Dogs

Awesome App Alert: Pet First Aid

You’re on a walk with your dog. He looks tired. You don’t know if he’s just tired from the walk or if he’s showing early signs of hyperthermia. What do you look for?

Unless you have a lot of experience with dogs or happen to have an emergency medicine textbook on you, you might not know. But thanks to increasingly cooler and better apps, you can get some immediate reassurance from your smartphone.

The latest must-have app for dog and cat owners just came out, and at $0.99 there’s no reason not to download it right now. The Pet First Aid app from the American Red Cross was developed in conjunction with the vets at Penn, and offers concise, easy to navigate info that you can access in seconds. It’s worth the price just for the 18 second CPR videos covering three sizes of dog and a separate one for cats. (There have been some awful CPR videos out there on YouTube, just sayin’.)

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I just bought it and put it on all the smart apps in the house. The pictures (dog with bee sting!) and videos (bulldog in respiratory distress!) are ones you can use to educate yourself, or for the vets out there serves as a quick and easy resource to show clients in the exam room. And it has quizzes (thank goodness I passed all the ones I took, that would have been embarrassing.)

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Thanks Red Cross for another great- and affordable- resource!

Pet First Aid at itunes

Pet First Aid at Google Play

Filed: Blog, Cats, Daily Life, Dogs, Health Tagged: , , ,

The strange twisted story of canine circovirus

You have probably been hearing a lot about canine circovirus. So have I. You may have heard some conflicting things about this virus. So have I. Because I love you all and I want you to know what I know, I’ve spent the day trying to make sense of the information that’s out there. Here’s what I know so far and why I’m not recommending mass panic at this time.

Part 1: It’s the food

Here’s how the story evolved, as far as I can piece together.

1. In mid-August, P&G pet foods issues a voluntary recall of certain lots of dry food manufactured at an East Coast plant over a 10 day period because of the possibility of Salmonella.

2. Last week, The Pet Spot, a pet kennel in Ohio, learns that several dogs who had been at the facility in the last few weeks had become sickened with a severe hemorrhagic gastroenteritis/ vasculitis type disease. Three of those dogs died.

3. The kennel owner, trying to figure out what was going on, noted that his kennel’s stock food is Iams. He makes a “hey, we may want to look into this” sort of statement which gets digested, churned up in the bowels of social media and local media, and becomes

OMG EUKANUBA IS KILLING DOGS AGAIN (CHAOS/PITCHFORKS)

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The only problem is, it wasn’t. By this time, P&G- which coincidentally is headquartered in Ohio- hears this story and of course they would like to know what happened to those dogs. I spoke with Jason Taylor over at P&G, who among many duties has the awesomely fun job of managing pet food recalls when and if they occur, to ask what happened next.

According to Taylor, despite the fact that the kennel owner did not have the lot codes of the food he was using, P&G was able to ascertain the lot numbers based on order history and shipping details, determining that the food being fed at the kennel was not part of the recall, and in fact was not even manufactured at the same factory.

But since they were there anyway with a group of microbiologists and toxicity experts and a small business owner who was under a lot of pressure to figure out what was going on, they figured they would add their resources to the investigation, crawling around with cotton swabs and all that science-y stuff and send it off to see if there was any identifiable pathogen in the environment. There was none. The facility was cleared to re-open.

Still with me?

Part 2: It’s circovirus

4. By now, the state veterinarian, the local veterinary community, and the Ohio State veterinary hospital are involved. People put their heads together. Someone says, “hey, I remember reading about a dog in California that died this April with similar symptoms; he had circovirus, which is weird and unusual because it’s normally a pig disease. We should test for that too.” The news, already paying attention after losing the whole pet food angle, is still interested. Under the tender editorial guidance of a click-happy news site, “we are investigating this possibility” becomes:

OMG A SCARY NEW VIRUS WILL KILL YOUR DOG

because if there’s one thing the spell check challenged online journalism teams at local newspapers like to do, it’s to drive traffic with leads like “It’s a scary new disease, that can kill your dog” then follow up with some man-on-the street interviews with statements such as “It can like, kill your dog, and that’s like bad for them.”

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Uh oh.

As anyone who has read any sort of newspaper or watched any news channel in the last decade will attest to, journalism has become less about accurate reporting and more about fast reporting. It’s the nature of the beast these days, but it’s why everything needs to be taken with a grain or bushel of salt because guess what?

According to a UC Davis professor who tested samples from three of the affected dogs, only one tested positive for circovirus. You may not have heard that yet because Ohio can’t test for circovirus; samples got sent to California and despite what CSI tells us, results are not instantaneous. It took this long for the official results to come in, which is about 4 days too slow for a news cycle that is moving on to the next disaster at midnight.

Part 3: It’s…a case in progress

So what do we know about circovirus and dogs, exactly? Not much. What caused these illnesses? Not sure.

  • Correlation does not imply causation. In the above referenced piece, Dr. Pesavento points to an academic article published in April that  talks about the dog in California, then went looking for the presence of circovirus in other dogs. To sum up, it was found in some dogs with diarrhea. It was also found in some healthy dogs. Most of the sick dogs were co-infected with some other pathogen as well. Clear as mud.

So again, what do we know about circovirus in dogs? That it exists. It may or may not cause disease. That is all the scientists are willing to say at the moment. Wordier summary is in the Ohio Department of Agriculture press release.

That is soooo anticlimactic and unsexy and un-newsworthy, and as a person who likes exciting news as much as the next person I wish I had something more earth-shattering to report. But at the end of the day I am also a person that likes TL:DR summaries, so to put it all in one handy image:

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Part 4: So now we torch the dog park, right?

