The Vets Corner

Making sense of Pet Food choices

Myths About Our Pets’ Foods

Deciding which pet food is “best” for your dog or cat is often an exercise fraught with confusion and a fair amount of misinformation.  Advocates can be found for “grain-free” diets, homemade foods or even natural, organic and “whole food” formulations.  To make matters worse, a host of pet nutrition myths are rampant on the Internet.  What’s the truth and what’s not when it comes to pet nutrition?

Asking someone about their preferences in pet foods can be as polarizing as if you asked about their political affiliation.  Many pet owners have very strong opinions and beliefs when it comes to the type of food they choose for their four-legged companions and that is certainly their right.  However, there are a few myths about pet foods or pet food ingredients that need some clarification.First, a very common assertion in online discussions, and even in veterinary waiting rooms, is that corn is a bad ingredient and our pets cannot digest it.  In fact, some people will outright refuse any pet food that contains any corn in the formulation.  This myth comes about because of the human preference for eating whole kernel corn.   But, looking more closely at ingredient labels, pet owners will see that the “corn” present in many pet foods is actually corn meal or even corn gluten meal.  These processed ingredients provide a very high quality carbohydrate source and, in the case of corn gluten meal, a very digestible and good source of amino acids.  The amino acids found in corn protein complement many of the amino acids found in meat, thereby creating a food with all the essential amino acids a pet needs.  An important fact to remember is that nutrients are the most important part of a pet’s diet, not the specific ingredients!Despite the numerous myths circulating, corn is no more allergenic that any other protein source and actually has been shown to be less allergenic than beef, soy, wheat and dairy proteins.The next myth has to do with an unfortunate naming convention.  Almost everyone has seen pet food commercials showing paid actors pretending to be disgusted by the pet food ingredient called “meat by products”.  Again, the confusion and misunderstandings happen because of what humans have decided to name particular parts of the meat producing animals.  Skeletal muscle is the most common meat that ends up in our grocery stores and on our dinner plates.  But, there is a lot of muscle and other protein rich organs that are not consumed by people.  Since we don’t use these leftovers for human food, they are termed “by-products”.  In reality, by-products include highly digestible and nutritious organs, such as the liver and lungs and do NOT include things like hair, horns or hooves, as advertising gimmicks would have you believe.  More to the point, if pet food companies did NOT use these organs and other parts, a large portion of the animals we raise for food would go to waste, resulting in the need to raise MORE animals to feed our pets.  As the American Animal Hospital Association has said, “Feeding by-products = green living”.Finally, many people believe that veterinarians are not instructed in any sort of nutrition basics during their intense schooling.  This is actually a big fallacy as almost all veterinarians will have at least a semester devoted to nutrition and many may have completed undergraduate nutrition courses before applying to veterinary school.  Continuing education opportunities that discuss nutrition are also popular lectures for veterinarians and veterinary technicians.What you feed your pet will be a decision you make based on a variety of factors.  But, don’t fall victim to Internet fads promoted by individuals without scientific training or who will profit when you purchase their brand of food.  It’s also important to review a variety of information sources before you reach any conclusion about how good, or bad, a particular ingredient might be.Whether you choose to use a “grain-free” diet, an “organic” pet food or the cheapest food you can find, it’s important to discuss your pet’s nutrition with your veterinarian.  He or she can help you understand what the pet food labels really mean.

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Animal Poison Prevention Week

Animal Poison Prevention Week

Each year, March is National Poison Prevention Month and to help keep our pets safe, we observe National Animal Poison Prevention Week, March 18th-24th.

It isn’t  March, however we should always be aware of our pets and poisons.

Each year hundreds of thousands of pets are accidently exposed to a number of potentially harmful products.
In reviewing more than 165,000 phone calls, the ASPCA’s Poison Control Center has generated their annual list of harmful substances for our pets.

In first place for the 4th year in a row are prescription human medications.  Many drugs that are meant for our use can be very dangerous to our pets.  Dogs will often grab pills that are dropped by owners.

