Fur Loss – What’s the Problem?

Is your pet “going bald?” There are many reasons why a pet might lose fur, but in most cases, it’s because the of overgrooming: chewing the hair and breaking it off, or pulling it out completely. Those 12 tiny incisor teeth between the canines (fangs) are designed for grooming, and under normal circumstances, they’re used to “comb” through the hair to remove debris, mats, and parasites.

Hair loss from any cause is called “alopecia” (“aloe-pee’-sha”).  Sometimes you’ll actually catch your pet in the act of chewing, or notice that he’s scratching or grooming more than usual, but more often you’ll glance down and suddenly notice a bare patch where the fur used to be. Areas where alopecia can develop without you noticing are the tummy, tail base, and front legs. Dogs are especially prone to work intensively at an itchy area and develop raw, open sores called “hot spots.” When cats do this, they cause even worse damage because of their rough, barbed tongues.

Parasites

The first essential step is a trip to the veterinarian’s to diagnose the cause of the problem. Far and away the most common reason for both dogs and cats to pull out their hair, especially around the base of the tail, is flea-bite allergy. It only takes a single flea bite to produce an intense and prolonged reaction. Your vet can prescribe an effective and safe flea preventive and help you get rid of fleas and eggs in and around the house, or you can use more natural methods. Once the fleas are gone, the skin will heal up on its own, or you can use homeopathy to hasten the process.

Another parasite that may be far more common than many vets suspect is mites. There are several species of mites that produce a condition called “mange.” Sarcoptes mites (scabies) cause unrelenting, severe itching. They are most often found on the belly, but can wander anywhere. Scabies mites prefer warm, moist areas. Cheyletiella (“walking dandruff mite”) and Demodex may or may not be itchy, but if the infestation grows out of control, they can cause scratching and hair loss. Demodex is a normal parasite of humans and animals (we have them in the hair follicles of our eyebrows–eew!), but if the immune system is weak, it can explode into a nasty infestation. Sometimes cat ear mites will get into the skin, particularly around the head and neck. All of these can cause animals to lick, scratch, rub, and chew to try to relieve the itching. Strengthening the immune system is the most basic support for a parasitized pet.

Most mites have one thing in common—they are easily transmitted, and they are not picky about where they set up housekeeping. In a household with scabies, multiple animals and people are likely to be infected. Your vet will do a skin scraping and put it under the microscope to check for mites, which are very tiny and hardly visible to the eye. However, scabies mites are very hard to find. It’s been estimated that only 20-30% of pets with scabies are ever definitively diagnosed, even by multiple skin scrapings. If there are two or more itchy individuals (of any species!) in the household, treatment for mites may be indicated.

Ringworm (which is actually a fungus) is also frequently implicated in cases of hair loss, especially around the face, feet and ears. It is more common in cats than dogs, and even more so in kittens–but all animals, including humans, can get them. The hair disappears in small patches, and the skin turns dry, gray (or red, especially in people), and flaky. The time between initial contact and the appearance of lesions varies from one to three weeks. Ringworm is extremely contagious! While it doesn’t seem to bother the animals much, in people it can be extremely itchy! Treating ringworm can be difficult and time-consuming.There are a number of effective topical creams that can be used if the lesions are small and localized, but a pet with a major infection may need to be shaved and bathed in a special shampoo for a month or more. Alternatively, there are oral medications or herbs that must be given consistently, usually for several weeks. They have serious side effects, so be sure to discuss the options thoroughly with your vet. Homeopathic treatment can be very helpful.

Internal Disease

Along with parasites, the veterinarian will also consider other potential causes of hair loss. Certain patterns, such as symmetrical hair loss along the sides, may point to an endocrine disorder; i.e., a problem with one of the hormone-secreting glands, such as the thyroid or adrenals.

Localized pain may also cause the excessive licking. A brewing abscess is painful, and will inspire a lot of licking before it opens and drains. Hair loss over joints may indicate arthritis pain. I once examined a cat who had suddenly started licking at one particular spot on her right side. As I mulled over which organs were in that part of the abdomen, I became suspicious, and ransome tests. It turned out she had acute pancreatitis, which we successfully treated before it became a full-blown, life-threatening problem.

Allergies

Contact allergies, while rare, are possible. A new carpet, cedar bed, or different detergent used to launder the pet’s bedding can cause a local allergic reaction that causes the pet to lick at the itchy area. Hair loss and rash will occur in the areas where the pet most frequently comes into contact with the material, such as feet and tummy.

