After the fifth time someone forwarded me “The Shocking Truth Your Vet Is Hiding” type articles in the past week, I had to take a stop from my scheduled 12 Days of Clinics to address it. I debated on a few clickbait titles for this post:
alt: “Why Magazines are Getting Away With Murder”
alt: “The Shocking Truth These Publishers Are Hiding”
It doesn’t really matter what the title is or if it related to the content anyway, but I imagine you already know that. But let’s step back a moment, and go back for a breath to 2011.
The most singularly amazing experience of my life took place in a forest in Tanzania. I had waited my whole life to visit the chimpanzees of Mahale, an experience I had anticipated with baited breath. Good, gentle, kind chimps.
And this is what I actually learned: chimps can be asses. Petty, sneaky, grumpy asses. Most everyone kind of knew that, though, right? They’re allowed bad days just like everyone else.
But I learned something else, which was also an eye opener not only for me but for the rest of the people there, for researchers who have spent their whole careers in the M community (by convention these communities are all lettered). Chimps, under pressure, can be vindictive.
The events I witnessed in my time, a Machiavellian soap opera of alliance forming, led to the never before witnessed assassination of the alpha chimp by his own community, an event so unexpected and rare it was written up in multiple journals. Pimu was a jerk, no doubt about it. He ruled with an iron fist. But no one expected the other males in his own community to kill him.
I was there. I saw it. I saw the way the pot-stirring chimp, third in line from the top, systematically groomed all the other males in the group, waiting for just the right moment to take advantage of their fears and frustrations with Pimu. Then- triggered by some small infraction that in other circumstances would have passed without comment, he lit off the powderkeg that resulted in an alpha getting his head smashed in by a rock.
The instigator didn’t even have to get his hands dirty. He was the Petyr Baelish of Mahale, climbing the ladder of the chaos he sowed.
The argument can be made that we are hard-wired for a black and white view of the world, to see people as friend or foe, with us or against us. Once someone’s a foe, there is nothing valuable, worthy, or meaningful in anything they say or do, ever, marinating in their evil fortress of pain or whatever it is enemies do.
It takes work to suppress that natural inclination and try to genuinely understand the actual truth of things- that most people, even those on the other side of the fence, usually have good intentions and may actually have a point about some things. But you can’t start a conversation when the guns are firing.
There’s always one person who benefits when two factions are fighting, and it’s rarely the ones out there actually getting bloodied.
Skull Smashing in Modern Veterinary Medicine
I am part of the V community of pet lovers: the veterinarians. This informs how I view the world and my place in it: as a pet lover, trusted advisor, someone who cares enough about the health of our companions that I chose this as my life’s work. I believe in the value of our work and our research and use that to make recommendations for my clients.
I am also part of the larger O community of pet lovers: the owners. I understand knowledge evolves. I attend hundreds of hours of continuing education, became certified in acupuncture, and I’m not afraid to change my advice based on evolving knowledge. I came out the gates of vet school ready to challenge old assumptions about vaccines, pain management, and nutrition, and over the last decade we have changed the way we practice medicine as a community.
I kind of assumed it was ok to be on both teams. So do you understand why it drives so many of us crazy to see this sort of thing?
These are Dogs Naturally Magazine’s most popular articles. Half the time the articles don’t even really correlate with the tone of the headline, but the damage is done. Clickbait is the equivalent of the pot stirring chimp sticking a rock in your hand and then shrugging and saying, “What? I didn’t tell you to hit anyone with it.”
I promise I never once looked a dog straight in the face with maniacal glee as I prime a syringe in front of their face, imagining the piles of money I get to roll in after work after wiping the blood of a thousand sickened pets of the floor with the research showing all these medications I recommend are actually totally unnecessary.
I’m not holding the V community blameless here. I understand there are vets who dig in their heels and refuse to admit that you have a valid interest in researching things and asking questions. There are those who look at everyone with a concern about DOI studies like this:
And they really wish you would just stop looking things up and just do what they tell you, no questions asked.
