8 Myths About Spaying and Neutering Your Pet

Pet owners who think they have a legitimate reason for not spaying or neutering their pet will vehemently debate this topic.  But it’s an important part of every pet’s health care.

Spaying is the surgical removal of the ovaries and uterus in a female.  Neutering is removal of the testicles in a male.

And neutering is also the general term used for the procedures in both males and females.

There is no legitimate reason to not neuter your pet.  Unless you are a responsible professional breeder of purebred dogs or cats breeding to maintain the characteristics of the breed, you should spay or neuter your pet.

Both procedures have lifelong health and behavioral benefits.

Spaying helps prevent uterine infections, and cancer of the breast, ovaries and uterus.  These are all usually fatal in dogs and cats.

In fact, when I was a child one of my dogs died suddenly from a uterine infection.  For some reason unknown to me, my parents didn’t spay her.  I would never repeat that mistake with my own dogs.  It was devastating!

In males, neutering prevents testicular cancer.  And those intact males will roam.  They’ll do anything to find a female.  That includes digging under fences and finding escape routes out of your home.  An animal on the loose can be hit by a car or injured in a fight with another male.

People who choose not to neuter their pet have some misconception about what it means to do so.

If one of these 9 myths is stopping you from spaying or neutering your pet, please rethink your position.

Myth 1:  My pet is a purebred and they’re too beautiful not to breed.

1 out of every 4 pets brought to shelters are purebred.  You are adding to the problem of overpopulated shelters if you breed your pet.  Even if you can find homes for the babies in your litter that means fewer homes for the purebreds in the shelter.

Myth 2: My pet will get fat and lazy.

The only reason pets get fat and lazy is because their owners feed them too much and don’t give them enough exercise.

Myth 3: My pet has such a great personality; I must breed them to get a whole litter of puppies or kittens just like my pet.

There’s no guarantee of that.  The best breeders in the world can’t guarantee the personalities of the puppies or kittens in a litter.

Myth 4:  Spaying/neutering is expensive.

This is not true.  Many states and counties have low-cost spay/neuter programs.  Here’s a link to the low-cost spay/neuter finder at the Humane Society of the United States.

The cost of not fixing your pet is likely to be substantially higher.  A litter requires expensive veterinary care and vaccines.

When your intact male gets out of your house and sustains injuries in a fight or run in with a car, the vet bills will be a lot more expensive than the cost of neutering him.

And another added expense is licensing.  Counties charge higher fees to license an intact dog than a dog that’s spayed/neutered.

Myth 5: I want my children to experience the miracle of birth.

This is not a good reason to add to the pet overpopulation problem.  YouTube is a video treasure trove of dogs and cats giving birth.  If you want your kids to experience birth, have at it.

Myth 6: I don’t want my dog to lose his protective personality.

If your dog has a protective personality, he has that trait because of genetics and environment not sex hormones.  He will be just as protective after he’s neutered.

Myth 7:  I don’t want my male dog or cat to feel less male.

This is your worry… not his.  Pets don’t “feel” male.  He will have no emotional reaction to being neutered and it will not change his personality.

Myth 8:  I’ll find good homes for all the puppies or kittens my pet has.

No, it’s likely you won’t.  Even if you do find them homes, you can’t be sure they’re all good homes.  And you have no control over what happens to those animals once they leave your care.  For all you know, they may end up in a shelter.  Or their puppies or kittens might.

There are many more benefits than drawbacks to neutering your pet.  Besides their health and reducing the pet overpopulation problem, your pet will behave better.

Dogs will bark less, mount less and be less dominant.  You can often avoid aggression problems by neutering early.

Cats will mark less, yowl less, and urinate less often if they’re fixed.

But most importantly your beloved pet is likely to live longer.  A 2013 article in USA Today revealed the results of a study that showed neutered male dogs live 18% longer than unneutered males. Spayed females live 23% longer than unspayed females.

And who doesn’t want to give their pet every opportunity to live a longer healthier life?

When you decide to spay or neuter your pet, speak to your vet about the timing.  The common recommendation is between 5 and 9 months. But studies show benefits to waiting until after puberty.

What are your thoughts about neutering your pet?  Share in the comment section at the top of the page.

 

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Fleas and Ticks 101

The summer’s winding down. In some parts of the country, the kids are getting ready to go back to school. If you’ve gotten this far without fleas and ticks feasting on your pets this summer, don’t get too comfortable yet.

