Genetically engineered food and our pets

If you were on CNN.com last Friday, you saw this headline, “Genetically Engineered Frankenfish Salmon Wins FDA Approval”. It sounds kind of funny, but is it really?

What is genetically engineered salmon? And should we care?

The answer is a big YES! Genetically engineered food may be hazardous to our health and the health of our pets.

We don’t have a full picture of all the health risks yet, but here’s what we do know.

First of all, genetically engineered (GE) and genetically modified (GM) mean the same thing. And you may have heard of GMOs. They’re genetically modified organisms that are found in our food.

According to the World Health Organization, genetically modified foods are foods derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, e.g. through the introduction of a gene from a different organism.

Until now, GE foods were limited to plants. The most common are corn and soy. In fact, most corn and soy produced in this country is genetically engineered.

But now meet Frankenfish, the first animal to be genetically modified.

Why would food producers want to change the DNA of a plant or a salmon?

Let’s take a look at corn. Most of the corn grown in the U.S. is genetically engineered to be resistant to the weed killer Roundup, a Monsanto product.  This enables growers to spray the herbicide without worrying about killing the corn. It only kills the weeds.

There are also several varieties of corn that have been genetically modified to produce Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a soil-dwelling bacterium used as a biological pesticide.

So the corn itself contains a pesticide to kill bugs that can’t be removed by washing, or any other means. If you eat this corn, you are consuming these bacteria. Is this good or bad? I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem like something I want to put in my body.

Growers want genetically modified plants to improve yield. If crops aren’t being choked out by weeds or killed by insects or disease, there will be more to sell.

This new GM salmon has been modified to grow year round and faster than farm-raised salmon. They use genes from Pacific Chinook salmon and an eel-like fish called the ocean pout to change the salmon’s DNA.

Frankenfish is salmon that will be available year round and will get to consumers faster, as a result of this genetic modification.

Food producers make the argument that genetic engineering of food is necessary to feed a rapidly growing human population.

So what’s the problem with genetically modified food?

Farmers are finding that more and more Roundup is needed to kill the weeds because, not only is the corn and soy resistant to the weed killer, but the weeds are becoming resistant too. These chemicals are unhealthy.

A number of studies show that humans who consume GE corn have traces of pesticides and weed killer in their bodies. And no one is certain at this point what impact that has on our health.

Studies have been done on rats. In one of the studies, some of the rats were fed GE corn called Monsanto’s Round-up Ready Corn. Some of the rats had corn that also contained herbicide residue from the Round-up sprayed to kill weeds.

Among these rats, there was a greater incidence of mammary tumors, kidney and liver damage, and premature death (whether the corn they consumed had the Roundup residue on it or not) than in the control group.

There’s also been an uptick in allergies, GI problems, cancer and neurodegenerative conditions in dogs since the 1990s, according to Boulder, Colorado veterinarian, Robert Silver. Is it a coincidence that that’s when GE food came on the scene?

The rat study was small and maybe not sizable enough to be statistically significant, but it was significant enough to take notice. And increased incidence of illness since the introduction of GE food proves more research needs to be done.

Here’s something else…

In 1996, the New England Journal of Medicine reported on a study that found that genes inserted into crops can carry with them allergenic properties.

This study and the rat study make it appear that the actual process of genetically modifying the plant may bring with it significant health concerns.

Since the 90s, there’s also been a rise in human skin and food allergies. This too has been attributed to the broad consumption of GM foods.

What other foods are genetically engineered?

Besides corn and soy, there are many other ingredients in our food, particularly in processed foods that are genetically modified. Things like canola oil, carmel color, and corn syrup are often genetically engineered.

If you’re interested in a full list of hidden ingredients to watch out for, go to the Institute for Responsible Technology website, nongmoshoppingguide.com.

Are you wondering what the FDA has to say about genetically engineered food?

Well, they have ruled that GE foods are “substantially equivalent” to conventionally produced foods, and are “generally recognized as safe”. But they’ve done no testing, so how do they know?

