What’s in that Pet Food Anyway?

By Margaret Meier Jones, Animal Wellness Center of Buffalo County

If you’ve watched TV lately, you’ve likely seen a commercial advertising a dog food that is “New or Improved.” Or perhaps you’ve seen a blog or a news report through social media that states a particular food was the demise of a friend of a friend’s dog. The latest and greatest today seems to be that every manufacturer seems to have a “grain-free” food that you should rush out and buy. Is this really important or just the latest, greatest marketing strategy?
Dogs, like people, are omnivores, which means their metabolism is based on meat, fruits, and vegetables; whereas cats are truly carnivores and need a diet based primarily on meat. So those commercials showing how your cat is dreaming of carrots and tomatoes aren’t actually based on biological facts. And, perhaps your cat actually does love tomatoes, but your sister’s cat only wants sardines. Why is that, exactly? One of the best answers may come from the Chinese “archetypes” of personalities and metabolisms based on the five seasons, a system that can be applied to our pets as well as ourselves. The Web That Has No Weaver, by Ted J. Kaptchuk, O.M.D., is a great book to read if you’d like more detailed information on diet and the Chinese theory of the five seasons.

So, does my pet actually need to eat “grain free”? Like many questions, the answer to this one is it depends. In general, however, grains are not typically the villains they are made out to be. The quality of the food and how much it is processed should always play a major role in determining if we should feed it to our pets rather than whether or not it contains any grain. Unfortunately the pet food industry is not as regulated as it is for humans, and pet foods aren’t even required to be balanced and nutritious to be sold to the consumer.
So, how do I navigate the world of pet foods? I strongly recommend that you compare the food you are feeding your dog to others on the market at dogfoodadvisor.com. This website uses the familiar “5 star” rating system to rank foods based on the following seven criteria according to their website:

1. No controversial chemical preservatives
2. No anonymous meat ingredients
3. No artificial coloring agents
4. No generic animal fats
5. Substantial amounts of meat-based protein
6. Fat to protein ratio of 75 percent or lower
7. Modest carbohydrate content

Notice that they refer to it as carbohydrate content, not grain free. The most common misconception I hear from my clients is that grain free equals carbohydrate free, which is far from true. Unfortunately, sometimes the grain-free version of a food can be much higher in carbohydrates than any other ingredient, which leads to weight gain and health issues related to obesity. So, check dogfoodadvisor.com, and while you’re there, be certain to register for the free food recall alerts. This way you’ll know what food you feed your pets is not only the best, but also the safest out there!

Purr-fectly Purr-tect Baby from Allergies with Pets

By Margaret Meier Jones, Buffalo Valley Vet Clinic

 Bringing home your new baby is a time of great joy and celebration. As you’ve gone through your pregnancy, no doubt you have received countless tips, suggestions, and various opinions regarding raising your baby with pets in your home. From the old wives’ tale of cats smothering babies in their cribs to increased risks of vivacious dogs harming your baby; you may have been encouraged to re-home your pets before your baby’s arrival. The good news, however, is that children raised with pets have a stronger immune system and are actually less likely to be allergic to animals as adults!

In the study led by Ganesa Wegienka, PhD, and published in the journal Clinical & Experimental Allergy,[1] researchers concluded “the first year of life is the critical period during childhood when indoor exposure to dogs or cats influences sensitization to these animals.” Wegienka went on to say, “Dirt is good. Your immune system, if it’s busy with exposures early on, stays away from the allergic immune profile.” Interestingly, the study did not show a substantial reduction in adult pet allergies if the children were first exposed to pets after the first year of life.

Raising your baby with pets has many other benefits for you and your child. As your children grow, having a pet in the household can also help to keep your child active; thereby preventing childhood obesity. Taking your dog for daily walks with your child helps to demonstrate the importance of getting outside and exercising on a regular basis. These early influences help to develop a lifetime habit of activity and provide priceless memories for you and your child.

