’s needs and nature. Distraction, using a toy or treat, will often successfully interrupt the behavior. Cable TV behaviorist Victoria Stillwell exemplifies this philosophy.

Attention-seeking behavior such as jumping up, barking, play-biting, and incessant nuzzling, generally accomplish their goals. That is, the dog gets attention for it: you’re looking at him, vocalizing (talking or yelling), and perhaps even handling him (pushing, tapping, nudging). As unpleasant as we might think they are, these are actually all strong rewards. To change the behavior, we have to change the reward system. There are two basic steps:

Negative Reinforcer: Withdrawal of Attention. Don’t look at your dog, talk to him, or give him the slightest indication you know he exists. If the dog is jumping up on you (or a visitor), turn away. Most dogs will follow your movement and keep jumping. Keep turning away. Fold your arms, close your eyes, and don’t speak. Do not give him any attention whatsoever. It may take a minute or two, but when the dog fails to get the attention-reward he’s seeking, he’ll lose interest and stop jumping, perhaps to pace or even sit. That’s your cue for the next step…

Positive Reinforcer: Proper Reward. Timing is everything. As soon as the dog stops the unwanted behavior, and is quiet, reward him. Enthusiastic, yet low-key, verbal praise should accompany any reward, such as treats, petting, or a favorite toy, but may suffice on its own. This tells the the dog that the best way to get your attention is to sit or stand quietly.

Judicious use of training treats can do wonders, even for entrenched behaviors. All-meat treats are the healthiest for your dog, but any treat your dog loves will work. If it’s a large treat (jerky slice, for instance), break or tear it in to small pieces for the purpose. Treats contain calories, and may put on the pounds if used excessively. At first, give a treat for every successful behavior. After the dog is behaving reliably, give a treat every other time, and gradually extend and vary the interval. Variable reinforcement is the principle behind slot machines; and can create serious addiction. But in this case, you want your dog to be addicted to good behavior!

Recently, a noted behaviorist commented that “good dogs” are, in a way, losers. They are quiet and obedient, and for that, they are largely ignored. So let’s not forget to tell our dogs how wonderful they are when they are just being dogs…sitting, snoozing, walking on a leash without pulling…these are the times when we need to give them little rewards, so those nice behaviors are rewarded.

Of course, it is important to respect the dog’s other needs: exercise, social engagement, healthy diet. A dog that sits alone in the house all day may justifiably be rambunctious in the few hours the family is home and awake. Fetching games (use a Chuck-It if you don’t have a hall-of-fame throwing arm!), appropriate walks, doggie day care, or a trip to the dog park, will help work off that accumulated energy, and help keep the dog on a more even keel.

Got questions? Post them in our Community disussion boards!

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Solving Cat Scratching Problems

There has been a lot of media attention lately on cat declawing, as the total number of cities banning the practice as animal cruelty rose to 8 by the end of last year. Declaw surgery is no manicure; it amputates 1/3 of the cat’s paws. Declawing is extremely painful for the cat, and medical complications are extremely common. Despite average pain management at the time of surgery, it is now known that serious pain can persist for months or years, leading to physical and behavior problems. Studies show that  33% (1 in 3) declawed cats will develop a more serious behavior problem, such as aggression, or failing to use the litterbox. It’s far better (and more humane) to resolve behavioral problems with behavioral solutions.

What can you do about destuctive scratching without declawing? Fortunately, there are many alternatives, one or more of which is sure to work for any cat.

Keeping Furniture Safe

Surveys recently found that while 95% of cats are declawed to protect furniture, only 52% of cat guardians provided their cat with a scratching post. Scratching is an extremely strong instinctive need for cats, and unless you give them an attractive and acceptable surface to scratch on, they will choose one for themselves—and it could be your sofa or expensive carpet! So the first step in preventing destructive clawing is to give the cat a good scratching object and start transferring the behavior.