But that’s not most of us. If these types of publications (I’m picking on Dogs Naturally but that’s only because they’ve published about 10 pieces like this in the last month) really cared about the overall wellbeing of pets, they would be advocating for better ways to communicate with your veterinarian instead of just telling you we all want to kill your dog with Drano injections, euthanized horsemeat kibble and drugs we are prescribing solely because we were given a free pen, so you should just stay home and feed them coconut oil and canned pumpkin and whatever else their advertisers are selling you.
(I aced “Making Little Kids Cry in Terror”, which I took the same semester as “Why Sick Pets are Better for Business than Healthy Ones so Make Sure To Keep them Sick Through Recommended Shots and Foods.”)
So yes I’m irritated, not because the content in articles like “Why Vets Are Getting Away With Murder” has no merit despite the misleading headline, but because those clickbait pieces really just serve themselves. Information is good. Using it to sow discontent instead of discourse? Not so much.
Communication, not Coconut Oil: The True Key to Health
Concerns about vaccinations, sarcomas, immune system function, and nutrition are all perfectly valid. This should be able to be part of a discussion with a good veterinarian without bloodshed or Yelp. You are all smart people. A nice, polite, rational approach to collaboration may not sell magazines, but it does create better outcomes. I will talk to you about anything, even coconut oil, delayed neutering, titers, and raw food.
I understand the difference between your pet and the community as a whole, and if you ask why we have the recommendations we do, I’d be happy to go into all the boring public health theory and discussion of cell mediated immunity and why titers don’t prove definitive immunity and all those other things a drug rep with a burrito did not teach me in a one week course. This is communication, and it’s what two people who don’t want to kill each other do.
The Truth I Don’t Want You To Know
Is there one? I don’t know, maybe this:
- the times I went home crying because I couldn’t save a pet.
- The times I vomited in the parking lot because of the stress of the day or the person who threatened my receptionist with a gun.
- The fact that on some days, I said to myself had I known the physical and emotional cost of this job, I might have chosen a different path. Especially on the days people tell me I’m only doing it for the money, or the glory, or the free pens.
- I understand there are crummy vets out there. There are crummy whatever it is you do for a living, too. Just try not to be one of them.
You know what I’d really be doing if I was in this for the money? Looking for a pet with a genetic problem to exploit for fame and fortune. Alas.
I find it ironic that people are willing to believe, without question, the word of a person selling magazines, conference tickets and, I assume, advertising, and that this is done solely out of their benevolent desire to tell you the truth about the crapfest that is my profession and nothing else. There’s no room for nuanced discussion and benefit of the doubt when you’re trying to grow a brand in a world that thrives on conflict. I’d have a much larger site if I were willing to throw a few thousand colleagues under the bus for fun and clicks, but sadly, I’m plum out of rocks today.
You and I want the same thing, long and happy life for your pet. Bananas for everyone.
In the olden days, people used to turn to carnival medicine men or the back pages of Look Magazine for the latest way to solve all of their problems. People don’t change, just the technology. Now we have the internet to turn to. If the web is to be believed, and it always is for some reason, there is a new cure for all the world’s ills. That cure is coconut oil.
It’s good for your hair, your skin, your GI tract, your dog, your mental health, and your aura. It’s anti-inflammation and pro-synergy. You can rub it on your scalp, then scrape it off and use it to cook, or sit on the leather couch and make it more supple. I don’t think there is a single malady out there that someone has not suggested coconut oil can fix:
Dry skin? Coconut oil.
Dry face? Coconut oil.
Yeast infection? You guessed it.
Alzheimer’s? Eat up.
Athlete’s foot, acne, depression, hemorrhoids, anxiety, UTI, weight loss, heartburn, autism. I guess what I’m saying is you could nuke your local CVS and be just fine as long as there was a Whole Foods next door, because coconut oil’s got you covered.