The end of summer and early fall is still active for fleas and ticks, and the worst time of year in many parts of the country. If you live in a place that doesn’t get colder than 30 degrees for long periods, you can never get lax about these nasty parasites. Flea and tick season never ends for you.

If you’ve experienced fleas or ticks on your pets, you know it’s no fun. And it can be downright dangerous. These parasites carry disease and discomfort with them.

If you have been fortunate enough to be a pet owner who hasn’t experienced these annoying pests, you may not know the implications of an infestation… or even how to deal with it if it happens to your pet.

Now’s a good time to brush up on your flea and tick knowledge.

How do pets get fleas and ticks?

These little creatures are external parasites. They feast on the blood of your fur baby by biting them.

Fleas come from other animals that enter your pet’s environment. That might mean your yard, but it can also mean the woods where you hike. The park where you hang out with other dogs. Or a kennel where you’ve boarded your pet.

The animal that carries these pests could be a cat or dog. But it can also be a raccoon, rat, or other wild animal.

The female flea lays eggs on the host animal. Those eggs then fall off in your yard or where you’re dog plays. The eggs develop into adults and the fleas jump onto your pet looking for a place to get a good blood meal.

Once the adult fleas have found a home on your pet, they rarely jump to other pets. They’re happy to have a meal and will stay where they are. But the adult females will lay eggs on your pet. And those eggs could fall off in your home, turn into adults, and leap onto your other pets.

Ticks live 18 to 24 inches off the ground in tall grass or low shrubs. When your dog is walking by and brushes against the foliage, they dislodge the ticks that then climb onto your pet.

Can these parasites make your pet sick?

These bugs are not only annoying to your pet, they also carry disease.

The most common reaction to fleas is flea allergy dermatitis. The salivary protein in the fleabite causes an allergic response. Your pet will bite, scratch and even lose their fur.

It only takes a few bites to cause a reaction. And all the scratching can result in a secondary bacterial or fungal infection.

If your pet is infested with fleas, they can become anemic from all the blood loss. An old, ill or very young animal can become weak and even die.

Fleas can also transmit tapeworm to your pet… little rice-like worms found around the rectum, in poop, or on your pet’s bed.

Ticks can transmit more than a dozen very serious diseases like Lyme and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. These can kill your pet.

Tick-borne diseases vary from one area of the country to another. So talk to your vet about which diseases are prevalent where you live.

Are fleas and ticks more common in some parts of the U.S. than others?

Ticks and fleas are worse in some parts of the country. And they’re worse at certain times of the year.

Fleas like warm humid conditions. So they’re not common in dry places like the Southwest. But the Gulf Coast and Southeast U.S. are flea infested.

Fleas are worse during mid to late summer and early fall. Ticks are most prevalent early spring and late fall. But these critters are around any time of year.

Ticks are almost everywhere but are particularly problematic in the Upper Midwest and Northeast where Lyme-carrying ticks are the worst.

How do you know if your pet has fleas or ticks?

There are many species of ticks and fleas. The large ticks are easy to see or feel on your pet. Especially when they are engorged after enjoying a blood meal.

Deer ticks are very tiny… the size of a pinhead. They’re not so easy to find. It’s a good idea to do a careful inspection of your pet if they’ve spent time in an area that’s known to have ticks.

If you live in a tick prone area, do a check once a day.

If your pet has fleas, they’ll scratch incessantly. In cats, you may notice excessive grooming.

Run a flea comb through your pet’s fur. Dump the hair onto a white paper towel. Dampen it with water. Red stains mean fleas. The red is flea dirt—basically poop.  It’s digested blood. Yuck!

How do you get rid of ticks and fleas?

If your pet has ticks and you’ve never removed a tick before, get the help of your vet. You must grasp the tick with a pair of tweezers as close to the mouthparts as you can get. Then apply steady pressure until the tick lets go. You don’t want to pull the tick out and leave the mouth in your pet.

Never use anything to remove a tick that could hurt your pet, like lighter fluid or a match.

Fleas are a nightmare to get rid of. I know this firsthand.

Talk to your vet about treatment. You will likely have to treat several times. Not only must you treat your pet, you need to treat your home, any environment your pet spends time in, and all other pets in your home.

You can have an exterminator fog your house if the infestation is bad.   If it isn’t horrible, you can vacuum the rugs. Throw out old bedding. And launder all other items in hot water.

Can you prevent ticks and fleas?

There are many prevention products on the market. Talk to your vet about the best one for your pet.

