What are the best treats for your pet?

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Pet treats are available in many sizes, shapes and flavors.  How do you decide which are healthy and which are junk food?

First of all, read the ingredients – treats that are full of grains and by-products will likely be the equivalent of feeding your pet a candy bar.

The healthiest treats will contain natural ingredients and be made from mostly meat – I recommend avoiding biscuit-type treats as they will contain grains and filler. Meat – based treats are the healthiest for dogs because meat is their natural diet.  Commercial treats are available, but be careful to read the label to find out where the treats are from and if chemicals are used in the processing.    You can also feed scraps of pasture-raised meat – just cut cooked or dried meat into small pieces and your dog will love you for it !  Limit cheese and other dairy products.

There is a large variety of treats made from left-overs of the meat processing plants.  These are in the form of body parts that are not typically consumed.  These are products such as tracheas, ears, snouts, hooves, and bones.  While this may be a bit disconcerting at first, using all parts of the animal is actually a more sustainable approach.

These treats have the benefit of providing entertainment in the form of chewing as well as a good teeth-cleaning in some cases.  See my post on bones for more information on bone safety.  These products are available in most natural pet stores and from most raw pet food distributors.  It is also important to be sure that these products are well-sourced, and not factory-farmed. We want to be both feeding treats that are more nutritious and not supporting the cruelty of confinement farming.

Treat your dog well!!

Prescription diets – how healthy are they?

You have likely heard the saying ‘you are what you eat’.  There is a great deal of truth in this for our dog and cat companions as well.  The options and information about what is best to feed your pet are nothing less than overwhelming these days, and it is very important that you read carefully the actual ingredients that you are feeding your pet.

Prescription diets have been  the mainstay of therapeutic nutrition in veterinary medicine for many years.   These are diets that claim to give you a handy package containing the proper nutrition for whatever ails your pet.  Let’s take a look at a few examples for the sake of comparison:

1.  Here is the partial ingredient list for a diet claiming to help with canine liver disease:

Brewers Rice, Pork Fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols and citric acid), Dried Egg Product, Soybean Meal, Powdered Cellulose, Flaxseed, Pork Protein Isolate, Chicken Liver Flavor.

2. And another claiming to promote bladder health in cats:

Brewers Rice, Corn Gluten Meal, Chicken By-Product Meal, Pork Fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols and citric acid), Chicken Liver Flavor, Fish Oil

3. For contrast, here is the label ingredients from a commercial raw food product:

Ground chicken (including ground bone), chicken gizzards, chicken hearts, organic squash, organic apples, chicken livers, organic greens, organic broccoli, organic blueberries, organic apple cider vinegar

4. And another from a grain-free dry dog food:

Bison, lamb meal, chicken meal, egg product, sweet potatoes, peas, potatoes, canola oil, roasted bison, roasted venison, natural flavor, tomato pomace, ocean fish meal, salt, choline chloride, dried chicory root, tomatoes, blueberries, raspberries, yucca schidigera extract, dried Enterococcus faecium fermentation product, dried Lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation product, dried Lactobacillus casei fermentation product, dried Lactobacillus plantarum

Now just use your common sense for a moment – which of these diets do you think provides the most well-rounded nutrition for your pet?  It will be the diets with the most whole-food ingredients and minimal procesing.

I have not recommended a prescription diet food in years now. These diets typically target a specific condition and the diets can actually cause imbalances over time.

In fact, my basic nutritional recommendations change very little from pet to pet, though I may modify slightly depending on the health condition.  Fresh, whole foods and a diet that is meat based and minimally processed is the best pick for your companion.

It is always important to perform appropriate diagnostics such as bloodwork and ultrasound when indicated, and there are other supplements and herbs that can help with certain health conditions.

A species-appropriate diet, however, is always the best place to start in keeping your pet healthy.

 

 

Lifestage diets – is the change necessary?