1. Heart medications and drugs for Attention Deficit disorder make up the largest percentage in this category.
2. Insecticides are the second most common issue for pets.    Improper use of flea and tick medications or even lawn and home treatments can cause seizures, skin issues or even death in many pets, especially our cats.
3. Over the counter medications, along with the prescriptions listed above accounted for more than 25% of all calls fielded by the ASPCA Poison Control.  It is important to remember that over the counter drugs, especially pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, can be dangerous to our pets and have caused deaths.
NEVER give a pet any human medication unless you have been instructed to do so by your veterinarian!
“People foods”, like chocolates, xylitol containing sweets and various others come in at #4 on the list. Many seemingly harmless treats, like grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts or onions, can cause severe issues for our pets.
Finally, in 5th place are household items, like paint, drain cleaners/openers and other cleaning products.  Because our pets are often very curious, it’s important to store all of these types of things behind closed doors.

If you suspect your pet has ingested something that is potentially toxic, you need to contact your veterinarian or local emergency hospital immediately!

Save the product packaging and take it with you.

Time is often important and the sooner you see your veterinarian, the better the chances are for a full recovery for your pet.

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Why is my dog eating grass?

One of the most common questions at veterinary hospitals is “Why does my dog eat grass?”  Urban legend states that pets eat grass because they “know” they are sick and need to vomit or that the pet is aware of some dietary deficiency.

In order to test these hypotheses, veterinarians at the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine designed surveys to question pet owners about their pets’ grass eating habits.  Dr. Karen Sueda, Dr. Kelly Cliff, and Dr. Benjamin Hart conducted the study which was funded by the Center for Companion Animal Health at UC Davis.

An initial survey of owners of healthy dogs found that 80% of dogs with access to plants had eaten grass or other plants.  The study also surveyed dog owners about their dogs’ plant eating habits, the dogs’ diet, and gathered information about breed, sex, neuter status, and age.

More than 3,000 pet owners responded to an extensive online survey.  Of these, almost 1,600 surveys were considered to be usable.  About 68% of responders stated that their dogs ate plants daily or weekly.

Only eight percent of dogs showed signs of illness prior to ingesting plant material and 22% of dogs vomited after eating plants.

The survey also showed that those dogs showing signs of illness before eating plants were more likely to vomit than those who appeared healthy beforehand.

Finally, younger dogs were more likely to eat plants but less likely to appear ill prior to eating or vomit after eating the plant material.

The veterinarians concluded that in most cases grass eating is a common behavior in normal dogs and has no correlation with illness.   Additionally, most dogs do not appear to routinely vomit after eating grass.  

A study is on-going with cats and preliminary data shows that cats are less likely to eat plants than dogs.   Just like dogs, most cats do not routinely show signs of illness prior to eating plants and don’t regularly vomit afterward.

The researchers have hypothesized that plant eating may serve to help remove intestinal parasites from the GI system of wild canids and felids. 

This study is also published in Applied Animal Behavior Science, 111: 120-132.

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Chinese-made Dog Treats Continue to Cause Problem

It’s been almost five years since the Food and Drug Administration first notified pet owners and veterinarians about a concern with chicken jerky treats.  Initially, on the heels of the massive 2007 pet food recall, there were concerns with melamine contamination, salmonella or even toxic heavy metals.

In the intervening time, numerous news articles and postings in social media have warned people to stay away from chicken jerky treats that are made in China.  Sadly, despite more than 2,000 reports of illnesses, and even deaths of pets, we are no closer to understanding exactly WHAT the issue is.   And now, sweet potato and duck jerky treatshave been added to the “caution” list.

This week, we learn that despite the efforts of the FDA to go over to China and inspect the facilities where these treats are made, they were unable to obtain samples to bring back to the US for testing!  This is almost unbelievable to me! 
It appears that the Chinese would only allow samples to be tested in laboratories in China, not here in the US. Of course, the solution seems simple…don’t buy treats made in China.  But, the reality of the situation is that in this global economy, knowing whether or not the product was made in China or the ingredients came from China is not always easy to determine.  I encourage everyone to READ LABELS, front and back and look for fine print about anything coming from China.   If the label says “distributed by” instead of “manufactured by”, there’s a good chance that the product was not made here in the US.

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Lots of people like to have fun during the Halloween festivities, but our pets can truly be “spooked” by all of the noises and costumes. Halloween is a holiday with many dangers for our dogs and cats.

Dressing up is fun for everyone, but may not be very fun for our pets. If your pet tolerates a costume, there are some things to keep in mind.

