Do you know the root cause of your dog’s ear infections?

If you have a dog that’s prone to ear infections, you know they’re no fun.

When I first rescued my Lab, Honey, it seemed just as I’d resolved one infection the next one was brewing. That’s when I realized I was only treating the problem—I wasn’t getting to the root of it.

I dreaded chasing her through the house to clean and treat those ears. Let’s just say, she wasn’t the easiest dog.

Some dogs are more prone to ear infections, particularly floppy-eared dogs. And Labs are one of those dogs. Breeds with ears that stand up are less likely to get them.

Plus Honey loves to swim. So I assumed her problem was that I wasn’t doing a good job drying her ears when she got out of the pool. And that may have been part of it.

But interestingly, her food made the difference. When we got her, she was eating a cheap box store food. We transitioned her to a super premium food, and it made all the difference once she was on it for a little while.

Causes of ear infections

The bacteria and/or yeast that cause infection make their home in dark, moist, alkaline places such as the ear. These organisms may bring about an infection but it’s often secondary to something else going on in your fur baby’s ear.

Many things can change the environment in the ear, turning it into a great place for bacteria and/or yeast to take hold.

So what are those things?

Allergies – You can read my post, 5 signs your dog may have a food allergy, to find out how a food allergy can bring about an ear infection. It’s often the first sign that your dog is allergic to its food.

Parasites – Ear mites are more common in cats than dogs. But dogs that get them are often super sensitive to them. Extreme scratching can cause trauma to the ear that results in an infection.

Foreign bodies – Any kind of dirt or debris, i.e. a leaf, a piece of grass, etc., can cause an irritation that leads to infection. A dog’s ear canal is “L” shaped. A foreign object can settle in the bottom where the canal turns and cause a problem.

Trauma – An injury can irritate the ear which leads to incessant scratching, and ultimately an infection.

Hormone imbalance – Hormones affect the skin and ears. An imbalance can cause skin and ear trouble. Irritated ears will make your dog scratch and that can lead to infection.

Excess moisture – Yeast loves moisture. If your dog is a swimmer like mine is, be sure to dry their ears every time they swim. And the same for bath time. If those ears are damp, you’re giving infection an opportunity to take hold. Some breeds with heavy floppy ears like spaniels have moist ears making them more susceptible to infection.

Ear anatomy – Sometimes a dog’s ears are just ripe for infection because of their structure. Creases, excessive hair, and other areas for dirt, bacteria and yeast to build up may make your dog more prone.

Heredity – There are hereditary diseases like dermatomyositis in Collies and primary seborrhea in Shar Peis that can affect the ears and lead to infection.

Tumors – A tumor or polyp in your dog’s ear can lead to scratching and ultimately an infection.

To rid your dog of ear infections, and not just treat them, you must get to the cause and fix it. If your dog has a tumor in their ear, antibiotics won’t fix it.

Take the signs of an infection seriously. If you notice a strong odor, discharge from the ear, head shaking or tilting, pawing at the ear, or even wobbliness see the vet.

Treatment for ear infections

How your vet treats the infection will depend on the cause. Your vet should do a thorough exam to see if there’s anything in the ear that’s causing the problem. And then treat the problem In addition to the infection.

If the vet thinks it’s just bacterial, they’ll prescribe an antibiotic—or an antifungal for yeast. If there’s a lot of inflammation, you’ll probably get a steroid too.

For an environmental allergy, the treatment may include antihistamines, steroids and regular cleaning with an ear wash.

The point I want to stress is that all these treatments are great if they fix the problem. But if the infection recurs, talk to your vet about digging deeper to find a permanent solution.

The most common cause of ear infections is food allergies. If your vet doesn’t bring this up and you are fighting one infection after the other, it may be time to consider changing your dog’s food.

My post, 5 signs your dog may have a food allergy, can help you through the food allergy dilemma.

I know a food change made all the difference for my Honey.

Husse’s Lamm & Ris (Lamb & Rice) or Lax & Ris (Salmon & Rice) are ideal for dogs with food allergies. Rice is highly digestible and gluten-free. Gluten can be a problem for a dog with food allergies. All Husse foods are balanced to provide your dog with the nutrition they need.

