Feline Upper Respiratory Problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Food + Chemicals + Dust = Hyperthyroid Kitties?

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

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

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

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

Studies have found several suspects in cat food:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FeLV & FIV – Feline Leukemia Virus (AIDS)

Question:
What is Feline Leukemia Virus?

Answer:
Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV, also called Feline AIDS), are dangerous, contagious diseases of cats. Both of these viruses are fairly “new” cat diseases; FeLV was first documented in the 1960s, and FIV was discovered in domestic cats around 1975. Since then it has been found that many big cats (a high percentage of African lions, for instance) also harbor the FIV virus. However, in big cats, the disease seems to be benign and rarely causes overt signs.

Contrary to what most people think, neither FeLV nor FIV are easy to transmit.  Your indoor cat will not become infected by a sick cat sneezing through a screen door. For a cat to contract FeLV, it takes prolonged, close contact—the kind of contact you’d get with two cats living together, sharing bowls, and mutual
grooming. FIV is transmitted almost exclusively through bite wounds. Kittens of infected mothers are typically infected through the mother’s blood or milk.

Both FeLV and FIV are retroviruses similar to human AIDS. While an infected cat’s immune system is definitely compromised, making him more susceptible to other infections, there is no reason why the cat can’t live a long and reasonably healthy life with proper nutrition and support.

Prevention

Both FeLV and FIV are found in 1½ to 3% of all cats in the U.S. The incidence of the disease has not changed significantly over the years. The actual rate of transmission between cats is not known. It is likely that many cats who are exposed to the disease never become persistently infected. In some cases the amount of exposure may not be enough to harm the cat, or the cat’s immune system is strong enough to fight it off.

Before bringing a new kitten or cat into your home, it is essential to have it tested for FeLV and FIV, in order to know the level of protection you must provide for your resident cat(s). However, tests in a newly infected animal may be negative. It is recommended to re-test for FeLV at least one month after known or suspected exposure. For FIV, a re-check is recommended at least 60 days after a bite wound or if the cat’s FIV status is unknown.

As many as 30% of positive FeLV and FIV tests are “false positives,” meaning that although the test is positive, the cat does not have the disease. Ideally, all positive results should be confirmed with a more sensitive test. Kittens must be 6-8 months of age before test results can be considered accurate.

FIV is primarily transmitted by bite wounds. It affects mainly outdoor cats, and male cats much more frequently than females. The best prevention for FIV is to keep your cat indoors.

There are vaccines available for both these diseases; however, they are not recommended by most experts. Both vaccines are the “killed” type, which carry the risk of causing cancer at the injection site, as well as other health issues associated with all vaccines. Please see our article, The Truth About Vaccinations,” in our Holistic Healthcare Library.

Diseases like FeLV and FIV depend on a weak immune system to give them entry; a healthy adult cat is relatively resistant to the disease. To keep the immune system functioning optimally, a cat needs proper nutrition and appropriate supplementation.

Living with FeLV and FIV

When FeLV, and later, FIV, were first discovered, veterinarians recommended immediate euthanasia for any cat testing positive. Fortunately, we have learned much more about the disease since then.

Dr. Don Hamilton, veterinarian, homeopath, and author of Homeopathic Care for Cats and Dogs, says, “Of course, it is critical to remember that these viruses are primarily only a problem in immuno-suppressed cats. Keeping a cat healthy with good food, and avoidance of stressors, like vaccination, is more important
for viruses like FeLV and FIV.” In other words, while these diseases are infectious and present in many environments, most healthy cats who are exposed will not get sick.

Diagnosis of FeLV or FIV is not a death sentence. However, sensible precautions should be taken. Disease-positive cats should be kept strictly indoors to eliminate the risk of transmitting the disease to other cats through fighting, as well as to reduce exposure to secondary infections that could harm the cat.

These viruses primarily affect the immune system, which results in lowered resistance to infections. Like AIDS, there may be a long latent period where the cat is apparently healthy. Because of their weakened immunity, many infected cats ultimately succumb to secondary viral or bacterial infections that would be
relatively harmless in a normal cat.