Once parasites and medical problems have been ruled out, there are still two major players to consider. The first is diet. Food intolerances or allergies may show up first in the skin, causing tiny red crusty sores that spread or coalesce as the pet rubs or scratches at them. Secondary bacterial infections are common once the skin becomes irritated. Food allergies are much more common in cats than in dogs. Lesions around the face, feet, and ears are typically seen with food allergies. Allergies to inhaled substances, such as dust mites or pollen, may produce identical signs. A diet trial with low-allergen food, skin or blood test (good diagnostics for dogs but notoriously inaccurate in cats), or trial treatment may be used to assess allergies. Treatment consists of improved diet including added essential fatty acids and other natural products.

“Fat Deficiency”

The skin and coat are also the first to suffer when the diet is inadequate in certain nutrients. Pets on all-dry, “light,” or “low-fat” diets may develop dry, flaky skin, and the coat may be dull or greasy feeling. The skin may be irritated and the coat may become thin because hair is falling out. Or there may be plenty of fat in the diet, but not the right kind of fat.

Supplementation with essential fatty acids and/or Vitamin E may provide a great deal of relief. Omega 3 fatty acids, in particular, found in fish oil and cod liver oil will help calm underlying inflammation, and condition the skin and fur. There are a number of good products for animals, such as Nordic Naturals Pet Omega 3 or Cod Liver Oil.

Many cat lovers have also found that homemade and raw diets, which eliminate the colorings, preservatives and other additives found in commercial cat foods, has done the trick. Simply getting rid of the dry food in favor of any wet food, such as canned, is the ticket in many cases.

It’s All in the Head?

Some herbs have mild sedating or calming effects. There are combinations made especially for animals. These would be appropriate to use if you know what the stressor is, and can dose appropriately whenever the stress will occur. For instance, if your pet gets upset when he’s left alone, you would give him the herbs right before you leave for work or school.

Other Treatments

Hherbs can help soothe and heal the skin.

Homeopathy can also be very beneficial in treating alopecia related to itching.

One of the best and simplest modalities for treating stress on the pyschological level is flower essence therapy.

Alopecia is a  sign that something’s wrong, and it’s often uncomfortable for the pet. While it’s not always easy to find out why your pet is pulling out her hair, it’s very important to get to the bottom of it, and to treat it appropriately.

The Truth About Heartworms

Veterinarians and pharmaceutical companies have teamed up in a marketing campaign to frighten pet guardians into giving year-round heartworm preventatives to both dogs and cats. They say they’re doing this to improve protection for individual pets, but the facts say they have other motives.

Except for a the warmest parts of the U.S., heartworms are a completely seasonal problem. There is no reason to give heartworm medicine to most pets year-round (except to make money for those who make and sell it!).

Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes. Hearworm larvae, called microfilaria, live in the blood and are sucked up by the bug. Once inside the mosquito, they must further develop before they can infect another dog. For that to occur, outside temperatures must remain above 57 degrees F, day and night, for a certain period of time. The warmer the temperature, the faster the larvae will mature. If the temperature drops below critical level, larval development will stop; but the larvae don’t die—development will re-start at the same point when the weather warms back up. Larvae reach their infective stage in 8 to 30 days (the latter being the entire lifespan of the average mosquito).

In many areas of the country (northern and mountain states, for instance), such warm temperatures simply don’t exist for most of the year, and sustained warm temperatures don’t occur until at least June. In fact, only in Florida and south Texas is year-round heartworm transmission possible. Within 150 miles of the Gulf Coast, heartworm risk exists 9 months out of the year. In the rest of the country, heartworm transmission is possible between 3 and 7 months out of the year. Hawaii and Alaska have each had a few cases of canine heartworm, but the incidence  in those states is very low.

It should be obvious that during seasons where there are no mosquitoes, there is no risk of heartworm. Evidently that little fact escaped the attention of the veterinarian who prescribed heartworm protection—in December–for a puppy living high in the Colorado mountains. At that altitude, temperatures are never warm enough for heartworms!

When an infected mosquito bites a dog or cat, the microfilaria are deposited on the skin, where they crawl into the bite wound and enter the bloodstream. Inside the body, they grow and progress through other larval forms. In dogs, the heartworm’s natural host, larvae migrate to the heart and eventually develop into adult worms, reproduce, fill the blood with microfilaria, and pass it on to the next mosquito.

