Posts tagged Cat

Food Allergies in Pets

Pets can develop “food allergies” or “food intolerances” to ingredients found in commercial cat food. What’s the difference? Food intolerance, which is much more common, is an adverse reaction to something in the food, such as dyes, preservatives, texturizers, or other additives. Food intolerances typically produce digestive symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea. A true food allergy is due to an immune system reaction called “hypersensitivity.” In particular, it is a Type I “immediate” hypersensitivity reaction in which the immune system makes antibodies to the allergen (allergy-causing substance).

The symptoms of food allergy are typically either skin-related, although occasionally digestive symptoms are seen.

  • Skin symptoms include rashes (particularly around the face and ears), excessive licking (typically paws, legs or tummy), and inflamed, itchy ears. Secondary yeast and bacterial infections are common and must also be treated.
  • Digestive symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea. These are similar to the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, which may itself be triggered by a food allergy.

Cats are more likely to develop true allergies to foods than are dogs. Only about 10% of dogs with skin and ear symptoms are food-allergic, but food allergies may account for as many as 50% of cats with the same symptoms.

The top allergens in pets are: beef (often referred to as “meat by-products” or “meat and bone meal” on pet food labels), dairy products, chicken (may be labeled as “poultry”), fish, wheat, eggs, corn, and soy. These allergens are, not coincidentally, the most common ingredients in pet foods.

An allergy can develop to any protein to which the pet is repeatedly or constantly exposed. Feeding the same food for years on end is the best way to create a food allergy. This is why we recommend varying the brands and flavors you feed your pet.

Conventional Treatment

The first step in any suspected food intolerance or allergy is a “hypoallergenic” diet trial. These diet trials use “novel” ingredients that are not commonly found in pet food. Novel protein sources include kangaroo, emu, venison, rabbit, and duck. Novel carbohydrate sources include green peas, potatoes, and barley. Lamb and rice used to be novel, but since the introduction of lamb and rice foods years ago, many animals have (predictably) become allergic to those, too. The prescription-type diets (using green peas and novel meat sources) are available from some veterinarians. OTC choices include Nature’s Variety Prairie (lamb, duck, rabbit and venison), EVO 95% meat varieties, and Merrick Thanksgiving Day Dinner (turkey).

A diet trial lasts 8-12 weeks (it takes a long time to resolve skin symptoms) and must include only the test food; no treats, no exceptions. Just one diet slip (such as giving a treat containing chicken) could invalidate the entire trial, make your pet miserable, and force you to start the entire trial over from the beginning.

The main drug treatment for food allergy is steroids (also called “corticosteroids” and “glucocorticoids” to distinguish them from the anabolic steroids that bodybuilders and athletes sometimes use), hyposensitization, and diet therapy.

Steroids can be given by long-lasting injection (“Depo-Medrol” or other injectable cortisone) or by mouth in the form of a tablet. The two most common oral steroids are prednisone and prednisolone. Prednisone is hard for cats to metabolize and must be converted to prednisolone in the liver before it will work. Therefore, it is simpler and less stressful to give prednisolone itself.

The primary action of steroids is to suppress the immune system, so that the inflammatory reaction to the allergen does not occur. However, steroids have many dangerous side effects, including diabetes and ulceration in the digestive tract. Dogs are much more sensitive to the effects of steroids than cats; steriods should be used with extreme caution in all pets. Pets receiving steroids should not be vaccinated because the steroid prevents the immune system from responding to the vaccine.

Hyposensitization is another potential treatment, but is used more in dogs than cats. It requires knowing precisely what the pet is allergic to. This is best accomplished with a skin test done under anesthesia. The skin test is considered the “gold standard”; but there is also a blood test for allergies (sometimes called a “Rast” test). While both work well in dogs, they are not accurate for cats. Once the allergens are determined, each substance is diluted; they are then mixed together and injected. The tiny amount used tells the immune system that the substances are not harmful and it doesn’t need to over-react.

Holistic Treatment

Holistic treatments for food allergies include:

1. Homemade, or raw diets using fresh, whole food ingredients. Even though a dog or cat is allergic to a protein in commercial pet food, that same protein, fed fresh, may not be problematic. That’s because heat-processing of canned and dry foods can alter the natural proteins, creating abnormal shapes that trigger an immune reaction. If possible, when starting out, it’s best to use a novel protein source to allow time for the immune system to calm down and the gut to heal. Once symptoms resolve, you can re-introduce other ingredients one by one to test for reaction. If using a commercially prepared food (including raw or dehydrated diets and all supplements), always read the ingredients. Some products claim to be low-allergen but still contain chicken, fish, or other likely allergy suspects.

2. Natural anti-inflammatories. Antioxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids have good anti-inflammatory action; Omega-3s are also beneficial for skin healing. Fish and cod liver oils are the best source of Omega 3s for pets, and high-quality distilled oils should not contain any fish proteins; but if your pet is allergic to fish and reacts to a fish oil product, you may want to substitute flaxseed oil. Always read the label to make sure that there are no potential allergens used as a flavoring or base. Safe, excellent-quality products include:

Inflamazyme

Pure Essentials for Mature Dogs

VetriScience Antiox

Genesis Resources Feline Antioxidant Formula

Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet and Cod Liver Oil

3. Digestive support: Enzymes and Probiotics

Giving digestive enzymes with food helps the gut break particles down and reduces the chance that allergenic proteins will remain intact long enough to provoke an immune response. Probiotics help protect the intestinal tract and promote a healthy bacterial population, which may reduce inflammation. Here are some convenient, safe products:

Pet Naturals Digestive Support for Dogs and Cats (contains enzymes and probiotics)

Animal Essentials Plant Enzymes and Probiotics

It should also be noted that even in pets who are not specifically allergic to something in the food (such as dogs with atopy, or cats with asthma) still often do better with a hypoallergenic diet. It seems that the fewer allergens the immune system has to deal with, the less chance it will over-react.