To train your kitten or cat to use the post or scratcher, place it next to a problem scratching spot, or near a favorite sleeping spot. Cats like to stretch when they wake up from a nap. Rub the post with catnip if your cat likes it. Gently redirect scratching to the post. No yelling or punishment—they don’t work, and will only confuse and frighten the cat. Praise the cat or give treats for using the right surface. Be patient, and be consistent.

Some cats have a distinct preference for either vertical or horizontal scratching surfaces, which can easily be determined by observation. Cats tend to prefer corrugated cardboard and sisal rope or matting over carpet (the most common post covering). There is an incredible variety of shapes, sizes, and orientations available. From simple cardboard scratchers to wall art and exotic cat furniture, you’ll find something here to please any cat! We advise providing multiple options, even for a single cat. All vertical posts should be sturdy, stable, and tall enough for your cat to stretch fully. Make your own scratchers from cardboard, logs, sisal, or soft wood, or try one of these cat-friendly products:

If your cat still prefers furniture to his own scratching objects, loose furniture covers (blankets, towels, sheets), or protective double-sided sticky tape can be used to make the furniture unappealing. Specially made tape comes in strips and sheets, and won’t harm harm upholstery. Don’t worry, these are not permanent measures; once your cat is using the acceptable alternatives reliably, you can remove the protectors.

Keeping People Safe

Another concern is the potential for the cat to scratch a person. For young children, the elderly, immuno-compromised individuals, or people on blood-thinners, this seems like a legitimate reason to declaw; but it isn’t. Studies show that declawed cats are more likely to bite, and to bite harder or more frequently.  Cat bites are far more dangerous to human health than scratches, and are much more likely to become infected.

Children (and some adults!) should be taught how to approach and handle cats gently and humanely. Children can learn, but declawing is for life. Never play rough with a cat or kitten using bare hands or feet. Yes, it’s funny and cute to play with a kitten with your hands (we’ve all seen that YouTube video), but when he’s all grown up with inch-long fangs, it’s not so amusing. Don’t create a bad habit to start with, so your cat won’t have to unlearn it later (which is not so easy to accomplish).

Additional protection for human health can be accomplished by regular nail trimming to keep the claws blunt and harmless. Scissor-style nail clippers or human nail clippers are the easiest to maneuver. It’s ideal to get kittens started young by handling the feet and trimming nails early; but even adult cats can learn to tolerate it. Be patient and go slowly. There’s no rule that says you have to trim all 18 claws at once; one or two when your cat is sleeping or peaceful is also a great way to start.

For even more protection, you can apply vinyl nail caps over the nails. Your veterinarian’s office or groomer can show you how to apply them. Once the nail caps are applied they remain in place for approximately 4-6 weeks. They will fall off with the natural growth of your cat’s nails. We recommend that you check your cat’s nails periodically because usually just one or two fall off at a time and these can be easily reapplied. Each kit contains 40 nail caps and will last approximately 4-6 months per cat.

More Options

There are “repellents” available that will make the unacceptable scratching area less appealing to your cat. Or, make your own using citrus oils or citronella.

If your cat is scratching due to territorial anxiety, natural pheromones can encourage use of the correct surfaces (posts, scratchers)

There’s Never a Need to Declaw

All reasons for non-medical declawing have non-surgical alternatives. There are many humane choices that will protect both human and feline health, as well as sofas and Persian rugs. Those who absolutely insist that no cat of theirs will have claws, can adopt an already-declawed cat (there are many of them in shelters and rescues).

With time, patience, and a little effort, one or more of these alternatives will work for any cat; making it unnecessary and inhumane to use a radical, irreversible surgery to solve a behavior problem.

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Relieving Joint Aches and Pains

With winter and cold weather setting in, it’s time to think about the joint aches that often affect older pets. What is generally perceived as “slowing down” or “a little stiff” may be a sign of significant joint deterioration or arthritis, and probably causes some degree of discomfort in most older pets.

