Ring in 2012 with New Year's Resolutions for your Pet

As you are considering New Year's resolutions for yourself for 2012, make sure to include your pet! The most common resolutions we make seem to be centered around better physical and mental health so why not try and focus on these things for your pet as well!?

First Resolution: Measure food!

How about having the goal of helping your pet to achieve his or her ideal weight? Obesity is the one factor that can take away years of quality life from your pet faster than any other. One of the most common mistakes that we see is owners free feeding their pets. This is when the bowl is filled without regard to measuring quantity. Find out how much your pet should be eating (FYI your veterinarian can calculate a recommended caloric intake based on age, activity level and body condition) and adapt him/her to a scheduled, measured feeding routine! (Check out Dr. Rainwater's articles on dog and cat weight loss for more information.)

Second Resolution: No more table scraps!

I can't tell you how many times I hear owners confess the junk food that their pets get - ice cream, fast food hamburgers, chips, etc. There are also junk food pet treats such as Pupperoni and extra large Milk-Bones (read: king size Snickers bar) that are just as bad. Believe me; I understand how much joy it brings to see your pet indulging in a special treat! Instead of the "junk food" though, how about trying raw carrots, green beans, or homemade baked sweet potato slices to name a few healthy options?  My dogs still get their chew treats once or twice weekly, but we give vegetables as their daily rewards and my dogs LOVE them! They act just as excited for the vegetables as they did for the store bought treats! Give it a try!

Third Resolution: Exercise your pet more!

Not only will this resolution benefit your pet's physical health, but it will benefit their mental health as well. Take your dog on daily walks or runs depending on his/her ability. Play a daily game of fetch or Frisbee in the back yard! Try a new toy for your cat (ideas: remote control mouse, laser light, or feeding toy) and play with it daily. As you exercise your pet, you are helping their mental health as well. We see so many behavior problems that most likely stem from lack of mental stimulation!

Fourth Resolution: Train for life!

Adopt an attitude that training your pet is a lifelong goal: training is NEVER over for a pet! Have you resolved to put your dog away when strangers come over as opposed to teaching him/her good manners? Have you resolved to let your cat use the sofa as a scratching post because "the sofa's old and we want to get rid of it anyway"? Have you resolved to allow your dog to jump on you to demand attention? Pets thrive when they know what behaviors are expected of them and when they are positively rewarded for those behaviors. I recommend all new puppy owners adopt the philosophy: "nothing in life is free." This means, ask basic commands before rewards such as getting them to sit before they are fed, let outdoors, or before you pet them. Adult dogs and cats can also be taught these behaviors to help treat and/or prevent a few of the behavior problems that are common in adult pets. Try and teach your dog or cat better manners this year! Everyone will benefit!

Why there is no such thing as an “all stages” pet food

Have you ever wondered why dog and cat foods are labeled “growth” for puppies and kittens and “mature” for older dogs and cats?  There are very important reasons

  • Do we eat the same foods as a teenager and as a sixty year old? 
  • Do we eat the same way when pregnant and after turning fifty? 

Pets also need food that is formulated appropriately for their specific stage in life – to receive adequate, but not excessive, amounts of important nutrients.  Puppies, kittens and lactating mothers need more protein, vitamins, and minerals than adults to ensure proper growth.  Foods for adults and for senior pets should be formulated differently to meet the changing needs of dogs and cats as they age.

Why is “all stages” written on the label?

The pet food industry is regulated by AAFCO – the Association of American Feed Control Officials, a “voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies.”  AAFCO defines an all stages diet this way:  “The pet food has to be suitable for puppies, kittens or pregnant/lactating adults.” 

Here are some examples of how AAFCO standards for an "all stages" diet (to meet a puppy’s needs) match up to an adult dog’s daily nutritional needs:

  • Protein (% minimum) is 22% higher than recommended daily allowances
  • Crude Fat (% min) is 60% higher than recommended daily allowances
  • Sodium (% min) is 400% higher than recommended daily allowances

Daily recommendations for a senior dog are even lower, and the findings are similar in cats.  Overweight condition is the number one contributor to arthritis pain and mobility problems in dogs and cats.  Excess sodium is related to hypertension (elevated blood pressure) and heart disease.

Also from the AAFCO web site:

  • AAFCO has no statutory authority to regulate pet products.
  • AAFCO does not regulate, test, approve or certify pet foods in any way. 
  • AAFCO establishes the nutritional standards for complete and balanced pet foods, and it is the pet food company's responsibility to formulate their products according to the appropriate AAFCO standard.

It is the state feed control official's responsibility in regulating pet food to ensure that the laws and rules established for the protection of companion animals and their custodians are complied with so that only unadulterated, correctly and uniformly labeled pet food products are distributed in the marketplace and a structure for orderly commerce.  

It is up to the company to comply.  Some companies do an excellent job - by using science, doing food trials, employing veterinary nutritionists and other specialists, and formulating foods appropriate for the labeled use.  These companies spend money on food trials and nutritional testing that is not required to put their products on the market. 

These companies share their information with veterinarians so we can educate clients appropriately.  Two companies I trust – two companies from which I purchase foods for my own pets – are:

Some companies do not provide veterinarians with information, even when we ask for it.  Sometimes they do not even have information to provide – no food trials, no nutritional formulas.  They emphasize words that sell products:  “natural” “organic” and “grain free” are some examples of words which are unregulated and unimportant to your pet’s nutritional health.