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Seizures and Epilepsy in Pets

There are few things more frightening than witnessing your cat or dog having a full-blown seizure—falling down, paddling with its paws, maybe even barking or yowling. Seizures are the result of an abnormal burst of electrical signals from the brain. Possible causes include toxic substances, electrolyte imbalances or abnormalities, head trauma, or metabolic conditions such as diabetes or thyroid disease. The uncoordinated firing of neurons in the brain creates seizures (convulsions). These range from a few moments of mental “absence” where the animal seems not to be aware of its surroundings, to severe “grand mal” with unconsciousness, stiffened limbs or flailing movements, and uncontrolled urination and/or defecation.

Stages of Seizures

The typical seizure has four stages; not all of these may be noticeable in any particular animal:

1. The prodromal phase may precede the seizure by hours or days. It is characterized by changes in mood or behavior.

2. The aura is the start of a seizure. Signals include whining, trembling, salivation, clingy behavior, restlessness, hiding.

3. The “ictus” or actual seizure. Mild seizures may involve “fly-biting” (where the dog will snap its teeth in the air) or lack of awareness. At its worst, the animal will lose consciousness and fall, going into a periods of intense physical activity lasting a few minutes. Multiple separate seizures in a row are called “cluster” seizures. More than 3 seizures in a 24-hour period, or any seizure lasting more than 10 minutes (called “status epilepticus”), are life-threatening conditions; seek emergency veterinary care.

4. The post-ictal period follows the seizure. The animal will regain consciousness, and return to normal over a few minutes or hours; meantime they may appear disoriented, blind, and/and deaf, and eat or drink excessively.

Causes of Seizures

In younger animals, seizures are sometimes caused by abnormal blood supply to the liver (shunt). Infectious causes are also seen more commonly in young animals. Blood tests including titers for tick-borne diseases (for pets who go outside in tick-endemic areas) as well as other infectious causes are advised. Several infectious organisms can be carried in raw meat, so seizures in a young animal on a raw diet should be fully investigated for such diseases.

In cats, infectious causes include Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), Cryptococcus (a common environmental fungus that is especially associated with pigeons), Toxoplasma (a protozoal parasite), feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV or feline AIDS), meningitis or encephalitis).

In dogs, infectious causes include fungus (Cryptococcus, Asperigillus), parasitic (Toxoplasma, Neospora, Cuterebra), viral (canine distemper, rabies), and bacteria (Rickettsia, Ehrlichia, and other tick-borne diseases). Most often, no cause is found, and the diagnosis is “idiopathic epilepsy,” meaning “epilepsy due to unknown cause.”

In older animals (dogs over 5 years old; over age 10 for cats), tumors become a more common cause, but strokes also occur. A CT scan or MRI may be able to locate the mass; there may be a surgical solution, or radiation may be helpful.

Medical Treatment

In both dogs and cats, the most common treatment for seizures is phenobarbital tablets (given by mouth). It takes about 2 weeks to reach a blood level that will control seizures. At that point, the blood level of the drug should be checked. Phenobarbital can be harmful to the liver. Liver function and drug levels should be rechecked at least every 6 months. Cats are more resistant than dogs to the drug’s side effects, which include sedation and increased hunger and thirst. There are other medications that can be used in dogs; but few of them work well in cats.

Natural Treatments

Natural therapies for seizures in both dogs and cats include:

1. High-protein, very low-carb diet. Homemade meat-based foods, low-carb/grainless canned foods, and frozen raw diets are all good options for seizure patients. In humans, this type of diet is called “ketogenic” and it is quite successful, especially in children. Dogs and cats are built to eat just this type of diet. Carbohydrates, including treats, should be avoided. Note that some parasites of raw meat can cause neurologic problems; it may be best to cook all meat products before feeding.

2. Taurine. This amino acid is crucial for nerve and brain function. It is very safe and cannot be overdosed. Give approximately 125 mg per day per 50 pounds. Products containing a sufficient amount of taurine include:

Pet Naturals of Vermont Natural Cat Daily

Pet Naturals of Vermont Dog Daily Senior

Only Natural Pet Super Daily Canine Senior

3. B-vitamins. Vitamins B3 (niacin) and B6 (pyridoxine) seem to be the most important ones, but a general B-complex could be used. A balanced 50 mg B-complex (often called “B-50”) made for humans will contain enough of both for pets. Because B-vitamins are water soluble, they are generally safe.

4. Boswellia. This herb, usually used for joint pain, has provided good results in studies on some human brain tumors. Give 100-150 mg per day per 10 pounds.

Genesis Resources Canine Pain Plus Formula

Genesis Resources Feline Pain Plus Formula

Only Natural Pet Lubri-Ease

5. Omega-3 fatty acids. Anti-inflammatory Omega-3s are also vital to brain and nervous system function.

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Feline Upper Respiratory Problems

Many cats have chronic problems with upper respiratory congestion (runny or stuffy nose, nasal discharge) and/or conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eye membranes; the eyes may be red, swollen, watery, crusty, or goopy). Nasal or eye symptoms may be both be present, or you may see one without the other. Often, the problem comes and goes.

