Posts tagged cats

The “Catkins” Diet—For Dogs, Too?

After our look last time at vegetarianism in pets, this time we’re going to the other extreme—the high-protein, low-carb, so-called “Catkins” diet (a little wordplay on the low-carb Atkins diet for people). This is a far more prevalent trend in pet diets, and one that I’m glad to see—with a few reservations!

Looking at wild carnivores, it’s clear that what they mostly eat is other animals. Large canids like wolves, and often coyotes, hunt in packs and can dine on big game animals like deer, elk, or moose, while foxes scale it down. All big cats but lions are solitary hunters, and their prey are also proportional in size, although even a domestic cat is quite capable of bringing home an adult rabbit.

The carnivore’s diet has a few things in common across the spectrum of possible prey, which represents a sort of “ideal” we should be shooting for in feeding our pets.

• High protein (50% or more)
• High moisture (60-75%)
• High fat (30-40%)
• Low carbohydrate (less than 10%)

A rat, for instance, has about 55% protein, 38% fat, 9% carbohydrate, and 64% moisture (calculated on a dry matter basis). The “dry matter basis” is the only valid comparison of pet foods, particularly between dry and canned foods. The water is calculated out by subtracting the moisture percentage on the label from 100%, leaving total dry matter. Then you divide the ingredient of interest, for instance protein, by the total dry matter.

This sounds complicated, but if even a math moron like me can do it, you can too! (Hint: your cell phone probably has a built-in calculator!) It’s essential to master this concept in order to accurately compare pet foods. For example, a dry food containing 30% protein and 10% moisture contains 30/90 or 33% protein, while a canned food containing 10% protein and 78% water actually contains 45% protein. So even though the canned food label claims a lot less protein, it really contains much more than dry food.

Many canned foods, especially kitten and cat foods but also many dog foods, already fit our “high-protein” qualification and also contain 10% or less carbohydrates. (You can get a ballpark estimate of carbs by subtracting the other labeled ingredients, including moisture, protein, and fat, from 100%.)

Low Carb Canned Dog Foods

Low Carb Canned Cat Foods

There are quite a few “low-carb” or “grain-free” dry pet foods as well. Remember that “grain free” does not necessarily equal “low carb.” In most grain-free dry foods, cereal grains like corn and rice have been replaced by white potatoes, green peas, carrots, or other starchy vegetables, or by dairy products such as cottage cheese.

Now, there’s no doubt that grains are problematic for dogs and cats; corn-based dry foods in particular are much to blame for the current pet obesity epidemic. Getting away from grain-based foods is a great choice for many pets. It’s been proven many times over that the best and safest way to help a cat lose weight in by putting them on an all-wet, low-carb “Catkins” diet (which could be canned, raw, or homemade). Studies show that dogs lose fat and maintain lean muscle better on the same type of “Catkins” diet, but “Dogkins” just isn’t a very catchy title!

However, you still have to read labels and assess ingredients to make sure you’re getting just what you want in a pet food. Shoot for around 45% protein in a dry cat food, and at least 35% in a dry dog food (on a dry matter basis).

Be aware that high protein dry foods tend to be higher in fat as well, and should not be fed free choice (available 24/7). It is definitely best to feed these foods in timed meals, and make sure you do a gradual transition from the current diet (see previous posts on Switching Foods) to minimize tummy upset. Unlimited consumption of these foods will often result in weight gain, so don’t overfeed! Many of these foods now come in a “reduced calorie” formula, but it’s a lot easier to prevent weight gain in the first place!

High protein dry cat foods are also very dehydrating, and ideally should not be the sole diet. Do feed your cat at least 50% canned food for that important kidney-protecting moisture. While dogs will drink more to make up for the dehydrating effects of these diets, cats will not.

Several manufacturers have also come out with “100% meat” canned diets. Most (but not all) of them are not balanced with minerals and vitamins, and are intended for occasional use only—not as a sole diet for your pet. They are suitable as a basis for a homemade diet to which you add supplements such as Sojos.

Here are just a few examples of the many excellent low-carb products you can find at Only Natural Pet Store:

Wellness CORE Grain-Free Feline Diet

Innova EVO Dry Cat Food

Wellness CORE Original Grain-Free Canine Diet

Innova EVO Red Meat Dry Dog Food

Raw meat-based diets are usually high in protein and moisture, and low in carbs. Many cats and dogs do very well on these diets, but if you want to try raw food, make the switch slowly, and be very cautious if your pet has pre-existing medical conditions affecting the digestive tract and discuss it with your vet first.