In cats, full-grown worms can develop, but not reproduce. Adult heartworms are over a foot long, and it doesn’t take but 1 or 2 to fill up a cat’s tiny heart and cause serious problems. In 80% of the time, the cat’s immune system kills the larvae at an earlier stage, and clears the infection. However, microfilaria can cause significant inflammation in the lungs, even in cats who never show any signs of infection. Cases of heartworm have been diagnosed in cats living entirely indoors.

Heartworm preventative drugs do not kill adult heartworms, but they do kill microfilaria up to a certain stage of development. Currently it is believed that larvae under 6 weeks old are affected. This means that in order to prevent heartworms from reaching adulthood, the preventative can be given up to 6 weeks after the mosquito bite and still work. The recommendation is to give the drugs every 30 days, purportedly because once-a-month dosing is easier for most people to remember (and, coincidentally, it also sells more drugs). Preventatives should be given starting 4-6 weeks after the earliest possible infection date and continue 4-6 weeks after the last possible infection date. In most states, protection should be continued through November or December. In southern Texas and Florida, year-round preventatives may be needed. Local conditions may vary from year to year.

The most common preventative drugs for heartworm are ivermectin (Heargard®) and selamectin (Revolution®). While these drugs are generally safe and effective, there are always exceptions. Toxicity associated with ivermectin include depression, ataxia (balance problems or unsteady walk), and blindness, but these are uncommon at the doses used in heartworm preventatives. Selamectin is also used to treat ear mites and some worms; adverse reactions include hair loss at the site of application, diarrhea, vomiting, muscle tremors, anorexia, lethargy, salivation, rapid breathing, and contact allergy.

Update 7/15/2010: The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) recently reported that mounting evidence suggests that preventatives may be susceptible to a very serious problem: resistance. This is similar to the situation with antibiotics, where massive and unnecessary over-use has caused many bacteria to develop resistance to one or more drugs, creating super-infections, and making many antibiotics useless. The CAPC report states: “There is a growing body of anecdotal reports and experimental evidence that currently available heartworm preventives (macrocyclic lactones) may not be completely efficacious in preventing heartworm infection in dogs. Reports of resistance for dogs in the region [south-central U.S.] have resulted in confusion about how best to prevent infection in veterinary patients.” If ivermectin and related drugs lose their effectiveness, that will be trouble indeed, since these drugs are also used in the treatment of heartworm infections.

Only Natural Pet HW Protect Herbal Formula is a natural product intended for use as a preventative to be used during mosquito season as part of a comprehensive heartworm control program. The formula was designed with two objectives, using herbs that work together to reduce the likelihood of mosquito bites to lower your pet’s risk of becoming infected, and to help eliminate existing larvae-stage parasites in the bloodstream. This tincture was developed to help prevent heartworm infestation using extracts of herbs well known for their mosquito repelling properties, and others well known for their anti-parasitic properties.

References:

Knight DH, Lok JB. Seasonality of heartworm infections and implications for chemoprophylaxis. Clin Tech Sm An Pract. 1998 May;13(2):77-82.

Atkins C. Feline heartworm disease. NAVC Clinician’s Brief. http://www.cliniciansbrief.com/webrief/25.php. Accessed 5/20/2009.

Companion Animal Parasite Council, http://www.capcvet.org/downloads/Heartworm%20Preventive%20Efficacy.pdf. Accessed 7/15/2010.

Pena F, Rosenthal M. Expert shares new protocol to manage heartworm signs. Veterinary Forum. 2008 Aug 1:17-18.  http://www.vetlearn.com/ArticleDetails/tabid/106/ArticleID/3289/Default.aspx. Accessed 7/15/2010.

Essiac (B.S.S.T.)

Essiac is a unique 4-herb formula with a long history of use for its amazing healing properties. It contains Burdock (Arctium lappa), Sheep Sorrel (Rumex cetosella), Turkey Rhubarb (Rheum palmatum) Slippery Elm (Ulmus fulva) powder. This formula is based on a decoction originally developed and used by the Canadian Ojibwa Indians and is also called Ojibwa Tea. This herbal formula was discovered by nurse Rene Caisse in 1922 after talking with a patient who had been cured of breast cancer by a combination of herbs from an Indian medicine man. Caisse treated seriously ill patients with remarkable success for over 50 years.