Preventing ear infections

If your dog’s infection is truly just an infection brought on by bacteria or yeast, then the antibiotic or antifungal should do the trick. But be sure to keep the ears dry and clean.

Clean your dog’s ears regularly with an ear wash. If you prefer something more holistic, brewed green tea at room temperature is commonly used as a natural ear cleaner.

Ask your vet to show you how to clean your dog’s ears safely. And ask how often to clean them. You can cause more harm than good with over-cleaning.

My advice is to listen to your inner voice. If it’s telling you there’s something more than an infection going on because your dog is battling one after the next, you need to look into other possible causes for your dog’s trouble. Don’t be afraid to push your vet to explore the possible causes I’ve mentioned.

We all want the same thing for our pets… a happy, healthy and quality life with no pain or discomfort. Getting rid of those ear infections once and for all is essential to achieving that.

Does your dog suffer from frequent ear infections? What was the underlying cause? Share in the comment section at the top of the page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 signs your cat is suffering from feline tooth resorption

If you have a cat, you know they can suffer from dental problems. But were you aware that close to 75% of cats over 5 years old suffer from a painful problem called tooth resorption?

It’s the most common cause of tooth loss in cats.

Purebred cats over the age of 4 are most susceptible, particularly Siamese and Abyssinians.

To understand what resorption is, you need to understand the structure of the feline tooth.  Their teeth are like human teeth. Here’s an illustration.

tooth_diagramPhoto credit: peteducation.com

Within the tooth, there’s a chamber called the pulp chamber or root canal. That chamber is filled with blood vessels, lymphatic vessels and nerves.

This tissue is surrounded by a bony substance called dentin.  Dentin creates most of the structure of the tooth. Enamel overlays the dentin.

Resorption starts when a lesion forms on the enamel. This lesion is not a cavity. But in time, it will spread to the dentin and then on to the pulp chamber.

Sometimes you can see the lesion on the tooth, but sometimes it lies below the gumline or is hidden by plaque.

Photo credit: mypetsdentist.com

If you can’t see the lesion then how do you detect a problem?

Here are 10 signs to look out for to keep your kitty from suffering too long with this nasty condition.

1) More tartar in some areas than others (your cat’s in too much pain to chew there)

2) Head tilting when eating (trying to chew on one side)

3) Food may fall out of mouth while chewing

4) Inflammation of the gums

5) General inflammation of the mouth

6) Gum tissue growing onto the tooth

7) Bleeding (blood around food and/or water bowl)

8) Difficulty eating and/or a change in food preference from kibble to soft

9) Increased salivation

10) Missing or fractured teeth

Often, owners don’t realize how much pain their cat was in from this condition until after it’s treated. All of a sudden they have a happier more playful kitty.

Good dental hygiene, which includes brushing your cat’s teeth daily and annual dental exams, will help you spot a problem. But it’s not likely to prevent it because no one knows for sure what causes tooth resorption.

As with most other health conditions, early detection can help avoid serious suffering.

Resorption progresses through 5 stages. The goal is to catch it before it’s gotten beyond the first stage.

Stage I – Loss of enamel only

Stage II – Lesion extends into the dentin

Stage III – Lesion extends into the pulp canal, but tooth is intact

Stage IV – Lesion extends into the pulp canal, but tooth has extensive damage

Stage V – Crown of tooth is missing but roots are still there

Depending on the stage, your cat’s tooth may need to be extracted. Unfortunately, that’s the only treatment.

If your vet recommends removal, it’s tricky. The tooth is fragile and will often break.  The vet will take an X-ray during the procedure to help find any fractured root pieces. The whole tooth must be removed to avoid infection.

Because resorption is one problem that can’t be prevented, the best course of action is vigilance. Check your kitty’s teeth every day while brushing and talk to your vet if you see signs that your cat’s mouth is hurting them.

Once your cat develops this problem, your vet is likely to suggest a dental exam every 6 months.

Has your cat suffered from tooth resorption? How did you detect the problem? Share your experience in the comment section at the top of the page.

Meat, poultry, byproduct, meal… 9 common ingredients in your pet’s food explained

In my last few posts, I’ve talked about food… Decoding the Dog Food Label and Digestibility and Dog Food.