When used correctly, low-carb diets work extremely well for weight loss in both dogs and cats. They help maintain healthy skin and coat, vibrant energy, and are far more appropriate for carnivores than mass-market pet foods that are loaded with corn and soy. There’s less yard and litterbox clean-up, too, because more of the food is digested and assimilated. At Only Natural Pet Store, we carry a wide variety of great-quality natural pet foods, but grain-free, low-carb and raw foods are among the most premier of products and will benefit your pet’s health in many ways!

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The Importance of Taurine for Dogs and Cats

Back in the 1970s, thousands of dogs and cats were mysteriously dying due to a form of heart failure called dilated cardiomyopathy. At the same time, there were reports of cats going blind that were often associated with cats being fed dog food. But within a few years, the same problems were discovered in cats eating a “premium” cat food sold by veterinarians. Finally, in the late 1980s, the problem, in cats at least, was traced to the deficiency of a basic amino acid called taurine.

There are 22 amino acids, the basic building blocks of protein. Animals can manufacture many of them in their liver, but some must be obtained in the diet—these are called “essential.” In humans and dogs, taurine is not essential, but it turned out that in cats, it is. Taurine is found primarily in muscle meat, and is completely absent in cereal grains. The lack of taurine in the diet caused serious eye and heart diseases to develop.

But what happened to the cat food? Thousands of cats had been eating the same “complete and balanced” cat food since it came on the market in the 1960s, so why should they suddenly start dying a decade later?

The answer lies in a part of the history of pet food that the big manufacturers don’t want you to know.

Before WWII, more than 90% of commercial pet food came in cans, and contained mostly meat. However, metal was needed for the military, and by the time the war ended, 85% of pet food was dry kibble. It still contained a good amount of meat, and this is what prevented taurine deficiencies from occurring.

The primary machinery for producing what is familiar to us today as dry food is called an extruder; it was introduced in the 1950s. However, to get the right crunchy texture, the recipe called for a higher proportion of starch. This started the trend of ever-increasing quantities of cereal grain, such as corn, in dry foods. At the same time, meat processors were getting more proficient at getting more meat from livestock carcasses. Less meat was available (and what was available was getting more expensive), so pet food makers substituted other animal tissues leftover from slaughter, officially called “by-products.” Over time, the result was a high-grain, low-meat dry food, for which the profit margin was—conveniently—much higher than for canned food.

Unfortunately, cats were about to pay for the pet food companies’ profits with their lives. With virtually no muscle meat in even the premium dry foods of that period, cats eating that food were missing crucial taurine, and suffered the consequences of corporate greed as sickness, blindness, and death.

When studies fingering taurine deficiency as the cause of these ailments were published, pet food manufacturers hastened to supplement taurine in their diets. Curiously, because bacteria in the cat’s digestive system evidently prefer canned food to dry, they needed to put three times more taurine in canned food than dry. The problem disappeared, and everyone lived happily ever after…or did they?

Because dogs make their own taurine from other amino acids, it’s been thought that they didn’t need such supplements. But in the last few years, researchers have discovered that a few dogs evidently can’t supply their own taurine needs; at least not on a diet of cereal grains and by-products. Certain lines of spaniels, retrievers, and particularly Newfoundlands developed the same form of heart disease that was killing cats. Now, this disease is actually pretty common among dogs of all breeds, but what was interesting about these particular dogs was that supplementing taurine could reverse their heart disease. As it turned out, many of these dogs were eating lamb and rice dog foods. Lamb meat has a relatively low level of taurine compared to chicken, the most common pet food protein. (Beef, venison, and rabbit are also much lower in taurine than poultry.) Consequently, a few pet food makers have started to supplement taurine in some (but not all) their dry dog foods.

However, the basic reason remains the same for dogs as cats: there isn’t enough real meat in the food to sustain a meat-eating predator like a dog or cat. The vast majority of dry pet foods out there contain little or no real meat, but instead use cheaper substitutes like grain proteins (corn gluten, wheat gluten, soy protein), and by-products such as meat and bone meal.

Here at Only Natural Pet Store, we stock only the best natural pet foods. You won’t find any low-end foods full of by-products here, so you can be confident that your pet is getting the best nutrition available. Shop now for your dog or cat!