The FDA requires no safety testing of GM foods before they are allowed on the market. These foods that we eat are considered safe–until they’re not.

And the FDA requires no labeling of foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

In fact, there is legislation in Congress right now that would make it illegal for states to require food manufacturers to label GE foods. It’s dubbed Deny Americans the Right to Know–or the DARK Act.

A number of states are currently trying to get legislation passed locally to require food companies to label food that contain GMOs. In the meantime, the only way to truly avoid GE food is to eat organic.

But how about our pets? How can we protect them?

If you have a pet that suffers from allergies or another ailment, and your vet told you to avoid corn in their diet, maybe it’s not really all corn that’s a problem. Maybe it’s GE corn that’s hurting their health.

If your pet food isn’t organic and isn’t labeled GMO-free, any corn in the recipe, and possibly other ingredients, will most likely be genetically engineered.

You can try to avoid pet foods that have GMOs by choosing a food with no corn and soy, but it will be more difficult to avoid protein in the recipe from animals that have been fed GE corn. And we don’t know what that GE corn does to the cow whose beef your dog is eating.

And now…you need to add to the list of ingredients to avoid salmon or omega-3 fish oil from salmon. That really cuts down on your pet food options.

Most commercial big box store pet foods contain GE ingredients.

The only way to truly avoid GMOs in your pet’s food is to feed them organic pet food or a pet food that is labeled GMO free. Then your pet will be safe from these potentially harmful ingredients.

All Husse pet foods are GMO free. You can count on that.

How do you feel about GMOs? Do you think there should be a labeling requirement? Share your opinion in the comment section above.

 

 

 

 

 

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Urinary crystals and stones…what are they?

Cats and dogs can develop urinary crystals. These crystals can ultimately turn into stones when the crystals fuse together. They develop in the urinary tract and are caused by the minerals in the urine clumping together.

The 2 most common forms of crystals in cats and dogs are struvite and calcium oxalate. The struvite crystals form in alkaline urine, but the calcium oxalate crystals prefer acidic urine.

If your pet is diagnosed with urinary crystals, your vet will determine which type they are in order to prescribe the right treatment.

Are cats or dogs more likely to get crystals?

Cats are particularly prone to urinary tract problems and urinary crystals. Here’s why.

Cats are extremely thirst tolerant. There evolutionary adaptations allow them to conserve water in their bodies by concentrating their urine. This is a very handy adaptation for a carnivore that evolved in the desert and might not know when their next drink might be coming.

Because of the cat’s living environment in the wild, they get most of their water from their prey because other water sources are not readily available. As pets, they get most of their water from the diet you feed them.

They’re less likely to look for water when they need it because of their inherent thirst tolerance. This causes their urine to be highly concentrated, and that’s why they’re so susceptible to crystals and stones.

The more concentrated their urine, the more likely the minerals in their urine will clump.

What brings this on and what can you do about it?

There are a number of things that can exacerbate the problem in cats and dogs. Crystals can form when your pet’s pH is off; when they’re on high doses of steroids; if they have abnormal retention of urine; or if they have an infection or some other urinary tract disorder.

Some pets just have a genetic predisposition to crystals because they produce a protein called cauxin. This protein is excreted into the urine, creating crystals, with no infection or any other issue that would cause them.

The best thing you can do for your pet with a history of crystals in their urinary tract is to be sure they get a lot of water. The more diluted their urine is, the less likely the minerals will clump together.

Of course you can’t make a pet drink more water, but there are ways to get your dog or cat to unknowingly consume more water.

First, stay away from dry food, which may only be about 10% water. But if you must feed dry food, add water to the bowl.

Also, some foods are formulated for pets with a predisposition to crystals and add salt to the recipe to make them thirsty. This will make them drink more.

But before giving your pet a special diet, talk to your vet. Increased salt in the diet can be bad if your pet has other health problems.

How do you know if your pet has urinary crystals or stones?