Causes include viral or bacterial infection, congenital defects (small or absent tear ducts), facial conformation (Persian features),  scarring from previous infections; and (rarely) allergies. But by far the most common cause of these symptoms in cats is infection with a Herpes virus. In cats, Herpes is an upper respiratory virus; it’s also called “rhinotracheitis” and is one of the components of the combination upper respiratory/panleukopenia (feline distemper) vaccine that most kittens receive. The vaccine does not actually prevent Herpes infection; its main function is to reduce the severity of the disease.

Nearly all cats are exposed to Herpesvirus as kittens. For most cats, no further problems occur. However, Herpes is a sneaky virus, and likes to lie dormant until it gets a chance to overwhelm the immune system. Because stress suppresses the immune system, cats under stress are particularly susceptible to recurrent Herpes flare-ups.

Herpes conjunctivitis is painful, and usually causes quite a bit of redness and a watery discharge. It often attacks only one eye, producing a lopsided squint. Cats tend to be photophobic; that is, they squint against bright light, or try to avoid it altogether.

There are several treatment options for Herpes. One of the simplest is l-lysine, an amino acid that is inexpensive and readily available at the health food store. It comes in capsules or tablets, usually 500 mg. Capsules are much easier to work with, if you can get them. The dose is 500 mg twice a day for 5 days (total 1,000 mg/day). Lysine has a slightly salty taste, and is easily disguised by mixing with canned cat food or baby food. If that seems like a huge dose for a cat, it is–but that’s what it takes to work. Once the acute episode is under control, a maintenance dose of 250 mg per day can be given indefinitely.

To relieve irritation and wash viral particles from the eye, you can make a homemade saline solution. Use 1/4 teaspoon of table salt to 1 cup of lukewarm water (slightly above room temperature). Three or four times a day, use a cotton ball to drizzle a small amount saline into the cat’s eyes. Make the saline fresh each and every time, because bacteria could grow in the solution between treatments. Or, try an herbal eye wash. Eyebright is an excellent for many eye problems; Halo Herbal Eye Wash is a two part rinse that includes eyebright, as well as infection-fighting goldenseal.

Homeopathy can also be helpful; try Newton Homeopathics Eye Irritation. Reducing stress with flower essences is also very beneficial.

Long-term nutritional support with immune boosting Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants will also help prevent recurrences.

If symptoms worsen, or persist more than a few days, a check by your veterinarian is warranted. Herpes can cause serious corneal ulcers that may result in loss of vision if untreated.

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Sixteen Steps to Detox Your Pet

by Cynthia Holley-Connolly, ONP Staff Writer

Most likely, you have a general idea what toxins are. We often hear things described as being “toxic,” and we know that means potentially damaging, and perhaps poisonous. Toxins can cause, worsen, or accelerate many health problems in people and pets. Sadly, many of the toxins that can profoundly affect our pets’ health are hidden, and we may unknowingly contribute to the load of toxins our pets’ have in their bodies. While toxins are bad for us, they can be devastating to our pets for several reasons.

First, pets are generally smaller than we are, with smaller organs of elimination (e.g., liver, kidneys, lungs). When exposed to toxins, their bodies have to work much harder than ours do to eliminate them. Second, pets have a shorter life span. They don’t have the luxury of time that we have for their bodies to eliminate toxins as gradually. Also, our pets can’t talk to us to let us know when something in their food or their environment is making them feel sick. They can’t switch their own food or decide to stop using a household cleaner that irritates their sinuses or lungs. Our pets rely on us 100% to reduce the number and amount of toxins they encounter.

So what can you do to minimize the toxins in your pets’ lives and help them eliminate the toxic load they have in their bodies?

Click here to continue reading this article online and find out the Sixteen Steps to Detox Your Pet.

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Food + Chemicals + Dust = Hyperthyroid Kitties?

A serious disease affecting cats’ thyroid glands has risen to epidemic proportions since the first cases were diagnosed in 1979. It is a worldwide phenomenon, though worse in the U.S. than other countries.

The disease itself, called hyperthyroidism (hyper = too much, thyroid = a hormone-making gland), is seen mostly in older cats age 10 or more. Thyroid hormone regulates the body’s basic metabolic rate. Too much of it is like drinking too much coffee—it speeds up every reaction in the body.

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism are related to excess thyroid hormone: excessive hunger, weight loss, restlessness, yowling, vomiting, diarrhea, and heart disease. However, about 20% of cats are “atypical” and do not show these symptoms. (Dogs also develop thyroid disease—but in the opposite direction. They are more prone to hypothyroidism; a deficiency of thyroid hormone.)

Many theories have been proposed to explain the dramatic rise in feline thyroid disease. Because it affects so many cats, the focus has been on widespread, environmental causes.

Studies have found several suspects in cat food:

  • One theory implicates the large excess of iodine found in many cat foods. Humans can develop hyperthyroid disease from too ingesting much iodine; might cats do the same? Iodine is difficult and expensive to test for; instead, pet food makers routinely add extra, just to make sure that minimums are met. But how much is too much? So far, nobody knows; and nobody is really looking.
  • Several studies found an increased likelihood of developing thyroid disease in cats who eat a lot of canned food. Specifically, they found a higher incidence of hyperthyroidism in cats that ate fish or “giblet” canned foods. “Giblet” is another name for organ meats commonly listed on pet food labels as “by-products.” Better-quality, natural cat foods do not contain by-products, although some include specific organ meats like liver.
  • Recent research suggests that the culprit may be a chemical (bisphenol A and similar compounds) found in can linings of pop-top cans that can leach out into the food and cause toxicity (the smaller the can, the more chemical exposure the food has). However, there are at least 25 different types of can linings, and the particular type used by a manufacture may change over time. It is difficult to know which foods may be affected, and to what degree. The FDA, however, has stated that the amount of chemicals that may leach into the food is unlikely to cause disease.