While all processed cat foods and some dog foods are supplemented with taurine, in some cases more might actually be better. Taurine is a helpful and valuable supplement for pets with liver disease, seizure disorders, and Type I diabetes (the most common form in dogs). Here are some products that contain extra taurine:

Only Natural Pet Super Daily Canine Senior

Only Natural Super Daily Feline Vitamins

Missing Link Feline Formula

Pet Naturals of Vermont Natural Cat Daily

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The Power of Positive Speech

By Dave Goff

People talk to their plants all the time. It is generally accepted that talking to plants assists in the growth and well-being of the plants and can even be therapeutic for the plant care-taker as well. Less well known are the studies that show that what you say is just as important as saying anything at all. Positive reinforcements deliver even better results than general non-committal talking.

Why am I talking about plants? Take a moment and think about the animals around you, and how your speech affects them as well. Animals are very sensitive to sound, tone and stance when people are speaking around them and will often alter their behavior in response.

I would even take this a step further. I actually use the way I speak to my pets as a supplemental therapy. For example, my cat Goliath has always been afraid of my other cats and when he is on my lap I will say things like “Big healthy Goliath, he is so brave and gets along so well with Whirley.” Over time, this has slowly become a reality; Goliath will now face up to Whirley and stand his ground. He is still afraid and more time is needed but the situation is definitely improving.

The most important things to keep in mind are consistency, focus, positive statements and present tense.

  • If you want your message to have an effect, repeat it often and combine it with positive reinforcement; petting, brushing giving treats, etc… This will associate good feelings with the message you are trying to convey. Repetition and consistency in message are key here.
  • Keep your message focused. In the case of Goliath I am focusing on his ability to get along with one of our other cats right now. As I have seen progress in that area, I have recently started working on his ability to get along with our other cat. If I were to say “Goliath gets along with other cats” the message is more diffuse and won’t have as quick an effect. Also, leave out conditional phrases with “if” in them. Waiting for a condition to occur before a change is made means it may never happen.
  • Keep your messages positive. It is always better to say “You are a good dog that knows what he should chew on” than it is to say “You are a good dog that will STOP chewing my furniture.” Generally we think in terms of things we don’t want our pets to do but it is important to turn the message around to the positive and focus on what we do want them to do, or even how we want them to be.
  • Keep your message in the present tense. If I were to say “SOMEDAY, Goliath will be brave and get along with Whirley…” it would never happen. As they say, tomorrow is always a day away, and someday is even further away. Some people may feel that it seems like lying, but that doesn’t matter. You have to focus on what you want as if it already exists, including in the behavior and well-being of your animals.
  • I add in a statement regarding “healthy” in my speech every time, such as “Big healthy Goliath.” There is simply no reason not to.

As a side note here, I always offer to people not to refer to their dog or cat as “bad.” In the heat of the moment it is difficult not to respond with “Bad dog!” when your pup has been destructive or misbehaves. But I believe it is important to remember that the action was bad, not the dog. Your dog is a good dog that did a bad thing. If you constantly refer to your dog or cat as a “bad dog” or “bad cat”, you will most assuredly end up with a bad dog or cat.

Again, positive speech can be useful as a supplemental therapy. I wouldn’t count on positive speech alone to fix any issue, behavioral or health related. Rather, view it as a supplement to other therapies and strategies that are already in use. For example, to help Goliath get along with his roommates, we use Phero-Soothe for Cats (there is also a dog version), Flower Essences and other environmental and behavioral strategies.

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Constipation in Pets

Okay, so pet poop is not a particularly pleasant topic, but a surprising number of pets have problems with constipation (abnormal accumulation of feces and difficulty defecating). More serious conditions can result from constipation, such as obstipation (complete obstruction of the colon by feces) and megacolon (damaged nerves and muscles in the colon causing an inability to defecate).

The colon, the last part of the intestinal tract, is a large muscular structure ending at the rectum. It contains most of the intestinal bacteria that reside in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. These bacteria finish up the digestion of protein. By-products of this process include short-chain fatty acids that nourish the cells lining the colon. Some of these lining cells absorb water, while others secrete mucus to lubricate the stool and keep it moving along.

Constipation is uncomfortable, even painful. Dogs may have accidents indoors. Cats may defecate (or try to) outside the litterbox, because they associate the discomfort with the box itself. Other signs of constipation include straining to defecate, irritability, painful abdomen, lethargy, and poor appetite or even loss of appetite.