Some times, there are no signs that your pet has a problem. But many times there will be signs. You’ll know there’s something wrong if your pet:

Urinates frequently

Strains to urinate

Has an abnormal urine stream

Urinates in inappropriate places

Has blood in their urine

Has cloudy urine

Has increased thirst

BUT if you notice your dog or cat CAN’T urinate, this is very dangerous and constitutes a medical emergency! Get them to the vet immediately.

What could be happening is that stones or crystals are blocking the urethra, the tube leading from the bladder to the outside. This is a particular problem in males because their urethra is very narrow. Sometimes the crystals combine with mucus, creating a plug that stops up this narrow tube.

Although crystals and stones are more common in females, they can be much more serious in males.

How are crystals and stones treated?

Crystals and some stones can be dissolved with dietary changes and medical management. But some stones don’t dissolve on their own and need to be removed surgically, as do any stones in the urethra or ureter. The ureter is the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder.

Some times all it takes is a laser procedure to break up the stones so they are small enough to void out.

Your vet will first suggest a prescription diet if they think that will resolve the condition. But this diet won’t be long-term. These special diets aren’t nutritionally balanced for the long haul.

If any infection is present, they’ll prescribe an antibiotic too.

Whatever the treatment plan, you must continue it until the crystals or stones are gone. Then your vet will suggest a prevention plan. This may include some changes to your pet’s diet, like switching to wet from dry food.

You may also have to monitor your pet’s urine pH. This is actually easier than it sounds. You can purchase pH strips at the drug store or from your vet, and they can show you when and how to test your pet’s urine.

But the most important thing you’ll have to do to prevent crystals and stones in the future is to be certain your pet consumes a sufficient amount of water.   This seems from the research out there to be the most effective prevention strategy, even more so than changes in diet.

Has your dog or cat suffered from urinary crystals or stones? How have you prevented a reoccurrence? Tell us in the comment section above.

 

 

 

7 signs your dog may have diabetes

Very much like in humans, diabetes is manageable in dogs. If your dog is diagnosed with diabetes, it will take some work to care for them, but your dog can live a normal life span and have a good quality of life.

You can avoid the serious life-threatening complications associated with diabetes with some careful management.

Diabetes affects the body’s ability to produce or use insulin, which is a hormone made in the pancreas. Your dog’s body needs insulin to convert the sugar in food to energy, energy that is used by the muscles and organs.

If your dog is not producing insulin or using it the right way, excessive amounts of glucose (sugar) accumulate in their blood and urine.

Your dog can have primarily one of two different types of diabetes:

Type I is an insulin shortage. It’s the more severe form of diabetes and requires daily insulin injections.

Type II is when the body doesn’t use insulin properly.

No matter which type your dog has, diabetes prevents the body from converting glucose into energy. This causes too much glucose to accumulate in the blood. You may have heard this called hyperglycemia.

If you’re going to be successful in managing the disease you have to catch it early on. Be sure your dog is diagnosed as soon as you sense a problem.

Here are 7 signs your dog could be suffering from diabetes.

  1. Has your dog suddenly lost their vision?

It’s very common for dogs with diabetes to develop cataracts. They can develop very quickly…sometimes overnight! Cataracts make your dog’s eyes look cloudy and cause vision loss.

2. Does your dog urinate often and/or in copious amounts?

Urinating is the body’s way of getting rid of the excess glucose in the blood stream. When glucose levels get too high, the kidneys leak the excess glucose into the urine. This excess glucose needs excess water to flush it out. So the body uses whatever fluids it can find to do this. This results in large volumes of urine.

3. Is your dog drinking a lot of water?

Your dog will be thirsty because the body will be depleting its fluids as a result of #2. Watch for dehydration.

4. Is your dog unusually hungry?

In a healthy dog, glucose would be used as energy by the muscles and organs. But diabetes doesn’t allow the body to convert the food your dog eats into energy. This lack of energy increases hunger.