I in no way want to minimize what happened to those affected dogs, who suffered from a rapid onset, devastating illness. It is entirely possible that circovirus will be identified as the cause, and in that case we can revisit this issue and talk more. I as much as anyone else hope the patient scientists who make this their life’s work will be rewarded for their diligence with a definitive cause. As of now, there is none. We live such stressful lives as it is, I like to wait until I’m forced to panic so I don’t spend my entire life wedged in the corner covered in Saran Wrap. While we wait to determine if this is necessary, here’s what you can do:

1. Remember the number of reported cases stands at ‘miniscule’. If you’re worrying about circovirus while your dog is running around a year late on his parvo booster, I would recommend re-focusing your attention, at least for the time being. That being said:

2. Call the vet immediately if your dog shows any signs of this disease. If your dog has bloody diarrhea, you should be at the vet ASAP anyway; this advice has not changed since before this virus emerged. The affected pets became rapidly, severely ill: rapid treatment was essential to positive outcome.

3. Avoid high risk environments. Consider the fact that all of the reported cases happened in dogs that had recently been to kennels or doggie daycares. High concentration of dogs in one place means higher likelihood of disease spread.  I actually don’t recommend carte blanche avoiding these environments, but if you are really concerned or if your dog has a less than hardy immune system, dogs survive just fine without those facilities.

Filed: Blog, Dogs, Health, Picks of the Litter Tagged: , , , , ,

World’s Most Adorable Degenerate Produce

A grape. So benign. Frozen, so delicious. Dehydrated, so raisin-y. And in large quantities in dogs, the unassuming grape goes Breaking Bad and becomes a killer. Da da duuuuum…. so let’s talk toxic foods for a minute.

When my friend Lili Chin over at Doggie Drawings asked if I would look over a poster she was designing of toxic foods for canines, I was so excited, because her drawings rock and I couldn’t wait to see how she interpreted “bulb of garlic.” The idea was to create a simple, cute piece about toxic foods for dogs, and she wanted my thoughts.

As soon as I looked at the list, I realized this would be a challenge, because toxicity is not always linear. Sometimes a dog eats a bag of grapes and is fine and other times a dog eats one bite of pork fried rice and dies of pancreatitis. Sometimes only portions of a fruit are toxic and other parts are fine. Sometimes there are at least three variables that must be calculated before you know if a food was ingested at a toxic amount (chocolate, for example.)

There is a reason this poster does not have in-depth detail about toxicity doses, etc. Determining toxic likelihood on a case-by-case basis is exactly what veterinarians are for, so if you swear up and down onions have made your dog’s life better don’t email me complaining, talk to your vet and go forward in peace. Consider this a lighthearted PSA that you can do with what you will.

At the end of the day, the world will always be improved by more of Lili’s drawings. Macadamias packing heat will NEVER go out of style.

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Source: Lili Chin, DoggieDrawings.net

What this is: a cute graphic with limited specifics intended to share knowledge about foods that might cause a problem for your dog, so that you can discuss it with your veterinarian if you are concerned.

What this is not: An exhaustive treatise with toxic dose approximations, a prediction of your dog’s demise if he eats a piece of cheese, an academic piece in a peer reviewed journal, a substitute for your vet’s opinion.

It’s a poster, and a really cute one at that. Lili has them available for download here as well.  Hope you like the hooligan chocolate bar as much as me!

Filed: Blog, Daily Life, Dogs, Health, Lifestyle, Picks of the Litter Tagged: , ,

Do dogs get headaches?

Humans For Sure Get Headaches

A week ago, I decided I was going to stop drinking caffeine. Now if you know me at all, you know I adore coffee, more than almost anything else in life. If you cut my arm, skinny vanilla latte would pour out. The decision to give up my biggest vice was not an easy one by any means, but at the end of the day, health trumps pleasure, and I figured there’s always decaf.

I did what everyone tells you not to do, and just stopped cold turkey. Big mistake, everyone.

8 am: I felt a little sluggish, but not too off. This is totally manageable.

10 am: I felt really sluggish, like I was about to fall off the kitchen barstool; a sober drunk. I am still mostly coherent, though, so I figure I can continue to tough it out. My children look on in confusion.

noon: I felt a little twinge in the back of my temple, just a tiny blip of a possible headache. I take 2 Advil. Ah yes, the infamous caffeine headache. It’s not too bad, though.

3 pm: An small but bloodthirsty miniature barbarian horde has invaded my head. They have taken microscopic pickaxes to my sinuses and are attempting to harvest my eyeballs through the back of my orbits. Paralyzed by exhaustion, I am unable to tell anyone of my predicament as I am systematically destroyed.

Here they come.

Here they come.

5 pm: My husband finds me slumped on the bed in the fetal position, moving centimeter by centimeter in slow motion because every time a wave of movement jolts the marauding horde in my cranium, they get angry again. He has no way to tell that this is what is going on; as far as he knows, I have the flu, or allergies, or I ate some bad Greek yogurt. In a feathery voice, I whisper: “Make me a cup of coffee, if you would.”

I admit defeat, and give the barbarians their drugs.

7 pm: Feel fine.

If you are not someone who experiences headaches, you have my complete and utter envy. While my caffeine withdrawal headache was nasty (I have since elected for a more subtle weaning-off process), I used to suffer migraines as well and those would pretty much put you out of commission in a blinding stroke of agony, nausea, and an unending mantra: please let me go unconscious please let me go unconscious. And despite the misery and despair you are experiencing, to the outside you simply look like someone who doesn’t feel that great.

But what about dogs?

At 11 pm, recovered but now fully awake from my late night caffeine jolt, I started thinking about dogs and headaches. As veterinarians, we aren’t really trained in the idea that dogs get headaches, so therefore they don’t exist. Well, pain in the head is not a disease, it’s a clinical sign of a disease process, such as dehydration, brain tumors, or any number of other problem that both dogs and humans do get, so it’s not unreasonable to think they might get head pain as well. They get other kinds of pain, after all. But objectively speaking, we have no idea whether or not a dog gets a headache because there’s no way for them to describe it as such.

