Posts tagged raw food

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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5 New Year’s Resolutions Your Pet Wants You To Make

As 2008 wraps up and we’re thinking about our goals for the New Year, our pets have a few reminders for you! Here are the top 5 New Year’s resolutions your pet wants you to make!

1. Spend more quality time with me! As much as your dog or cat loves sitting with you while you work or relax, a 10-minute walk or play session provides many benefits. It’s mentally and physically stimulating, which ultimately means less boredom and frustration—and thus a calmer and healthier pet.

The amount of exercise and stimulation your dog needs depends on age, breed, temperament, weight, and social factors. For example, a young border collie needs a great deal of exercise that engages its mind, such as dog agility training or long-distance fetching games; while a middle-aged pug may be fine with a short daily walk. If you have two dogs who rough-house all day, a leisurely evening walk may be just what they need. Consider the history of your dog’s breed to understand more about its temperament and exercise needs. Your dog’s energy level and weight will give you an overall picture of whether its exercise regimen is adequate.

Even cats need exercise, despite their reputation for sleeping 18 hours a day! Interactive play sessions with fishing-pole type toys like “Da Bird” not only provide exercise, but also deepen your cat’s bond with you—and it’s fun! Perhaps most importantly, play sessions will satisfy those strong hunter instincts to create a more serene, more confident cat. This is especially important in a multi-cat home with an unbalanced hierarchy; the lowest cat on the totem pole will be much more comfortable in “hunting territory” where interactive games take place. If you have a young, energetic cat, consider cat agility training.

2. Feed me right! Good nutrition is the heart of good health and long life. You want your pet to not only survive, but thrive—so consider adding canned, raw, or homemade food. Cats in particular need more high-protein, high-moisture diets for optimal health; but dogs also benefit from less-processed foods.

Appropriate supplements are a part of good nutrition. While pets eating a balanced commercial food don’t need much in the way of added vitamins and minerals, giving extra Omega-3 fatty acids, digestive support (digestive enzymes and probiotics), and immune support (antioxidants) will provide big benefits that will help your pet live a longer, healthier life.

a. Omega-3 fatty acids (healthy anti-inflammatory oils). Omega-3s are precursors to many important hormones and other compounds in the body. In dogs and cats, they’re especially important for skin and coat health. Lack of a healthy balance of essential fatty acids is linked to many serious health conditions, such as allergies, skin diseases, obesity, cancer, insulin resistance, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, autoimmune diseases, behavioral issues, and cognitive dysfunction (senility). These The best forms for pets are fish oil and cod liver oil. If you can only give your pet one supplement, make it Omega 3s.

b. Digestive support (digestive enzymes and probiotics). In nature, our pets’ relatives catch and eat their food raw. We can mimic the benefits of the wild diet by adding digestive enzymes to our pets’ food. Probiotics—friendly bacteria—help the natural bacterial population in the gut stay balanced and healthy, and prevent prevent pathogenic bacteria from making our pets sick.

c. Immune support (antioxidants). The immune system is large and complex, and in our modern world, is constantly under attack from all sides—indoor and outdoor air pollutants, chemicals in fabrics and household products, electromagnetic radiation, and airborne viruses, molds, and toxins. Antioxidants, which help the body detoxify itself and prevent damaging inflammation, are a great way to boost the immune system. A combination of antioxidants is much more effective than any single one.

3. Give me appropriate veterinary care! Dogs and cats need annual veterinary check-ups. Regular care from the veterinarian is important to detect and correct  problems early and to maintain good dental health; but take it easy on the vaccines. Most adult animals do not need any vaccines except rabies as required by law. See our article on Vaccinations for more information.

4. Help me look and feel good! Adequate grooming involves maintaining a clean, healthy coat, claws, ears, eyes, claws, and teeth.

a. Bathing. Cats rarely need a bath, but dogs are attracted to (and like to roll in) things that smell good to them—but not so good to us! Also, that “doggy” odor can become unpleasant without regular shampoos (diet also has a great deal to do with development of this odor).
Pet-Safe Shampoos

b. Brushing/combing. Most pets learn to enjoy grooming if they’re introduced to it slowly and in a pleasurable way. It should never be a battle! Combs dig deeper than brushes, which tend to gloss over the top coat. Another great tool is the FURminator, which pulls out amazing amounts of dead hair; but it needs to be used gently, otherwise the feeling can become unpleasant.
Gripsoft Grooming Tools

c. Nail trimming. Your vet or groomer can do this every few weeks if you have a particularly uncooperative pet, but if you start trimming your puppy or kitten early in life and take care not to hurt them, most pets will accept claw clipping or filing at home. Very active dogs may wear their nails down naturally, but it pays to be vigilant. Over-long claws are uncomfortable to walk on and can actually grow around into the pad, causing horrific wounds.

Gripsoft Grooming Tools

d. Ears, eyes, and teeth. Keeping the ears and eyes clean and healthy is an essential part of good grooming and maintenance. Any cat or dog can develop waxy buildup in the ears, although floppy-eared dogs still take the prize for ear issues. Nearly every pet has some degree of dental disease by the age of 3; and while your veterinarian plays the most important role in assessing and preventing dental disease, there are products that can help keep your pet’s mouth healthy between check-ups. Prevention is key, because these sensitive organs can be easily damaged and expensive to restore to health.

Ear Care Products

Eye Care Products

Dental Care Products

5. Keep the bugs away from me! In many areas of the country, fleas are a year-round problem. Other parasites, including intestinal worms, heartworms, and disease-carrying ticks, are also a threat. A healthy diet and good hygiene are the first-line deterrents, but discuss parasite prevention with your vet so you know what the particular issues are in your area. And don’t forget to do your homework if you’re traveling, since parasite seasons and distributions vary widely in different areas. Anti-parasitic medications can be strong and potentially harmful; discuss alternative treatments with your vet.

For Fleas

For Other Parasites

Here’s hoping that you and your pets have a great holiday season and a wonderful 2009!

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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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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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