Posts tagged dog

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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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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New Halo Spot’s Stew Dry Formula for Dogs & Cats!

Only Natural Pet Store is happy to introduce Halo Spot’s Stew Dry Formulas!

Finally, a dry food for dogs and cats good enough to be called “Spot’s Stew”. Created for all life stages, Halo blends a unique combination of proteins from meat or fish, eggs and vegetables for pure nutrition and easy digestibility.

  • No rendered meats or meals
  • Nothing artificial
  • No by-products
  • No fillers
  • No chemicals or preservatives

Click Here to View Halo Spot’s Stew Dry Food.

Halo also offers a complete line of pet care products for dogs and cats, all specifically created to achieve and maintain optimal health for your pet. They guarantee all their products will deliver noticeable results, or your money back!

Click Here to Check Out All Halo Products.

. . . and coming soon at Only Natural Pet Store. . . Ziwi Peak!

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Why Switch Foods? (Part 1 & II)

The spice of life is variety, or so they say. If that’s true for people, what about our dogs and cats?

Pet food company advertising would have you believe that feeding one food (theirs!) for your pet’s entire adult life is the way to go. But that concept is all wrong. When you really think about it, it doesn’t even make sense!

For many of us, our pets are our children. So let’s imagine for a moment that you have a child, let’s say a 2-year old boy named Junior (of course!), and let’s imagine taking him to the pediatrician for a check-up. The doctor bustles in, looks Junior over, then plunks a big bag of Yummi-o’s down on the exam table.

“Good news,” he beams. “All the vitamins, minerals and a perfect balance of nutrients that Junior needs are right here in New Complete Yummi-o’s. Now all you have to do is make sure Junior gets three servings every day.” The doctor wags his finger at you as he continues in a serious voice, “Now, since this food is perfectly complete and balanced, you mustn’t feed Junior anything else—no apples or oatmeal or broccoli or peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches—because you might cause a nutrient imbalance!”

Well, this sounds a little weird, but you trust the pediatrician—after all, it’s his name you see on all the gold-embossed university degrees on the exam room wall—so you go ahead and put Junior on an all-Yummi-o’s diet.

Time passes, Junior grows, and by golly, it sure is cheap, easy and convenient to feed him. The next year you bring him in for his checkup, and the doctor is very pleased.

“He looks great,” says the doc. “I see you’ve been keeping him on Yummi-o’s. Terrific! Now, I have more good news for you! Yummi-o’s now comes in Life Stages! You’ll keep him on Yummi-o’s Growth until he starts kindergarten. Then he’ll go on Elementary Yummi-o’s until he hits middle school. Then you give him Adolescent Yummi-o’s until he’s 18, when he can be weaned onto the Adult formula. And it gets even better—you can eat it too! New Improved Yummi-o’s is complete and balanced for adults up to 65 years old.”

Ridiculous? Of course! What rational parent would feed a child only one food for years on end? Even if the food were, in fact, complete and balanced, most of us would consider it unnatural, even cruel to the child. Never give Junior a carrot or a glass of orange juice? No fresh food at all? Preposterous!

Then why does everyone think it’s okay to feed a cat or dog that way?

We would think a pediatrician who recommended a single food diet for a child was bonkers, yet when the veterinarian recommends a single food for our pampered pet, we obey without question. But feeding a dog or cat is not all that different from feeding a child.

It’s way past time to bring a little common sense to bear, and common sense dictates that an animal ought to get a variety of foods.

The veterinary literature is full of cases where nutritional deficiencies (or excesses) were discovered, and in virtually every one, the problem arose (or was discovered) because the animal was kept on one food for a long period of time.

Cats, being strict obligate carnivores, have most often been the unintended victims—taurine, copper, vitamin E and potassium deficiencies have turned up in cats fed certain foods (which were, by the way, “complete and balanced” according to the standards at the time) as their sole diet.

Dogs, whose omnivorous metabolism is more adaptable, haven’t had quite as many problems, though zinc and fatty acid deficiencies have occurred on certain poor quality foods.

The Myth of Complete and Balanced

Wait a minute … aren’t we indeed talking about “complete and balanced” foods? How can a complete and balanced food have deficiencies or excesses of nutrients? Unfortunately, even for the best commercial pet foods, there are several places along the road to the retail store shelf where any food’s nutritional value can go astray.