Many commercial pet food companies these days have foods grouped into categories based on a pet’s age.  You will likely see varieties such as puppy, adult, senior, weight loss, and even some breed-specific diets.  Is all this necessary for proper nutrition?  I say, absolutely NOT!! Dogs and cats are basically designed to eat the same diet from the day they are weaned until the day they die.  I would like to clarify that this is for maintenance only – certain disease conditions may require some variation in the diet.  In my way of thinking, however, it is absurd to think that just because a pet reaches a certain age, its diet must change.  This is nothing more than marketing hype.  The best fundamental nutrition for a dog or cat is a fresh, meat-based diet with a 70% moisture content.  I may sometimes use a diet that is more bland or lower in fat or protein for certain disease conditions, but my basic nutritional recommendations do not change.

My recommendation is to feed whole, fresh foods whenever possible and avoid by-products, chemicals and preservatives in your pet’s diet.  Many of the healthiest commercial foods available do not have life-stage diets – don’t let this keep you from feeding your pet the best diet possible.

Nosodes – fact or fiction?

Nosodes are a type of homeopathic vaccination that will not cause the potential side-effects of traditional vaccines – see vaccine reactions .  Nosodes are made from exudates or discharges from an infected animal.  These substances are diluted to a degree such that there is no real biological substance remaining.  The reasons that nosodes cause fewer side-effects include:

1. There are no toxic preservatives or carriers that can cause the reactions seen when traditional vaccines are given. 

2. Nosodes are given on the mucous membranes of the mouth which is a more natural route of exposure than traditional vaccines, which are injected. 

When an unknown substance is injected into the body, there is often no established way for the body to deal with it at that level.  This causes unusual inflammatory reactions that can result in disease elsewhere in the body.  These reactions are not necessarily immediate, but can occur up to several months later, and recur on the anniversary date of the vaccine.

Nosodes do not generate a measurable antibody level in the blood, and can thus be a hard sell in traditional medicine.   There is, however, a great deal of clinical evidence from veterinarians that have used nosodes in clinical practice that they are equally as effective as vaccines, and most importantly, NO side effects.  I believe that a great deal of disease is caused by the overuse of vaccines in veterinary medicine.  If there is an alternative that is equally as effective, with no side effects, then it should be the treatment of choice.

Nosodes can also be used in the face of exposure, unlike traditional vaccines that are only effective if given in advance.  This is a huge advantage, especially in very contagious diseases such as kennel cough.

There are legal issues when it comes to vaccines, and Rabies is required by law in most places.  There is a homeopathic remedy called lyssin that can be given after the Rabies vaccine to help prevent adverse effects of the vaccine.

Nosodes can be a very effective alternative to traditional vaccinations.  A variety of different protocol have been used effectively, so it is best to treat your pet under the guidance of a holistic veterinarian.

Helping your dog through thunderstorm and firework season

It is that time of year that the skies begin to boom, much to the terror of many of our canine friends.  Many dogs have fears of loud noises , and thunderstorms and fireworks seem to top the list for most.  The good news is that there are some very effective natural ways to help calm your pet this time of year.

1. Flower essences – the best known essences are the Bach flower essences, of which there are 38. Every flower actually has its own energetic essence that can have therapeutic benefit.  The most effective remedy will vary with the individual constitution of your pet, so you may need to try a few to see which is most effective.  These essences can be given full strength in the mouth or put in the water dish for ongoing benefit.  Two of my favorites for fear and anxiety are Rock rose and Mimulus, or you can try the old standby Rescue remedy which is a combination of five of the essences.

2. Essential oils – these are also plant products, but are processed differently than the flower essences and use a variety of  parts from the plants.  Some suggestions on specific oils include lavender, valerian, and vetiver.  These oils can be applied topically, ingested in a capsule or used as aroma therapy.  It is very important to check for the purity of oils before used for ingestion, as some are diluted with potentially toxic substances.  Caution must be used when administering essential oils to cats as there is some evidence that they may not be able to process them properly which can lead to toxicity.  I do not recommend oral administration to cats.  Topical administration should be done intermittently and aromatherapy should be used in an area that the cat can leave if it has had enough of the therapy.