As your child grows, pets also help develop self-confidence and allow children to become responsible adults. Going outside to play with the family pet encourages one’s imagination and creativity. I remember well watching my daughter, Emilia, develop games she and our dog, Sara Jane, would play for hours on end. She would also carry her favorite kitten, Toupe`, in a small pail telling us he was in his car seat and they were on their way to the grocery store to buy groceries. Finally, pets can also help our children learn how to deal with grief. Several studies have shown that the younger we are when we learn how to process the feelings of grief, the better equipped we are to deal with it throughout our lives.

 

So enjoy raising your baby WITH your pets. The benefits that will last your and your child’s lifetime are yours to create and share.

 

  1. “Lifetime Dog and Cat Exposure and Dog and Cat Specific Sensitization at Age 18 Years,” Journal of Clinical and Experimental Allergy, 2011, Jul 41, (7) 979-986.

Service Dogs and PTSD: Dogs Can Help Address Stress

An Interview with Heather Mishefske, emBARK

A Second Opinion: Do you feel having a dog in general (not specifically trained) can be helpful to a person with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? If so, why? In what ways? Are they especially helpful to veterans?
Heather Mishefske:
Absolutely a dog is helpful to anyone with PTSD. A dog does not need to be specifically trained to provide benefits to people with PTSD. Dogs meet us in the moment, and for people who struggle with traumatic events of the past, this is an amazing trait. Dogs give unconditional love to their people, and support them via multiple senses. While they support our emotional and tactile senses, they are a constant in our life. They do not ask us to explain, they do not ask us to talk, nor do they ask for emotional support back to them. They simply are there. Dogs also are able to create new routines for exercise, provide a first contact in social settings (which may otherwise be avoided), and allow for accountability in keeping the dog’s schedule for eating/letting out/walking.

ASO: In some cases would it be better for a person with PTSD to go through the process of acquiring a trained and certified service dog? Why or why not?
HM: If a person feels they need support while out in public and needs more than just emotional support, it is imperative that a dog be trained to support that person in public settings. Being out in public brings with it extreme distractions, difficult environments, loud sounds, unusual surfaces, and unique settings. A dog needs to have stealth focus to maintain his/her job in supporting its person under all of these circumstances. Some dogs are obtained via service dog organizations, and some are self-trained.  These dogs are trained to be able to provide mobility assistance, physically interrupt and redirect panic attacks, retrieve medications, alert help, provide nighttime support in the event of nightmares, redirect emotional upsets, provide mobility support, and remind the handler of daily tasks. A well-trained dog can work in a public setting around heavy distractions and provide support while ignoring these distractions.

ASO: You have found sometimes people claim their dogs are service dogs, but they really aren’t trained to be. Why do you think people do that? How does that create issues for people whose dogs ARE trained and certified?
HM: There is an alarming amount of dogs out in public who are not truly service dogs but whose owners claim they are. A service dog is defined as a dog who provides a task for the handler that the handler cannot do himself or herself. For many, a service dog is absolutely crucial in allowing these handlers to be able to survive in public. With many claiming that their pet is a service animal, this is hurting legislation allowing real service dogs to come into public settings. There have been examples in the press where seeing-eye dogs have been denied access in public settings due to businesses having had bad previous experiences with “fake” service dogs in that facility.

A service dog in public should be an invisible extension of its handler. They are not there to be petted, to be social, or to interact with anyone other than their person. They should have superb manners, stealth focus, and be completely attentive to their handler. Touting your pet as a service dog under false pretenses is hurting those who really rely on their service dogs, and this is hugely unethical. There is no national certification, no government regulations, or no “vest” requirements for service dogs. Dogs that are trained to perform tasks for disabled people qualify as service animals under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They are generally allowed to accompany their owners wherever the public can go. There is also something called an emotional support dog. These dogs support a person emotionally but are not allowed to accompany them in public places under the ADA laws. Emotional support dogs do not need the advanced training that service dogs do, as they do not have public access rights other than travel and housing rights.