I suspect they do get them. Have you ever seen a dog with a hangover? I have, sadly, in the ER. It’s not funny, it’s actually very sad that someone would knowingly intoxicate an animal, but the morning after they really do look like every college kid on a Sunday morning. Whatever it is they are feeling, it’s not super awesome.

At my first job, I worked with an old timer who always criticized how long it took my pets to wake up from anesthesia. “Look how quickly mine wake up!” he’d crow proudly. 20 minutes after a spay they were up and pacing. Mine were usually out for at least an hour or two. Eventually I decided to take a look at the differences in technique, and the main difference was this: I gave a lot more pain medications. My pain protocol back then was an eye-roller to many, but is now standard in many hospitals. My patients weren’t taking too long to recover, they were sleeping because their pain was being managed appropriately and they were comfortable.

If you could tell the cat to please stop playing the bongoes over there, that would be great.

If you could please stop playing the bongoes over there, that would be great.

If you talk to your typical veterinary anesthesiologist or oncologist, many of them will tell you that most people- vets included- tend to underestimate the amount of pain a pet experiences, assuming if a pet is not howling in pain they are OK. The more we learn, the more we are realizing the effect of pain on health, and how much more we can do to alleviate it. We are getting better about that as a profession, and I’m glad to see more and more vets adopting aggressive pain management protocols for everything from cancer to arthritis, but at the end of the day we can’t really manage a symptom we don’t know exists.

So to answer the question: Do dogs get headaches? I hope not, but I suspect they might. Poor dogs. Good thing Brody’s not hooked on caffeine.

Know your dog or cat. Know what is normal behavior and what is off. And if you suspect something is wrong, trust your instincts, and get them to a vet. Subtle signs can mean big things going on.

 

Filed: Ask Dr. V, Blog, Dogs, Health, Musings Tagged: , ,

Summer Reading List, Vet Version

It says right there on my FAQ that I don’t do book reviews. Not because I don’t like doing it, but because approximately two seconds after the review book arrives I start to get emails: “didyougetitdidyoulikeitwhensthereview” from the publishing house interns whose job it is to do things like that. Which is completely fine, except for the fact that I don’t read very quickly and I just couldn’t handle the pressure.

I will do book reviews, just as long as no one cares when I get around to it. Which brings me to this rare moment: telling you about two books I like enough to have read and now share.  (Neither author, by the by, requested a review, so take heart that I really just actually wanted to share these with you.)

Both books revolve around dog safety, which with the Fourth of July coming around is very apropos.

 

1. 101 Essential Tips You Need to Raise a Happy, Healthy, Safe Dog by Jason Nicholas, BVetMed

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http://www.thepreventivevet.com/index.html

Author: Dr. Jason Nicholas is better known round these parts as “The Preventive Vet“, because as a vet with a strong background in emergency medicine he strongly believes in- wait for it- preventive care. For all those people who continue to be convinced vets are all about the buck, I present to you an ER vet who is now spending his days trying to keep your pet out of the ER.

What I love: Dr. Nicholas distills a world of information into 101 easily digestible bite sized paragraphs (ha), organized by topic: digestive, toxic, traumatic, etc. The tips are written in a way that emphasizes not only what the problem is, but how to prevent it. Also: Dr. Nicholas is donating 5% of book proceeds to charity.

Who else loves it: Andrea Arden, Dr Ann Hoenhaus, Dr. Karl Jandrey.

Bottom line: If this book makes it into every new puppy pack and gift basket, I’ll be a happy camper. A perfect ‘how to’ manual to keeping your pets safe.

Where to buy: $9.95 directly from the Preventive Vet website.

 

2. The Safe Dog Handbook: A complete Guide to Protecting your Pooch Indoors and Out by Melanie Monteiro

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Author: I met pet safety expert Melanie Monteiro last week when we were working on a piece for Sleepypod about car harness safety (and boy, talk about scary stuff there!) I asked her how she ended up in that line of work, and she told me after trip after trip to the ER while working as a puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence, she was inspired to learn more on the topic. Now that she’s mastered the field she teaches pet first aid and disaster response to pet owners.

What I love: Melanie talked to some of the best veterinarians in the field to research this book, and it shows. There’s not a page that doesn’t provide excellent, accurate information on how to recognize an emergency, and easy to follow first aid instructions. Also: easy to use index, beautiful color photographs, and spiral binding so it can lie flat while you’re looking up the well diagrammed safe restraint techniques. Oh, and the Boston on the cover doesn’t hurt either.

Who else loves it: VPI, Ellen Degeneres, Dean Koontz.

Bottom line: A thorough, easy to use, and beautiful book that provides life saving information as well as very helpful graphs, diagrams, and photos. I’ve never seen a reference book this usable.

Where to buy: Currently on sale at Amazon for $8.00.

Though the topics are the same, the approaches are very different and complement each other well. I debated offering them as a giveaway but after reading them I decided you will have to pry them out of my cold dead hands. Better yet, come to my house where they live side by side in harmony on my bookshelf, flip through them, and go buy your own. :)

 

If you have other must read summer books, please do let me know in the comments.

Filed: Blog, Cats, Dogs, Health, Lifestyle, Reviews Tagged: , , , ,

Food Rules for Dogs

It’s generally accepted that of all the controversial people food trends out there, the paleo/raw/low carb/low fat rules of ingestion, the one thing everyone seems to agree on is Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, which at its core is this: don’t eat so much processed food, and don’t eat so much food in general.

Agreed, and you can certainly extrapolate this to pets too. However, with over 50% of US pets overweight or obese- a condition with definite and real consequences- I’m more concerned with the latter than the former when it comes to pets.  If you prepare your pet’s food, you’ll be bored with this post. If you don’t, and need a little help, read on.

I feed Brody commercial food, so I won’t judge you for doing the same.