3. Body wraps – many of you have heard of Thunder shirts.  I have seen better success with a product called the Anxiety wrap, see more at anxiety wrap.  This product actually targets specific acupressure points that help with anxiety.

All of the above can be used alone or in combination.  Often times, the effect is enhanced when more than one modality is used.  In some cases, we still need to go the route of traditional sedatives such as Valium or Acepromazine, but I still recommend the use of the natural therapies as they will often decrease the amount of sedative that is needed.

Remember also to keep your pet confined in a place it cannot escape from or become injured while trying to escape.  A panicky pet will often exhibit unusual behavior such as jumping fences or chewing through enclosures.

If you are with your pet when it becomes frightened, try a distraction such as a toy or treat and reward any signs of calm behavior.  We sometimes re-enforce the fear by providing attention for the behavior in the form of comfort.

All pets are different and will respond differently to different therapies.  I recommend trying a variety of combinations until you find the best one for your friend.

Heartworm prevention, traditional and holistic alternatives

Heartworm disease is a very real risk for dogs.  For more information, see my post at Heartworm disease .  There are a number of effective ways to prevent heartworm disease, both holistic and traditional.

The most important preventative measure is to keep your dog’s immune system strong with an appropriate diet and decreasing the exposure to toxins.  Vaccinations and all traditional medications, including antibiotics and pain medications can cause toxic reactions in the body that will decrease the efficacy of the immune system.  See my post on minimizing vaccines in your pet.   There are many reports of this approach alone proving effective in preventing heartworm disease in dogs.

The traditional method of prevention consists of a medication given in a chewable treat once a month during the mosquito season.  These are effective, but come with a higher risk of side effects and adverse reaction.  There is also no guarantee that a dog on a traditional preventative will be protected from heartworms.

There is also a natural alternative called nosodes.  Nosodes are a homeopathic preventative made from the diseased tissue of an infected animal.    Get more info in my post on Nosodes.  Nosodes, in combination with the immune-building steps listed above can be very effective at preventing heartworm disease in your dog.

Heartworm testing should be performed yearly to be sure that your dog has not contracted the disease, regardless of the preventative option you are using.

Vegetarian diets, are they safe for dogs and cats?

Dogs and cats are carnivores and are meant to eat a meat-based diet.  I understand that many humans choose to be vegetarians for a variety of reasons, but our bodies are much more suited to this type of diets than our canine or feline companions.  Dogs and cats thrive on the nutritional balance that would be obtained from a prey meal – muscle, bone, fat, organ meat, and intestines.   Recreating this type of nutrition in a vegetarian or vegan diet is very difficult to do, and I would challenge those that say that they are able to accomplish this feat. 

There is a huge difference between surviving and thriving.  I would be interested to check blood levels for adequate protein, minerals, amino acids, calcium and phosphorus as well as checking for anemia in natural carnivores that are fed a vegetarian diet.  I have seen dogs on vegetarian diets and have yet to see one that looks healthy.  I have seen dull hair coats, hair loss, flaky skin, along with a general ‘dull’ look in the eyes.  The dog may be surviving, but is deprived of optimal health and energy through nutritional deprivation.

In cats, feeding a vegetarian diet is not only unhealthy, but could become life-threatening.  Cats are obligate carnivores, there are certain nutrients that they MUST get from meat.  Dogs have a greater ability to  survive on an omnivorous diet than cats do, but their teeth and digestive system are best equipped to eat meat.  The healthiest patients I have seen are those fed a balanced, raw, meat-based diet, with at least 70% of the diet consisting of fresh meat.

Heartworm disease – what is your dog’s risk?