Most pets defecate once or twice a day. Dogs have a strong reflex that triggers an urge to defecate after eating; cats are a little less motivated. A constipated animal may only defecate every 2 to 4 days, or even less. Usually the stools are hard and dry, because their long stay in the colon allows for absorption of most of their water content. However, occasionally a constipated pet can appear to have diarrhea, because liquid stool is the only thing that can get around the stuck mass of feces.

Causes for pooping problems include congenital abnormalities, neurologic problems, pelvic injury, obstruction (by hair, bones, etc.), and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Dogs typically become constipated secondary to another issue, such as injury or surgery. Small breed dogs appear to have more problems than larger breeds. In cats, the cause often remains unknown, but even a dirty litter box may cause avoidance; constipation results from holding the stool too long. Hooded litterboxes are a particular problem because they hold odor in, potentially making the box environment extremely unpleasant for the cat.

The initial treatment for constipation is usually a change in diet. Historically, pets have been put on high-fiber dry foods. Fiber modulates intestinal mobility. Depending on the type of fiber and the circumstances, fiber can either speed up or slow down digestion. It’s therefore used for both constipation and diarrhea. Light, senior, and hairball foods all contain increased fiber, and there are also several medical high-fiber diets.

Changing to a high-fiber diet often helps, at least initially. However, eventually these foods seem to lose their effectiveness over time. More fiber, such as canned pumpkin, may be added. Again, sometimes this produces a temporary improvement. Yet many animals, especially cats, continue to have problems.

Since fiber encourages water absorption and increases the amount of stool produced (because it is indigestible), many experts have swung the other way and are now recommending “low-residue” diets to minimize stool volume. “Low-residue” means that the food is highly digestible and produces minimal waste; fiber is typically low in these diets.

Dogs and cats are carnivores who digest protein and fat best, but there is controversy about carbohydrates; it is clear that many cats are carb-intolerant. Carbs contribute to obesity in both dogs and cats, and obesity is common factor in constipation. By this theory, the best food would be high fat, high protein, and low fiber, as well as high moisture. One would think that such a food would also be low fiber, but that is not necessarily true; always check the Guaranteed Analysis (available for each food on our website). Most canned foods fit this description, as do most raw and homemade diets. Dry diets are higher in fiber than canned, and can cause dehydration in cats, contributing to the problem.

Treatment for constipation depends on the severity of the problem. For mild cases, occasional enemas may be all they need. For severe blockages, the animal must be anesthetized for manual extraction of the feces (a process my vet tech graphically but accurately refers to as a “dig-out”). Water balance is also crucial in constipated animals, especially cats. Subcutaneous (or even intravenous) fluids may be needed to boost their hydration.

Once the animal is “cleaned out” by whatever means, you’ll definitely want to take steps to prevent the problem from recurring. Several options are available; some animals may need only one of these, while others need a combination of several of them.

Canned, raw, or homemade diet. High-moisture diets keep hydration normal, and these diets are far more digestible – and produce far less waste – than dry food.

Fiber. Because canned and homemade diets tend to be extremely low in fiber, addition of a small amount of ground flaxseed or powdered psyllium (available in bulk at most health food stores) may be needed for some animals. Flaxseed is an excellent choice because it also contains Omega-3 essential fatty acids, and its high content of lignans may help prevent some types of cancer.

o Missing Link Canine Formula

o Missing Link Feline Formula

Digestive enzymes and Probiotics. These products aid digestion and may help prevent constipation as well as other tummy issues. Products I like include:

o Vetri-Science Acetylator
o Animal Essentials Plant Enzymes & Probiotics
o Pet Naturals Digestive Support for Cats and Dogs

• Herbs. There are many herbal formulas available for people, but many of their ingredients are too harsh for pets. Safe herbal formulas for pets include

o Only Natural Pet GI Support
o Only Natural Pet Laxa-Herb Herbal Formula
o LoveMyPet Tummy Ease

• Lactulose. This is a syrup that holds water in the stool and keeps the stool soft; therefore it’s easier for the animal to pass. The taste, which is extremely sweet, can be an obstacle for some pets. Fortunately, lactulose now comes in a mild-tasting powder (Kristalose) that can be encapsulated by a compounding pharmacy, or simply added to canned food.

Other stool softeners, such as DSS (docusate sodium). Your veterinarian can prescribe these.

Petroleum jelly (e.g., Vaseline®). This is the primary ingredient in most over-the-counter hairball remedies (Laxatone, Kat-a-lax, Petromalt). Petroleum jelly can be given by mouth. Most pets tolerate it, many come to like it, and a few even relish it. Give 1/3 to 1/2 teaspoon per day for a cat or small dog, preferably separate from meals. It is completely harmless and inert in the body. (Vegetable oils do not have the same effect because they are digested and absorbed before reaching the colon.)