But what’s really in those ingredients on the label? The terms are either vague or incomprehensible.

Well, this week I will give you the Association of American Feed Control Officials’ (AAFCO) guidelines for what’s allowed to be included in each of the ingredients on your pet’s food label.

I have to warn you that the permissible ingredients will horrify you. It’s another argument for feeding your pet the highest quality food you can afford.

Premium pet foods have ingredients you can understand.

Here’s how AAFCO defines 9 of the most common ingredients found in your pet’s food.

Meat is the clean flesh derived from slaughtered mammals and is limited to that part of the striate muscle which is skeletal or that part which is found in the tongue, in the diaphragm, in the heart or in the esophagus; with or without the accompanying and overlying fat and portions of the skin, sinew, nerve, and blood vessels which normally accompany the flesh. It shall be suitable for animal food. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”

Just like the meat we eat, the term meat on the label means mostly muscle tissue. It can also include fat and gristle just like when you buy meat for yourself.

But meat in pet food can also include some very unappealing things like heart muscle or the muscle that separates the heart and lungs from the other organs.

It doesn’t include bone. And because the muscle is mechanically separated from the bone, it has the consistency of paste.

The manufacturer can also name the species the meat comes from in the ingredient list like beef or pork. But if they use the term meat, it must come from cattle, pigs, sheep or goats. Any other mammal must be identified by name.

Poultry and fish wouldn’t fall in this category either. They have to be identified separately on the label.

Meat By-Products are the non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially de-fatted low temperature fatty tissue, and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth and hoofs. It shall be suitable for use in animal feed. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”

Rendering is the process of extracting proteins and minerals from the animal carcass using heat and pressure to remove water and fat. By-products are not rendered.

These parts have to come from cattle, pigs, sheep and goats just like meat.

By-products are scary. You want to avoid them in your pet’s food because they’re a very poor quality source of protein. They’re almost everything except the muscle tissue… including organs and bones.

Some of those organs may be organs we would eat, but many are not fit for human consumption. Like udders for instance. The USDA considers these parts to be safe for animals though. But does that mean you want to feed it to your beloved pet?

And remember too that lower quality ingredients may mean lower digestibility. So your pet’s body isn’t able to use the nutrients in those ingredients.

Poultry is the clean combination of flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the parts or whole carcasses of poultry or a combination thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails. It shall be suitable for use in animal food. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto. If the bone has been removed, the process may be so designated by use of the appropriate feed term.”

It’s basically the parts of the bird you’d find at the grocery store if you bought a chicken or turkey. Often it’s the parts that most people don’t want like backs and necks.

Poultry can also include bone, unlike meat which cannot include bone. If the processor removed the bone, it would say “deboned poultry”.

Pet food makers will often be more specific and list the poultry ingredient as chicken or turkey.

Poultry By-Products must consist of non-rendered clean parts of carcasses of slaughtered poultry such as heads, feet, viscera, free from fecal content and foreign matter except in such trace amounts as might occur unavoidably in good factory practice. If the product bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”

Similar to meat by-products, you don’t want your pet’s protein source to come from poultry by-products.

The next 5 ingredients are rendered ingredients.  Rendered ingredients are cooked to destroy harmful bacteria. They’re made up of the extracted proteins and minerals from animals and are called meals because they’re ground to a uniform sized particle.

Meat Meal is the rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of any added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. It shall not contain extraneous materials not provided for by this definition… {the definition goes on to include the required mineral specifications and required nutrient guarantees}… If the product bears a name descriptive of its kind, composition or origin it must correspond thereto.”

If the manufacturer doesn’t specify what mammal the meal came from, like beef meal for instance, it can come from any mammal. The maker is not required to specify the mammal. And it doesn’t have to come from cattle, pigs, sheep, or goats.

Meat and Bone Meal is the rendered product from mammal tissues, including bone, exclusive of any added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. It shall not contain extraneous materials not provided for by this definition… {the definition goes on to include the required mineral specifications and required nutrient guarantees}… If the product bears a name descriptive of its kind, composition or origin it must correspond thereto.”