Often, one product can prevent both ticks and fleas. They are usually topical treatments. You apply the fluid directly to the skin between the shoulder blades or on the back of the neck.

These products need a prescription from your vet and are generally safe if you follow the directions. But of course, a pet can react to anything applied to their skin.

Over-the-counter flea and tick preventatives are not effective.  Fleas are often resistant to the synthetic pyrethrins in these products. People over apply them because they don’t work. That’s dangerous for your pet, you and the environment.

Remember too, prevention products meant for dogs should never be used on a cat and vice versa.

Talk to your vet about whether you should treat your pet year-round. That will depend on where you live, where you travel with your pet, and what activities your pet partakes in.

There are natural prevention options on the market too. Some work better than others. If you use a natural product, you must also flea-proof your pet’s living environment.

Minimize brush and tall grass in your yard to prevent fleas and ticks from taking up residence. Remove leaf litter.

These bugs don’t like sunlight so don’t give them shady hangouts. Ticks will also hide under shrubs or porches. Try to prevent your pets from laying in those areas.

Keep your pets out of tick habitats like heavily wooded areas and tall grass.

If you live in an area with a lot of ticks, you may need to treat your property with a pesticide.

Fleas and ticks can cause serious illness and make your pet miserable. It’s important to check your pet regularly. And use the prevention methods I’ve mentioned to stay ahead of a serious assault.

Have you ever had a flea infestation? Have you had to remove a tick from your pet? Tell us about it in the comment section above.

8 Things You Never Knew About Your Dog’s Paws

When you are a dog lover, it’s easy to find the cuteness in everything about them.  From their head to their toes, they’re adorable. But have you given much thought to your pooch’s toes?  Or their entire paw for that matter?

Your dog’s paws are more than a mode of transportation.  They say a lot about a breed’s purpose.  Even if you own a mixed breed dog, their paws can tell you a lot.

And they’re important to your dog’s overall well being.

Since it’s getting hot in some parts of the country, especially in Arizona, it’s important to gather some paw knowledge so you can take care of them in the heat.

And it’s always fun to learn a few new facts about your best friend.  Here are 8 things you might not know about your dog’s paws.

1)   Dogs’ paws come in 2 basic shapes, cat and hare.

Cat-shaped paws are compact, small and round.  They can bear a lot of weight because the shape allows for stability and endurance.  Most large working dog breeds like Newfoundlands, Doberman Pinschers and Akitas have cat-shaped feet.

Hare-shaped paws resemble the paws of a rabbit or hare.  They have two elongated central toes that are longer than the outer toes.  This allows for speed and the ability to get a quick start from a resting position.  Not surprisingly Greyhounds, Whippets and Borzois all have hare-shaped paws.

Paws can also be webbed whether cat- or hare- shaped.  Breeds that are swimmers like Labrador Retrievers and Newfoundlands have cat-shaped webbed paws.

And dogs like the Dachshund that hunt small animals that burrow also have webbed feet.  This allows them to move more dirt when they dig.

Cold climate breeds will have very wide paws for traction on snow and ice. The Newfoundland has the king of all paws… huge webbed feet with long toes that help them negotiate the icy terrain and frigid waters of Newfoundland.

2)  Dogs are digitigrades.

Digitigrades walk on their toes not their heels.  This enables them to move more quickly and quietly than an animal that carries their weight in their heels.

3)   Each paw has digital pads, a metacarpal pad and a carpal pad.

The 4 digital pads and 1 metacarpal pad act as shock absorbers for the bones and joints in the foot.

The carpal pad helps with balance, slowing down and stopping.

Dog Paw

Photo Credit: Eric Isselee/Shutterstock

Dogs that spend a lot of time outside and are active will have rougher thicker pads than the couch potato that spends most of their days inside.

The pads help your dog distinguish between types of terrain.  As your dog ages, the pads become more sensitive and adaptable to different surfaces.

If you try booties to protect the pads, your dog may resist because they rely on their pads to identify the surface they’re walking on.

The pads insulate the inner tissue of the paws from extreme temperatures. This is why their feet don’t get cold when walking in the snow.  The fatty tissue that makes up the pads doesn’t freeze like normal skin would.

They can, however, burn very quickly on hot pavement.  This time of year be sure to test the pavement with the palm of your hand before letting your dog walk on it.  If you can hold your hand on the street for at least 10 seconds without it being too hot, it’s probably safe for your dog.

Pads can get irritated not only from a hot surface but also from walking on rock salt and other chemicals on the ground.  Not to mention the danger of your dog ingesting those chemicals if they lick their paws.