Cisapride (Propulsid). This drug was withdrawn from the market for humans because of dangerous side effects, but it is considered safe for pets. Your vet can order it from a compounding pharmacy. It seems to work best in combination with stool softeners.

Lubiprostone (Amitiza) was recently approved as a drug for humans. Your vet can advise you on whether it is safe and appropriate for your pet.

Note: Cisapride and Lubiprostone should not be used simultaneously)

• Pediatric glycerin suppositories. Although they may not appreciate having a suppository pushed into their rectums, most pets tolerate it. Your vet can advise you on technique and frequency.

• Enemas. Many pet guardians have (necessarily) gotten very good at giving enemas at home. Mineral oil, K-Y jelly (in a 1:1 ratio with warm water), soapy water, and just plain warm water are all fine; you may have to experiment to see which one works best for your particular pet.

• Fluids. Your veterinarian can show you how to give subcutaneous fluids at home if needed.

Slippery Elm. This powdered herb can be added to canned food (add extra cool water) or made into a syrup. Its mild taste is well tolerated by most pets.
• Exercise. Obesity is a risk factor for constipation. Staying active prevents weight gain, and helps stimulate the intestines and keep things moving. Brisk walks and fetching games are great for dogs. If your constipated cat is also a couch potato, you can introduce regular play sessions with an interactive fishing-pole type toy, like the Kitty Lure Caster or Swizzle.

• Stress Management. There is always an energetic or emotional component of any chronic disease, and stress plays a significant role in many gastrointestinal conditions. Flower essences can be very helpful.

• Surgery. If there is damage to the nerves and muscles of the colon, a “sub-total colectomy” is the last resort. This surgery removes the colon, and joins the small intestine to the rectum. Unless and until the small intestine develops more colon-like functioning, the result is chronic diarrhea. However, the animal will be much more comfortable.

If your pet is chronically constipated, the most important thing for you to do is be observant. Look for early signs of constipation; straining, abdominal discomfort, decreasing appetite, etc. Be aware of how often your pet is defecating. If he does not produce adequate stool for more than 2-3 days, call your vet, or begin home treatments if you have established this routine. Constipation is far easier to treat when it’s caught early. Later on, treatment will be far more expensive, and there is a greater chance of irreversible colon damage.

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Probiotics for Dogs and Cats

Lately I’ve been running into a lot of pets who need some extra help with digestive and other health issues. Probiotics have helped solve the problems for many of these animals.

The term “probiotics” (which means “promoting life”) covers a variety of “friendly” bacteria that are beneficial for the digestive tract. These include Lactobacillus acidophilus and other Lactobacillus species, and certain strains of Bacillus, Enterococcus, Bifidobacteria, and Streptococcus, all of which are commonly found in over-the-counter probiotic supplements.

Probiotics are of special importance in pets with any type of digestive problem, including vomiting, diarrhea, flatulence, and constipation. They are essential for animals who are, or have been, taking antibiotics; they can be given both during the course of antibiotics and for at least 2 weeks afterwards. Probiotics may help with allergies, including atopy (inhalant allergies), food allergies, and inflammatory bowel disease. They have also been shown to be useful for cystitis (bladder inflammation) and dental disease in humans.

Probiotics promote a balanced and healthy bacterial population in the gut, which is important for complete digestion and general well-being. Intestinal bacteria aid in digesting certain nutrients by providing enzymes that the body does not make on its own. These organisms manufacture several B vitamins, and help maintain an acidic pH in the gut. They also prevent colonization of the digestive tract by pathological (disease-causing) organisms such as Salmonella or Campylobacter.

Probiotic bacteria are normally present in a healthy digestive tract, mainly in the colon. L. acidophilus, the strain most often used in fermented products like yogurt, was the first to be isolated and used as therapy, initially to treat constipation and diarrhea in human patients in the 1920s and 30s. In one study, human patients were given antibiotics to kill off most of their normal gut flora. After the antibiotic course was finished, they were then supplemented with L. acidophilus. Even more interesting, the levels of other normal bacteria, such as enterococci, also normalized rapidly. Further studies showed that the probiotics must be taken daily in order to maintain the beneficial effects.