A new study that recently captured media attention suggests that fire-retardant chemicals known as PBDEs may be a factor in feline hyperthyroidism—even though the study itself clearly states “no association was detected between hyperthyroid cats and PBDE levels.” The authors note that PBDEs were introduced at about the same time hyperthyroidism was first described in cats. California was particularly aggressive in promoting these life-saving fabrics, which could explain why the veterinary school at U.C. Davis saw so many early cases of hyperthyroid disease in cats. Additionally, the rate of feline hyperthyroidism has roughly paralleled the use of PBDEs in other countries. This particular study looked at only 23 cats (less than half with hyperthyroid disease; and the case controls were not well-matched in age or gender.

The main route of exposure in cats was hypothesized to be the PBDEs contained in carpets, upholstery, and mattresses—and the dust mites that live in these fabrics. Electronic equipment, which attracts dust, is also a suspect. Since cats often sleep on carpets, sofas, chairs, mattresses, and nice warm TVs and stereos, their exposure could be high and prolonged. Subsequent grooming would then cause the cat to ingest a fairly large amount of dust. This may explain why hyperthyroidism is also more common in indoor cats.

Perhaps the most interesting wrinkle in this recent study is that PBDEs were also found in cat food. For two major types of PBDEs, high levels were found in canned food, especially fish- or seafood-based cat foods. However, high levels of other PBDEs were also found in dry cat food.

The double (or triple) whammy from PBDEs, can liner chemicals, and excess iodine may be too much for many cats to handle. However, outdoor cats who never eat canned food can also develop the disease—so other factors that haven’t yet been discovered are likely to be involved.

What can you do to minimize the risk for your cat? Well, it wouldn’t be smart to push your cat outdoors—the dangers outside are far worse, and most of them will kill your cat long before the age where she’s at risk for thyroid disease. Ripping out all your carpets and throwing away your furniture probably isn’t practical.

However, we also would not recommend feeding only dry food. There are many health risks for cats that eat too much dry food, including obesity, diabetes, arthritis, urinary tract disease, constipation, kidney disease, and inflammatory bowel disease. A variety of high-quality, natural foods—including at least 50% canned food—is your cat’s best bet for a long and healthy life.

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Please Don’t Give Pets as Gifts!

‘Tis the season for giving, and that means shopping for special, unique gifts for our loved ones. Who doesn’t have visions of a spouse, friend, or niece or grandchild opening a beautifully wrapped box with an adorable kitten inside, or of covering their eyes and leading them into a room where a puppy or a cat wearing a big bow is waiting. We aren’t to blame—we have these very images of holiday serenity lingering from our own childhood as well as sentimental TV commercials. In a pet, it seems we can give the gift of unconditional love, especially to a child.

Now, here’s a dose of reality: right now, animal shelters are getting ready for a flood of animal surrenders right after the holiday season. The intended happy surprise turns out to be  just a surprise—and not necessarily a pleasant one. The solution to the problem for many families is to get rid of the unwanted pet. What’s up with that?

•    The holidays are already hectic; it’s not a good time to bring in a new pet that needs to feel safe and secure in its new environment, and more importantly, needs quiet one-on-one time with its new family.

•    The recipient—even though he or she may have said that they’d love to get a pet, doesn’t actually want such a serious commitment in an already-busy life, especially a schedule- and travel-disruptor like a pet that needs to go outside on time.

•    A household member may be or become allergic to the new pet.

•    Some children become frightened of the strange new creature, which in turn spooks the new pet, creating an air of distrust for all involved.

•    Even though children ask for pets, the parents must be involved in the decision; not all kids are ready for the responsibility, and the parents may not want to get stuck with it either. Ultimately, no one takes care of the pet, and it ends up shut in a basement, tied up in the yard, abandoned, or relinquished.

•    Although the previous guardian’s paperwork might say the pet was good with kids, its actual socialization might not have included what the next child wanted from a pet when begging for a live Christmas present (playing dress-up, putting in a stroller, etc.).

•    Resident animals in the home also get the short end of the stick. If any significant holiday activity was going on in the home, i.e., family staying over, holiday parties, etc., resident pets (especially cats) were already having tough time adapting their sense of “stable-sameness” to the unusual activities. Add another animal, especially of the same species, and—more often than not—disaster is imminent.

•    Winter is not puppy or kitten season; the young animals that are available at Christmas time very likely come from puppy or kitten mills—and may continue to surprise the new guardian with serious health and behavior issues. This is virtually guaranteed to be the case if the puppy is a breed that was recently featured in a movie, such as 101 Dalmations, Marley and Me, or Beverly Hills Chihuahua. To avoid pets from mills, never ever buy a dog or cat from a pet store.

Now you know the reasons not to surprise family and other loved ones with animals as gifts, the good news is that there are many ways to bring four-legged love home for the holidays without such risk.

For a creative surprise, give a gift certificate for pet supplies; or present them with a collar and leash or a package of cat toys. When the recipient looks confused, you can reveal that the real present is a trip to the shelter plus the adoption fee, to choose a furry friend.