Arthritic cats often gradually stop jumping up as high as they once did. The inflammation and pain that go with arthritis can cause house-soiling if there is not a litter box on every level of the home!

Dogs with arthritis may not be as enthusiastic about hiking, playing, or stairs. They may choose to sleep on the floor if they can’t get to the bed or sofa. Even getting into the car can be a real challenge.

Providing “steps” (a box or stool, for instance) up to a bed, chair, or other favorite high spots may be greatly appreciated by an older pet. A portable ramp may be a great answer for getting an older dog into the car or truck.

Cats’ unique metabolism makes metabolize many of the arthritis and pain medications commonly given to dogs, such as carprofen (Rimadyl®) too hazardous to use. (It has also caused some serious, even fatal, side effects in dogs.)  Moreover, ibuprofen (Advil®), naproxyn (Aleve®), and acetaminophen (Tylenol®) are all highly very to both cats and dogs.

The good news is that there are simple, inexpensive nutritional supplements that are very effective and, most important, very safe. Supplements for arthritis include:

Cartilage and joint fluid building blocks: glycosaminoglycans such as glucosamine, chondroitin, and hyaluronic acid. These supplements also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Green-lipped mussels are an excellent source of these compounds.

Connective Tissue Support: MSM (methyl-sulfonyl-methane) provides elemental sulfur for the body to make certain amino acids and other compounds used in connective tissue. Silica, another component of connective tissue, is found in the herb horsetail (Equisetum arvense) along with MSM.

Antioxidants: to help minimize and resolve inflammation, which is the primary cause of joint pain. These include antioxidant vitamins C and E, astaxanthin, and essential fatty acids.

Anti-inflammatory herbs: Boswellia serrata (frankincense) is traditionally used in combination with other herbs in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. Since some herbs can be extremely toxic to cats, it’s best to consult with a veterinarian trained in the use of western or Chinese herbs. Turmeric (Curcuma longa)has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine; modern science has validated its beneficial properties. Yucca schidigera was used by Native Americans for arthritis pain. (Yucca also has the odd but useful “side effect” of reducing intestinal gas!)

These supplements are not quick fixes—it may take 3-5 weeks for improvement to be noticeable, and they must be given daily to prevent return of pain and improve your pet’s activity and flexibility. Here are a few supplements containing these important nutrients:

Only Natural Pet Lubri-Ease (several formulas) (Note: the topical formula, Joint Gel, contains white willow bark, which is related to aspirin; please consult your veterinarian before using this product on cats.)

Only Natural Pet Easy Strider 

Vetri-Science Glyco-Flex for Dogs

Only Natural offers many other excellent nutritional products that aid joint health for dogs and cats.

From a holistic viewpoint, no physical condition is simply physical. In energetic terms, disease, including arthritis, starts on the energetic plane and progresses through the mental and emotional spheres before manifesting itself in the physical body. One way to address this is through the use of flower essences, which can heal the imbalances on the mental and emotional planes. Another way to look at this is that mental “stiffness” ultimately contributes to stiffening of the physical joints. Flower essences, homeopathic remedies, acupuncture, massage, aquatherapy, physical therapy, and other holistic therapies can help your pet stay mentally, physically, and emotionally “flexible,” and minimize the energetic stresses that contribute to the development of arthritis.

Last, but certainly not least, a warm, soft bed is an essential for older pets; letting the joints get cold can make them stiffer and more painful. Check out Only Natural’s wide variety of cozy beds for pets.

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Keeping the Holidays Safe for Your Pets

The holidays can be a stressful and even dangerous time for our pets. The routines are upset, visitors abound, and tempting smells are coming from the kitchen! Keeping pets safe is sometimes tricky at this time of year, so here are a few tips and tricks to help everyone enjoy the holidays fearlessly!