I’ve done a Whole 30 challenge, which is a no-processed food crossed with a tinge of Paleo, so I’m no stranger to coconut oil. I’ve cooked brussels sprouts in it, stirred it in my coffee, used it to make paleo pancakes. They were good.
Sadly, at the end of a jar I have to say my life has not substantially changed. Everything broken in me before is still broken. Coconut oil, while delicious and no doubt healthier than, say, margarine, has not eliminated my need for my allergy inhaler. I asked my doctor if I could try shoving coconut oil up my nose instead, just for a little while. It’s way cheaper than Dymista. She didn’t think much of the idea. When I told her I was just joking, then she sighed and said, “I get that question a lot.”
While coconut oil is unsurprisingly gaining steam in veterinary medicine, we have an equivalent that already enjoys legendary status in the home remedy category: pumpkin.
Long treated as the pet pepto-bismol, pumpkin is the go-to far various GI maladies spanning the range from constipation to diarrhea. It’s a great thing for the colon. It’s a great source of fiber and most pets will eat it. Pumpkin is Metamucil in a more holistic package.
What pumpkin is not is everything else, like an anti-emetic or anti-inflammatory or something that will teach your dog to talk. Like, it’s no coconut oil or anything.
On a friend’s Facebook page, she recently asked if it was possible for a pet to develop an allergic reaction to a food they’ve been eating for years.
10 people chimed in (correctly) that yes, this happens. Then someone said, “Why do you ask?”
“Because my dog’s been throwing up every time he eats all of a sudden.”
As a veterinarian, my mind immediately collates a list of the differentials when I hear something like this. 3 year old pit bull, history of being a destructive chewer, clearly the problem is “pumpkin deficiency.”
Which is exactly where the comment thread went.
“OMG! You need to give your dog some pumpkin.”
“Seriously! My dog loves it.”
“Pumpkin cured my dog’s farts.”
“Pumpkin is a great source of electrolytes.” And so on and so forth.
Don’t get me wrong, I like pumpkin. As far as advice on the internet goes, it’s one of the more benign things I’ve read and unlikely to cause harm. My only concern is that people recommend this in lieu of something that might actually work, such as starting with a correct diagnosis. Fortunately this person has multiple veterinary professionals on the thread, and somewhere in between pumpkin recommendations she got some solid advice.
A couple of weeks ago, my neighbor came over with her adorable 6 month old Golden Retriever. She hopped back and forth on her toes before asking me if I had any thoughts about her dog’s diarrhea.
“How long has it been going on?” I asked.
“Go to the vet.”
“We’re going tomorrow,” she said, “but in the meantime……do you have any pumpkin I can borrow?”
I did. It’s on the shelf next to the coconut oil. Hope springs eternal.
PS The dog improved dramatically … once the vet diagnosed Giardia and started Flagyl.
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’.)
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.)
Thanks Red Cross for another great- and affordable- resource!
Pet First Aid at itunes
Pet First Aid at Google Play
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
No, wait, that’s not 10,000.
No, wait. That’s not 10,000 either. THIS is 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.”
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.
Last night at the North American Veterinary Conference I was sitting with a group of wonderful veterinary students, and we were chatting about practice and whatnot, when all of a sudden it occurred to me that I was the senior veterinarian in the group. As in, the things I was saying were now the Pearls.Of.Wisdom from on high, and the idea that I’ve been doing this long enough to have wisdom to impart is simultaneously horrifying and delightful. Wow, I’m the wise one! Good Lord, I’m the old one.
I was talking about my first days of practice, when I was with a group that had proclaimed that all veterinarians must give a whole bunch of vaccines, because vaccines prevent disease, so the more you give, the better you are practicing. This is where we were at in 2002, and it was an ugly scene. As you know, all vaccines are not created equal. Now we have AAHA and AAFP guidelines that define “core” versus “non-core” and “not recommended”, excellent, evidence-based rules that take into account efficacy, likelihood of reaction, and the individual pet. But at the time, those concepts were still kind of nebulous, so the concept was more along the lines of, “more vaccines = more medicine = good.”