Many animal shelters have gift certificates you can buy to place in a box instead of an animal. These generally cover the cost of adoption, and may include spay/neuter and initial vaccines (but be sure to read our article on vaccination first!). If your local shelter doesn’t offer gift certificates, make one yourself. That way, the next day or next week—or whenever the time is right—your loved one can look for a new companion.

Nowadays, many shelters have websites with pictures of their adoptable animals, so the whole family can go online and check out the choices. Or browse Petfinders, the original online adoption site. There is also empowerment in a child in going to a shelter and picking out his or her own companion. It’s also a perfect time to let them know that caring for a living being requires responsibility. It’s never too early to instill the concept of stewardship.

It is essential to introduce everyone who lives in the home, from children to housemates to other pets, to the new pet before adoption. In fact, many shelters require this. There’s nothing to lose, but important lessons to gain. For instance, the adoptive family may discover that the resident dog requires a bit of work on the “down-stay” so that it doesn’t relentlessly pursue the new addition. A housemate’s allergy may or may not act up in the presence of specific animals.

This method also allows time to prepare the home itself before bringing a new pet in.

Remember, no surprises are good surprises when it comes to animals this holiday season. Have a great one, and congratulations to all of you who bring a homeless pet into your heart and home this year!

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Special Advice for Senior Cats

Since November is Senior Pet Month, it’s appropriate to talk about the special needs of senior cats.

As mentioned in the previous post, there are lots of senior diets available, but most of them rely on lower fat and protein, and higher carbohydrates. It’s really important to know that dietary protein really has nothing whatsoever to do with the development of kidney disease (in dogs or cats).

It turns out that, while most middle-aged cats are overweight, starting around age 10-12 they typically start to lose weight. This is due to a decreased ability to digest and metabolize protein and fat that occurs with age. So most senior diets are exactly the opposite of what older cats need—more and better protein and fat.

Wet foods are ideal for older kitties—this includes food in cans or pouches, as well as frozen raw diets. They’re easier to digest, and more palatable. (If your cat is a dry food addict, check out my previous blog post on Switching Foods.) Wet foods tend to contain higher levels of protein and fat, and because of the way they’re handled and/or processed, the ingredients are generally better quality than dry food.

Other Age-Related Changes

Just like humans, 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 cat a good quality of life in her older years.

Arthritis

Ninety percent of cats over 12 years of age have arthritis. What is usually considered “slowing down” or “a little stiff” may be a sign of significant joint disease, and is probably quite uncomfortable for most older cats. Treating arthritis holistically is simple and inexpensive. The basic mix is glucosamine sulfate (250 mg per day) and MSM (methyl-sulfonyl-methane, 200 mg per day), which can be added to the cat’s wet food. Other herbs and minerals may also be helpful. These provides good anti-inflammatory action and pain relief. It may take 3-5 weeks for improvement to be noticeable. Here are my favorite joint supplements for cats:


Chronic Renal Failure (CRF)

Many older cats experience some degree of kidney (renal) disease as they age. The first symptom is usually an increase in both drinking and urination. This reflects the kidneys’ inability to reabsorb water and concentrate the urine. As time goes on, most cats lose weight, sometimes dramatically.

It is vital that CRF cats get plenty of fluids, either through consumption, or by administration (intravenous or subcutaneous), to stay hydrated. Dehydration is a major problem in these cats, as it compounds the problems of poor appetite and weight loss. Wet food, such as canned or raw, is an essential part of the diet.

The conventional treatment for CRF is a low protein, low phosphorus diet, and potassium supplementation. However, low-protein renal diets are not indicated until the disease is relatively advanced, because these diets are so restricted in protein that they don’t provide enough for normal body repair. The cat’s body will break down its own muscles to obtain enough protein, causing further weight loss and muscle wasting.

Many cats won’t eat a renal diet, and will do much better on a regular canned food. Experts agree that it is far more important that the cat eats and maintains her weight, than to worry too much about what she is eating. Hydration is also critical; many guardians learn how to give fluids at home to save the cat from the stress of frequent trips to the vet. Here are our best supplements for CRF in cats:

Hyperthyroidism

This problem is typically due to a benign thyroid tumor. The thyroid regulates the body’s metabolic rate, so the increase in hormone from the tumor is sort of like drinking espresso around the clock. Symptoms include increased appetite, weight loss despite eating more, increased heart rate, anxiety or “hyper” behavior, howling at night, increased thirst and urination, vomiting, and diarrhea. Not all cats will have all symptoms, and about 20% of hyperthyroid cats will be sluggish and depressed instead of hyperactive. Untreated, hyperthyroidism can cause a serious heart problem called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy that will ultimately be fatal.

The cause of hyperthyroidism is unknown, but research suggests a link between hyperthyroidism and feeding canned food, particularly fish and giblet flavors. Environmental contamination with fire-retardant chemicals may be part of the problem; fish are commonly loaded with them. Easy-open “pop top” cans also appear to be a contributor, possibly due to chemicals in the can lining. Feeding canned food is very important to an older cat’s overall health, but it may be wise to stick to poultry, beef and lamb flavors that don’t contain fish, liver, or giblets; or go with a homemade or raw diet so you have better control over the ingredients. Other remedies that might help include:

Constipation

A small percentage of older cats develop constipation as they age. Many times this is related to feeding dry food, especially high-fiber (hairball or weight control) diets. There is so much fiber and so little moisture in the diet that the colon can’t keep things moving along properly. Other causes include breed (Manx cats are susceptible), trauma, and litterbox avoidance behavior.