From research on probiotics, it appears that the ideal probiotic for any individual would match the species normally found in the intestine of the particular animal (dog, cat, etc.). However, this is not practical for our pets. In practice, supplementing with any good quality probiotic produces positive results. Don’t count on pet food alone, no matter how good it is; tests show that pet foods claiming probiotics on the label don’t usually have any live organisms.

A very interesting study done in cats with kidney disease found significant improvement in blood values for BUN and creatinine (common measurements of kidney function) when probiotics were given. Cats received 1/2 to 1 capsule per day of a commercial probiotic product mixed with their wet food. The cats also clearly felt better and had more energy. This approach is very promising for cats and dogs with chronic kidney disease, including those pets whose kidneys were damaged after eating recalled pet food.

It’s easy to add probiotics to your pet’s diet. While many owners and breeders recommend adding a tablespoon of yogurt to the food, this is not enough to have much effect. Most yogurt made commercially with live cultures contain only low levels. It is better and simpler (and definitely more cost-effective) to buy probiotics in capsules and add them to the food. These supplements must be fresh, and most of them need to be kept refrigerated to keep the organisms viable. It’s okay to probiotics made for humans, and safe at the human dose even in small pets. Fortunately these supplements generally have little taste and are readily accepted by most pets if mixed with wet food.

Even if you’re feeding the best commercial food, or even a homemade diet, probiotics are needed for digestive and immune system health. Here at Only Natural, we carry several products that contain probiotics; some of my favorites are:

Only Natural Pet Probiotic Blend

Ark Naturals Gentle Digest

NF Spectra Probiotic

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Why Go Organic?

Among the many pet food choices available today are a handful of products labeled “organic.” These products tend to be higher in price than most foods—are they worth it?

Definition. Because there’s a lot of confusion about it, let’s start with what “organic” really is. The term “organic” has a very specific, legal meaning set by the US Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program:

Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.

Products labeled “100% Organic” with the “USDA Organic” seal contain only organically produced ingredients. Products made from at least 95% organic ingredients may also carry the “USDA Organic” seal. Products that contain at least 70% organic ingredients may label those on the ingredient listing. The USDA has ruled that its organic standards do apply to pet food. Most organic pet food products fall into 70% organic category, but a few follow the higher standards.

It’s important to understand that natural and organic are not at all the same. Natural, as applied to pet food, means that the ingredients come from nature (animal, vegetable, mineral); in other words, they are not synthetic.  However, they may undergo many types of processing and still be considered natural.  Neither term implies anything about animal welfare; products from “factory” farming and confinement operations (such as battery cages for chickens), can still be organic, natural, both, or neither.

Organic Benefits.  Organic food has many benefits to the environment.  Unlike conventional agriculture’s chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides, organic farming is safer for earth, air and water.  Organic farming is more labor-intensive, which accounts for its higher cost—but it uses less water and less energy, which are both in limited supply.

But is organic really better for our pets?  Yes!  Organically grown crops are higher in nutritional value and contain more vitamins and antioxidants than conventionally grown produce; organic meat and dairy products have a healthier balance of fats.  Pesticide residues are, of course, dramatically lower in organic diets.

Pesticides have many harmful effects; many are particularly toxic to the nervous system.  Acute overdoses are the most well-studied, but chronic exposure to pesticides over time has been linked to impaired cognitive function, decreased immune function, cancer, and even weight gain.  Young animals and smaller pets may be even more sensitive to chemical toxins, due to their faster metabolism.  Unfortunately, crops that have too much pesticide residue for human consumption can legally be used in pet foods.  Buying organic pet foods ensures that these contaminated crops don’t find their way into your pet’s food bowl.

Ready to try organic for your pet?  Here are some of our great organic products:

Dry Dog Food

Castor & Pollux (70% organic ingredients)

Karma (95% organic ingredients)

Natural Balance Organic Formulas (70% organic ingredients)

Newman’s Own Organics (70% organic ingredients)

Canned Dog Food

Castor & Pollux (95% organic ingredients)

Newman’s Own Organics (70% organic ingredients)

Evanger’s Organic (100% organic ingredients)

Raw Dog Food

Nature’s Variety Organic Chicken Diet (95% organic ingredients)

Raw Advantage for Dogs (100% organic ingredients)

Dry Cat Food

Castor & Pollux (95% organic ingredients)

Newman’s Own Organics (70% organic)

Canned Cat Food

Castor & Pollux (95% organic ingredients)

Newman’s Own (70% organic ingredients)

Raw Cat Food

Raw Advantage (100% organic ingredients)

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Safety of Raw Meat Diets

Along with recalls of wet and dry pet foods earlier this year, two raw meat diets were also recalled. Wild Kitty recalled four flavors of its raw cat food (chicken, turkey, duck, and tuna), and Bravo! recently recalled three lots of chicken and turkey pet food. Routine testing found Salmonella in the Wild Kitty foods, and both Salmonella and Listeria in the Bravo! foods.