Booties are good protection, especially if you live in a place like Arizona where summer temps reach 115.  But as I said your dog may fight them, or be tentative when walking with them.

4)   That corn chip smell is bacteria.

If you’ve ever thought that Frito scent was just another cute thing about your baby, you’ll be surprised to learn it’s a build up of bacteria over time.  That’s why you won’t notice it on a puppy.

It’s normal though and rarely causes any problems.

5)   There are sweat glands in your dog’s paws.

Dogs only produce sweat on parts of their bodies not covered with fur, like the nose and the pads of their feet.  Their primary means of cooling the body is by panting.  But the sweat glands in the paws help with the cooling process.

When a dog is nervous or stressed, their paw pads may be moist—like sweaty palms in humans.

6)   Dewclaws are the remnants of thumbs.

You’ll find dewclaws on the front paws of most dogs.  Sometimes they’re on the back paws too.  And some breeds like the Beauceron, Great Pyrenees, and Briard have double dewclaws on the back paws.

Front dews contain bone and muscle and are good for gripping a chew toy.

But there’s no muscle or bone in the back dews, making them pretty useless.

But breeds with double dews use them for gripping when walking on steep slopes.  Or if they’re herding dogs, they’ll use them when they’re on the backs of the sheep to hold on.

7)   Claws grow out of the bone unlike human fingernails.

As a result, they share the blood supply with the bone.  The blood supply is visible in the nail.  It’s called the quick.  The quick also has nerves.  If you clip it while trimming the nails, it’s painful and bleeds a lot.

It’s easy to see the quick on a dog with white claws.  If the claws are black or opaque, it’s more difficult. Clip only the pointed end or let a pro do it if you’re not sure where the quick ends.

Claws are tougher and thicker than fingernails but they grow just as fast. It’s important to maintain them so they don’t grow so long they hinder your dog’s ability to walk.

Active dogs can keep the length under control just from wearing them down on the ground.  If your dog isn’t very active, you’ll need to trim them or ask your vet to do it.

8)   You can’t predict the size of your adult dog by the size of its puppy feet.

Contrary to popular belief, a puppy’s paws are not always a good indicator of their adult size.

Bulldog puppy paws are enormous but they don’t grow to be big dogs.  Some times a puppy with big paws will be big.  But the best indicator of a puppy’s ultimate size is its breed, or combination of breeds, and the size of its parents.

A puppy will not usually be bigger than its biggest parent.  And most pups will reach 75% of their adult height by the time they’re 6 months old.

Little paws are one more perfect thing about a puppy.  They’re just adorable in every way.

So be sure to get your puppy used to having their paws handled from the time they’re young.  Massage them regularly.

And continue massaging them when they’re adults.  Paw massages are good for your dog’s feet. They’re a good way to find things that shouldn’t be there.  And they’re a great way to bond with your pet.

What do you think about doggy paws?  Tell us in the comment section at the top of the page.

12 Tips to Calm Your Pet This New Year’s Eve

In a few short days, 2016 will come to a close. If it’s been a year you’re happy to see end, you’ll likely be celebrating.   As will your friends and neighbors who are happy to turn the page on the calendar.

With all that celebrating there’ll surely be noisemakers, fireworks, loud music and maybe some hootin’ and hollerin’ in your home or your neighborhood.

Although the carousing may be a release for us, our pets don’t feel quite the same way. For them, loud noises can be terrifying and anxiety provoking, making New Year’s Eve less than enjoyable for our furry family members.

If you have a seriously anxious pet, they may tremble, hide, pace or pant. With moderate anxiety your pet may lick their lips and yawn a lot.

Knowing you have an anxious pet enables you to be proactive and prepare.   Here are 12 things you can do to minimize your pet’s stress.

1) Confine your pet to a safe place. If your pet is crate trained, they’ll probably be comfortable there. But if your pet isn’t crate trained, now’s not the time to try it. Instead, put them in a safe room where they can’t get themselves into trouble.

2) Play relaxing classical music or the television at a volume that’s loud enough to drown out the frightening noises, but not too loud to cause more anxiety.

3) Spray lavender oil on your pet’s bed or favorite blanket. Or just let them smell it.

4) Try canine or feline pheromones that help your pet feel safe. These come as plug-in room diffusers or sprays.

5) Talk to your vet about ProQuiet, a chewable tryptophan tablet that works for cats and dogs. Sileo is a prescription medication for dogs that reduces anxiety without sedation. Ask your vet if it’s right for your dog.