If constipation persists and is not treated, there can be serious complications, including irreversible damage to the muscles of the colon. So clearly, it is best to deal with constipation early before it becomes unmanageable. Watching the quality and quantity of your cat’s stool in the box is vital to keeping your older cat healthy. A healthy stool looks like a tootsie roll; if it’s small, hard and dry, or if the cat spends a lot of time in the box, strains excessively, or cries as he’s defecating, it’s time to act. Any change in an older cat’s litterbox habits should be discussed with your veterinarian promptly.

As actress Bette Davis once said, “Age is no place for sissies.” Getting old can be stressful. Essences may also be helpful to keep your cat’s mental and emotional balance. “Graceful Aging” by SpiritEssence is designed to support and balance the body’s cells and organs, and to help deal with the changes that naturally happen with age.

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Senior Pet Month

Supporting Senior Pets

As with senior people, senior pets have well documented physical changes that we can anticipate and prepare for. Although we live with our pets, their accelerated life span often takes us by surprise. It’s easy to overlook changes associated with aging and assume that the behavior change results from a pet’s lack of interest or change in mood. Your pet may lose interest in activities or have mood changes, but often these result from physical impairments that cause pain or discomfort. Healthy pets can retain kittenish or puppy-like traits well into their senior years if they are feeling well. Here are the top seven things you can do to support healthy aging in your pet:

Keep Them Moving: If your once playful cat or fetch-fiend dog loses interest in play activities, consider their joints, and don’t assume that they have simply lost interest in their regular play routines. We hear many stories from pet parents whose pets regain interest in playtime once joint pain is addressed through the right supplements to support joint health. Joint support can begin before any age-related deterioration is detectable. Supplements can help your pet’s body keep joints supplied with the right joint building nutrients, which can slow joint deterioration considerably. Pets with more severe joint issues benefit from antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory remedies for discomfort. We’ll have more to say about this in our article newsletter at the end of this month.

Keep Them Comfortable: A dog or cat that slept anywhere comfortably when a youngster may suffer on the floor or be less comfortable in their usual sleeping and resting spots. Many contemporary beds are both eco-friendly and non-toxic, and though they can’t tell you directly, your aging pet will be very grateful for a comfy bed, blanket, or sleeping mat to provide extra skeletal support and warmth. Also, consider elevated feeding bowls, a walking support harness, and even a pet ramp to provide your aging pet with access to car, bed, furniture, etc., to let them comfortably go wherever they are used to going.

Keep Them Engaged: If your pet seems to be less connected to goings-on in your home, find ways to keep them engaged in activities that they enjoy. If they don’t have the strength, flexibility or stamina for games they enjoyed when younger, modify the game to make it easier for your pet. Pets that are stimulated with toys, games, and experiences stay “tuned in” to their daily life much more than pets that are allowed to slowly disengage. If your pet experiences hearing and/or vision loss due to age, don’t stop trying to connect with them. Clever pet parents can work around these age-related deficits and keep senior pets vitally connected to daily life – prolonging the joyful time they have with their beloved companions.

Address Digestive & Metabolic Issues: It’s a fact – our pets’ digestion and metabolism usually deteriorate with age. Diminished digestive strength may show up as vomiting or changes in stool consistency. Decrease in pancreatic functioning is a common problem, as the pancreas has a limited supply of enzymes to help your pet break down and process food. As most cooked (dry and canned) pet food has nearly zero percent enzymes present, it’s helpful to supplement your pet’s food with digestive enzymes to help them break down food properly and absorb the nutrients it contains. Digestive supplements can also help. Changes in diet may be needed, but stick with holistic foods if you can (see the information below on the benefits of natural foods for seniors).

Support the Immune System: Pets’ immune function deteriorates with age, which manifests in many ways. Your aging pet may be more susceptible to bacterial and viral infections, demonstrating poor immune response to pathogens. It’s also common for aging pets to have abnormal cellular functioning, which may result in benign or cancerous cell growth, and increased cellular break down due to free radical damage. We offer a wide array of immune support products to help your pet with strengthened response to infections, increased cellular health support, and antioxidant support to reduce free radical damage.

Watch for Behavior Changes: So many senior pet health issues are caught early and corrected by vigilant pet parents. Watch your pet closely, and note on a calendar any changes in behavior that deviate from the norm. Our companion animals are very much “creatures of habit,” and even slight variations from their normal behavior can indicate health issues. Changes in movement behavior may indicate joint problems, circulatory, ear or eye issues; changes in elimination patterns often indicate kidney, blood sugar, digestive, hormonal or metabolic issues. Paying close attention to your pet’s patterns, and noting variation from normal activity can help you and your veterinarian determine whether organ systems may be compromised and help you address or accommodate changes.

Take Action: Many normal age-related health concerns can be improved, slowed, or even reversed through the use of natural remedies and supplements. We always suggest that you consult with your (holistic) veterinarian to diagnose your pet’s health concerns and plan treatment. Check with your vet if your pet has a diagnosed health issue to see whether natural remedies and supplements may be beneficial to your pet’s heath regimen. Click here to see some of our natural supplements for senior pets.

For more information on supporting your aging pet, please see our articles on aging pets in our Holistic Healthcare Library, and in particular the article, “Supporting Your Aging Companion.”

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Dental Care for Pets

Keeping your dog or cat’s teeth and gums healthy will go a long way to preventing not only bad breath, periodontal disease, and an uncomfortable or even painful mouth, but also more serious chronic conditions such as kidney disease, liver disease, heart conditions and joint problems.

