The best “present” you can give your pet

My favorite part of everyday is being outdoors walking or hiking with my dogs.  We get to enjoy each other and the beautiful surroundings…literally taking time to smell the flowers.  Something I witness all too often is a pet owner out with their dog walking with their head buried looking at their cell phone.

Really?  You have taken that precious time to walk your dog and you are still connected to your device?  The absolute best “present” you can give your pet is to be PRESENT.  Take time to really connect with them and give them your attention.  They live each day just to be with you, to please you, and to share that connection with you.

You have seen the stats on the how distracting our mobile devices are.  Data shows us that parents of human children will often be distracted by their phones during times that have traditionally been sacred family time.   A couple of eye opening stats from various studies for you:

-More than a third of children (11-18 years old) interviewed asked, would like their parents to stop checking their devices so frequently

-82% of kids interviewed thought that meal time should be device free.  14% of these kids said their parents spent time on their devices during meal time.  95% of those same parents when polled said they did not access their devices during meal time.

Many of us consider our pets our children.  Unfortunately, people have let these devices steal valuable time from these kids too!  If you are a busy parent and you are already trying to make time for your human children, your four-legged children may get pushed even further down the list.  If you are a working person you get maybe 5-6 waking hours at the end of each day to get everything in your home life taken care of and this includes giving true undivided attention to your loved ones.   We try to multi task just about everything in our lives but there are some things that are truly best to do without distractions.   Consider some boundaries that might benefit both of you.

-If you are a pet parent that does make time for a walk everyday…devote that time to your pet.  If you feel like you need to carry your cell phone with you as a safety precaution that is understandable; but leave it in the pocket and give your pup this time as your time together.

-Some people work in their home and think…well I’m home with them all day.  When we work from our home we are very focused on completing our work.  We are on our computers or talking on the phone, we are not generally giving our attention to our pet even if we are there in body.  It is important that you still take a few minutes to truly connect with them.  That might mean taking a 5-10-minute break to sit on the floor and play with the ball or just give your cat or pup belly rubs.

-Do you talk to your pet?  They are listening.  You might think I am just saying this because I am that crazy lady that talks to my own dog….maybe.  But there is some real research that says it matters.  A new study from the University of Sussex found that dogs process speech they recognize in a similar manner to humans, meaning that sounds they recognize are processed in their brain’s left hemisphere, while other sounds or unusual noises are processed in the right hemisphere. Because of the way the brain is “wired”, dogs will move their head to the opposite side of the side that’s doing the processing. Having speech and sound processed differently by the brain’s two hemispheres is very similar to how humans process speech.  According to the university, this means that dogs are paying attention to how we say things, who is talking and what we’re saying.

These simple things are good for you too.  Living in the moment and being present gives your mind and body a break that we all need.

In summary, just remember we have a big world with lots of moving parts that we live in each day.  Your cat or dog’s world is not as big; their life is centered around you and what interaction they get to have with you.  They give us their 100% the instant we ask for it, so it is the least we can do to take a little bit of time that is just for them.

Do you make special time each day for your pet?

 

Snake Bit

You probably saw the heart-breaking image of this brave pup that intervened when he encountered a snake on a hike with his Mom.  This is a real danger you and your pet need to be aware of this time of year.    Depending on what part of the country you live in there are different deadly snakes you could encounter.  Common deadly snakes in the Eastern US include Copperheads or Cottonmouth snakes.  The Western US is always weary of Rattlesnakes (Todd, the pup in the photo, was bitten by a rattlesnake in Arizona).

todd the dog

Lets first talk about prevention.  There are precautions you can take to lessen the odds of your having this issue come up.  Your dog or cat can be in danger of a snake even if you have not left your own yard.  Some precautions you can take around your house and yard include:

-Snakes like hiding places.  Keep debris cleaned up around your yard.  Brush should be cleared out around flowers and shrubs and walkways.  If you stack fire wood store it indoors.  Toys and tools etc. should be kept off the ground.

-Clean up and spilled food or even bird seed in your yard.  This attracts rodents and the rodents are prey for snakes, so your will inadvertently attract them.