This is similar to meat meal but it includes added bone, not just the amount of bone normally found on the whole carcass of the animal.

Animal By-Product Meal is the rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of any added hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. It shall not contain extraneous materials not provided for by this definition. This ingredient definition is intended to cover those individual rendered animal tissues that cannot meet the criteria as set forth elsewhere in this section. This ingredient is not intended to be used to label a mixture of animal tissue products.”

Who the heck knows what this means. Seems like anything and everything that can’t be specifically identified. Yuck!

AAFCO says it can be the whole carcass, but it includes more by-products than you’d find in meat meal or meat and bone meal. Hmmm…

Poultry By-Product Meal consists of the ground, rendered clean parts of the carcasses of slaughtered poultry such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers except in such amounts as might occur unavoidably in good processing practices… {the definition goes on to include the required mineral specifications and required nutrient guarantees}… If the product bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”

This is the same as “poultry by-products,” but it’s rendered. Most of the water and fat has been removed to make a concentrated protein/mineral ingredient.

Poultry Meal is the dry rendered product from a combination of clean flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the parts or whole carcasses of poultry or a combination thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails. It shall be suitable for use in animal food. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”

Again, poultry meal is like “poultry” but in rendered form to make a concentrated protein/mineral ingredient.

Beyond these 9 ingredients, there are lots of other things found in pet food. For instance,

animal and vegetable fats and oils for energy and added flavor;

plant ingredients such as corn, barley and peas for energy and to bind the kibble;

dried beet pulp, dried chicory root and powdered cellulose for fiber;

vitamins and minerals like cobalt, copper, iodine and selenium to name a few;

DL-Methionine, L-Lysine, and L-Threonine are amino acids;

and you’ll find preservatives, conditioning agents, thickeners and emulsifiers

If you’re interested in the details of these other ingredients, the AAFCO website is a great resource.

Next time you’re in the pet store, take a look at pet food labels and compare them to a Husse label. Now that you understand the specifics behind the vague ingredient names, you’ll see that Husse ingredients are exactly what you think they are.

Husse premium pet food is made with only the highest quality non-GMO human grade ingredients.

Are you surprised what’s allowed in pet food? Share in the comment section at the top of the page.

 

 

Decoding the dog food label

After reading about digestibility last week, you’re probably realizing that not all dog food is created equal. And the ambiguity of the labels on the bags and cans doesn’t make it easy to decipher the differences.

But digestibility isn’t the only factor to consider when choosing a high quality food for your best friend. The food label provides lots of information about the quality of the food inside. But you need to know how to decode it.

This week I will help you understand that label. From Guaranteed Analysis to Ingredients, from the AAFCO pledge to Dry Matter Basis, understanding these terms will make you an educated dog food consumer.

And a better pet parent.

Reading and understanding the food label is really the only way to know what you’re feeding your dog. Here’s what to look for.

Dry Matter Basis

Dog food, whether canned or kibble, has water in it. Dry food less so than wet, obviously. Canned food can be up to 80% water and dry food can be as low as 6% water. This is a huge disparity so keep that in mind if you are ever comparing a dry food to a wet food.

To figure out just how much protein, fat and fiber your dog is getting, you need to calculate the percentages of these nutrients on a dry matter basis. Basically, take the water out of the food when doing your analysis.

When calculating dry matter basis, start with the percentages of protein and fat. You’ll find this info on the Guaranteed Analysis part of the label.

We’ll use Husse Optimal as an example. Optimal has a 12% moisture content and 23% crude protein. The protein number is on an “as fed” basis meaning as it’s fed from the bag with the water content. We need to convert to a dry matter basis to see how much protein your dog is really getting.

If the dry food is 12% moisture, then 88% is dry matter. If that dry food has 23% crude protein, we divide 23% by 88% to find out how much protein it has on a dry matter basis. It’s 26% protein on a dry matter basis.

Let’s analyze an actual canned food that shall remain nameless. This food is 79% moisture—so it’s 21% dry matter—and has 8% crude protein. We divide 8% protein by 21% dry matter and we get the protein on a dry matter basis—38%.

If we were comparing these two foods and hadn’t converted to a dry matter basis, we would have assumed that the canned food had much less protein than the kibble. When in fact, canned food is typically higher in protein and lower in fiber than dry food.