Despite knowing home-prepared foods made from your own organic farmer’s market basket provides the most close-to-nature ingredients, it’s a struggle to do this consistently for our human kids, never mind the pets. So most of us* feed our pets out of a bag and beat ourselves up over it. And that’s where clever marketers get you in the feels: we go into the pet store with this vague and disquieting sense of guilt that oh god I’m feeding my pet processed kibble and I’m a bad dog owner therefore I will compensate by buying the absolute best processed kibble I can afford. (Which, by the way, is my own personal approach, so I’m not knocking it.)


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As you all know, dissecting thorny nutritional questions could fill a whole book, so this post is limited to current marketing trends. There are plenty of buzzwords out there designed to convince you that this or that new food is the healthiest one, the most wolf-like, light years ahead of all the other ones. But do these trends really mean anything? Based on what I’ve seen hitting the shelves this past year, here are my own personal Food Rules I keep in mind when shopping.

Food Rules for Dogs**

1. The term “natural” doesn’t tell you much.

In AAFCO terms, natural pet foods only means nothing chemically synthesized (except vitamins.) The word natural does not imply better (cyanide is natural!), or even minimal processing. Natural pet food can still be processed and rendered and full of chicken feet from China. Don’t buy a food just based on that word without actually reading the label.

2. Dogs aren’t wolves, they’re dogs.

The venerable journal Nature recently published a study comparing the wolf’s ability to digest starch with a dog’s ability to do the same, which Dr. Huston sums up nicely here. To sum up the summary: dogs evolved to hang around and scrounge off of us, and in doing so changed both their anatomy and their digestive enzymes to better digest carbs like the omnivores they follow around. Which leads me to my next point:

3. Most dogs don’t need a low carb diet.

The general consensus amongst those who know a ton about these things, like DVM/PhD nutritionists who run Iditarods with performance dogs such as Dr. Arleigh Reynolds (he spoke at a great BlogPaws session), is this: performance dogs may benefit from the additional protein and/or fats in low carb foods. For the average dog, the extra calories just tend to make them fatter.

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Don’t you look smart.

4. Most dogs don’t need a grain free diet either.

If you want to go grain free for your dog, it won’t hurt them. But ask yourself: why? People usually assume grain free diets are better for dogs based on one of a few ideas: grains are covered in glutens and glutens are bad; or grains are carbs and carbs are bad.

Gluten free diets are all over the place these days because of the incidence of celiac disease, a real and devastating condition in people. But with the exception of one subset of Irish setters, it doesn’t occur in dogs.

Is grain free = low carb? Not necessarily. Potatoes, a common grain free source of carbs, have a higher glycemic index than brown rice and are all over the place in grain free dog diets. Besides, dogs are fine with carbs (see 3.)

Or do you think your dog is allergic to grain?

5. Most dogs aren’t allergic to grains.

Of all cases of allergies in dogs, food allergies only comprise 10% of them. And of those food allergic dogs, the 5 most commonly diagnosed allergies are: beef, dairy, chicken, lamb, and fish. Are grain allergies possible? Yes. Likely? No. If you’re feeding a grain free beef formula because you think your dog is allergic to wheat, consider a food trial to confirm your suspicions.

6. There is no one ideal food for your dog.

Anyone who says ‘this and only this brand/line is all that will ever be appropriate’ is lying. There are always options (even prescription diets are usually available from multiple manufacturers), and unless your dog has a specific medical condition you’re treating with diet I encourage people to try different foods and see what works best. As I’ve said before, I rotate foods all the time. If you try the most pricey food in the store and your dog gains 15 pounds, starts flaking off greasy dandruff, or starts pooping 6 times a day, who cares what the bag or the guy in the apron stocking shelves said? Do what works for you.

7. If your dog’s overweight, get that sorted out before worrying about corn and byproduct meal.

I’m not certain exactly what so many people think corn is going to do to their dog, but they are certain it’s going to do something bad so prescription weight loss food is out of the question for their 115 pound Akita who can barely walk. Then they put the dog down when both knees go out. This is a true story from my clinic, which happened after 6 months of begging the owner to put the dog on a diet, any diet, corn or no.

Don’t focus so much on what might happen that you miss the real danger happening right in front of you.

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Koa lost 12 pounds (non diet food, just portion control) after we adopted her and was all the happier for it.

I talk more about how to decipher food names, ingredients, and what I tell people when they ask me to make a food recommendation in prior posts linked here.

Got your own pet rules? And should I do a cat one?

*If you’re one of those uncommon home cooking owners, awesome for you. That is not said sarcastically. I know it takes a lot of work. And if you’re a raw feeder, I accept that you have researched it and know what you’re doing and disagree with feeding kibble. Go forward and BARF and peace be with you. 
 
** See *. I’m talking to the rest of the crowd.
Filed: Blog, Dogs, Health, Lifestyle, Picks of the Litter Tagged: , ,

Spay Day, that Golden study everyone’s talking about, and why I still happily remove testicles.

Today’s the day- 2013 Annual World Spay Day! I have to tell you, it doesn’t tickle the old joy centers quite the way, say, Ben and Jerry’s Free Ice Cream Cone Day does, but it’s here and I’m glad it exists.

Now, two things to note before I give my thoughts:

1. Although it’s called “Spay Day”, the event encompasses both spay and neuter. Nobody’s trying to leave the fellas out, I think it just rolls off the tongue better this way.

2. Yes, I know it’s a Humane Society of the United States initiative and that is making at least five of you raise your eyebrows. That being said, I do think it’s important to recognize and support good initiatives no matter where they originate, and this is one. Lots of other organizations, such as PetSmart Charities, Petfinder, and the ASPCA, agree enough to be an official part of the event.

This question of whether to spay and neuter has become somewhat controversial as of late. And to that I say, let’s talk about it. Politely, please. As long as it took me to perfect my gentle tissue handling skills I really take issue with being accused of ripping uteri out of unwitting pets willy-nilly for no good reason.