There are many traditional uses of the 4-herb formula, but Essiac is most famous for its use in cancer patients; however, scientific proof is still lacking (though the individual herbs are each known to have specific anti-cancer action, among many other documented properties). There are also many potential benefits for our pets, including:

  • anti-inflammatory
  • antioxidant
  • anti-ulcer and stomach tonic
  • appetite stimulant
  • blood cleanser
  • blood sugar stabilizer
  • detoxification
  • heart and lung support and tonic
  • immune system enhancement
  • liver protectant
  • prebiotic and probiotic
  • supportive care
  • thyroid normalization
  • tonic
  • reduction of chemotherapy side effects
  • supportive therapy for cancer patients

The herbs are usually brewed into a decoction (strong tea); but they can also be extracted into a tincture. (There are also many products containing the herbs in dried, powdered form, but these are ineffective–the active principles must be decocted or tinctured in order to work in the body.) A tincture is more convenient and easier to administer than tea since smaller quantities can be used, and it also is more stable and has a much longer shelf life.

On a personal note, I gave this 4-herb formula to my dog after he had a malignant tumor removed; it never returned despite its known aggressive nature. I have used it for my own cats, as well as many patients, and I take it myself as a general tonic and immune support.

Only Natural Pet offers the same 4-herb formula in tincture in a product called B.S.S.T. (the initials, of course, stand for Burdock, Sheep Sorrel, Slippery Elm, and Turkey Rhubarb).

Stress and the Immune System

We’re all familiar with the fight-or-flight reflex, in which acute stress causes the release of the hormone adrenaline, which triggers that response. However, our pets are more likely to experience chronic stress, which has many effects, especially on the immune system.

Both psychological and physical stress are scientifically proven to have a negative impact on the immune system. Now, looking at our pets sleeping contentedly on the sofa, we might think that they don’t have such stressful lives. But even the most pampered couch potato may be subjected to many physical stressors every day:

  • indoor and outdoor air pollution
  • electromagnetic fields, household chemicals
  • hundreds of other large and small assaults, particularly on their keen senses of hearing and smell
  • vaccination
  • medication
  • synthetic additives in food or treats

Psychological stresses also abound:

  • canine and feline hierarchies and social rules
  • behavioral modifications necessary for living with humans—such as not climbing the drapes, tipping the trashcan, or marking all corners of the territory.

Not all of these apply to every pet, but the bottom line is that if a pet thinks it’s stressed, it is stressed, whether or not we can even perceive the cause. Reducing stress, keeping the immune system healthy, and preventing cellular and DNA damage from free radicals and other toxic compounds, are the keys to disease prevention and overall well-being.

To minimize the effects of physical and environmental stress, opt for non-toxic, pet-friendly household and personal care products. Don’t forget that lotions, perfumes, after-shaves, and even topical medications you use on yourself can rub off on your pets, and be ingested when they groom themselves–or lick you!

Many commercial pet foods, especially dry foods and treats, are often made with poor quality ingredients with multiple synethetic additives and preservatives—which is why Only Natural Pet doesn’t sell most of them! Instead, feed one of our natural pet foods, organic pet foods,  or  raw diets. To support the immune system, as well as to prevent chronic inflammation and the degenerative diseases it causes, supplement with Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.

We can alleviate psychological stress by using flower essences, massage, music, and other stress-relieving methods such as play therapy, exercise, indoor entertainment, and interactive games.

For Dogs:

Interactive Throw Toys

Secure Exercise

Indoor Entertainment

For Cats:

Interactive Toys

Indoor Entertainment

We should also remember that our pets often pick up on and reflect our own stresses. Here’s a unique method to help relieve stress in ourselves and our pets: Pet Healing and Meditation CDs.

Helping the Liver with Milk Thistle

Recently we talked about seizure disorders; as mentioned, one cause of seizures in dogs is liver disease. This is usually seen in young dogs with a congenital malformation of the blood vessels inthe liver (shunt), but it can also occur in adult dogs as a result of injury, infection, or toxic exposure.

The liver is the body’s major organ of detoxification, and it works primarily on things we and our pets eat. All blood leaving the digestive tract passes through the liver before entering the main circulation. This unusual route allows the liver to filter, remove, and metabolize potentially toxic substances. Many pharmaceuticals take advantage of this by delivering drugs in a form that will survive the acidity of the stomach and be metabolized into an active form in the liver.