6) Take your dog out for as much exercise as possible before the festivities begin. And keep your cat moving with toys and laser pointers before the evening gets going. They’ll be too tired to be stressed.

7) Try desensitizing earlier in the day or a few days before by making loud noises, blowing the noisemakers, and clanking the pots and pans. This may not work for extremely anxious pets.

8) Try a pressure point coat like ThunderShirt. These jackets put constant gentle pressure on a dog’s pressure points and promote a sense of calm by creating the sensation of being held.

9) Distract your pet with food puzzles or some new toys. Spritz a new toy with catnip to keep your cat engaged. And I never met a dog that didn’t love a Kong stuffed with peanut butter.

10) Allow your pet to follow you around if that helps them stay calm. If that’s not possible or you’re going out, hire a pet sitter. This is particularly advisable if your pet is extremely anxious.

11) Some say you shouldn’t comfort or coddle a frightened pet. It will reinforce their negative behavior. But some say it’s okay to show calm affection. I’m personally in that camp. If you were scared, wouldn’t someone speaking soothingly calm you down? When your pet is calm, reinforce that behavior with treats. And always stay calm yourself so your pet sees that everything’s okay.

12) Leave the neighborhood for a quieter place if possible.

One or two of these alone may not work. You may have to try several of them to have any effect on your pet.

In spite of your best efforts, you may come home to damage if you leave your pet alone on New Year’s Eve and there’s a ruckus in your neighborhood.

Whatever you do, don’t scold them! Your pet needed an outlet to express their anxiety. Or they may have been trying to escape from it.

What if your typically calm pet unexpectedly becomes anxious on New Year’s Eve? This can happen as pets age. Especially if they suffer from health problems or the dementia I wrote about in my last article.

Awareness can go a long way in minimizing your pet’s stress. It allows you to plan if you know you have an anxious pet.

But there are also things on the list you can do if your normally relaxed pet starts to unravel. Look out for the signs your pet is melting down and confine them to a safe place. Play calming music. Give them a stuffed Kong toy.  And sit with them for a while.

In some pets, the anxiety is so severe they hurt themselves. They may bloody their paws trying to escape out a closed door or possibly even jump from a window. And never tie up your anxious dog outside. They can injure themselves trying to escape the tether and runaway.

Always be sure your pet has a collar on with identifying tags and that they are micro-chipped, in case they get loose.

It’s unfair to let a pet suffer. Talk to your vet if you know you have an anxious pet.

For humans, the holiday season is a time for joyful celebration. But we rarely consider what our pets think of all the hoopla.  We can make the festivities enjoyable for all our family members with a little planning.

A happy and healthy 2017 to you and your pets!

How do you keep your pet calm when they’re frightened of noises? Share 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boarding your pet… what you need to know

Summer is the time we like to travel. Maybe a vacation, a family reunion, or a college-scouting trip is the impetus.

Whether it’s a quick weekend getaway or a summer excursion across or out of the country, it may not be possible to take our four-legged family members with us.

But leaving our pets behind can cause us great angst. Unless you have someone you trust to take care of your pet, finding the right boarding situation can leave you anxious, worried and guilt-ridden.

Our pets are our family and we want them to be safe and happy when we’re away. So how can we be sure they’re enjoying their time when we’re away?

Pet sitter or kennel?

First, consider your pet’s health. Are they well enough to leave home to be boarded or would it be best to hire a pet sitter come to you?

Older and infirm pets often have a hard time with change. A loud boarding facility without the comforts of home may be hard on them.

If your pet has special needs or suffers from separation anxiety, keeping them in their home environment may be a better idea than a kennel.

A pet sitter has its downsides too though. It’s often a more expensive choice than boarding.

And a pet sitter may leave your pet for long periods. If your pet is used to having someone at home most of the day, this can cause distress.

I’ve used a pet sitter many times. It was a person I genuinely trusted. They were great with my dogs but I realized they were leaving the dogs alone for long stretches. The dogs did damage. One time they chewed a rug—and they’re never destructive.

You can’t be sure the sitter is at your home with your pet the hours they say they are. But you’ll see the signs of anxiety when you get home if they’re not.

If your pet is well-adjusted and likes interaction with other animals, there are many great boarding options. A kennel can be a fun and stimulating vacation for your pet if you do your homework and find the right one.

Finding a quality kennel

If you want to board your pet at a kennel, you need to do a little homework and preparation long before your trip.