I Spay

I am a spay/neuter advocate. Anyone who has worked even a little in a shelter environment becomes one really fast- because when you are faced with the reality:

Of 10,000 faces.

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No, wait, that’s not 10,000.

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No, wait. That’s not 10,000 either. THIS is 10,000:

walle 10,000

10,000 faces A DAY euthanized in US shelters, makes it hard to argue against anything that will help reduce those numbers. Which is why I will support low cost spay/neuter clinics, even if it cuts into my own professional workload (though it never seemed to, even in my lower income area of practice.)

My clinic referred people all the time; our surgery protocol was absolutely top notch, but it came with an appropriate pricetag. Given the choice between a subsidized clinic down the road or no surgery at all, we knew what was the right thing to do. Money’s tight these days. I get that. I am glad there are resources around for those who need it.

Spay Day has an event locator for people to find local Spay Day events. As an example, here’s an event from my neck of the woods: $10 to fix any pet whose owners reside in a particular school district. I can’t compete with that, but truth be told, I probably never was in the running for most of the business to begin with. Whatever the outcome, one less litter in the Sweetwater shelter is OK by me.

But gonads are good! Don’t you deny it!

But WAIT! I know what you’re going to say. You are an educated, informed pet owner and you know all about the research showing that sex hormones do have health benefits and spaying and neutering may not always be 100% a positive thing. You’ve pored over the latest Golden Retriever neutering and cancer study (I did too. Putting 2 Goldens down in 6 months is not a fun thing.) And you ask:

Why must I be forced into this surgery for my pet? Why is no one admitting that testicles and ovaries have a purpose and are best left attached to the animal from whence they sprouted?

To this I say: I agree.

And to that I add: Will you at least concede, being an educated, informed pet owner, the sad truth that many, many people are not? And while I can say with utter sincerity that I believe you are not letting your pet run amuk impregnating the neighborhood, your less conscientious streetmates are?

We need to look at the conversation on two different levels: Individual health and population health.

I believe individual owners should have the right to decide when and if their pets are spayed and neutered. It’s my job to help you evaluate the risk/benefit analysis and decide for yourself what is right for you, what the consequences of that choices might be, and how to proceed. Should you make an informed decision not to spay and neuter, I will support you. I know you people exist. I’ve met you. However:

I also believe that from a population standpoint, in the absence of an owner who makes that level of commitment to understanding the complexity of the issue- or any issue regarding their dog, really- the default recommendation should be: spay and neuter. If you got your cryptorchid puppy off Craigslist and waited three months to bring him in for his first parvo vaccine, I’m going to recommend neutering him. If you are a local news personality and you Tweet me asking me whether you should buy a dog with an umbilical hernia if you intend to breed her….not that that happened…OK, it just happened…but do you see what I mean? There are a lot of people out there making, as I explain it to my children, “poor decisions.”

 
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Nowhere is the benefit of spay/neuter more apparent to me than in Granada, where World Vets started performing the surgeries half a decade ago. You might have walked through there in 2002 and marveled that the stray dogs all seemed so young and vibrant, but here’s the truth: that’s because they usually died, starving or in pain, by age 4.

Those people who live there will tell you, with awe in their voices, how much healthier the overall animal population is. How much nicer it is to walk down the street and not see a dead starved dog in a ditch. Those of you educated enough to appreciate the benefits of an intact pet are certainly educated enough to appreciate in the big picture, that might not apply. If not, come on down to Granada and I’ll show you a TVT.

You can’t evaluate the necessity of spay/neuter campaigns in a vacuum; so to sum up, here you go:

TLDR: If you choose not to spay or neuter your dog because you’re responsible and educated enough to have decided that is right for you, I’m here for you. And while I will support you in that I hope you will also acknowledge that for millions of animals out there, spay/neuter IS the best choice, so do me a solid and don’t undermine my efforts to alleviate significant suffering in spheres outside your own. Deal? Group hug.

Filed: Be The Change, Blog, Cats, Dogs, Health, Picks of the Litter Tagged: , ,

Adopt the net: Transitioning a rescue pet into a new home

We, the collective animal loving internet, have done a great job of telling people to “Adopt, Don’t Shop.” We do it so much that people say it without thinking, assume without asking, and demand without discourse. Now, don’t get me wrong: I absolutely support the concept, and this is why I am here writing a post today in honor of Petside’s Pet Net Adoption Week. It’s why I’ve adopted lots of pets over the years. But this is only half the equation.

We tell people they should adopt, and why they should adopt, and then do nothing to support people during the transition. Here’s the reality: pets do get returned to shelters and the rescues, usually for reasons that could have been avoided with a little owner education and preparation. In the rush to get pets out into homes, we sometimes neglect to make sure those homes are ready and willing to take on the challenges, which are rewarding beyond measure once you get past them- as long as you know they are coming.

1. Be honest with adopters about the pet’s behavioral issues that need to be worked on.

Nuke, the 10 year old coonhound I adopted from UC Davis, was a moderately neurotic agoraphobic hound dog who had never been housetrained. Translation: I left him outside when I was gone, as the well meaning person at the school had recommended, only to have him howl inconsolably because he was scared of being outdoors. I got a notice from the neighbors within 36 hours.

6 months, three adopted pets: for a vet student, pretty typical.

I wouldn’t say crate training an elderly, set in his ways dog was an easy task, but I did it, only because I had access to professionals who reassured me that with patience, it was possible. He never did learn to sit on command, but he ended up housetrained, and we had three lovely years together before he passed away.

Koa has terrible separation anxiety that leads her to howl like a banshee- one currently in a state of torture- when she is left alone. It’s why she was returned to the rescue twice. Unfortunately I didn’t know this until I got home and reviewed the paperwork in detail and found the note from the previous owner. Luckily, I can keep her inside where she doesn’t bother anyone, and I have Thundershirts and all that good stuff.