-Some say that pouring white vinegar around the perimeter of your yard will discourage snakes.  Snakes absorb it through their skin, so they will not want to slither over it.

If you plan to be out hiking or walking with your pet, you need to be cautious.

-If you live in the Western US there is a vaccine that your can give your dog for rattlesnake bites.  There are mixed opinions on the vaccine so check with your vet for advice.  But the claim is that if your dog has been vaccinated it could reduce the pain and risk of long term affects if they are bitten.  The vaccine is only for Diamond Head Rattler’s; it provides no protection against venom from the Coral Snake, Water Moccasin, or the Mojave Rattlesnake.

-Basic and specialized training.  A dog has a natural curiosity that can be deadly.  Basic training such as a “leave it” command is essential if you are in the outdoors.  You must be able to discourage your dog from investigating of you see a snake or any other creature for that matter.  It is important to keep your dog on a leash so that you can see the threat as they see it and give them a command.  There are specialized training classes for rattlesnakes.  The training uses negative reinforcement to teach a dog to avoid the sound of the rattlesnake.  Again, this not for everybody but you can seek details from a professional and determine of it would be right for you and your pet.

If your pet is bitten-

If your pet is bitten by a snake it may be life threatening.  The most common place for your pet to be bitten is around the face or neck.  Regardless if it is venomous or non-venomous it will be painful.  Your dog will have severe pain if it is venomous though.  You may or may not see the puncture holes from the bite.  You will usually always see swelling, bruising or bleeding from the bite area.

Venomous snake bite symptoms could be:

  • Shaking and tremors
  • Excessive salivation
  • Panting, shallow breath
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle weakness or even paralysis
  • Loss of bodily function or incontinence

You must get your pet to an emergency vet either way.  Even if it is a non-venomous bite your vet will probably want to prescribe antibiotics, anti-inflammatories or antihistamines.  If it is a venomous bite your vet may administer an anti-venom.  Symptoms do not always happen immediately so don’t be fooled into thinking they may be fine and it will just run its course.  A minor bite may improve within a couple of days with medication, but poisonous bites can be take weeks of recovery and can result in dead tissue, organ damage, loss of blood pressure or death.

Snake bites are nothing to mess around with.  It is better safe than sorry in this instance.

TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING

Well it’s summer and the two-legged animals are out having fun with their four-legged family members.  In various parts of the country this might mean cooling off by frolicking around the pool, the lake or even the ocean.  If you have played ball with your dog around water, you might know how this game can go on forever…right?  If you keep throwing they will keep diving in and retrieving?

Well there are certain dangers with our pets that while are not common, when they do occur it is often deadly.  Hyponatremia is one of those conditions.  You have probably never heard of it, but it is essentially water intoxication.  We worry so much about keeping ourselves and our pets hydrated in the hot summer months, but this is when you take in TOO MUCH water.  The body of an animal (dog, cat or human) can only process a certain amount of fluid.  When there is more water going into the body than it can process the excessive fluid dilutes the other fluids in the body and this causes a dangerous imbalance.  Sodium is important and when sodium concentration in extracellular fluid drops, the cells start filling with water as the body attempts to balance the sodium levels inside the cells with falling levels outside the cells. This influx of water causes the cells – including those in the brain – to swell.

If these activities are occurring at the beach ingesting too much salt water is also a very serious condition called hypernatremia, which is technically the opposite of hyponatremia and is salt poisoning.  You will see the same quick deterioration and symptoms that dictate getting your pet to the emergency vet, but you need to make the vet aware that they were ingesting salt water.

Knowing how much your pup loves playing be very cautious of any change in behavior.  This condition materializes very quickly and is so dangerous.

Watch for any of these signs:

-loss of coordination

-sudden lethargy

-vomiting

-glassy looking eyes

-pale gums

-excessive slobbering

By the time you see difficulty breathing, collapse or seizure your pet is in serious trouble.  Get your pet to an emergency facility as soon as you see any signs and they can try treating this with (IV) electrolytes, diuretics, and medications to reduce brain swelling. With aggressive veterinary care, some dogs do recover, but tragically this condition often ends in death. 