The Christmas tree is the first item of great interest on your pet’s Santa list. Many cats find it irresistibly tempting to climb. So, make sure your tree is in a sturdy, tip-resistant stand. (A classic Christmas card shows a cat and two women gazing at a decorated tree that’s tightly guy-wired to the walls and ceiling; one woman says to the other, “No chance of the cat knocking over the tree this year!”)

Most tree stands have a water container—this is another hazard. Aromatic compounds from the tree itself and the chemicals often added to the water are highly toxic to pets; make sure the container is wrapped and taped or otherwise made inaccessible to your feline and canine friends, who will often try to drink from this novel water source.

Christmas lights and wires on the tree and around the home are an invitation to chew for both cats and dogs. For wires that are easily accessible to curious teeth (especially young animals), run them through inexpensive foam pipe insulators that you can find at any home improvement or hardware store.

Metal tinsel is rare these days, but mylar tinsel and garlands can also pose a swallowing hazard. They can cause serious damage to a pet’s intestines. Consider a beaded garland instead. Also, when unwrapping presents, make sure all ribbon and string is safely disposed.

Keep glass ornaments to a minimum if you must use them at all, and place them higher on the tree, with unbreakable ornaments lower down. A broken glass ornament is a minefield for tender paws. If a pet eats all or part of a glass ornament, immediately feed cotton balls or bread soaked in milk or cream; the soft mushy texture will gather up all the sharp pieces and safely “escort” and expel them.

Parties and visitors increase the risk of a cat slipping out through an open door; make sure all your pets are microchipped and wearing collars and ID tags.

You may want to provide a “base camp” for your pet that includes food, water, bed—and for cats, a scratching post, and litter box—in a room that’s less likely to be disturbed. A spritz or two of a pet pheromone spray (Only Natural Pet Phero-Soothe) or flower essences (Only Natural Pet Just Relax Flower Essences, or Spirit Essences Holiday Stress Stopper) will keep the atmosphere calm. But no decorations in that room, please, especially lit candles! (Of course, unattended burning candles are a serious hazard at any time of year!)

Take it easy on the treats. Too many fatty treats like turkey skin or ham can cause serious tummy upset; in dogs, these can trigger life-threatening pancreatitis. Ask dinner guests to refrain from feeding “under the table”—or even better, keep pets safely confined during the festivities. Chocolate, of course, is toxic to both dogs and cats.

For extra comfort, consider adding essences, herbs (like Animals’ Apawthecary Tranquility Blend, or Only Natural Pet Chinese Herbal Blends Calm), or homeopathics (Newton Homeopathics Nervousness & Fear) to meals during the most hectic times.

A little extra care and attention will make this holiday season a safe and happy one for the whole family!

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The Truth About Heartworms

by Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM

For the past two years, veterinarians and pharmaceutical companies have teamed up in a marketing campaign to frighten pet
guardians into giving year-round heartworm preventatives to both dogs and cats. The campaign has really ramped up this year. They say they’re doing this to improve protection for individual pets, but we need to take a closer look to discover the truth.

How do pets get heartworms?
Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes. Tiny hearworm larvae, called microfilaria, circulate in the blood, and are sucked up by the bug when it feeds on an infected host animal; for heartworms, their natural host is the dog. Once inside the mosquito, the larvae must develop through more stages before they can infect another dog. For that to occur, outside temperatures must remain above 57
degrees F, day and night, for a minimum of 8 days. The warmer the temperature, the faster the larvae will mature. If the temperature drops below that critical level, larval development will stop; but the larvae don’t die—development will re-start at the same point when the weather warms back up. Larvae reach their infective stage in 8 to 30 days (the latter being the entire lifespan of the average mosquito).

When an infected mosquito bites a dog or cat, the heartworm microfilaria are deposited on the skin, where they crawl into the bite wound and enter the bloodstream. Inside the body, they get ready to “settle down and raise a family.” In dogs, the heartworm’s natural host, the larvae migrate to the heart and eventually develop into adult worms, reproduce, fill the blood with microfilaria, and pass it on to the next mosquito. The maturation process takes 6-7 months.