These buzz words are for your sake – the consumer – because they appeal to you.  The “all stages” foods are marketed to pet owners who look for the convenience of one food for more than one pet.  But it just is not possible to meet their individual requirements at different stages of life with one formula.

These marketing techniques do not benefit our pets nutritionally.  Some of the premium diets sold at boutique pet stores can cause your pet problems.  Most are calorie dense, “filler free” foods without the fiber and carbohydrate our pets need to stay healthy.

Dogs and cats become ever more obese and pet owners find it ever harder to afford their care.  Don't spend money on the wrong things.  Who can help you sort this out?  Your veterinarian, who studied nutrition, physiology, medicine and disease – who spent eight years in college specializing in animal health and wellness, is equipped to help you prioritize your funds devoted to pet care.  We can help when they are sick- and we are the best source of information on how to keep them healthy.

Please don’t fall for marketing schemes and ask the advice of perhaps well-meaning, but untrained employees in the pet food and pet store industry!  They just don’t know.


Why Do Dogs and Cats Eat Grass?

As it turns out, the short answer to this question is “We don’t know.” However, there are lots of fun theories out there about why our carnivorous companion pets eat grass and it turns out that the circumstances of grass or plant eating can be very different between individual animals.

Are they sick?

Many people report that their pets eat grass and vomit afterward, which has led to the commonly held assumption that they eat grass because they have an upset stomach. The idea is that the poky tips of grasses irritate the stomach lining enough to induce a vomiting reflex. Others have theorized that they eat grass because of the effects of internal parasites, and the fiber helps them feel better by mechanically removing the parasites from the intestines. This idea has actually been studied in great ape research, where some chimpanzees have been shown to have decreased fecal parasite loads after eating certain kinds of fibrous plants.

In research surveys, however, grass eating and vomiting don’t necessarily go together. A recent study of clients and veterinary students who’s dogs ate grass showed that only 18% of clients’ dogs that ate grass or other plants vomited afterward, and only 9% of veterinary-students’ dogs showed any signs of illness prior to eating grass.

Another interesting study took normal dogs and treated a small subset of them with a mild, diarrhea inducing drug and then exposed them to different grasses. The dogs not given the drug ate much more grass than the dogs that were given the drug, suggesting that dogs do not eat grass to self-medicate at least that type of GI upset. However, anecdotes abound of people who were first alerted to anything from gastric ulcers to inflammatory bowel syndrome by frequent grass eating behavior. One difference owners seem to consistently notice is that dogs who are seen to suddenly start the habit of gulping down large amounts of grass (and usually vomiting afterward) are more likely to have an underlying illness.

Are they lacking in nutrients?

The ancestors of our modern day dogs and cats probably ate small amounts of plants and grasses as a normal part of the diet. They may also have obtained plant fiber and nutrients indirectly by eating the intestines of wild herbivores (like rabbits or deer). Since most of our dogs and cats are lacking fresh herbivore entrails in their daily diet, some people believe they crave grasses in an effort replace what they would get in the wild by eating plant material directly. Anecdotally, this theory is somewhat supported by the experience ofpeople who have seen that feeding their dogs greens such as small amounts of parsley, kale, or other vitamin C containing foods will curb their dogs’ grass eating habits. In addition, one published report in Japan documented a poodle that stopped eating grass after the owners instituted a high fiber diet.

While they are stricter carnivores than dogs, a similar thought process is used to try to explain grass-eating in cats. Many pet stores now carry barley grasses that are free of pesticides that you can grow at home for your kitties to eat.  Nutritional benefit is questionable, but if it does not cause vomiting or other problems it is probably safe for them to eat small amounts of grass. 

Are they crazy?

Neurologic or behavioral maladies such as obsessive compulsive disorders have been suspected in some cases of grass eating. Pica, a condition characterized by a consistent craving for non-food items (usually dirt, rocks, etc.), may apply to grass eating in some cases, although it is thought that these cases are rare. 

Are they hungry?

Although their intestines are not adapted for breaking down plants for nutrition the way herbivores like cows and horses are, dogs at least (unlike cats) are able to tolerate a much higher fraction of non-meat protein and carbohydrate sources in their diet. Research on wild canid populations (wolves, foxes, dingoes, etc.) has shown that all of them do consume some plant material, including grasses, in the wild.

Owners of dogs that frequently snack on grass without side-effects often say that the dogs are selective about which types of grasses they will eat, including some who will only eat newly grown shoots of certain kinds of grass (which are lower in the bitter tannins and higher in carbohydrates and protein).  There are probably many dogs that just like the taste of grass and eat it as a snack, whatever the larger implications may be.

What do I do about it?

Why, ask your veterinarian of course! If your pet snacks on grass and never or only very occasionally vomits, there less likely to be an underlying problem. However,  if it is a new behavior, they are eating large amounts of grass or vomiting frequently (more than once a month or so), then we would recommend you have your pet seen for a physical examination and possibly some follow up blood work or other diagnostics. Also make sure that any grass eating they do is on grass that has not recently had fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides or other chemicals applied.

As a side note, supplementing pet diets with herbs and vegetables is fine but always make sure that a high quality AAFCO approved, age-appropriate, nutritionally balanced commercial food is the main component of any diet you feed your pets.

If in doubt, give us a call!