Prevention is key here.  Just like children; our pets should absolutely be supervised around water. Be very aware of any activity that means your pet is opening their mouth when they are exposed to the water such as fetching a ball or even dogs that play and bite in the sprinklers.  When dogs are jumping in water or water coming out of a sprinkler the water is pressurized and you may not realize the volume of water that they are ingesting.  So, enjoy summer fun but if you are partaking in any of these activities limit the time spent exposing them to water without periods of rest in between.  Their body has got to have time to process the water that is being ingested.

Oils, diffusers oh my!

It seems the hot new thing is using a diffuser with various essential oils to take people away from their busy stress filled lives.  If you are thinking about one…consider your pets.  I have very nosey pets, so I do not even burn candles in my house but have considered a relaxing diffuser.  I have read some horror stories about animals losing their lives because of their pet parent using toxic oils.  I thought this topic deserved a deeper look.

The answer is not completely black and white.  As with many things; something in a large quantity can be dangerous but in a smaller quantity is perfectly safe.  We are often surprised when something natural can be toxic, but it absolutely can be.

I will first share with you the “PRO” side.  As I researched this topic there were two sources that I sourced for feedback.  The book  Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals and I interviewed Melissa Cash with “Young Living” who carries an animal specific line of oils.  Both sources provide some useful tips in how make the use of oils safe for your pets.  Before trying aromatherapy at home with your pets, keep these safety tips in mind—and be sure to check with your vet if you have any questions or concerns.

Dogs and cats are more sensitive to essential oils than we are, so even if you’re familiar with them for yourself, remember that it’s a different story with your pet.

  • Essential oils should always be diluted before use, even if just inhaling. Melissa says dilute, dilute, dilute!  Start small.
  • Do not add essential oils to your pet’s food or drinking water.
  • Avoid using essential oils with animals under 10 weeks of age.
  • Check with a holistic vet before using any essential oils on pregnant animals. Do not use stimulating oils (e.g. peppermint, rosemary, tea tree) on pregnant pets.
  • Do not use oils on animals with any history of epileptic symptoms. Some oils, such as rosemary, may trigger seizures (in humans too).
  • Do not use oils in or close to the eyes, in the ears, directly on or close to the nose, on mucous membranes, or in the anal or genital areas.
  • Also, never lock your animal in a room with the diffuser is going, it is important to allow your pet to move to another room if they are not enjoying the scent.
  • The Most important thing is to NEVER use low quality or adulterated/synthetic essential oils on or around animals (as it can be dangerous and toxic).

The five most common used oils with pets and the reported benefit:

  • Lavender:Universal oil, can use pure or diluted. Useful in conditioning patients to a safe space. May help allergies, burns, ulcers, insomnia, car ride anxiety and car sickness, to name a few.
  • Cardamom:Diuretic, anti-bacterial, normalizes appetite, colic, coughs, heartburn and nausea.
  • Chamomile:Anti-inflammatory, non-toxic, gentle and safe to use. Good for skin irritations, allergic reactions, burns.
  • Spearmint:Helps to reduce weight. Good for colic, diarrhea, nausea. Helps balance metabolism, stimulates gallbladder. Not for use with cats.
  • ThymePain relief, good for arthritis and rheumatism. Antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral, excellent for infections and other skin issues.

Now let’s look at the cautionary side. The first resource I need to source is the ASPCA animal poison control info center and hotline.  This is their official advice on essential oils:

Cats are especially sensitive to essential oils, and effects such as gastrointestinal upset, central nervous system depression and even liver damage could occur if ingested in significant quantities. Inhalation of the oils could lead to aspiration pneumonia. There are significant variations in toxicity among specific oils. Based on this, we would not recommend using essential oils in areas where your pets have access, unless pets are supervised, or the use of the oil is approved by your veterinarian. 

There are multiple vets that have authored info on this subject; we’ll look at a couple.  According to Dr. Wismer, “The most common symptoms for cats and dogs exposed to diffused essential oils are drooling, vomiting, coughing, and sneezing. Diffusing oils can be fatal to cats and dogs that have asthma or other respiratory issues.”