What do heartworms do?

Once in the bloodstream, the microfilaria migrate to the right side of the heart nd attach there, where they can grow into adulthood. According to the American Heartworm Society, “Clinical signs of heartworm disease may not be recognized in the early stages, as the number of heartworms in an animal tends to accumulate gradually over a period of months and sometimes years and after repeated
mosquito bites. Recently infected dogs may exhibit no signs of the disease, while heavily infected dogs may eventually show clinical signs, including a mild, persistent cough, reluctance to move or exercise, fatigue after only moderate exercise, reduced appetite and weight loss.” It takes microfilaria about 6-7 months to mature into adults and start reproducing. Clinical signs are not typically seen before that. Adult worms can live up to 7 years in the dog.

In cats, adult worms can develop, but they cannot reproduce; they take about 9 months to mature, and they tend to live only a year or two. However, adult heartworms are about a foot long, so it only takes 1 or 2 to fill up a cat’s tiny heart and cause serious problems.

As it turns out, cats have pretty good defenses of their own. In 80% of cases, the cat’s own immune system kills the larvae and clears the infection. Nevertheless, microfilaria can still cause significant inflammation in the lungs, even in cats who never show any signs of infection. Feline heartworms may be commonly misdiagnosed as asthma or bronchitis, when it is actually Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (HARD). Also, for the 20% of cats who do become persistently infected, severe respiratory and/or cardiac disease can occur. 

Heartworms have been diagnosed even in cats who spend 100% of their time indoors.

Treatment
Treatment of a mature heartworm infection can be very dangerous. When the arsenic-based drug is given to an infected dog, the massive die-off of the worms can cause severe inflammation and even respiratory failure. Not all dogs survive treatment. Clearly, prevention is the best option!

Alternatively, many veterinarians advocate simply giving the regular heartworm preventative to kill off any microfilaria already present and keep newly deposited larvae from developing, while waiting for the adult worms to die. This may be a more practical alternative for cats, or for dogs that do not have a severe infestation.

Seasonal vs. year-round protection
Except for a the warmest parts of the U.S. (mainly in the southeast), heartworms are a completely seasonal problem. There is no reason to give heartworm medicine to most pets year-round (except to make money for those who make and sell it!).

In many areas of the country (northern and mountain states, for instance), such warm temperatures simply don’t exist for most of the year, and sustained warm temperatures don’t occur until at least June. In fact, only in Florida and south Texas is year-round heartworm transmission possible. Within 150 miles of the Gulf Coast, heartworm risk exists 9 months out of the year. In the rest of the country, heartworm transmission is possible between 3 and 7 months out of the year. Hawaii and Alaska have each had a few cases of canine heartworm, but the incidence in those states is very low.

It should be obvious that during seasons where there are no mosquitoes, there is no risk of heartworm. Evidently that little fact escaped the attention of the veterinarian who prescribed heartworm protection—in December–for a puppy living high in the Colorado mountains. At that altitude, temperatures are never warm enough for heartworms!

A debate about when to give heartworm preventatives was published in an April 2009 journal article (“Ask the Expert: Year-Round Heartworm Prevention: Two Viewpoints,” by By Dwight Bowman and James Lok, published in NAVC Clinician’s Brief, the official publication of the North American Veterinary Conference, 2009/04/01). Both authors are university professors in parasitology.

The argument presented by Dr. Bowman in favor of year-round heartworm medication focused on just two points: (1) the speculation that “scenarios can arise where transmission may occur in cooler climates in the ‘off season;’ and (2) the completely unrelated issue of prevention of internal parasites by additional drugs added to the heartworm preventative.