1. The standards by which the food is made aren’t perfect. Pet nutrition is an evolving science, and we don’t yet know all there is to know about it (if we ever will!). Veterinarians have seen many examples of how the particular nutritional needs of a species become known—mainly by stumbling on cases where they aren’t being met.

2. The exact quantities of individual nutrients in a given ingredient may not be known, or may be inaccurately assessed. A shipment of barley might be presumed to have a certain nutritional composition based on analyses of previous batches, but depending on the weather where it was grown, the soil conditions, and the type of fertilizer used, the exact amounts of each nutrient may vary. The same applies to animal-based ingredients.

3. Ingredient quality may be inconsistent or unknown. A vitamin-mineral premix purchased from an outside supplier and added to the food may guarantee minimum levels of each item, but if the quality control on that product was poor, the finished pet food will merely compound the error. Many vitamins and minerals are normally “overdosed” in pet food to make up for loss of those nutrients during processing, transport and storage. Some of these may present a health risk. For instance, iodine excess in cat foods is suspected of contributing to the skyrocketing incidence of hyperthyroidism in older cats; and a zinc overdose in a commercial dog food sickened author Ann Martin’s dogs and started her on a quest through the maze of pet food manufacturing and regulation, detailed in her stunning book Food Pets Die For in 1997.

4. Processing alters many nutrients. The heat used in various stages of pet food manufacturing can alter many ingredients, some for the better and some for worse. Carbohydrates are made much more digestible by cooking, but proteins can be denatured, vitamins can be destroyed, and fats can be damaged by heat. In general, pet food manufacturers are aware of changes that occur in their products during processing, and compensate for heat-sensitive ingredients by adding supplements, such as extra vitamins, but alterations in proteins and fats are not generally accounted for.

5. The pet food manufacturer itself can make mistakes. It’s obvious from feed reports from around the country that virtually every manufacturer—no matter how good, bad or indifferent its reputation—at one time or another fails one or more tests for protein, calcium, magnesium or other nutrients.

6. Increased risk of toxic effects. As many people unfortunately discovered in last year’s recalls, feeding the same food, from the same manufacturer, who continually buys from the same suppliers, can lead to health problems for your animal companion. While some of the recalled foods had such huge amounts of melamine that even one serving was deadly, feeding a variety of foods could have “diluted” the effect of the toxin and caused less harm for thousands of pets.

Next time, we’ll talk about how periodically switching foods can prevent food allergies and finicky eating behavior.

Why Switch Food Part II…

In this post, we’ll continue our discussion about the reasons for periodically switching your pet’s food.

Let’s consider all the different kinds of pet food on the market. When I started veterinary school, there were basically two kinds of pet food: adult, and puppy or kitten (growth/lactation); “light” foods were just coming into the market, although there were no rules at the time about calories or fat content, so the claim was a little questionable.

But looking at dog food today, we find all-life-stages food, baby dog food, puppy food, adult food, mature food, aging food, senior food, food for sensitive stomachs, food for itchy skin, food for small, medium, large, and giant breed dogs, food for Yorkies and Dachshunds and Poodles and Bulldogs and Shih Tzus and Boxers and Retrievers, vegetarian food, high performance food, reduced calorie food, light food, and an array of veterinary diets for dogs with heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, arthritis, digestive problems, cancer, diabetes, bladder stones, dandruff, and dirty teeth.

Cats, being more or less the same general size and shape, have been spared some of this, but recently a spate of new foods for indoor, outdoor, and specific breeds of cats has arrived on the market. And there are designer diets for hairball hurlers, happy bladders, and tartared teeth. And, of course, most of the veterinary diets available for dogs have a feline counterpart.

However, the standards for pet food nutrient levels remain the same today as they were when they were set in 1989 (for dogs) and 1991 (for cats). There is one chart for adult maintenance, and one chart for growth/lactation. (Food intended to treat disease must provide documentation to FDA that it actually works as advertised, but the research is done by the company making the food-–and the claim.) New standards for dog and cat nutrition were just recently published by the National Research Council, but it will likely take several years before they are reviewed and accepted by AAFCO. Until that happens, pet food manufacturers don’t have to abide by them.

Is There Really a Difference?

Is it just me, or is something wrong with this picture? How much different are these foods really from each other—given that they all have to meet the same nutritional standards? For instance, if you look at the ingredient statements on the labels of regular versus large breed foods, they look pretty similar. In any case, the exact nutritional requirements of hundreds of breeds (and infinite combinations of breeds), every imaginable lifestyle, and each animal’s individual metabolism simply cannot be accurately known, at least not with current technology.