She said that any essential oil could be harmful to pets, depending on how much they’re exposed to and how. But the especially toxic oils, where pets are concerned, include wintergreen, d-limonene (citrus), pine, cinnamon, pennyroyal, eucalyptus, and tea tree.

It is important to note that some of the best natural grooming products contain tea tree oil. This is one of those instances when the amount of the ingredient makes a world of difference.  The amount used in well respected grooming products is completely safe.

Dr. Melissa Shelton, DVM is a multiple cat owner herself and does seem that there are even more reasons to be cautious around your cat.  She says; “Cats are well known for being deficient in a liver enzyme that most all other animals have which helps them process things efficiently (cytochrome p450). So, that means a cat’s liver doesn’t metabolize items in the same manner or efficiency as other animals or humans. This is true even for foods and traditional medicines…not just essential oils. Everything, synthetic and natural contains a therapeutic/toxic profile. This means that even good things in nature when taken in excess can be toxic.”

Everybody agrees on one thing…caution is completely necessary.  If you decide to try a diffuser in your home or any use of essential oils be very aware of your pet.  What might be relaxing for you could be deadly for your pet.  Watch for absolutely any change in behavior and consult with your vet.

Symptoms of essential oil poisoning have included:

  • Muscle tremors
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty in walking
  • Low body temperature
  • Excessive salivation
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive pawing at mouth or face
  • Drooling

Do you use oils for yourself?  Have you used them around your pets?

 

Ingredient Source…is it important?

This is a very broad question.   It seems like there are more things to think about when you are shopping for the best pet food these days.  Everybody tries to pay close attention to the ingredients on their pet food bag.  People have been trained to compare the percentage of protein and fat, they wonder is it supposed to be “whole chicken” or “chicken meal”.  Should it be grain free, gluten free…vegetarian?  If you as a consumer have to worry about where those ingredients come from that is another layer of complexity.

The source of the ingredients in your pet’s food can be important in some cases.  Let’s look at the main ingredient groups:

Vegetables, grains and fruits:  There is a marked divide between Americans and Europeans when it comes to the cultivation and regulation of genetically modified (GM) foods? In general, American farmers are more reliant on herbicides than Europeans, in part because Americans have moved away from the traditional practice of tilling etc.   But there are other countries (besides the US) where GMO crops are commonly grown, they include Brazil, Canada, South Africa, Australia, Bolivia, Philippines, Spain, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Colombia, Honduras, Chile, Sudan, Slovakia, Costa Rica, China, India, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Mexico, Portugal, Czech Republic, Pakistan and Myanmar.

GMO map

If GMO free is important to you identifying the source may be important you.  Ingredients sourced from countries that commonly use GMO’s doesn’t mean it will be genetically modified, but it certainly means you need to ask.  Need to learn more about GMO’s? Take a look back at our article on this subject in November of 2015.

Proteins: Animal based protein is what you will most commonly find in pet food.  A vegetarian diet is not recommended for cats and dogs.  So regardless of what protein source you choose…chicken, lamb or salmon.  These days maybe even exotic protein source such as kangaroo or alligator!  The question is should you wonder where your kangaroo comes from?  The goal is to choose the highest quality ingredient possible, regardless of which protein you feed.  These considerations about protein are important regardless of the type of pet food you choose.  Meaning there are good and inferior quality proteins whether you are feeding raw vs kibble or whole protein vs meal.  While learning the source alone will not tell you this; it might give you an indication as to how important quality is to the producer.  A couple of basic questions that might give you insight to protein quality are ash percentage and digestibility.  Normal ash ranges are generally between 5%-12%.  Elevated levels of ash can be an indicator that there was more bone contained in the protein source.  A low digestibility percentage can be another red flag that poor quality proteins were used.  Assuming you feel good about the quality of the protein further knowledge of the source can be important for other reasons such as the presence of disease in certain animals around the world.  For instance, bovine animal sources should be free from scrapie (an illness similar to mad cow disease).   So, if you were feeding a lamb-based product this map would give you an idea of the best sources to avoid diseased animals.

scrapie map

Another sourcing issue important to some people is “Ethical Sourcing”.  This term relates less to the quality of the ingredients.  This term lets you know products are obtained in a responsible and sustainable way, that the workers involved in making them are safe and treated fairly and that environmental and social impacts are taken into consideration during the sourcing process.  This is something you as a consumer looks for if you care about the planet and the conditions of the people working in it.