Arguing on the other side, Dr. Lok lays out the case for appropriate seasonal control, and concludes, “Besides incurring unnecessary costs for the client, indiscriminate application of broad-spectrum medications can engender further confusion about the primary imperative for these medications—heartworm prevention—and when they are most crucial—during the season of heartworm transmission.”

Of course, if in any given year the weather is unseasonably warm for long enough, exceptions to those recommendations should be made.

Having looked at both sides of the issue, I have to agree with those who suggest that giving year-round treatment to animals in states where year-round transmission does not occur is doing an injustice to both the animals being given drugs they don’t need, as well as the pocketbooks of their guardians. This argument is rarely presented since the drug companies have the resources to widely promote their views (and products) to consumers as well as veterinarians.

Heartworm prevention
The most common preventative drugs for heartworm are ivermectin (Heargard®), milbemycin (Interceptor®) and selamectin (Revolution®). While these drugs are generally safe and effective, there are always exceptions. Toxicity associated with ivermectin include depression, ataxia (balance problems or unsteady walk), and blindness, but these are uncommon at the low doses used in heartworm preventatives. Ivermectin should be used with caution in collies and related breeds such as Old English Sheepdodgs and Australian Shephers, who are more sensitive to the drug’s neurological effects. Milbemycin, the most common alternative drug for collie breeds, can cause depression/lethargy, vomiting, ataxia, anorexia, diarrhea, convulsions, weakness and hypersalivation. Selamectin is also used to treat ear mites and some worms; adverse reactions include hair loss at the site of application, diarrhea, vomiting, muscle
tremors, anorexia, lethargy, salivation, rapid breathing, and contact allergy.

Only Natural Pet HW Protect Herbal Formula
is a natural product intended for use as a preventative to be used during mosquito season as part of a comprehensive heartworm control program. The formula was designed with two objectives, using herbs that work together to reduce the likelihood of mosquito bites to lower your pet’s risk of becoming infected, and to help eliminate existing larvae-stage parasites in the bloodstream. This tincture was developed to help prevent heartworm infestation using extracts of herbs well known for
their mosquito repelling properties, and others well known for their anti-parasitic properties. Using an insect repellent like

Only Natural Pet Herbal Defense Spray
may also help prevent heartworms by keeping mosquitoes away from pets when they are outside.
An herbal approach to heartworm prevention is not like a traditional heartworm pharmaceutical preventative, which chemically kills all heartworm larvae, but it may be an effective and more natural method to prevent heartworm infection. Consistent dosing is essential for proper protection, along with heartworm testing at least every 6 months.

Summary
1) The temperature needs to stay above 57 degrees for 8 to 30 days.
2) A mosquito has to bite a dog that already has microfilaria in its bloodstream.
3) That mosquito has to then bite your dog or cat 8-30 days later.
4) You must give the heartworm preventative medication within 6 weeks of mosquito bite to kill microfilaria in the blood and prevent the larvae from growing to adulthood.

References:
Knight DH, Lok JB. Seasonality of heartworm infections and implications for chemoprophylaxis. Clin Tech Sm An Pract. 1998 May;13(2):77-82.

Atkins C. Feline heartworm disease. NAVC Clinician’s Brief. http://www.cliniciansbrief.com/webrief/25.php. Accessed 5/20/2009.

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Caring for Your Senior Pet

By Dr. Jean Hofve

Getting older…it’s happening to all of us every day, including our pets. And just like humans, dogs and cats are prone to a number of medical problems as they get older. With diet, supplements, and extra care, many of these conditions can be prevented, delayed, or managed, to give your pet the best possible quality of life throughout the senior years. Here are a few of the health issues you may run into as your pet ages, and some things you can do treat them naturally:

Arthritis

Most older pets eventually develop arthritis. What is usually considered “slowing down,” or “a little stiff,” or even sleep disturbances (because they just can’t get comfortable) may be a sign of significant joint disease. Extra weight makes arthritis that much worse, so an older dog may need a good weight loss program (older cats tend to lose weight by themselves). A high protein diet helps protect lean muscle mass while shedding fat. Proper weight and moderate
exercise are the keys to comfort.