Translation: Cats getting FIP vaccine whether or not the vaccine actually worked, dogs getting Lyme vaccine whether or not they lived in an area that had Lyme disease. FIV vaccine, regardless of whether we were messing up future FIV testing. We were expected to do it, because that was considered good medicine.
But it didn’t feel right.
I was the lowest producing vet in my area, in terms of the money I was generating. I talked to clients about the risk and the benefit, and in cases I deemed appropriate, I might give Lyme. I didn’t give FIP. According to the medical algorithms at the time, I was practicing bad medicine.
I spent a lot of time on the phone trying to justify my decision to my superior. He felt I was practicing poor medicine. I felt the exact opposite. He had been out a lot longer than me, and saw a lot more things than I did, but I stood my ground, shaky as it felt at the time. I knew what was right by my clients, so no matter how much my superior protested, I practiced for them and not for him.
It was considered quite contrarian at the time.
After a year and half or so of neither of us budging, I quit. I quit my job rather than compromise myself. Again, a move that seemed provocative back then, when practitioners had more of an expectation of loyalty from their employees. I went to a place that told me I could practice the way I felt was appropriate, and I took a few key staff members and clients with me.
I didn’t know at the time whether or not I made the right decision, but I made the one that allowed me to sleep at night. And then two things happened:
1. Tides turned on the vaccination deal. The medical field came around to the same conclusion the rest of us had reached some time before, which is, “more does not equal better.” Vaccination must be determined on an individual basis, tailored to the pet. Now that person who had made me feel like a chump for two years was on the defensive, and all those pets I had dissuaded from an unnecessary treatment sought me out at my new clinic.
2. The practice I had been at before I quit, the one that performed quite mediocre in terms of revenue, was recognized in a group of 400 practices as having the highest client loyalty in the nation for the year. The area I practiced in was economically depressed. My clients weren’t wealthy, but they cared, and they knew I was working with them to do what was best. And at the end of of the day, there was no greater recognition I could ever receive than that. Me, newbie Dr. V, the one who put the needle back in the fridge and said no, had more people who kept coming back than all the others out there with more experience, better skills, more knowledge.
And trust me, I really did not have a clue what I was doing, so don’t take it as a boast about my amazing vet-fu. I was shaky and insecure and I had a ton of stuff I was horrible at, like most new grads. I never lied about my skills. I referred a whole lot of stuff I wasn’t ready to handle. I said no to what I couldn’t take on. I put aside that mask of bravado you’re told you should have as a doctor, and decided to just be perfectly honest.
It’s exactly what they tell you not to do.
But it felt right.
And my clients all knew it, intuitively. They forgave every deficiency because they trusted me to be upfront with them, no matter what.
Time moves quickly. I’ve done a lot since then, and made good choices and bad choices and gotten to the point where I’m perfectly comfortable in my practice; I know what I know and what I don’t and I don’t worry about how old clients think I am because it doesn’t matter. But that one lesson has never changed, and I know now never will. It’s so easy, and we screw it up so often under some auspice of ego or “promote confidence” or whatever the practice management du jour mantra is.
Apollo, the minimally vaccinated, wet food only counterculture hippie of the house, is doing gangbusters at 14. He’s outsurvived Nuke, Mulan, Emmett, and sadly, probably Koa too.
I was in a lecture today with Dr. Alice Wolf, a world renowned expert on feline medicine. She stated without preamble that yes, adjuvanted vaccines have a higher risk of inducing cancer in cats, laid out the evidence, and said this is a risk she considers unacceptable.
Adjuvant, for those who don’t know, is something that is added to a vaccine to enhance the body’s immune response by acting, essentially, as an irritant. In some cases, estimated to be 1:10,000, that inflammation turns into a horribly aggressive form of cancer. While documented in many species, it is most prevalent in cats, to the tune of about 20,000 cases a year. Manufacturers, realizing this was an unintended consequence, have responded by producing alternative vaccines without this added product. They may be more expensive. They may need to be boosted more. But they are, in Dr. Wolf’s opinion and that of many others, the superior choice.