We make do. But some people couldn’t in that situation, and it’s better to give them fair warning and let them find the right pet for them than to make them return a pet later, which is stressful for everyone- and might even turn them off rescue entirely. Some people can’t handle a cat who sprays or a dog who doesn’t like other dogs, and that is part and parcel of having a pet, yes, but this is also a great opportunity for us: all pets have their quirks. The difference between a puppy and a senior is that with the senior, those quirks are known ahead of time, and for that I am grateful.

2. Put all dogs, no matter the age, in an obedience class.

Some rescue dogs will have had oodles of training. Most haven’t. Regardless of their age or training status, a basic adult obedience course is the perfect way for new owners and pets to get to know one another better, work through their kinks under the care of a professional, and most importantly, develop a clear understanding of each other’s place in the developing relationship.

Nuke was a sweet dog, but in 8 weeks he never did learn how to sit. He just wouldn’t do it. He wasn’t motivated by anything. Needless to say, he never learned down, either. No matter. We had a structured hour each week to work on his socialization, his manners, and for him to learn to trust me. It was worth every dime.

3. Remind new owners to be patient.

I have yet to take a rescued pet home and NOT have a day when I seriously regretted it. It happens. The dog eats something expensive. The cat has diarrhea in your shoe. You discover your new pet hates all men with grey beards and baseball caps, which just happens to be 85% of your neighborhood. The key is to acknowledge that these bumps are normal and expected and to provide support for owners to work through them, rather than just give up.

Here’s the good news: that regret is always gone within a few days, once I have a plan in place for dealing with whatever it is that was frustrating me. And the only regret I have now is that my husband won’t let me go our and adopt just one more.

This post is part of Petside.com’s 5th Pet Net Adoption Event. Petside will be donating $5000 to a shelter in one lucky community in honor of the event- click the link for details! Disclaimer: I received no compensation for this post.

 Pet Net Contributor

Filed: Be The Change, Blog, Cats, Dogs, Health, Lifestyle Tagged: , , ,

Pudgy pups strike again- why the story of Obie bothers me

Why are overweight pets so fascinating to people? The whole 40 pound cat thing, having now been overplayed, is making way for roly poly dachshunds. Obie’s all over the news, as you’ve seen- the 77 pound doxie on his way to health through his foster mom. Although I am glad it has reminded people about the plight of the 50% of US pets who are overweight, I have mixed feelings about the attention he’s getting.

One of Obie's many media appearances, on WRCBTV.

First, the message here: people who overfeed their animals to the point of abuse (and intentionally done or not, it’s still abuse to let a dachshund get to be 77 pounds) get to hand them off with an abashed “whoops!” and then someone else gets to inherit the problem to deal with? And what, exactly, is the news story? Unlike a diabetic dog who’s peeing everywhere and about to head into ketoacidosis, fat is cuter?

Giving a pet lavish media attention for an owner induced medical condition, by the way, makes me shudder for its own reasons. We’ve all seen what happens when people decide to try and outdo one another for the chance to be on TLC. So help me God, if someone creates a reality show about huge dogs on a quest for glory, I’m going to write off humanity entirely.

Articles about Obie state that he’s in good health aside from his massive size, and that Purina has donated food for his weight loss journey. Awesome. Do we know how much has been raised through his Paypal already and what it’s going for, if all he needs is a little less food than he was getting and maybe a dental at some point (he is, after all, a dachshund)? And did they fly him in CARGO from Portland to New York for his Today show appearance, him, a massively obese stressed out dog? What exactly is in his best interest here? (hint: a measuring cup. That’s it, really.) A word of advice to his foster mother, who I have no doubt got into this with the very best of intentions: opening yourself up to public donations can be a double edged sword. Be utterly transparent now, before the tides turn.

I know, this is probably going to make me unpopular. I understand. Sometimes I have to get into Unpopular Veterinarian Mode. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for a person who takes on a dog like Obie, because yes, it’s a lot of work. Everyone likes to feel good about cheering on a dog like him. Trust me, I do too. I wish him the best and I hope every single cent raised goes to his treadmill account. I just wish we could cheer him on without all the attendant trappings of sideshow circus celebrity because that just makes me feel icky. An owner induced medical condition is not a cause for fame.

At the end of the day, this is the story of a dog who has been failed by the family who stuffed him like a foie gras duck, and the family, friends, and vets who were unable to at any point make them stop. And that’s not really cute at all, is it?

Filed: Blog, Dogs, Fit Life, Health Tagged: , ,

We love food allergies! Come to the party!

OK, I guess that is probably overstating things to say I love food allergies. I don’t love diseases. But I love talking about food allergies, for reasons not known even to me. I just think it’s fascinating stuff and there is still so much we are trying to figure out.

As many of you know, Apollo has food allergies. He had a late onset in life, at 7 years of age; he had been on fairly consistent diet ingredients most of his life. He had shown some symptoms of dietary intolerances before he developed into full-blown allergic mode, so I suspect he’s always had a sensitive system. So I get it, what a pain it is, and how miserable it can make your pets.

Allergy versus intolerance

Dermatologists (the subset of veterinary specialists who deal with allergic disease) estimate only 5% of allergic disease is caused by food allergy. Low, right? And there’s no quicker way to make a veterinarian say “augh!” than to mix up food allergy with food intolerance. A true allergy is an immune-mediated response with a distinct set of mechanisms that kick into place. Food intolerances, on the other hand, encompass a wide variety of adverse reactions to food that aren’t necessarily immune mediated, and tend to occur much more often.

The semantics are important for veterinarians because accurate diagnosis, understanding the mechanism behind the reaction, is key to controlling it. From an owner’s perspective, though, who cares whether the lamb that gives your dog explosive diarrhea every time he eats it is caused by a food allergy or a food intolerance. You want it to stop regardless.