Now that you have this additional information to consider you might be looking on that dog food bag to find this information.  The FDA is responsible for ensuring that pet foods are properly identified on their packaging, have a net quantity statement, have the name and address of the manufacturer or distributor, and have ingredients listed from heaviest total weight to lightest.  Additionally, states may outline their own labeling requirements based on the recommendations of the AAFCO. These regulations govern the product name, the guaranteed analysis, nutritional adequacy statement, feeding directions, and calorie statements. Obviously, these requirements leave an awful lot of the details out.  If you want any detail about your pet food that you cannot find out on the label or on the manufacturers web site email them and ask.  Generally, they will provide sourcing information and digestibility percentages (if they have done trials).

Is sourcing important to you?

Should my dog be eating senior food?

April 18, 2018

This is a question people ask frequently.  People with small dogs generally think about it later but people who own large breeds may think about it sooner.  But what is the right age?

In some ways age really is just a number.  There is absolutely no cut and dried answer.  I think the better question is, what are a couple nutritional factors that you might find in a senior formula food?

  • Senior formula food will usually be lower in fat content. Most animals see a slow in their metabolism or may have a lower activity level and it gets tougher to keep extra weight off.
  • A premium producer will probably add high quality glucosamine and chondroitin to keep aging joints healthy. If you have a large breed your normal adult food may already have an adequate dosage added in your food.
  • Did you know pet food has salt? A senior formula will have a lower amount of sodium to avoid hypertension.
  • Added Nutraceuticals such as stabilized Vitamin C and Taurine. These are strong anti-oxidants to preserve healthy cells and provide good cardiac health.
  • Added Seaweed and fibers to promote lower tartar and healthy teeth.
  • Balanced Calcium and Phosphorus for healthy bones.
  • Provide a good fiber source for healthy digestion.

So, if you are reading through this list and thinking; ”those things sound like healthy things for just about any dog” … You are not necessarily wrong.  Not all older dogs eat senior food, and some younger dogs eat senior food.  Let’s talk about some examples of when this might happen.

Some examples of when to consider a senior formula for a younger dog include:

  • A dog with kidney problems needing a lower protein to energy ratio
  • A dog with any type of cardiac disease, regardless of age. Some pet owners will be advised to choose a food with a low sodium level.
  • Dogs with pancreatic problems need to eat a food with a low-fat content. Pancreatitis or other pancreatic disorders can make it difficult for a dog to process fat.
  • Some dogs that do not have a high activity level and are seeking a low-fat option for weight control may choose a food with the attributes of a senior formula. The low-fat content coupled with the likely addition of joint supplements are both positive things for a pet carrying extra weight.

A couple of examples of older dogs that might not have their needs best met by a senior formula include:

  • Dogs with cancer or other chronic illness that make it a struggle to keep weight on might prompt looking for a more robust recipe.
  • An active pet needing more energy content.

The easy answer…. ASK AN EXPERT.  You can’t just go by the name or even the label if you want to know to everything. Therefore, it is important to work with a pet nutrition expert to match the nutrition to the needs of your pet.  A pet food expert understands how these ingredients react in the body of an animal and under what circumstances they will benefit an individual pet.

When did you make the transition?

 

Understanding Feline Leukemia

If you’re a cat owner a diagnosis of feline leukemia virus (FeLV) would likely devastate you.

This is a disease that’s second only to trauma in the death of cats.  But the prevalence has decreased over the last 25 years because more reliable testing exists, as well as a vaccine that’s about 85% effective.

A feline leukemia diagnosis doesn’t have to be a death sentence.  To understand why, you first need to understand the illness.