Note that she is not saying, by any stretch of the imagination, that all vaccines are bad and you shouldn’t use them. She is saying there is a component of one particular type of vaccine that has the potential to cause a nasty problem, and because there are better, safer vaccine alternatives, we need to use those instead.
Dr. Wolf bases her vaccine recommendations on the widely used AAFP recommendations, which can be found here. She does state, and I agree, that all kittens should be vaccinated for FELV, though whether that is boosted into the adult years should be determined based on pet lifestyle. Again, and this is key, she recommends vets always use non-adjuvanted vaccines whenever they are available. “WHO classifies veterinary vaccine adjuvants as a Class 3/4 carcinogen,” she told the crowd. “If there was an alternative, which one would you choose?”
I’m calling this now. As a client, your vet may not carry non-adjuvanted vaccines such as PureVax, but they should. This is where the tide is going. This is what is right, and you as a client should be OK demanding it, and the other you, the new vets, should as well, because you need to advocate for your clients no matter what.
Let me make it easy for you, newbies. Because you won’t be newbies for long and in another year or two you won’t care what I have to tell you.
Do what you know is right, always. And that is all you need to know.
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.
It’s National Take your Cat to the Vet Week, which ranks right up there with Get Your Annual Prostate Exam Week and Pull Off Your Toenails Week on the fun scale. I know it’s not fun, for you or for the cat. It’s a necessary evil, one of our first lines of defense in catching disease processes early before they are crisis situations. In fact, most vets recommend taking your cat in twice a year, though we know from surveys that less than half of you take your cat in unless he or she is sick.
Do these visits actually accomplish anything? I asked my Facebook friends if they had ever taken their cat in for routine care and discovered an unexpected medical issue, and here’s what you said: (more…)
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.
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!
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.
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
The internet is obsessed with cats. We all know this. But for some reason, it is particularly obsessed with fat cats. I’m not talking slightly round, I mean morbidly obese balls of fur with little eyes peering out in mute supplication. Pictures of people holding a 25 pound cat dangling helplessly from their arms like a kid in a snow suit are especially popular.
And then they become news items like Meow, who would have been just another sad shelter relinquishment except for the fact that he weighed 39 pounds, which made him newsworthy because- well, I don’t know why, really. You don’t see huge rolly polly labs in the shelter stumbling around with arthritis getting on the Today Show. Maybe it’s because cats don’t advertise their discomfort very well? So you can convince yourself he’s just a happy lasagna chugging kitty and ignore all the other stuff going on?
I just don’t go “awwww” or “heee” or any of that when I see these guys. I get sad.
I see a cat who was just placed into an incredibly stressful situation who is a case of hepatic lipidosis waiting to happen. Unsurprisingly, sadly, Meow died in the shelter.
But then we had Spongebob. And Garfield. And there will be more, because veterinarians are not doing a good enough job counseling people on the fact that a 20 pound cat is not the norm and helping them figure out ways to solve it. And in the meantime, they get all the validation they want from the internet, who continues to eat this stuff up.
When I was in college, I dated a guy for a while who decided one day to show me his family photo album. Towards the back there was a cat-dangling picture, him proudly holding up his cat like a prize bass. I thought he was holding a footstool for a minute, the cat was so huge. He thought it was adorable. I was aghast. We looked at each other differently after that. He asked me when we broke up, “Why?” and I said something about growing apart, but really, we were doomed from the moment I saw that picture. Sorry about that, Jason.
I try to have a sense of humor about stuff- goodness knows we pet people can get a little overly serious at times. I’m fine with dogs in hats, cats in wigs, things that are silly, but I can’t and won’t ever see a serious medical condition as cute. I guess this is why I will never rule the internet.
Anyone here have a major epiphany about their pet’s weight? What really made it sink in that this was a problem?
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.