Let’s look at this issue in more detail. First, we should remember that the recalled raw foods are vastly outnumbered by the hundreds of canned and dry foods that sickened or killed tens of thousands of dogs and cats. How many animals got sick from the raw foods? Zero. On the other hand, the benefits of a raw meat diet are many. Skin, ear, digestive, allergic and immune-related diseases usually improve on a good quality, balanced raw diet. Weight issues will also improve, since a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet is what dogs and cats should be eating—not heavily processed, high-carb kibble containing synthetic chemical ingredients that pack on the pounds. Obesity itself contributes to many serious and even painful diseases such as diabetes and arthritis.

But there are always two sides to any story, and raw food has its potential drawbacks as well as benefits. Bacterial contamination and lack of balance are the ones most frequently invoked by veterinarians to prevent pet guardians from trying a raw diet. Let’s talk about bacterial contamination first.

The bacteria Salmonella is the most commonly cited danger from feeding raw meat. However, even though this bacterium is a common contaminant of meat, eggs, and soil, it is not a significant threat to dogs and cats, due to the carnivore’s shorter gastrointestinal tract and faster transit time (compared to humans). Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warnings typically emphasize the risks to frail people like infants, the elderly, and immune-compromised people (e.g., those with autoimmune diseases such as Lupus, or those on immune-suppressing drugs like steroids or chemotherapy).

However, according to experts—including the FDA—Salmonella does not pose any real threat to healthy animals. In fact, it’s estimated that 30% of normal healthy dogs and 18% of healthy cats (virtually all of whom eat processed commercial pet food) are already carriers. One study showed that, even when 80% of meat samples were positive for Salmonella, 70% of dogs eating that meat tested negative, and none got sick. The vast majority of human cases are completely unrelated to dogs and cats. It is prudent, however, to avoid feeding pets non-organic raw ground beef, due to severe contamination problems in the meat packing industry.

Listeria is another common environmental bacteria. The vast majority of Listeria cases in people come from processed foods, like hot dogs, cold cuts, cheese, and raw vegetables. It is a fairly rare disease, since healthy people (and pets) are resistant and don’t usually become ill from this bug.

Common sense says that handling raw meat diets for pets is no different from buying raw meat at the grocery store to make hamburgers for your family. By always following safe meat-handling procedures with all raw animal products, you’ll virtually eliminate the risk of illness for your pet and your family.

Lack of balance is another concern cited by those who are against raw feeding. While it is not difficult to make your pet’s food at home, it does involve education and commitment. For instance, plain meat is not a balanced diet, and can cause serious health problems. There’s also something called “diet drift”—you might run out of a supplement and forget to buy more, and after a while, the diet really does go out of whack.

Even without making meals from scratch, there are easy ways to make sure your pet’s diet is always fresh and balanced!

1. Pre-made raw meat diets. Only Natural is proud to offer more than a dozen raw meat diets for dogs and cats! There are both frozen and dehydrated diets that are easy to use, and great for your pet. Nature’s Variety, Raw Advantage, Primal Pet Foods, and Northwest Naturals, and FarMore are the high-quality brands you can find here.

2. Complete supplements for raw meat. These products are easy to use; all you do is add fresh meat. There come fresh, freeze-dried and dehydrated; and with grains or without. Only Natural carries many excellent products from Sojourner’s Farm (“Sojo’s” to many), Honest Kitchen, and Dr. Harvey’s. They’ll save you time and effort, yet still allow you to control the quality of the most important ingredient, meat.  Wysong’s Call of The Wild supplement is also available for balancing raw meat diets.

Raw diets aren’t for every pet. Animals with Inflammatory Bowel Disease and those taking immune-suppressing drugs should not be fed raw meat until the system has time to heal. You can cook raw meat or even raw complete diets without losing essential nutrients. As your pet’s health improves, cook the meat less and less until your pet is ready to transition to raw.

Many raw recipes and diets are grain-free, but some dogs seem to do better with some grain. Cats typically do better without grains. Either choose a food that contains grain, or add a little cooked rice, couscous, or oatmeal. Food-allergic animals should avoid wheat and corn; animals with suspected gluten intolerance should avoid barley, rye, oats, and wheat. Experiment with alternative grains like amaranth, buckwheat, millet, spelt, quinoa and teff.