Your pet must be comfortable at all times. Avoid any costumes that use rubber bands or anything that might constrict circulation or breathing. Likewise, avoid costumes with toxic paints or dyes. Your pet’s costume should be inedible.

If your pet appears uncomfortable in any way, allow him to dress up in his “birthday suit”.

Costumes on people can be equally scary to pets. Masks, large hats, and other costume accessories can confuse pets and may even trigger territorial instincts. It is not unusual for pets to act protective or be fearful of people in costumes, even if they normally are very social with that person.

Remember, you are responsible for controlling your pet and insuring that he does not bite any of the neighbourhood ghosts.

The two biggest concerns for pets during the holiday are injuries and poisonings. .

The excitement of the day may be too much for even the best-behaved dog. Constant visitors to the door as well as the spooky sights and sounds may cause some pets to become fearful, These pets could run away and become injured in a variety of ways.

Consider allowing your dog to spend Halloween in his own special place inside with special treats, safe and secure from the goblins. Even if you have a fenced yard, Halloween is definitely not a good night for your dog to be outside without supervision and restraint.

Some Halloween decorations can be unsafe as well. Fake cobwebs or anything resembling a string can be tempting to cats, leading to a foreign body obstruction.

Candles inside of pumpkins are easily knocked over, burning your pet or even starting a fire.

Keep your pet away from the Halloween candy. Chocolate can be toxic to pets and even small amounts can cause heart problems and vomiting.

Lollipop sticks and foil wrappers can become lodged in your pet’s digestive tract, causing painful obstructions.

Candy that is sweetened with Xylitol® can cause low blood sugar in dogs and has been implicated in liver failure as well.

Although the threat is probably minimal, many people are concerned about black cats during this time of year. It might be wise to keep all cats indoors during this holiday.
If you can’t keep your cat indoors, considering a boarding facility or your family veterinarian. It may help to keep your friend safe!

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Lost pet? Ways to help

As much as we think our pets would never leave our side, millions of animals do end up wandering away from their homes every year.  Some will rejoin their families, thanks to high tech identification like microchips, but many end up in shelters, some go to new homes and a few are even taken for illegal activities.  What can you do to make sure your pet comes home safely?

Jessie never went anywhere without her “wiener dog brigade”.  So, it was not surprising to see her loading up the four dachshunds and making a weekend trip from Colorado to New Mexico.   Her Mother’s Day visit, however, would not end as happily as previous excursions.  As Jessie and her husband stopped to give the dogs a much needed bathroom break, the weary travelers did not do a head count as they climbed back into the car.  It would be more than an hour until they noticed that one of their pups, six month old “Tequila”, was left behind.

As shocking as this story sounds, one out of every three pets will be lost and away from their family at least once in their lives.   More than five million dogs and cats leave home every year, either walking away or carried off by unscrupulous individuals.  So, if a pet owner finds out that his or her four legged companion is gone, what’s the best steps for reuniting?

Prevention, of course is the best option and veterinarians have long advocated the importance of some sort of identification on your pet.  Most people opt for simple ID tags or collars, but these are easily lost or even removed.  Tattoos have been used, but many pet owners, animal shelters or even veterinarians are unsure of where to call if they find a pet with a tattoo.  Microchips are a safe and effective means of permanent identification, but only about 5% of pets in North America have had this device implanted.

Jessie says, “I was so mad that I had told my veterinarian no when asked about the microchip…all because I wanted to save $30.”

Some pet owners have opted for GPS collars and devices, but results have been mixed.  Complaints about battery life, difficult collar attachments and slow notifications when the pet leaves the designated area have all been reported.

Regardless of whether any identification is available or not, fast action is needed when your pet comes up missing.  Veterinarians recommend that you contact local animal shelters, veterinary offices and even pet stores within a five to ten mile radius of your home to be on the lookout for your lost animal.  These might include faxing or calling all pet related businesses within a 50 mile radius or even creating flyers for you to print and post in your community.

“Of course, we immediately drove back to the rest stop to look for Tequila,” says Jessie, “but he was nowhere to be found.  I was able to connect with the local animal control office and police department right away, but there was no word about our little guy.”   Jessie then called various animal rescue groups and other shelters in the area once she returned home.