Heartworm disease can undoubtedly be devastating for dogs that contract it.  There are preventatives available, and the best program for your dog should be based on individual risk.   Your dog’s risk will be based on two key factors:

1. Exposure to mosquitoes

2. The environmental temperature where you live.

Mosquitoes thrive and breed in standing water.  If your dog is exposed to lakes, ponds, or other pools of water, there will likely be some mosquito exposure during the summer months.

The heartworm larvae must go through a life-stage cycle in the mosquito in order to be able to infect your dog, and this transition requires a temperature of 57 degrees or higher for 30 consecutive days. Here in Colorado, we have cool nights, so the risk of heartworm disease is much lower.   In warmer climates, the risk is much higher.

In Colorado, I recommend prevention only during the warm summer months of June, July, and August.  In my experience, finding a heartworm positive dog that lives in Colorado is extremely rare.  In other parts of the country, where mosquitoes are more prevalent and the temperatures are warmer, the risk will be much greater.  If you live in, or travel to other areas of the country, your dog should be on prevention for more of the year.

Keep your dog heartworm free by assessing risk based on the factors above.  Next:  see my post on heartworm preventatives, both traditional and holistic.

Is feeding raw food safe for your pets?

Yes, raw food can be fed safely to your pets. When handled properly, there is no danger whatsoever in feeding your pet raw food.  Raw meat that is fresh or has been frozen fresh will not contain harmful bacteria.  There are also commercial raw products that provide guaranteed freshness along with a balanced diet.

Raw is the most natural diet for dogs and cats. As carnivores, dogs and cats are designed to eat a diet that is about 75% meat with a high moisture content – as if they were killing prey in the wild.  Their entire digestive tract, including teeth, saliva, enzymes and intestines are better equipped to digest meat rather than vegetables and grains.

The biggest benefit in feeding raw food is that it is nutritionally superior to feeding any form of processed food. Commercial foods are processed at high temperatures that can destroy important nutrients. There are also inherent benefits in feeding whole, unaltered foods.   Certain nutritional components are only beneficial in the whole food form, not when broken down into their chemical counterparts.  Many pet foods start with good ingredients and then process them into a dry kibble form that requires the vitamins and minerals to be added back in.

 

Reading pet food labels – Sifting through the Marketing Hype

Pet food manufacturers are experts at making labels and packaging look attractive, attempting to convince you that their food is better than the rest.  Their objective, however, is to sell their food, not help you feed your pet a healthy diet.  As I said in my post on reading ingredients, the most important thing you can do for your pet is to read the actual ingredients so that you know exactly what you are feeding.  You will see colorful packaging, wonderful claims, even ingredients that sound nutritious on the package; but don’t be fooled – these are methods of marketing to you, with the sole purpose of selling food.

Pet foods do vary in quality, and you will need to learn some of the language of the industry to know the difference.  A truly meat-based diet, which is required to have 95% of the meat protein present, will list the ingredient simply, such as ‘Beef dog food’.  If a name includes an adjective such as dinner, formula, or meal, only 25% of the ingredient listed is required to be present.  Something like beef flavor does not necessarily contain any beef at all, rather some by-product sprayed on the food to make it taste like beef.

On most bags of food, you will likely see something about meeting AAFCO nutritional standards.  Who is AAFCO?  AAFCO stands for the Association of American Feed Control Officers.  AAFCO is not a regulatory agency.  It is a non-profit organization that creates guidelines that other regulatory agencies can use, but the guidelines are rather loose.  Feeding trials are often done to show that a pet food is nutritionally complete.  An AAFCO feeding trial may consist of a minimum of 8 pets and lasts for 6 months.  The criteria for approval consists of weight stability and a few blood parameters, which are measured before and after the study.  This type of study does nothing to address long term health maintenance, only short-term survival.

There is no substitute for good nutrition when it comes to keeping your pet healthy.  The best thing you can do is to use these guidelines and examine the food you are feeding closely.  You will be helping your pet live a longer, healthier life.