ASO: How are dogs beneficial to their humans even if they don’t have PTSD? What are the benefits of having a dog?
HM:
There are SO many benefits!  Research has proven that being present around dogs or owning a dog can lower blood pressure, raise levels of feel-good hormones, get people out exercising, create social opportunities, help prevent children from developing allergies later in life, provide companionship, and many other amazing things!

Living with a dog requires you to be accountable. They require to us to be responsible for another life other than our own. In return they provide unwavering loyalty, nonjudgmental relationships, and a constant support. They simply walk side by side with us accompanying us through the web that life throws at us.

Aging Gracefully

By Margaret Meier Jones

Have you begun to notice that your pet is starting to slow down, play less, move cautiously, or be easily irritated? Does it hesitate before jumping onto the bed, couch, or into the car? Have you observed that its legs seem to shake when trying to lie down or after daily walks? Has it become part of your pet’s routine to circle for quite some time before lying down on their bed or having their bowel movements while walking, rather than easily arching their back and squatting? Is your aging cat having difficulty always using their litter box? If you answered yes to ANY of these questions, your pet may be suffering from osteoarthritis (OA) and not just “old age.” Together, with just a few easy changes to our daily routine, we truly can help manage the chronic pain of OA and assist them to age with grace and dignity.

The first, and easiest, thing to do is increase the amount of essential fatty acids in the diet. The most important fatty acid to supplement is Omega 3, which helps the brain, the skin, the heart, and the joints. It is important to realize that the trend of adding coconut oil to the diet does NOT provide our pets with any Omega 3, but rather mid-chain fatty acids. The best source of Omega 3 for our cats and dogs is fish oil. Cats, as carnivores, cannot convert the oils in plants, such as flax or chia seeds into Omega 3; and dogs can only convert a very small portion. As a result, if we use anything but fish oil, we unwittingly increase the inflammatory Omega 6. When comparing fish oil, it is important to look for “nordic,” or cold, processing. This ensures that your pet will not be exposed to the harsh chemicals (i.e., acetone) that are used conventionally. Give us a call if you’re not certain of the fish oil you have, or the amount to administer to your pet, and we can help!

Exercise and weight control are also a key element that can easily be incorporated to help our pets age with grace. “Move it or lose it” applies to all of us but becomes even more important with age. Having three short 10-minute walks can be much easier, and even more effective, than one 30-minute walk. As the pet gets out and moves, endorphins are produced that help eliminate pain; and shorter walks put less strain on muscles and joints. Watching portion sizes of a good quality senior diet and overall caloric intake (including treats) helps to maintain a healthy weight thereby preventing increased stress on joints. Having your pet sit and then stand, for three repetitions, before giving them their meals provides a mini yoga session that helps strengthen their core muscle groups.

Finally, taking a fresh look at your home from the eyes of our aging pet and making a few small changes can make a world of difference to them. Can we eliminate the stairs up and down on the way outside by going out a different door? If not, can we construct a ramp that is wide and has a nonslip surface to eliminate the steps? Is there an “under the bed” storage container with lower sides that we could use as a litter box? Can we help provide all of our pet’s needs on one level of our home? Asking these simple questions, and taking action on their answers, can provide the perspective our aging pets need us to consider for their comfort.

Pet’s Paws for Earth Day Too!

As we celebrate Earth Day this April 22 we honor Mother Earth and look for ways to ensure that she remains healthy for generations to come. We have all been told one of the best ways to do this is to reduce our personal carbon footprint, but did you know that your pet also has a carbon footprint? According to the HealthyPawsPetInsurace.com’s random facts about pets “a medium-sized dog has the same eco-impact as a Toyota Land Cruiser driven 6,000 miles a year, while a cat is equivalent to a Volkswagen Golf, based on the amount of land needed to grow food for each.” Rather surprising is it not? Here are five ways to green-up our world with our pets.

 Get out and walk with your pet.