Moreover, even an individual animal’s needs fluctuate, depending on the season, activity level, normal variations in hormone levels and organ functions, infections, parasites like fleas, illness, and a host of other factors. A dog who spends a lot of time outdoors in Colorado may need a higher calorie/higher fat food in the winter to cope with the cold, but unless she is extremely active in warmer weather, such a food may put on the pounds if fed year-round. It does make sense to try to match the food to your animal’s particular needs as those needs vary, although whether you can really do this based solely on a manufacturer’s claims for its food is unlikely.

The Allergy Factor

Another pitfall of feeding a single food is the potential for your animal to develop an intolerance or allergy to one or more ingredients. A dietary intolerance is a reaction to something in the food, rather than the food itself.

The list of suspects is a long one and includes flavoring agents, coloring agents, emulsifiers, humectants, stabilizers, thickeners, texturizers, and dozens more. Different manufacturers use different additives, so changing foods periodically may avoid constant exposure to certain ingredients that could become a problem for your animal.

True food allergies are thought to be uncommon (though more common in cats than dogs), but many practitioners and veterinary nutritionists are coming to the conclusion that most, if not all, cases of inflammatory bowel disease are linked to food.

It usually takes months to years of exposure to a food to develop an allergy. Allergies are usually to proteins, which are found in animal products, of course, but also in to some extent in the cereal grains commonly used in pet food. Corn meal (also known as ground yellow corn) contains 9 percent protein, soybean flour contains 37 percent protein, and wheat contains 10 percent protein. Corn and wheat are very common allergens in pets.

Switching foods every three or four months, from chicken-and-corn, to lamb-and-rice or turkey-and-barley or duck-and-green peas or rattlesnake-and-quinoa may help prevent your animal companion from becoming food-allergic in the first place. (But remember to carefully check the ingredient list on the package-–a food legitimately labeled “emu-and-amaranth” could actually consist mainly of corn and chicken.)

A Matter of Taste

The last big reason to change foods periodically is to prevent finicky eating habits and enable the gut to handle challenges without catastrophic consequences.

Pet food makers are masters at making the food irresistibly tasty. Consequently, an animal fed a single food may become “addicted” to it. I once got a call from a woman whose cat would not only eat just one flavor of cat food, but it had to have been canned at a particular factory! Cans of the same flavor with a different code stamp were rejected by the cat. She was frantically searching from coast to coast to find more cans from that factory—which had since closed down.

Some foods are produced on a “least cost” basis, and the ingredients may change significantly from batch to batch. “Fixed formula” foods always use the same ingredients. Depending on ingredient quality, such a food may be a better pick. But even fixed formula foods that use the same ingredients all the time may still periodically alter certain characteristics, such as size of the kibble, or flavoring components.

When you buy a new bag of the same food, it could be just different enough from the usual fare that your furry friend will turn up her nose at it. Or you might run out of her favorite food and not be able to get over to the gourmet pet store right away—she’ll just have to eat something from the grocery store for a few days. If you board her, she may get fed whatever the kennel is using (errors can be made, even if you supply your own food).

It’s best to have your animal companion develop more “cosmopolitan” tastes, and be willing to eat whatever you give her. (For some dogs in some situations, training to accept food only from you can and should be done, but that’s an issue beyond the scope of this blog.)

Next time, we’ll get to the nuts and bolts of how to make the switch. The first word of caution: too radical or too abrupt a switch could cause your pet stress and tummy upset. On the bright side, it could keep your local carpet cleaning company busy!

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Taking Care of the Liver

The liver is one of the most important organs in the body. It is a crucial part of the digestive system, as well as playing a role in the immune system. Most blood from the intestinal tract is routed through the liver for detoxification. The liver can operate effectively with only 20% of its cells working, so it has a large reserve capacity. Without the liver, the body is doomed within days. But the good news is that, with proper support, the liver can completely regenerate itself after injury or disease. These traits make the liver truly remarkable; and mean that even serious liver disease is survivable and has a much better prognosis than similar damage to other organs.

The liver is also one of the few organs with key differences between dogs and cats. The dog’s liver is very similar to that of humans and other mammals. However, a cat’s liver contains fewer metabolic enzymes and has a diminished ability to handle toxins. The development of liver disease is also due to different causes between dogs and cats. In dogs, liver failure is commonly due to congenital problems, traumatic injury, infections, or other disease. Cats, on the other hand, can develop liver disease not only from infection or trauma, but also from seemingly minor stresses, such as not eating enough for whatever reason.