The normal adult dog has 42 teeth, while the adult cat has 30. These carnivorous (meat-eating) teeth are very sharp and highly specialized. In the wild, these teeth would perform a variety of tasks such as grooming (the 6 small incisors at the front of each jaw), grasping and killing prey (the 4 long canines, also called “fangs”), and crushing and shearing the meat off the prey’s bones to eat (the pointy molars and premolars along the sides of the jaws, also called “cheek teeth”).

In the wild, the carnivore’s diet and eating habits keep the teeth clean and strong. However, the typical diet of a domestic pet—typically commercial dry or canned food—does not. Therefore, proper dental care throughout your pet’s life is essential to optimal health.

Dental disease is the #1 most common health problem seen by veterinarians. By the age of 3, virtually all dogs and cats have some degree of dental disease, ranging from a mild accumulation of tartar to severe infection and tooth loss. All pets benefit from an annual dental exam, as well as cleaning if needed, but it is also important for you to take care of your pet’s teeth at home.

Within hours after brushing or cleaning, bacteria start to re-colonize the surface of the teeth. They secrete substances to attach themselves more firmly, and to protect themselves from the immune system. The combination of bacteria and their secretions is called plaque. If plaque is not removed, minerals in the saliva turn it into calculus, more commonly called tartar, within 48 hours.

Some of the substances secreted by mouth bacteria cause inflammation of the gums (gingiva), resulting in gingivitis. Untreated, inflammation can progress and even break down tissues in the mouth, leading to periodontal disease. Eventually, infection and erosion cause the teeth to decay, abscess or fracture. Decayed, broken, and abscessed teeth are very painful, and may hinder the animal from taking in enough nourishment. They also deteriorate the pet’s quality of life.

There are other serious health risks associated with tooth decay. Bacteria living in these “slums” can enter the bloodstream and seed infection in critical organs like the heart, liver, and kidneys; as well as causing inflammation in joints and other areas. In my personal experience, many a cranky critter has become happy and playful again after hidden dental problems were corrected.

While diet plays a role in dental disease, there is also a genetic component. Some breeds, such as Abyssinian cats and toy-breed dogs, have a tendency to develop severe gingivitis. Bulldogs, boxers, pugs, and Persian cats often have overcrowded, cavity-prone teeth due to their “smushed” faces. Some pets may need very little dental care, while others might require full cleanings under anesthesia once or even twice a year.

Excellent dental health requires help from your veterinarian as well as a firm commitment to home care from you. If your pet already has dental disease, the first step is to have his teeth cleaned under anesthesia by your veterinarian. While no surgery is risk-free, modern anesthetics, together with appropriate monitoring and supportive care, make this a very low risk procedure, even for older animals (who usually need it the most!).

Steps to prevention of dental and periodontal disease:

1. Healthy Diet

A healthy diet is important for dental health, just as it is for overall well-being. The healthier the animal, the better the immune system, and the less infection will develop. A meat-based diet is essential as meat helps maintain a healthier mouth environment.

However, one persistent myth that is completely false is the notion that “dry food cleans the teeth.” The best that can be said for dry food is that it may produce slightly less tartar than canned food. Pets eating only dry food can and do develop the same dental problems as those who “never touch the stuff.” One study showed that food itself is completely irrelevant; test subjects developed tartar even when fed by stomach tube, even when no food touched the mouth at all! There are a few dry foods that do live up to the claim, but they consist of very large, specially-textured kibbles designed to fracture so that the fragments scrape tartar off the teeth. However, the major ingredients are poor quality (by-product meal, corn gluten meal, corn meal or ground yellow corn, cellulose; Friskies even contains glycerin, a form of sugar – now, how is that good for teeth?!). Plus, these foods suffer from all the usual problems of dry food (extreme processing, high carbohydrates, low moisture). Because of the health risks associated with corn-based dry food (such as obesity, diabetes, allergies, arthritis, FLUTD, and kidney disease), we don’t carry them, or recommend them as a regular diet.

2. Brushing at Home

The best way of removing plaque and preventing dental disease at home is brushing the teeth. Ideally, you should brush your pet’s teeth daily. Brushing removes plaque on the outside of the crown (above-gum portion) of the tooth, and stimulates the gums to keep them healthy. However, plaque can still accumulate below the gum line; so an annual check-up is still an essential part of your pet’s dental health. Even if you don’t see any problems, it is best to have your pet’s teeth professionally cleaned prior to beginning a home-care program, to make sure there are no painful areas in the mouth that might jeopardize your success.

Your veterinarian can show you how to brush your pet’s teeth, but it may still turn into a battle at home, which is the last thing you want! Here are a few tips to get you going:

* Buy a finger brush and toothpaste designed for pets. Do not use a human brush or even a pet brush on a stick; these can severely injure the gums without you knowing it (other than by your pet’s very negative reaction!). A finger brush is a soft plastic cone with bristles on one side that fits over the tip of your finger. It is very safe and can make brushing tolerable or even pleasant for your pet.
* Cats especially love having their faces rubbed at the corners of the mouth (because of the scent glands there), and most dogs tolerate it and even enjoy it. Gently rubbing in that area is a good place to start. Each time you do, run your finger a little farther forward along the lips.
* Gradually extend your rubbing by slipping your finger under the lips and massaging the gums gently. Take this step slowly and back off immediately if your pet objects. You don’t want to make this an unpleasant experience, so let the pet dictate how fast you progress.
* Put a little pet toothpaste (never human toothpaste!) on your finger when you’re rubbing. Most pets love the taste.
* Put the brush on your finger with a little toothpaste. This will be only slightly different from what you’ve been doing and should be tolerated. If not, remove the brush and go back a step. A piece of damp gauze can substitute for the finger brush.