As we all know, getting out and enjoying the great outdoors is one of the hallmarks of Earth Day. Taking our pets out for a walk is a great way to do this. While you’re out on your walk, consider recycling those plastic grocery store bags to not only pick up your pets waste, but the environmental litter you encounter as well. It only takes a brief moment of time to pick up the waste products other humans leave behind. You’ll not only have a cleaner view on your next walk, but you’ll feel better knowing you helped keep litter from entering the waterways and possibly causing harm to wildlife as well. Don’t have a pet of your own to walk? Consider volunteering at your county’s shelter, or Bob’s House for Dogs, and take a walk with one of the shelter pets that’s longing to share the great outdoors too.

Choose pet- and eco-friendly products.

As you go through your house on the spring cleaning spree, consider using pet and eco-friendly cleaning products such as vinegar, baking soda, and lemon. As you purchase your cleaning products, read the labels closely and choose products that are all natural and avoid those with long chemical names that no one can really pronounce. These products are becoming easier to find and more affordable than ever before as consumer’s demand increases. Using these products to clean your home along with rags made from t-shirts greatly decreases the waste produced by using paper towel products.  And, as you clean your closets and sort through the items you no longer need, consider donating your gently used towels, rugs, sheets, blankets, leashes, and even collars to the local shelters as they are often in need of these products. Looking to replace a donated item with something new? Consider purchasing replacement products made from renewable sources such as bamboo, hemp, or other renewable sources such as vegetable based chew bones rather than plastic ones.

Recycle, reuse, reduce.

There are many ways our pets can help us recycle, reuse, and reduce waste.  As I mentioned earlier, using the plastic grocery store bag as a pooper scooper on our walks is an easy choice, but what if we use cloth bags when we purchase our groceries? Consider using biodegradable pet bags, such as BioBags, to pick up the waste on the walk, or ask your non-pet-owning neighbors to save their plastic grocery bags for you to use. What about my cat, you say? Consider the Kitty Scratch Pole made here in the United States from 100 percent recycled cardboard materials for your kitty’s scratching post. It even comes with refillable disks to provide hours of scratching fun. Scooping the cat litter pan daily as recommended? Place the empty cat litter container next to your cat litter pan with a liner in it to make the scooping convenient and reduce the amount of plastic you typically use. Not a fan of the scoopable litter? Consider litter made from renewable sources such as wheat, pine, or recycled paper. My personal favorite is Yesterday’s News litter, which is made from recycled paper.

Try to eliminate purchasing anything in a plastic bottle, but if you have one, it can make a great dog toy. I know my puppy absolutely loves chewing them up after I’ve removed the top and the label, and the recycling center certainly doesn’t care about the teeth marks he leaves behind in them. And, always remember, if the plastic bottles come held together with the plastic rings, take a brief moment to cut each ring (including the handle) with a scissors to prevent harming wildlife should they come into contact with them. Changing the water in your pet’s water bowl? Consider using the “dirty” water to water your plants and/or your compost pile. Finally, one of the easiest, yet most often over-looked ways to reduce waste is to feed your dog and cat a good quality food such as Taste of the Wild. It may be a bit more cost initially, but the savings in both quantity of food consumed and waste produced will pad your wallet in the long run.

Compost.

Composting is a great way to reduce the overall waste we each produce. There are many ways you can incorporate your pet’s waste products into a composting program and produce amazing fertilizer. You can check out websites such as findacomposter.com for local composting sites that accept pet waste. If making compost on your own, be sure to maintain the proper temperature to produce a final product that is safe to use.

Spay, neuter, adopt.

Helping reduce the over-population of pets by spaying, neutering, and adopting your next pet from the shelter can perhaps have the greatest impact for Mother Earth on this Earth Day. It’s a sobering fact to realize that approximately 8 million, yes I said million, pets are euthanized each year as a result of the pet overpopulation in this country alone. Each step we take to reduce this tragic number helps us all breathe a bit easier, and helps Mother Nature smile as we all work together to take care of her children that are already here.