What is FeLV?

FeLV is a disease that suppresses a cat’s immune system putting them at risk for other infections and illnesses.  Those secondary conditions can be fatal.  And feline leukemia is the most common cause of cancer in cats.

This virus only affects cats… dogs, people and other animals are safe.  The disease is passed from one cat to another through bodily fluids like blood, saliva, urine and feces. Grooming and fighting are the most likely means of transmission.

But once the virus leaves your cat’s body, it doesn’t live long.  Only a few hours.  And 70% of cats that come in contact with FeLV resist the infection or fight it off with no symptoms.

Kittens can contract feline leukemia in utero or through an infected mother’s milk.  And younger cats between 1 and 6 years of age are at the greatest risk of getting it.  As cats age, their resistance to the virus seems to improve.

This condition affects all breeds of cats and males are more likely than females to get FeLV.

The troubling thing about the spread of this disease is that a cat can carry and transmit it to another cat without showing signs of infection.

Indoor cats have little risk of acquiring FeLV.  But if you’re bringing a new cat into the house, test kitty first. Multi-cat households are at greater risk especially if the cats share water/food bowls and litter boxes.

What are the signs of feline leukemia?

A cat can test positive for FeLV but have no symptoms at all while they’re fighting it off.  But a cat that is symptomatic may show signs similar to so many other illnesses, like:

Diarrhea

Difficulty breathing

Wobbling

Mouth/gum inflammation

Pale gums

Skin and/or ear infections

Skin abscesses

Whites of eyes are yellow

Enlarged lymph nodes

Bladder or respiratory infections

Weight loss

Loss of appetite

Poor coat condition

Weakness

Lethargy

Fever

Inflammation of the nose, cornea or surrounding eye tissue

If you notice any of these signs, see your vet.  Quick intervention is essential to maintaining your cat’s health.

How is this condition diagnosed?

Your vet will do a full exam along with history and blood work.  Two blood tests are used to diagnose the disease.

The ELISA blood test identifies FeLV proteins in the blood.  This is a sensitive test able to detect the virus early on. A cat that’s positive with this test while it’s trying to clear the virus may test negative in a few months.

Your vet will use the IFA blood test to confirm a positive ELISA test.  This test detects virus in the white blood cells indicating the cat is in the later stages of infection.  Cats that test positive with this test are unlikely to clear the virus and the prognosis is poor.

Your vet may also suggest a bone marrow biopsy to find out if the infection has affected the bone marrow… also a later stage scenario.

What’s the treatment?

If your cat has feline leukemia, their quality of life can be good.  Although no cure exists, regular check ups and preventive care to head off any secondary infections can keep your cat feeling well for many years.

Your vet will probably recommend twice-yearly exams, regular lab tests and parasite control to identify problems early and prevent complications.

When secondary infections arise, early intervention is the best course of action.

Certain symptoms like diarrhea, kidney disease or muscle loss may require a diet change.

Keep your FeLV-positive cat indoors and away from other cats.  If they aren’t already, neuter them too.

What’s the prognosis?

If the disease impacts the bone marrow or results in cancer, the prognosis is not good.

But many cats that test positive in the early stages can fight it off.  Kittens are more likely to have a harder time than an adult cat once the disease takes hold.  But preventing and managing secondary infections can prolong your cat’s life.

Can you prevent feline leukemia?

The best prevention is keeping your cat indoors and away from infected (or potentially infected) cats.

There is a vaccine, but it’s not 100% effective.  It is still wise though to vaccinate your cat if they are at high-risk. Shelter cats, outdoor cats and cats that spend time at a cattery should get the vaccine but only if they test negative for the disease.

Test any kittens over 8 weeks of age before bringing them into a home with other cats.  And if your cat is FeLV-positive, don’t bring another cat into your home even if it’s vaccinated.  Not only will you be exposing that cat to the disease, it also may cause undo stress on the sick cat.

Although this disease is awful, in some instances you can manage the condition in a way that enables your cat to be happy and live a full life.

Does your cat have feline leukemia?  How has the disease progressed?  Share your experience at the top of the page.