5. Is your dog losing weight even though they’re eating normally?

Diabetic animals lose weight because their body uses stores of fat and protein (muscle) to make the fuel – energy – they’re not getting from glucose.

Even if your dog is eating more than usual, the body isn’t using the food efficiently so they may continue to lose weight.

6. Has your dog stopped eating?

A complete loss of appetite is a sign of more advanced disease and would start to occur if the kidneys and/or liver were not functioning properly.

7. Is your dog lethargic, weak and vomiting?

This could be a sign that your diabetic dog has ketoacidosis, harmful levels of ketones in the blood. Ketones are the result of the body using fat instead of glucose for energy. They are a poisonous byproduct of this process that accumulates in the blood and urine. Ketoacidosis can happen after a prolonged period of high blood sugar and insulin deficiency.

If this list of symptoms has you concerned, call your vet immediately.

Blood work and a urinalysis will be sufficient to diagnose and initially treat your dog if they are diabetic. Your vet may suggest more tests if your dog is starting to show signs of complications from the disease.

It’s scary to find out your beloved pet has an incurable illness, but diabetes is treatable.

Your vet will prescribe a treatment plan that includes regular daily exercise; achieving and maintaining a healthy weight; managing insulin demands; and getting food and water cravings under control.

If your dog is overweight, your vet will want them to slowly get to a healthy weight. Obesity makes managing the disease very difficult.

If they’ve lost weight, your vet will advise how to best increase the dog’s weight slowly.

Usually, a dog with diabetes needs daily insulin injections to keep glucose levels under control. Although this seems daunting, it’s very doable.

The insulin is injected just under the skin. Right now your thinking, “Oh, how am I ever going to do that to my baby?”

Once you’ve done it a few times, it will become second nature. And it’ll just be a part of your daily doggy routine, like feeding them or brushing their teeth.

You’ll also need to monitor their glucose levels, and this can be a lot to keep track of, so keeping a journal is a good idea. You’ll log their blood glucose levels daily; and changes in appetite, weight, appearance, water intake, urination, as well as any treatment changes your vet suggests.

Your vet will tell you what changes to look out for.

When your dog is diabetic, it’s very important that they eat the same food, same amount of food, and at the same time each day.

Exercise routines must be consistent as well…same amount of exercise at the same time of the day. More or less exercise can affect blood glucose levels, as can other changes in the exercise routine.

If your dog eats canned food, your vet will probably want them to switch to a dry food. Soft moist foods cause glucose to accumulate in the body too quickly. But you’ll want to change food slowly…no sudden changes in diet.

Your vet will probably recommend a diet that consists of good quality protein with complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber, which helps slow absorption of glucose in the body.

A food like Husse’s Optimal Light is formulated to meet the needs of a diabetic dog, or any dog that is less active or overweight.

Your diabetic dog can live a very full life with minimal complications if you are diligent about controlling their blood glucose levels. This will take a commitment on your part. But as we all know, being a great dog owner means being truly committed to the love and care of our cherished companions.

Does your dog have diabetes? How have you managed their care? Share your experience in the comment section above.

Finicky eater or savvy survivor?

I’m so intrigued by the animal world, so I’m always curious about stereotypes like cats are finicky eaters. I like getting to the bottom of why things are the way they are in nature.

Nature is so truly amazing. Animals have adapted in unusual ways that allow them to survive in the wild. If we can understand these adaptations, we can understand our pets better.

In light of the fact that we know animals in the wild develop adaptations to help them thrive in their environment, we have to assume that there’s more to the “finicky” eater thing than our furry felines just being picky.

In truth, there’s a lot more to it.

A cat won’t eat if they can’t smell

First and foremost, a cat’s sense of smell plays a critical role in their appetite.  According to Cathealth.com, cats have only 470 taste buds on their tongues compared to humans who have about 9000. As a result, cats have to rely on their sense of smell more than their sense of taste to stimulate hunger.