Having a current picture of your pet is also vital in your efforts to get the lost animal back home.  In Jessie’s case, she used her pictures of Tequila to create a new page on Facebook as well as flyers she sent in the mail.  The outreach in social media connected her with even more empathetic pet owners who, in turn, helped spread the word of Tequila’s situation.  In fact, Jessie was able to connect with a very well known and media savvy pet personality, Travelin’ Jack, New Mexico’s Roving Bulldog Reporter.  “All of these folks were so helpful,” adds Jessie, “they really helped me keep my sanity”.

If your pet is lost, involve your veterinarian in the quest to get the wayward animal back home.  Often, your veterinary team may have ideas and resources that can help quickly spread the word.

Jessie’s story does have a happy ending.  Tequila was found by the local animal control office and a dachshund rescue group volunteered to drive him back to Colorado.  Safely back home, Tequila is now properly microchipped and Jessie has a whole new set of online friends.

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Recall Yoghund Organic Banana & Peanut yogurt
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Holdiay travel with pets!

Will your pets be traveling with you this holiday season? Travel can be stressful for pets. Some times the ordinary things that take place during travel can really freak your pets out, such as rain, road noise and car movement! Get your pets suited up with a Surgi Snuggly prior to traveling. The Surgi Snuggly eases overall anxiety and will help your pets to travel more comfortably and with less stress!
We hardly go anywhere without Hannah being in her travel Snuggly!
Happy Holidays,

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2  exposed to rabies by ‘indoor' cat

DALTON, GA (WRCB) --  Two Whitfield County residents are now undergoing rabies treatments after exposure to a pet cat that the Georgia Public Health Laboratory has now confirmed as positive for rabies.

The 15-year old cat bit its owner and exposed the owner's fiancée to the disease before it died. A test for rabies came back positive October 26, 2012.

The cat was reported to have had rabies vaccinations in the past but was not current with its vaccinations.

Due to the age of the animal and being kept indoors, the expected probability of rabies was considered small. The cat's owner could not remember an incident when the cat may have been exposed to rabies.

Public health officials have gone on a door-to-door campaign in Dalton delivering rabies notices, since the area is well-populated.

Domestic dogs and cats typically become rabid within one to three months from exposure, longer incubation periods have been documented. In some cases,  humans have not developed rabies until several years after exposure.  

Rabies is usually transmitted by exposure to the saliva of a rabid animal through a bite or scratch. Wild carnivores such as bats, raccoons, skunks, coyotes, bobcats and foxes serve as a reservoir for the disease virus and these wild animals can transmit it to domestic dogs, cats, livestock and people.

Bats are considered to be one of the primary conduits for rabies transmission to humans. Contact with bats should be avoided.

For questions on rabies, contact your local county environmental health office or visit the CDC website.

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Should Companion Animals Be Allowed In Shelters During Emergency Evacuations?

There have been recent discussions regarding animals being allowed or not allowed into human shelters during times of emergency.

When discussing this question with Paul O Williams, Surgi Snuggly Veterinary Advisor and Co - Inventor the following was stated.

“Should people evacuating with their animals be allowed to keep their animals with them”.  The answer is yes, with some caveats.

People evacuating with their service animal can stay together under the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The rest of us with our animals, we comprise 58.9% of American households, can find relief in the maturation of organized Emergency Management at the Federal, State and local levels.

Part of the main mission of organized Emergency Management is to save human lives and reduce human suffering.  Since hurricane Andrew in 1992 there has been a long and arduous road to where we are today.  Today, public sector Emergency Management at the Federal, State and local levels are required to have an accommodation for people evacuating and seeking shelter with their animals. 

These accommodations can be found in Federal, State and local Emergency Operations Plans and the Federal Pets Evacuation Transportation Standards Act passed by Congress following hurricane Katrina.

Allowing people to evacuate and seek shelter with their animals, indeed, reduces human suffering.  The caveat; it reduces suffering of our animals as well. Side effects can be positive.

Paul O. Williams, DVM
Project Consultant
Homeland Security Planning and Response                                                                   Homeland Security Div
Surgi Snuggly Veterinary Advisor and Co-Inventor

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It is my mission to provide meaningful, useful products for you and your pets ensuring your lives together are the fullest, healthiest and happiest!
Tonua Williams, CEO Surgi Snuggly