Many drugs, however, put a major burden on the liver, including prednisone and similar steroids, and–ironically–the primary drugs used to treat seizures.

The other unusual trait of the liver is its regenerative powers. For most organs and major body parts, once they’re injured or removed, that’s the end of the story. Healing–when even possible–consists mainly of scar tissue formation. However, the liver has an amazing ability to regenerate itself. In humans, even as little as 20% of the liver can be transplanted yet still provide the patient with normal liver function. That’s why it pays such big dividends to keep the liver healthy! One way to do that is with the herb Milk Thistle.

What It Is

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a flowering plant in the Aster family. A native of Europe, it has been used since the time of the Roman empire as a liver tonic. It grows wild in many parts of the world, including the Pacific Northwest area of the U.S., where it is considered an invasive weed.

Milk thistle is one of very few herbs widely accepted by conventional science to have significant medicinal value. Today we know the active ingredient of milk thistle seed extract as a flavonoid compound called “silymarin.”  Silymarin, which is itself a combination of several other active compounds, has been extensively studied around the world, and has been shown to be safe and effective in treating a variety of liver diseases and other conditions. It specifically protects the liver against toxins (including some molds such as aflatoxin, drugs, and heavy metals), activates protein synthesis, and stimulates growth of new liver cells to replace those that are dead or damaged. Milk thistle also has strong antioxidant (destroys oxygen free radicals) and anti-inflammatory actions.

What It Does

Silymarin reaches high levels in the bile and liver (it also reaches significant levels in the lungs, pancreas, prostate, and skin). It can be used in the treatment of hepatic lipidosis (a common disease in cats), chronic hepatitis, cholangitis (inflammation of the bile ducts), and pericholangitis (inflammation of the tissue around the bile ducts). It may be useful in preventing or treating gallstones by thinning the bile. Many cats and dogs with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) also have inflammation of the liver, bile system, and/or pancreas, and would benefit from supplementation with milk thistle.

Milk thistle can be used as an aid to healing after drug therapy, vaccinations, and infections such as feline distemper or canine parvovirus, as well as a  cancer. It may also help prevent diabetic neuropathy, a common complication of diabetes that causes degeneration of the nerves controlling the hind limbs.

Milk thistle also supports the immune system through its powerful antioxidant, free-radical scavenging action, its ability to preserve the supply of another important antioxidant, glutathione, as well as direct effects on immune cells. Glutathione, which is stored primarily in the liver, naturally declines over time, and depletion of this protein appears to accelerate the aging process.

While it’s not exactly the fountain of youth, milk thistle clearly has wide-ranging positive effects throughout the body. However, before you add this potent herb to your pet’s daily regimen “just in case” it might do some good, herbalists believe milk thistle is best reserved as a treatment for existing disease, rather than being used by itself in a healthy animal.

How to Use

The standard dosage of milk thistle extract is based on a silymarin content of around 80 percent; most supplements contain anywhere from 50-500 milligrams (175 mg is typical). As with many supplements, it’s probably better to buy a milk thistle derivative rather than a silymarin-only or other fractional supplement, since there may be other compounds found in the whole herb that significantly enhance the effects of what science has decided is the main player.

Because of its excellent safety record and lack of adverse drug interactions, when treating a very sick animal with advanced liver disease, up to 200 mg per 10 pounds of body weight of milk thistle extract may be needed. For most purposes, however, one-third to one-half of that dose is more than adequate.

Animals with liver disease may not have much appetite, but it’s easy to open up a capsule, mix the appropriate amount of powdered herb with a little blenderized food or baby food, and feed by syringe. Too high a dose can cause an upset tummy, gas, or mild diarrhea; just give less if this occurs.

Human research studies have shown that it is more effective to administer this herb in three or four small portions over the day than in one large daily dose. A simple dosing schedule of morning, after work, and bedtime works very well. We have several excellent milk thistle products available.

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.

Seizures and Epilepsy in Pets

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

Stages of Seizures

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

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

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

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

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

Causes of Seizures

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

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

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

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

Medical Treatment

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

Natural Treatments

Natural therapies for seizures in both dogs and cats include:

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

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

Pet Naturals of Vermont Natural Cat Daily

Pet Naturals of Vermont Dog Daily Senior

Only Natural Pet Super Daily Canine Senior

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

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

Genesis Resources Canine Pain Plus Formula

Genesis Resources Feline Pain Plus Formula

Only Natural Pet Lubri-Ease

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

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!

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!