Hmmm…has your cat ever stopped eating when they’ve had a respiratory infection or some type of nasal blockage? They weren’t just being finicky. They really need their sense of smell to eat.

Lucky for our cats, they have an incredible sense of smell. It’s not quite that of a dog, but it is better than the human. Dogs have 300 million smell receptors in their noses; cats have 80 million, and humans only 5 million.

Like in humans, smell will attract a cat to its food. Have you ever walked passed the smell of garlic wafting from an Italian restaurant and suddenly you’re hungry? It’s no different for a cat. In the wild, cats rely on their sense of smell to find prey and also a mate.

The Jacobson organ and Flehmen response

Cats have a little help in the smell department because they have something other than their nose to help them do it. They are one of the many animals that have a special organ on the roof of their mouth called the Jacobson’s organ. This organ gives them another sense. It isn’t smell and it isn’t taste. It’s something that humans don’t have.

It acts like an auxiliary organ to the nose that helps a cat sense smells. This vomeronasal organ is located in the roof of the mouth, close to the vomer and nasal bones. It’s made up of 2 fluid filled sacs that connect to the nasal cavity through very fine ducts.

If you’ve ever noticed your cat pulling back its upper lip, holding its mouth open with its head up, almost seeming to have stopped breathing, they are using their Jacobson organ. This funny thing cats do, and other animals too, is called the Flehmen response. It is designed to draw scent molecules over the highly sensitive Jacobson organ.

Cats will use the Flehmen response to help them find a mate. It enables them to smell sexual odors–pheromones. But they use it to smell food too.

Smart not finicky

Your cat’s terrific sense of smell makes them a little fussy about what they eat because they can easily detect if something is spoiled, if their dish isn’t clean, or if anything is different about their food.

So keep these things in mind if suddenly your cat isn’t eating their regular food. They’re not really being finicky. They’re being smart.

Okay…now we know that smell is very important to your cat’s desire to eat. So if they’re acting finicky about their meal, maybe it has something to do with what they are smelling in their food…or not smelling.

No cold food for kitty

Have you ever tried giving your cat food from the fridge and wondered why they wouldn’t eat it? Cold food doesn’t give off as strong an aroma as warm or room temperature food.

Because cats rely on their sense of smell to feel hungry, it’s a good idea not to refrigerate their food. Warm the food a little to release the scent.

Also, cats are not scavengers. In the wild, they don’t eat the leftover animal remains that have been lying around for days. They want to be sure that their prey is fresh.

The temperature of their prey tells the cat if it’s safe to eat. The flesh of a freshly killed animal is still warm. Cold flesh, not fresh.

Cats can only taste what they need

Cats also have a unique sense of taste. It is the weakest of all their senses since they have so few taste buds. But that’s okay because they can sense what they need.

They are obligate carnivores. Cats must eat meat. It is biologically necessary. As a result, their taste buds strongly sense and prefer fats and proteins.

They can also taste bitter, sour, and salty. Bitter and sour is important because they serve as a warning that something is poisonous or harmful.

Even though cats can detect salt, they don’t seek out salty food since they get the salt they need from the meat in their diets.

You’ll be interested to know that cats are the only mammals that can’t taste sweet. They have no need to taste sweet since they don’t need to consume sugar, or carbohydrates that convert to sugar.

If you’re reading this and thinking “my cat loves ice cream,” it’s probably the fat they taste and love, not the sugar.

Cats also have consistency preferences. They prefer soft food to kibble. If they have to eat kibble, cats prefer large pieces to crumbs. A wild diet of animal flesh would be more like soft food than kibble. This isn’t finicky. It’s just natural.

Now that you’ve read this post, I hope you’re thinking maybe your cat isn’t really finicky. Maybe their highly refined senses just make them more cautious about changes in their diet.

And what you now know about your cat’s sense of smell and taste just confirms what you already knew about your fabulous feline…they’re smart!

Is your cat a “finicky” eater? Tell us what you’ve done to accommodate your cat’s discriminating taste in the comment section above.