Because a stressed immune system is more prone to infection, keeping the cat’s stress level to a minimum is essential. Cats are territorial; the more cats in a household, the more stress is placed on each individual cat to maintain its position and boundaries. Proper hygiene is also critical. Extra special care should be taken to keep the environment (water and food bowls, litter boxes, bedding, toys, etc.) clean so that bacteria and other viruses can’t take advantage of the infected cat’s weaker immune system. Diluted household bleach (about 1 oz. of bleach to a gallon of water) is one of the best disinfectants known to man, and will kill virtually all infectious organisms. Retroviruses are not hardy, and do not live more than a few hours if exposed to the environment.

In addition to managing the environment, flower essences can be helpful to the FIV+ cat to enable him to cope with his environment and the disease. We recommend the SpiritEssence remedy, “Healthy Helper.”

It is important to support the immune system with good nutrition, stress management, and immune boosting treatments such as acupuncture and energy work.  However, because the immune defenses of the infected cat may be weak or inadequate, we don’t recommend a raw meat diet as the first step toward
improving nutrition. Homemade is best, but because of contamination problems in the meat-packing industry, it’s best to start out using cooked meat. As the cat becomes healthier, you can gradually transition to a raw diet if desired. If homemade isn’t an option for you, then wholesome, natural canned foods are fine.
Dry food is undesirable because they are dehydrating; also, carbohydrates (including vegetables) are unnatural to the feline diet and put stress on the liver, pancreas, and immune system.

Our most powerful immune system supplements:

Only Natural Pet Immune Strengthener

Health Concerns Power Mushrooms


Genesis Resources Feline Immune Support Formula


Genesis Resources Feline CAS Options


Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet


Nordic Naturals Pet Cod Liver Oil

Our Best Options for Stress Management

SpiritEssence Stress Stopper

Pet Essences Immune System Booster Flower Essences

Pet Essences Feline Leukemia Flower Essences

Many infected cats live normal lives and never show signs of the disease.  However, once a cat develops symptoms, the odds are that, in spite of our best care, he will ultimately lose the battle against the disease. Love and supportive care are the best weapons in our arsenal, but even these cannot prevent the disease from running its course. Sadly, it is our responsibility as caretakers to consider what the end should be like. In many cases, these cats will suffer terribly before the disease itself ends the fight, and humane euthanasia is often the best option.

It’s important to determine ahead of time what the criteria will be for this decision. These may include: when the cat is not eating or drinking, or is hiding constantly, taking no interest in surroundings, not responding to affection—any signs that feel appropriate to you may be your signal that enough is enough, and it’s time for a peaceful and loving release. It is ultimately the greatest gift of love you can give.

Photo Contest Winners – June 2008

Our winners for the Only Natural Pet Store photo contest – June 2008

Congratulations to Misha!
Misha is an eight year old Maine Coon from Wyoming. He’s a lover who greets his person when she comes home. His favorite game to play is Lump In the Bed, as pictured here. Misha was a feral cat who was “unadoptable” but his mom spent a lot of time with him and now he’s living the life!

Misha likes Wellness Cat Food and gets In Clover OptaGest with every meal to avoid being a “farty cat”. For a special treat, Misha gets Castor & Pollux Organix Cat Treats.  

& Congratulations to Dirty Harry!
Dirty Harry is a four year old Maine Coon mix from Massachusetts. He loves spending time in his window overlooking the yard, playing and eating. Dirty Harry was adopted by his person just before entering the shelter and brings limitless joy to her life.

Dirty Harry also enjoys Wellness Cat Food and he gets an Only Natural Pet Super Daily with his meals. He also gets Triple Pet Plaque Off to help him have healthy teeth.

Top 10 Summer Safety Tips for Pets

“The heat is on,” and with it comes a number of special summertime problems for our pets. Common sense and preventive measures can prevent untold illness and injuries for our pets. Here are our Top 10 tips for a safe and happy summer:

1. Prevent Parasites. Fleas, ticks, and other parasites are a year-round problem in some areas, but in the summer they are just about everywhere. Not only are these pests a nuisance to your dog or cat, but they are carriers of disease and other parasites. Mosquitoes, for instance, can transmit heartworms; fleas can give your pet tapeworms; and the list of tick-borne diseases is a long one. Thwarting parasites requires a broad approach and vigilance on your part, with a little help from effective preventives. Many natural products are available; talk to your vet about what’s needed for your area.