Foods for the food sensitive pet

For a very long time, there were few good options for owners whose pets needed special diets. You fed a hydrolyzed soy diet (doesn’t that sound nice?) or you home cook. Never a bad option, home cooking, but I’ll be honest- I can’t make that commitment. Most people don’t. The big companies have done an excellent job of creating limited ingredient prescription diets, and smaller companies have more recently responded by coming up with various types of low allergen or limited ingredient diets that are available over the counter. The amount of options out there are growing every day, and thank goodness for that.

I’m all about biting the bullet and getting the accurate diagnosis right from the get go. Apollo went through the entire elimination diet process, which took about 10 weeks, and a food challenge. Once I knew the specific antigens he reacted to and confirmed the actual diagnosis, it left me open to find a commercial diet that did not contain those ingredients (though I will say, finding a cat diet without chicken or fish is still not easy.) There are many more choices than there were before, and for that I am really grateful. And so is he, even though he doesn’t know it.

PARTAY!

Wellness Pet Foods is one of the companies that has worked very diligently to stay on top of the demand for low antigen and limited ingredient over the counter diets. I’ll be hosting a Twitter party tomorrow with the people from Wellness, from 8-9 PM EST, to talk about food allergies, food intolerances, and Wellness will be sharing some information about their newest products in the Simple and Core lines. There will be !Prizes! and discussion about allergies, and you can ask me all about them or tell me your own experiences. I can go into detail about elimination diets, or talk about the most common allergens, or whatever you want. It will be tons of fun. Did I mention PRIZES for dogs and for cats? We love prizes here.

If any of you don’t know how twitter parties work or don’t go on to twitter, let me know. It’s super easy to create a free account at Twitter.com and you can see the whole discussion from there. Are you in? Don’t make me talk to myself for an hour!

 

Filed: Blog, Cats, Dogs, Health, Lifestyle Tagged: , , ,

All tests are not created equal: Inside Natura Part 3 (and a giveaway)

As long as the internet continues to be a depthless repository of the past, an endless attic of antiquity where people can dredge up whatever photo or story they want from previous years and turn it into whatever they wish, Procter and Gamble will struggle with the PETA/Iams cruelty video from a decade ago. Peta continues to drag it out every few months because, well, it gets well meaning people to send them money, despite the fact that it was inaccurate at best, and no longer relevant at worst.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I really would love you to read the piece I wrote for Good Dog magazine last year, because it goes into the history of animal testing in pet food and how P&G has changed so very much since that time. I’ll get back to this in a bit, but I wanted to mention it because today I’m talking about animal testing and the Natura tour. The bottom line is, despite what was or is rumored to be, companies can and should aspire to develop foods the way P&G Pet Care does.

Animal Testing: Then and now

Natura, which as you likely know was acquired by P&G two years ago, has always incorporated animal testing into their product development. In order to really get how this all works, you need to understand a few things about animal testing in the pet food industry:

1. Animal feeding trials are considered the ‘gold standard’ in determining whether or not a food will perform in the market. You can formulate a food to AAFCO standards to meet certain minimum requirements, and it’s very likely the dog will grow and be in decent health, but at the end of the day until you put that food in front of a dog or cat, you really don’t know how it will taste, how the flavors will work, how their coat will look, how well they will digest it, that sort of thing.

2. Invasive testing- I’m talking about anything involving a scalpel or even a needle- is no longer considered a necessary part of the process. Procter & Gamble and Hills, both of which I have toured, have an explicit policy  prohibiting invasive testing in animals, and Royal Canin/Mars and Purina, which I have not toured, also have similar statements as part of their animal care policy.

What does that mean? Animals who participate in non invasive trials have only certain types of data they can provide: do they like the food. How is stool quality. How is the pet’s weight. What is happening to urine pH. How is their coat. How are their teeth. The days of euthanizing a dog at a year old to evaluate their joint cartilage are long gone.

Animal Care Post-Acquisition

So this is the question I get over and over from interested consumers who send me off to these tours with a list of concerns to address: How well, exactly, does a test animal live? And the answer is, it depends.

A company can still contract out their research to a third party facility. To be honest, I don’t know what it’s like for those animals. I haven’t been there. I’m sure they meet the minimums of the Animal Welfare Act, but beyond that- well, invite me for a tour and I’ll let you know. All living arrangements are not created equal.

Until the acquisition, Natura tested their food in two situations: at the Natura Health and Nutrition Center in Fremont, Nebraska, an on-site facility where dogs and cats live, and at an outside facility with whom they contracted for longer studies. The dogs in Fremont were mostly rescues, who came to live there after being relinquished by their owners. I met two of them while I was in Fremont, a beautiful pair of smooth collies who were playing fetch with one of the employees as part of their daily activity.

Natura came under a lot of scrutiny after the P&G acquisition, but the across-the-board reaction from the employees, who were just as if not more skeptical than everyone else about how this would shake out, was this: the dogs have benefitted from it. As soon as the acquisition happened, the animal testing process was subject to the P&G Animal Care policy, arguably the best in the industry. Under this policy, animal research can take place at only one of three places:

  • the in house facility itself, either the Natura Health and Nutrition Center or the Iams Pet Health and Nutrition Center in Lewisburg, Ohio;
  • in people’s homes as part of a clinical research study- owned pets like yours and mine- about 70% of the research animals at P&G fall into this category;
  • places where pets live as part of their job, such as Canine Companions for Independence.

So the outside facility was, well, out. They also stopped bringing in rescue animals for testing, which may surprise you, but bear with me. It’s a good thing. Here’s the deal:

An animal who has been used to living in a home environment may not adjust right away, or at all, to a group living environment. You can provide group housing and enrichment and exercise, but at the end of the day it’s still a big adjustment. Under P&G’s policy, which I’ve written about previously, dogs are acquired as puppies from breeders and intensely socialized fron day one to live in a group setting, with the eventual goal of transitioning to a home at about 6 years of age. This program, developed by a behaviorist with the emotional well-being of the dogs in mind, results in happier dogs with less stress, which means better results for all involved.