Joint protectors and anti-inflammatories can help, and they include glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, and MSM (methyl-sulfonyl-methane); all of which can be added to wet food. Other herbs and minerals may also be helpful. Antioxidants provide good anti-inflammatory action and pain relief. It may take 3-5 weeks for improvement to be noticeable. View joint support supplements and  antioxidants.

Digestive Slowdown

As they age, pets experience a decreased ability to digest and metabolize protein and fat that occurs with age. Older pets need more and better quality protein. Wet foods are ideal for older cats and dogs—this includes food in cans or pouches, as well as frozen raw diets. They’re easier to digest, and much more palatable. Adding  digestive enzymes and probiotics will help your pet get the most nutrition from food, and there are specific digestive support remedies available for more severe issues. 

Kidney Disease (Chronic Renal Failure, CRF, or Chronic Kidney Disease, CKD)

The kidneys have a lot of responsibility, and they work hard 24/7. Over time, cells die and are replaced by scar tissue. Only when 75% of kidney function is irreversibly lost will signs of kidney disease occur. CRF is very common in older cats, but dogs can also develop the disease.

One thing you’ll hear from friends and even from vets is that protein is bad for the kidneys. But dietary protein has nothing whatsoever to do with the development of kidney disease (in dogs or cats). In fact, in older pets without pre-existing kidney disease, canned food or other high protein, high moisture diets are recommended. Antioxidants and  Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil or cod liver oil) are proven to be highly beneficial for pets with kidney disease. There is new evidence that probiotics can also be helpful. There are also specific kidney support products available.

 Dental Disease

This is the most common problems that vets see in dogs and cats. It often begins by the tender age of 3 – and gets worse from there! Many dogs and most cats are relatively stoic about pain, and problems such as abscessed teeth and oral tumors can easily be missed. One solution is to take your older pet in for a thorough checkup twice a year instead of just once. (But don’t let the vet vaccinate your older pet, unless the rabies vaccine is required by law. (See our article about vaccinations for more information.) Try to brush your pet’s teeth at home, or use one of the products that help minimize plaque.

Cognitive Dysfunction (Senility)

Both dogs and cats can develop cognitive (learning and memory) problems as they get older, which are increasingly recognized as a form of dementia or even Alzheimer’s.  Antioxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids (cod liver oil is best for this condition) are valuable in keeping your dog’s brain functioning at its best.

Cancer

Half of dogs over age 10 will develop cancer, the most frightening diagnosis of all. At its most basic, cancer is the result of immune system failure – itself the result of poor diet, over-vaccination, genetics, and environmental factors.
Keeping the immune system in peak condition is, of course, fundamental to good health overall, but given the role it may play in so many degenerative diseases, including cancer, is just good sense. Besides exercise, fresh air, and great
nutrition, there are  supplements especially designed for immune supportAntioxidants and Omega-3s are vital to the immune system. There are also ancient healing remedies such as herbs and medicinal mushrooms that have been used for generations or even centuries to deal with serious health issues.

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A Short Guide to Chinese Herbal Medicine

by Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs fall within the broader heading of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM has been used for thousands of years to understand and treat disease, and today is becoming more popular as people realize the powerful yet gentle ways of TCM healing.

Both acupuncture and Chinese herbs can be used effectively in treating health issues in dogs and cats. Many holistic veterinarians offer acupuncture as a treatment modality in their practice. Chinese herbal remedies are also widely used for pets in the holistic veterinary community, including many that are formulated specifically for pets. Following is an overview of the basic principles behind TCM. At the bottom of the article you will find links to the Chinese herbal remedies offered at Only Natural Pet Store.