It’s best to brush every day; then if you miss a day, it’s not a crisis. However, if you plan to brush every other day, and then miss a session, you’ve lost several days that cannot be reclaimed, and plaque will have a good head start.

3. Dental Care Products

There are many dental care products marketed for pets. Oral rinses, gels, and water additives will not control plaque by themselves, although they will help with general dental hygiene. The following are my favorite dental products for pets, based on experience and recommendations from veterinary dental experts:

Wysong’s “Denta-Treat” is a cheese-flavored powder that you can sprinkle on the pet’s food or use as toothpaste:

Triple Pet Oral Care Products include specially designed pet toothbrushes and pastes.

ProDen PlaqueOff is another food additive that promotes dental health:

TrueBlue Fast and Fresh Dental Swipes, while not as good as a thorough brushing, can be useful when time is short or when you’re traveling:

Most dog chews, including nylon bones, rawhide bones, hooves, real bones, and other hard chews, tend not to significantly reduce plaque accumulation, and some can actually cause a dog’s teeth to fracture. Broken teeth are a source of infection and pain to the dog, and expense to you when they have to be extracted. If a dog swallows a chunk of any of them, it can cause a life-threatening intestinal blockage. If you have a “ball dog,” don’t let it chew on tennis balls; the tough synthetic “fuzz” rapidly wears teeth down. Thin chews, such as rawhide strips and pig ears, are fine, and may have some benefit by mechanically abrading off the tartar, but be aware they add quite a bit of fat to the diet.

Most treats do not do much for dental health, even if they are labeled “Tartar Control.” The exception to the rule is Feline Greenies, which I can tell you from personal experience can work wonders in just a few weeks.

4. Regular Check Ups

Regular check ups are vitally important, especially for the older animal. At least once a month, you can give your pet a general dental wellness check; be sure to lift the lips enough to see the farthest-back teeth, which are often the source of trouble. If you smell an unpleasant odor, see any redness in the gums, or find a lot of tartar buildup on the teeth, then seek the help of a veterinarian. Supplementing with Vitamin C and CoEnzyme Q10 can help promote the health and healing of gum tissue as well. Every 6-12 months (depending on your pet’s age and history), have your vet do a complete wellness exam and thorough assessment of the mouth.

5. Dental Procedures

If your veterinarian finds tartar build-up or any periodontal disease, consider having a full dental cleaning performed under anesthesia. Your companion will definitely benefit from a healthier and much more comfortable mouth. No matter the age or health of your pet, if there is significant dental disease, it is much preferable to have your vet take care of the problem than to let the problem get worse and cause pain and suffering to your pet.

Great dental care can be the best gift you can give your companion. It requires a commitment of time and effort on your part, but it goes a long, long way toward preventing disease and discomfort; it will help keep your pet healthy and undoubtedly extend her life.

Click here to see all of our dental care products.

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Vegetarian Pets?

People have many reasons for choosing a vegetarian (no meat) or vegan (no animal products) lifestyle: to lower cholesterol, lose weight, conserve water, save rainforests, stop animal cruelty, and many other personal, health, environmental or ethical reasons. Sometimes, these reasons are so compelling that they want to extend this major life choice to their pets as well.

Dogs are classified as carnivores, but as a practical matter, they are omnivorous and can easily survive without meat, as long as they eat a balanced diet. Dog relatives like foxes and coyotes consume lots of fruit or other vegetation at certain times of the year. While not ideal for every dog, most dogs can be successfully converted to a vegetarian or even vegan diet, and there are several suitable commercial dog foods as well as homemade diets. If you are considering a vegetarian rather than vegan diet for your dog, a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet has more flexibility by allowing dairy products and eggs as protein sources.

Cats, however, are exclusively carnivorous by nature and by physiology. The cat’s body has made many specific adaptations to its expected diet of prey, which consists mostly of protein, fat and moisture. While you may hear stories about successfully vegetarian cats (including one lion), as a veterinarian, I cannot recommend trying to make a cat exclusively vegetarian or vegan. I’ve just seen too many problems from it. However, one company makes a good canned food that can be helpful in reducing the amount of meat you need to feed your cat:

Evanger’s Canine/Feline Vegetarian Canned Food

There are lots of products being marketed as “vegetarian” dog foods. However, many contain corn gluten meal or soybean meal—both of which are already common meat substitutes in mass-market pet foods. Dogs have difficulty digesting soy, which along with soy’s naturally high phytoestrogen content, makes soy problematic as a protein source. Corn gluten meal contains about 60% protein. Today, it is being promoted as a lawn fertilizer and weed killer! When considering a vegetarian dog food, corn and soy are key ingredients to avoid. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about that when you’re shopping at Only Natural Pet Store—we don’t carry foods containing those ingredients! We carry dry, canned, and even “raw” vegetarian dog foods:

Natural Balance Vegetarian Dog Food Allergy Formula

Evanger’s Canine/Feline Vegetarian Canned Food

Raw Advantage Organic Vegetarian for Dogs

As we’ve talked about before, variety is essential to your pet’s diet, so don’t get stuck on a single food–a mix of homemade and commercial foods may be ideal for both variety and convenience.

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