The folks in charge of the facility at Natura have recently started working with a new group of dogs who had just completed training in Ohio, and they all admitted with some surprise that this has been a really good change for them. That’s right, things got better post-acquisition.

Life as a Natura Test Dog

So I don’t really know what life is like for a test dog at some companies, but for the 35 dogs at Natura it’s this: I get up, I eat, I hang out with my kennel mate, I get group play time outside, I get individual time with a person, I get trained about how to live in a house with vacuum cleaners and doorbells, I get regular veterinary care, someone collects my poop when I’m not looking, and then I get adopted. And that is pretty much it.

The Fremont Health and Nutrition Center is undergoing renovations this year, to make the kennels even more dog-friendly and provide the space for a full-time on-site veterinarian. The kennels are specifically designed to provide hiding areas, places to look out and see what’s going on, vertical space, and easy outside access. They are also improving the group housing facility for the 24 cats to incorporate outside access for the felines. When this is completed, they also plan to get accreditation from the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory and Animal Care, a voluntary certification that goes way above and beyond the minimum standards put forth by the Animal Welfare Act. Most facilities don’t do this. It’s a very good thing.

We all want what is best for our pets, and at the same time we (hopefully) want to know that the products we choose are developed in an ethical and humane manner. I’m very glad to see companies being proactive in their animal welfare protocols and continuing to improve year after year; and happy to give credit where credit is due to a company who is doing things the right way. Even a big company.

YouTube Preview Image

So there you go. Still have a post on the manufacturing plant to write- I was waiting on the picture with the giant probe, and it’s totally worth the wait, by the by.

I’m happy to feed Natura. If you would like to try it, I have a coupon for one bag of any size dog or cat food from the Natura line (Evo, Innova, California Natural, Karma, and HealthWise) that I will be giving away this week- you know the drill! Details are below.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Filed: Behind the Paw, Blog, Cats, Dogs, Giveaways, Health, Videos Tagged: , , , , , ,

Inside Natura: Part One

What makes a pet food good?

How do you pick a pet food? I’m genuinely curious. The number of choices out there is dizzying, isn’t it?

It’s one of the biggest challenges of being a pet owner, standing in those aisles, peeking up and down at the bags and trying to figure out based on the information we have at hand what is going to be the best choices for our pets.

But where do we get our information? From our own research. From the guy in the pet store. From the vet. From the company who makes the food. We worry about biases and how much we can trust those sources.

I have said many times that there is no one best pet food, and I mean that. What matters is what is best for your pet, and that may not be the same as what is best for mine. And despite how well we may be armed with some information, there are going to be behind the scenes bits of information that we just don’t have access to.

There’s the label, and then there’s everything else

Owners are getting awfully good at reading pet labels, which is a good thing. That is a vital place to start and a good gauge  in assessing whether a food might be a good fit for our pet. Everyone wants to know that the ingredients in that bag are ones they feel provide good nutrition.

This is a generic pet food label- brand unknown

But there is so much more that goes on that we may or may not be privy to. As the Diamond debacle has shown us, a company can provide the best ingredients out there, but if they’ve sourced their production to a factory who’s falling asleep on the job, all their hard work is down the drain in a big messy recall nightmare. If a company is not proactive in tracing problems with their food or is not responsive to the veterinary community who is often the first group of people to realize there is a nutrition issue, it doesn’t matter how great the label looks or the ingredients sound.

These are things that matter to me:

1. Quality ingredients selected based on knowledge and scientific rationale as to their health benefits as opposed to simply things that sound trendy.

2. Expert Formulators: Who’s coming up with the recipes? What training do they have? Are they making decisions and updates based on the newest findings in the literature?

3. Good manufacturing practice, including high level quality control and an ability to trace problems quickly.

4. Results: Are new diets being fed to dogs and cats before going to market or are they just based on formulations? Are those feeding trials being carried out in an ethical manner that exceeds the bare minimums of the Animal Welfare Act?

5. Conscience. Do you have a corporate philosophy that states unequivocally that the health of the pet is your main purpose in making this food? How does this translate into practice?

Some of these things, clearly, are easier to figure out than others. I’m constantly being reminded of how little access consumers have to the pet food manufacturing process, which is why I am so thrilled that some companies are really working on this concept of transparency and sharing the process with the consumer in ways they never have before.

A preview of the Natura tour

I’ve been hinting at wanting to see the Natura plant for over a year now, as I’ve used several of their brands on a regular basis. Natura makes Innova, Evo, California Natural, Karma, HealthWise, and Mother Nature. I felt very fortunate to have been invited to their first blogger tour this week and I was really, really hoping I wouldn’t be disappointed by what I saw.

I have lots to share over several posts, but I did go through the tour with those five personal benchmarks in mind. In summary:

I was so happy with the tour, the people at Natura, and what they are doing there. I’ve always been pleased with the results I’ve had with the products (I rotate, and I’ll talk about that too), and this process has only made me more confident in using it and recommending it to others.

I watched people who had been with the company for years get a little choked up as they talked about their fears after the acquisition by Procter and Gamble, and what that has meant for them; stood next to the bins of carrots and apples as they headed into the first of many quality control steps; examined vats of meat and asked questions that I really thought might get me tossed out, but didn’t. Nothing was off limits to ask.

So stay tuned for the rest of the story and answers to some of the questions I was sent by you. I think you’ll be pleased.

Disclosure: Natura covered my expenses in order to come tour the plant. They have not provided me product or other compensation, and gave me no guidelines as to what I could and couldn’t write about.

Filed: Behind the Paw, Blog, Cats, Dogs, Health Tagged: , , , ,
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