Keeping the Liver Healthy.
Preventing liver disease is a whole lot easier than curing it. A high-quality diet, including at least some wet food for both dogs and cats, is the first and most basic step. Additionally, there are herbal and nutritional supplements that can support and strengthen the liver so that it can handle damage and disease more efficiently. Supportive supplements with specific benefits for the liver include:

Probiotics to balance the digestive system
Only Natural Pet Probiotic Blend
Animal Essentials Plant Enzymes
Pet Naturals Digest Support for Cats and Dogs

Antioxidants to prevent and reduce inflammation
Only Natural Pet Whole Food Antioxidant Blend
Vetri-Science Antiox

Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fish oil, also have strong anti-inflammatory properties.
Only Natural Pet Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil
 

Co-Enzyme Q10 to enhance cellular metabolism and prevent the formation of damaging oxygen free radicals. It is best absorbed in an oil formulation, such as:
Vetri-Science CoQsol

General support for liver health and nose-to-tail wellness. If you want keep things simple and give just one terrific supplement to your pet, these products contain milk thistle, taurine, antioxidants, digestive enzymes, and Omega-3 fatty acids, along with important vitamins and minerals:

Only Natural Pet Super Daily Canine Senior
Only Natural Pet Super Daily Feline Senior
 

Supplementing your pet’s diet with a portion of cooked organic calves’ or chicken liver once or twice a week will provide all the ingredients needed to keep the liver in good repair. It’s important to buy it fresh and organic because the liver is the body’s main detoxifying organ, and there may be stored toxins in non-organic that could harm your pet.

If Your Pet is Sick.
In dogs with liver disease, a precise diagnosis is important. This usually involves blood tests, and possibly also ultrasound or even biopsy of the liver. Different causes need different treatment. For example, in a puppy with a liver shunt (an abnormal blood vessel that bypasses the important detoxification processes of the liver), a high protein diet—which is normally fine for the liver—could be deadly. Cats have a less diverse potential problem list, mostly involving either inflammation or hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease). Signs are similar, and treatment in cats nearly always comes down to: “feed the liver,” although specific treatment with antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs may be needed, depending on the cause of the problem. Unfortunately, feeding an animal with liver disease both crucial and difficult, since these pets tend to not want to eat at all. Force-feeding or even surgical placement of a feeding tube may be necessary components of treatment. Just mix the supplements with a little blenderized canned food, and force-feed the mixture by syringe or via tube. Here are a few tips to make this process easier:

  • Mix up the whole day’s worth of food in the morning, with all the supplements in it.
  • Set aside a portion for the first feeding, and put the remainder in the refrigerator.
  • For subsequent feedings, take out the appropriate portion, mix a little hot water in to warm and soften it, and you’re ready to go.

The herb milk thistle is an important healer for the liver in times of stress or disease. It protects the liver from toxins and helps it regenerate.
The active ingredient of milk thistle, “silymarin,” reaches high levels in the bile and liver tissue. It can be used in the treatment of hepatic lipidosis, chronic hepatitis (generalized liver inflammation), cholangitis (inflammation of the bile ducts), and pericholangitis (inflammation of the tissue around the bile ducts). It may be useful in preventing or treating some liver problems, as well as gallstones, by thinning the bile.
It is very safe. You can give up to 250 mg of milk thistle daily for every 10 pounds of your pet’s body weight. It is most effective when given in smaller portions throughout the day than in one big dose. Two of our favorite milk thistle products are:

Super Milk Thistle X
Only Natural Pet Liv-Herb Herbal Formula

Omega-3 fatty acids can be given at higher doses for a sick animal. Give 2 or 3 times the normally recommended amount; up to 3,000 mg per day for a large dog.

Carnitine, an amino acid, is extremely important for cats with hepatic lipidosis, but is helpful for all dogs and cats, especially those who eat a lot of high-carbohydrate dry food. Give 250-500 mg/day for a cat. Carnitine is also important for heart muscle function in both dogs and cats. Our highest potency products are:

Vetri-Science Cardio-Strength



Vitaline L-Carnitine

A pet with liver disease needs professional care from your veterinarian, but you can greatly help the healing process with the right supplements, and of course plenty of TLC!

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