If you haven’t fed your pet raw meat or “people” food before (or it’s been a long time since you did), be sure to make all dietary changes slowly and cautiously. The whole digestive system has to restructure itself to digest the new food properly. To ease the transition, extra digestive enzymes and probiotics are helpful. Of course, these supplements are beneficial for all pets, no matter what they eat! Only Natural carries a wide variety of probiotics, enzymes, and combination products for you to choose from. To name just a few:

• Only Natural Pet Vital Digest, Prozyme, and Biozyme provide important enzymes to help your pet’s digestive system break down the food properly.

• Ark Naturals Gentle DigestNF Spectra Probiotic and Only Natural Pet Probiotic Blend supply friendly bacteria and nutrients to support proper absorption and elimination of toxins and bad bacteria.

• Pet Naturals Digestive Support for Cats and Dogs and Animal Essentials Plant Enzymes & Probiotics contain both enzymes and friendly bacteria.

Even if you don’t want to feed a raw diet full-time, adding a little fresh meat to your pet’s regular diet a few times a week, or feeding part raw and part regular commercial food, will go a long way toward better health for your pet.

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Thyroid Problems: Food + Chemicals + Dust = Sick Kitties?

Feline thyroid disease has risen to epidemic proportions since it was first diagnosed in 1979. It is a worldwide phenomenon, although it’s worse in the U.S. than other countries.

The disease itself, hyperthyroidism (hyper = too much, thyroid = a hormone-making gland) is seen mostly in older cats; usually in cats age 10 or more. Thyroid hormone regulates the body’s basic metabolic rate. Too much of it is a lot like drinking too much coffee—it speeds up every reaction in the body. Symptoms are typically related to this excess: excessive hunger, weight loss, restlessness, yowling, vomiting, diarrhea, and heart disease.

(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 this new 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 plenty of 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. Furthermore, there was more hyperthyroidism in cats that ate fish, liver, or “giblet” type canned foods. “Giblet” is another name for organ meats commonly listed on pet food labels as “by-products.” High quality, natural cat foods do not contain by-products.
  • Further research suggests that one factor may be a chemical (bisphenol A and similar compounds) found in the lining of pop-top cans that can leach out into the food and cause toxicity. However, there are at least 25 different types of can lining, and no  answer on which one(s) may be harmful. According to the FDA, the low levels of these chemicals found in some cat foods pose no health risk.

Recently, the media reported that fire-retardant chemicals known as PBDEs may be a factor in feline hyperthyroidism. The authors of a small study noted that PBDEs were introduced at about the same time hyperthyroidism was first diagnosed in cats. Additionally, the rate of feline hyperthyroidism has roughly paralleled the use of PBDEs in other countries.

The main route of exposure in cats is thought to be the PBDEs contained in carpets, upholstery, mattresses, and electronic equipment—and the dust mites that live in these fabrics. Since cats often sit and sleep on carpets, sofas, chairs, and mattresses, their exposure would naturally be high and prolonged. Normal grooming activity would also cause the cat to ingest a fairly large amount of dust. This may explain the increased risk of hyperthyroidism in indoor cats. However, although several cats in the study had high levels of PBDEs, the authors clearly state, “no association was detected between hyperthyroid cats and PBDE levels.”

Perhaps the most interesting bit of info to come from 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 in fish- or seafood-based cat foods. High levels of other PBDEs were found in dry cat food.

However, many hyperthyroid cats have never eaten canned food, never gone outside, and have no exposure to any of the other potential “causes” of the disease. But because hyperthyroidism strikes older cats, it is likely that there are multiple factors that come into play throughout the cat’s life. There is no “final answer.”

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 of thyroid disease. Ripping out your carpets and throwing away your furniture probably isn’t practical.

Diet does seem to be one area where we can make a difference. However, it is not a good idea to feed only dry food. There are many common health issues associated with dry food: obesity, diabetes, urinary tract disease, constipation, kidney disease, and inflammatory bowel disease. A variety of high-quality, natural foods—including at least 50% canned or fresher food (not dry) —is your cat’s best bet for a long and healthy life.  For fresher foods without the can try dehydrated food such as Honest Kitchen Prowl , freeze dried such as Nature’s Variety Freeze Dried Diets, or frozen raw food for cats.

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