Gather names of reputable kennels.  Ask your vet for a recommendation. They’ll know the reputation of local boarding facilities.

Once you’ve compiled a list of names, stop in to visit them. Any quality kennel will be happy to give you a tour of the premises. If the staff isn’t interested in showing you around, leave.

Things to look for

In some states you need a permit to operate a kennel and inspections may also be required. But many states have no requirements. If inspections are required where you live, be sure the kennel displays the certificate showing they meet the mandated standards.

While you’re touring the facility, ask to see all the places your pet will be. Here’s what to take note of:

Clean environment, clean smell – free of waste and urine

Good ventilation and light

Comfortable temperature – cool in the summer, warm in the winter

Knowledgeable and caring staff

Sizable individual runs – indoor only, or indoor/outdoor

Outdoor exercise areas protected from the elements

Dog beds that allow for rest off the concrete

Separate housing areas for cats and dogs

Enough space for cats to move around

Ample space between litter box and food dish

Fencing is safe – no broken fencing, jagged edges or bent wires

Boarded pets should not be wearing collars – strangulation danger

Animals should have water

Animals should appear content, not stressed

Things to ask

You will want to be sure you understand everything about the care your pet will receive when you’re away.  That includes information regarding your pet’s diet, interaction with people and other pets, exercise, and emergency medical treatment during their stay at the kennel. Get the answers you need.

And what about how many animals each staff person is responsible for?  The staff to animal ratio is important too. More than 10 animals per staff member means your pet may not get the attention you’re hoping for. Ask what the ratio is.

Most kennels aren’t staffed 24 hours. So ask if someone checks in on the animals at night. And find out their drop off and pick up hours.

Here are other things you’ll want to know:

What vaccines are required?

How often are pets fed?

Can you bring your pet’s food?

How often are pets exercised?

Are pets walked or let out in an exercise area?

Do dogs play together or are they separated by age, size, etc.?

Does the daily rate include playtime and how much playtime?

Do they provide toys or can you bring your own?

If your dog requires daily walks, can they accommodate that?

If your pet takes meds, is there an extra charge to administer those?

How are emergencies handled?

Is there a vet on call?

The answers to these questions and your gut instinct will tell you if the place is right for your pet. Does the place appear overcrowded? How about the staff? Are they friendly and attentive to the animals’ needs? Are they genuinely interested in your pet’s welfare?

Answers to these questions will either sit well with you or they won’t.  If you sense this is a safe and happy place for your pet, then it probably is.

Sometimes people feel guilty for boarding their pets. But the right kennel can mean a great vacation for them too.

And it’s better than leaving your pet alone all day and having someone come in just to feed and walk them. At a kennel, people who are trained to detect health problems are supervising and monitoring your pet. And they’ll be socializing with pets and people.

Preparing to board your pet

Before you leave your pet at a boarding facility, here are some things you should do. Be sure your pet is socialized. If your pet isn’t good with strange people or animals, they won’t do well in a kennel.

Your pet should be current on all vaccines. Check with the kennel where you’ll be boarding because they will likely require other vaccines such as Bordetella (kennel cough).

Be sure to pack up enough medication and food for the number of days you’ll be gone, plus a few extra days. You could be delayed getting home. Things happen…

When you bring your pet to the facility for boarding, be sure to give them your vet’s phone number, your number, and a phone number for a local emergency contact. And remind the staff of any behavior (fear of thunder etc.) or medical problems.

Hand your pet to the staff, say goodbye and leave. No big farewells. You don’t want to agitate your pet in any way. They’ll sense your distress if you make a big deal.

If your anxiety persists…

Keep in mind you can always have your pet do a short staycation for a night or two before you board or have a sitter stay with them for a longer period. This gives them and you a dry run. You’ll see how your pet does and if there were any problems you’d want to avoid during a longer time away.

Many boarding facilities have webcams that allow you to see your fur baby and what they’re up to while you’re gone. If you are particularly stressed about leaving your pet at a kennel, choosing one with this capability may be helpful to you.

Many pet sitters will send videos and photos as well. And you can certainly ask them to text you with updates letting you know how your beloved pet is doing.

If any concerns still linger, check with the Better Business Bureau to find out if anyone has filed a complaint against the facility you’re considering and how the kennel addressed those complaints.

If you take the time to research the kennel and do the necessary preparation ahead of your pet’s stay, you can feel confident they’ll be well cared for when you’re away.

What has your experience been with boarding your pet? Do you use a pet sitter or a boarding facility? Share at the top.