Here are a few basic principles that are helpful to understand when using Chinese herbs:

1. Chi or Qi (pronounced Chee) is the fundamental life force energy.  Chi flows through the body through 12 primary channels called “meridians.” All beings start out with a certain amount of Chi, and obtain Chi by breathing it in
from the air and deriving it from food and drink.

2. Yin/Yang (pronounced Yong) represents the duality or opposite nature of all things; this is its familiar symbol. Yet the dot reminds us that there is a little bit of both in everything. Yin (Water) is considered feminine, cool, downward, weak, and dark; while Yang (Fire) is the opposite: masculine, hot, upward, strong, and bright. Yin and Yang are interdependent; health depends on maintaining a balance of both.  An imbalance may be either excessive or deficient.

3. The Five Elements describes five natural phases of transformation:
Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. Each element has certain characteristics and governs certain organs and tissues. These phases constantly interact by creating and controlling to maintain balance; when they are out of balance,
disease is the result. Diseases are characterized by which elements (organ system or tissue) is disturbed, and in what direction (Yin or Yang, excess or deficiency). It’s a bit like “Rock-Paper-Scissors”—Fire creates Earth (ashes);
Water controls Fire.

There are many ways that the five elements can be categorized; here are just a few:

 

Fire

Earth

Metal

Water

Wood

Season


Summer

Late Summer

Fall


Winter


Spring

Color

Red

Yellow

White

Blue


Green

Emotion

Joy

Worry

Grief

Fear


Anger

Sensory


Tongue

Mouth

Nose

Ears

Eyes

Meridians


Heart, Small Intestine, Pericardium, Triple Heater

Spleen & Stomach

Lung & Large
Intestine


Kidney & Bladder

Liver & Gall Bladder

4. Six External Factors can invade the body, and cause disease. These are wind, cold, (dry) heat, dampness, dryness, and summer (humid) heat. Arthritis is an example of a wind condition, while asthma indicates dryness.

EXAMPLES OF CHINESE HERBAL FORMULAS

Health Concerns Power Mushrooms

This formula helps strengthen and stabilize the organs and immune system.

Chinese Therapeutic Effects:

  • Tonifies Chi and Yin
  • Benefits stomach, spleen, lungs, and kidneys

Ingredients: Ganoderma (Reishi mushroom) – strengthens immune system Tremella (Wood Ear mushroom) – good for lungs, skin, and immune system Poria sclerotium (Indian bread mushroom) – benefits digestive system Polyporus
sclerotium (Umbellate Pore Fungus) – anti-inflammatory and liver protectant.

Only Natural Pet Chinese Herbal Blends Digestion

While modern medicine knows that the spleen is not part of the digestive tract, in TCM, digestive problems occur when the stomach and spleen are unbalanced or out of harmony.

Chinese Therapeutic Effects:

  • Dispels wind and dampness
  • Disperses stagnation
  • Promotes movement of Chi
  • Benefits spleen, stomach, and blood

Ingredients: Huo Xiang (Patchouli bark) –for nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain Hou Po (Magnolia bark) – for vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal distention Ban Xia (Pinellia root) – for vomiting Chen Pi (Tangerine peel) – for vomiting Fu Ling (Poria mushroom) –for diarrhea, loose stool Bai Zhu (White Atractylodes root) –for digestive disorders Shan Zha (Hawthorne berry) – for diarrhea Shen Qu (Fermented Yeast, Wormwood and Knotweed) – improves digestion Gu Ya (Rice sprout) – for problems caused by starchy foods Bai Zhi (Angelica root) – for loss of appetite, gastrointestinal spasms, and flatulence Da Zao (Jujube fruit) –for diarrhea, poor appetite, and liver protection Gan Cao (Licorice root) –for chronic gastritis, liver disorders, food poisoning, and ulcers

Click the links below to view Chinese Herbal Formulas formulated for specific conditions in cats and dogs:

The complete selection of Chinese herbal remedies offered by Only Natural Pet Store can be found here

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