Guaranteed Analysis

This section of the label is equivalent to the Nutrition Facts on people food. It tells us the nutrient content of the food.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) requires pet food manufacturers to disclose the minimum amount of protein and fat, and the maximum amount of fiber and moisture in the food.

Any other nutrient guarantees in the Guaranteed Analysis are voluntary unless the manufacturer makes a claim on the label like “high in vitamin E” or “high in calcium”. Then they must support their claims by including those nutrients in the Guaranteed Analysis.

Husse Optimal’s Guaranteed Analysis includes calcium, phosphorus, zinc, selenium and omega 3 and 6, in addition to protein, fat, fiber and moisture.

The percentages in the Guaranteed Analysis are minimums and maximums but not exact amounts. AAFCO expects that there will be batch-to-batch variations.

But manufacturers must be careful to account for those fluctuations by being conservative in their estimates. If state authorities test the food, they expect those percentages to be accurate or there will be penalties.

Protein and fat are listed as crude sources, not as digestible sources. This is where digestibility percentages come in. The body will only use some of those nutrients. The digestibility of the food will affect how much the body absorbs and uses.

Ingredient List

Just like people food, dog food must be labeled with a list of the ingredients in the food in order of weight.

High quality foods will have a protein source as their first ingredient, not corn, wheat or rice. That protein source might be chicken, beef, salmon, or a chicken, beef or salmon meal. Whatever it is… be sure it’s protein.

Be careful here! This is where manufacturers can be deceitful.

If the maker breaks the ingredients down into smaller components, each one will weigh less and can be added towards the end of the list. But when grouped together, these ingredients could weigh more than the protein source.

For instance, ground corn, corn gluten and corn bran can be listed separately. If they were listed together on the ingredient list as corn, which is what they are, they would be higher on the list… possibly before the protein source.

If a manufacturer uses a protein meal, it may be further down the ingredient list if it’s considered in its dehydrated form (without moisture).

For this reason, you must read through the whole list—right to the end— to understand what’s in the food. Also, if they’ve used preservatives and artificial colorings, they’ll be listed at the end.

Nutritional Adequacy Statement

AAFCO establishes standards for the production, labeling and sale of animal foods. There are two different adequacy statements that can be used on the label.

The first one which is on the Husse Optimal label, says “Optimal is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for Maintenance.”

On a puppy food label, the statement might read “This food is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for Growth.”

This means the food maker tested the food in the lab and it had the recommended levels of protein, fat, etc. But… it doesn’t say what those proteins and fats are. And they could be anything.

I’ve read that manufacturers have submitted mock products to AAFCO for guaranteed analysis testing that consisted of shoe leather, motor oil and coal. They met the 10% protein, 6.5% fat, and 2.4% fiber on the guaranteed analysis but certainly weren’t nutritious… or safe.

The other permissible statement reads, “Animal-feeding tests using AAFCO’s procedures substantiate that this product provides complete and balanced nutrition for…”

To carry this label, the manufacturer must have tested the food on animals and the food provided proper nutrition. That would avoid the shoe leather and motor oil concerns, but this statement has its own problems.

With this label, a manufacturer allowed to use it on one food—a food that’s been tested on animals—can use it on any of their foods with equal or greater nutritional value, even if that food was never tested on dogs.

Neither certification gives any guarantees of nutritional quality. But at least the food has met some standards.

Feeding Instructions

The last part of the label to pay attention to is the section that tells you how much to feed your dog. These recommendations are only a starting point. Every dog is different.

Read my article How do I know how much to feed my dog? If you aren’t sure what’s right for your dog.

Or, if you’d prefer to just use the guidelines on the label, start with the middle of the suggested range and see if your dog is gaining or losing weight. Or, if they’re hungry all the time.

If in doubt, always talk with your vet. They’ll tell you how much to feed your dog… and they can help you pick a high quality food too.

Deciphering pet food labels, that are often misleading, can seem daunting. But a little knowledge can go a long way in choosing the food that will keep your dog happy and healthy.

What confuses you most about dog food labels? You’re probably not alone. Share in the comment section at the top.