2. Stay Cool in Hot Weather. Pets are susceptible to heatstroke, so be sure your pet always has a shelter from the sun, and plenty of fresh water. If it’s extremely hot and humid in your area, consider a cooling vest for your dog.

3. Let Rover Stay Home. It’s been said before but bears repeating—never leave your dog in a car if the weather is warm, and certainly not if it’s hot. Cracking the windows makes no difference in the temperature gain. It doesn’t take high temperatures for it to be dangerous. A car parked in the shade can reach dangerous temperatures on a hot day, and if it’s in the sun, the temperature can rapidly rise up to 160°F. Experiments showed that even at a mild 72°F, the inside of a car reached 116°F in an hour, plenty hot to kill a dog. One dog died after being locked in a parked car on a sunny, 67°F day, even though the car windows were cracked.

Dogs can’t sweat—they control their body temperature by panting. If the air in the car is near or above the dog’s body temperature (about 100°F), the dog will be unable to cool itself, and its body temperature can quickly rise to fatal levels (over 107°F). Heatstroke symptoms in dogs include: heavy panting, salivation, disorientation, agitation, rapid heart beat, lethargy, vomiting, seizures, coma and death.

If you see a dog left alone in a car under dangerous conditions, note the car’s location, color, model, make, and license plate number and contact local humane authorities or police. If you can make a good guess as to which store the driver might be in, ask the store manager to page them. If the animal shows symptoms of heatstroke, take steps to gradually lower its body temperature immediately.
* Move the animal into the shade or an air-conditioned area.
* Apply ice packs or cold towels to the head, neck, and chest; or immerse her in cool (but not cold) water.
* Allow small amounts of cool water or let the dog lick some ice cubes.
* Get to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

4. Avoid Sunburn. Dogs and cats with white faces or ears may be susceptible to sunburn, even if they only “sun-bathe” indoors. Apply a non-toxic sunscreen to vulnerable areas where the fur is thin and you can see skin.

5. Watch What Goes In Your Pet’s Mouth. Poisonous mushrooms grow in many areas of the country. Patrol your property regularly to remove these fungal hazards. Many plants are also toxic. As a special note, this is the time of year when people are using fertilizers and pesticides in yards and on lawns. Don’t let your dog wander in other yards where chemicals might be used.

6. Take Care with Critters. With dogs accompanying their people walking and hiking in summer, there are increased chances of an encounter with unpleasant or even dangerous wildlife, such as skunks, porcupines, rattlesnakes and other reptiles. Certain large toads have poisons on their skin that can be harmful if your pet even licks at the toad. Toads come out in wet weather and when it’s dark, so be especially careful when letting your dog out at these times.

7. Stay Clear of Sharp Objects. As the grasses and other plants die back, their seed cases can present special hazards. Foxtails and burrs can get caught in the paws or fur and work their way into—or even through—the skin. Check your pet after every outing to make sure they’re free of these nasty items. If you live near water or take your dog on fishing trips, be watchful of fishing hooks and lines that you are using, or that may be left behind in shallow water or on the shore.

8. Travel Safely.
As much as your dog may love to ride in the bed of a pickup, or hang his head out the window, allowing either can cause your dog a world of hurt. Dust and gravel in the eyes are the least of it; every year thousands of dogs are injured or killed when they jump or fall from vehicles. Even in an enclosed car, animals can be thrown and injured if you have to brake suddenly. A sturdy harness is the equivalent of a good seatbelt for you!  And of course, if you’re a boater, don’t forget a flotation device for the dog!

9. Carry Identification. Of course, all pets should wear a collar and ID tag year-round. Cats should be outfitted with a breakaway collar for maximum safety. Have your pet microchipped for added “insurance.”

10. Be Prepared. At home or away, carry a first aid kit in case of emergencies. There are special kits for both dogs and cats, so you never have to panic! You might also want to keep flower essences on hand, to keep your pet calm while you give first aid or head for the vet. Several products are available:
Bach Rescue Remedy

SpiritEssence Stress Stopper

Pet Essences Emergency Rescue

Have Fun! Once you’re ready and alert for summer hazards, it’s the best and most fun time of year to get out—or just hang out—with your pet!

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!

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

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.

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.