Wednesday, December 31, 2008

How pet food is made. Our imagination and expectations from start to finish and the dangerous middle in between. Part 2 and conclusion

In part 1 on this topic we talked about the process of making dry pet food. Let me briefly summarize, so that you don’t have to go back to the original comment:
Most dry food is made with a machine called an expander or extruder. First, raw materials are blended, sometimes by hand, other times by computer, in accordance with a recipe developed by animal nutritionists. This mixture is fed into an expander and steam or hot water is added. The mixture is subjected to steam, pressure, and high heat as it is extruded through dies that determine the shape of the final product and puffed like popcorn. The food is allowed to dry, and then is usually sprayed with fat, digests, or other compounds to make it more palatable. Although the cooking process may kill bacteria in pet food, the final product can lose its sterility during the subsequent drying, fat coating, and packaging process. A few foods are baked at high temperatures rather than extruded. This produces a dense, crunchy kibble that is palatable without the addition of sprayed on palatability enhancers. Animals can be fed about 25% less of a baked food, by volume (but not by weight), than an extruded food.
Most semi moist foods are manufactured in a manner similar to dry foods, with a few differences. The product is formulated, mixed, and passed through an extruder just like dry food. The extruders are configured at a lower temperature and pressure than dry foods. After leaving the extruder semi moist food instead of drying goes through low agitation coating drums where water, chemicals that help to maintain moisture (humectants), and acids are added. After that the food goes into a refrigerated cooler to set the structure so it will maintain a higher moisture content and spongy texture. Semi moist foods with 25% to 35% are higher in moisture than dry foods with typically around 10%. This also means that they are therefore more exposed to spoilage from mold and bacteria. Additionally, the high moisture content also makes this type of food susceptible to loss of moisture and texture deterioration. To address these issues, semi moist foods are formulated with mold and bacterial inhibitors and packaged in special moisture proof bags.
The French army developed the processing of canning food back in the good old days of 1809. Since then, the process has made many improvements to improve quality. However, the basic principles still to this day are the same. Sealing a food product in a can and then heat sterilizing it continues to be one of the most common and affordable ways of preserving food products.
Most canned foods contain a high level of meat products as their base. Fresh and frozen meat and meat by-products are delivered in frozen or refrigerated truck loads. The meat product is ground into small pieces and then carefully weighed and added to a batch mix that may include grains and definitely includes minerals and vitamins as required by their nutrient profiles. After combining the ingredients they go into the mixer where they are thoroughly blended. During this process the temperature is increased and the starch in the food begins to gelatinize. At the same time the protein begins to denature, which improves texture and flavor. Foods that contain carbohydrates generally require a higher temperature to fully cook the starch. Once the product has been properly cooked, it then moves on to the canning process. While the cooked mixture is still hot, the product moves into the filler and seamer machine. This machine fills, places the lids on, and seams from 300 to 600 cans a minute. Steam is blown over the top of the filled can as the lid is applied to maintain the heat, so that when the can cools, it will be vacuum sealed to help prevent spoilage. Once the cans are filled and sealed, they move into the sterilizer where they are heated to temperatures of 121° Celsius for at least three minutes to ensure that any dangerous bacteria are killed. Finally, once the cans have been sterilized, they are cooled, and labeled.
Understanding the manufacturing process of commercial pet foods can help you to choose the best type of food for your cat or dog. Once you choose the type of food you wish to feed, you can pick a quality manufacturer and then closely examine the product line and the individual ingredients to determine the most nutritious and palatable food for your pet.
Ingredients are similar for wet, dry, and semi moist foods, although the ratios of protein, fat, and fiber may change. A typical can of ordinary cat food reportedly contains about 45 to 50% meat or poultry by-products. The main difference between the types of food is the water content. It is impossible to directly compare labels from different kinds of food without a mathematical conversion to dry matter basis.
While the manufacture of pet food can seem complex, it is actually very similar to the way human food is manufactured. Reputable manufacturers go to great lengths to provide a consistent, nutritious product that meets all of a pet's nutritional needs.
The problem with these impressive processes of pet food manufacturing is the processing of the ingredients. One of my favorite experts, Dr. Wysong, D.V.M. calls it “food torturing”. Because it’s done behind the scenes, you don’t see it and it is kind of not so pretty. In his “The Truth about Pet Foods” book he concludes: “What happens between the farmer’s field and the commercial package significantly vitiates healthful nutrition. Unfortunately this dangerous middle is by and large ignored. Once foods are milled, fractioned, blended, extruded, pelleted, dried, retorted, baked, dyed, breaded, fried, sauced, gravied, pulped, strained, embalmed, sterilized, sanitized, petrified to permit endless shelf life, and finally prettified, they become something entirely different from the wholesome starting materials. The vast majority of modern foods are inert and anonymous processing concoctions of a few base ingredients… the resulting myriad products are nothing more but nutritional shells of the real thing.”

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Pet itching for relief? Leading cause Allergies Part 3 Treating Food allergies with single or novel protein sources

When food allergies are suspected, a dog or cat is often put on a diet consisting of either a single protein or a novel protein and carbohydrate. Single protein means for example either turkey or chicken only, not chicken & turkey. A novel protein is simply a brand new one that your dog or cat has never been exposed to. Lamb and rice foods were originally formulated to meet this need. The idea became so popular, however, and so many manufactures jumped on the lamb and rice bandwagon that most dogs and many cats have eaten lamb at some point in their life. The result is that lamb is no longer such a novel protein. Pet food manufacturers seeing the growing market for such novel and unique foods continue to produce allergy formulas or hypoallergenic foods with ever more exotic sources of protein. Venison, rabbit and duck are more common these day. But how about kangaroo, elk, bison, buffalo (aren’t bison and buffalo the same?) brushtail, quail, pheasant, llama or gator and more? You have to give them credit, the industry is quite creative when it comes to creating formulations available for our food sensitive companion animals. This makes providing variety in the diet a little easier, but be careful not to feed every protein available or you may run out of options should the need ever arise to put your companion on a restricted, novel protein diet.When searching for a novel protein food for your companion, read labels carefully. Many manufacturers name their canned foods and kibble suggesting a single or novel protein. However, a closer look at the label may reveal that secondary protein sources are being included as well. Manufacturers offering hypoallergenic food are plenty out there. Some specialize in dry or canned formulas designed specifically for the sensitive pet. Others offer hypoallergenic formulas by providing novel protein sources. These include venison, rabbit, duck, beaver, New Zealand brushtail, kangaroo, quail, tuna, buffalo to name a few. Without listing every name individually, visit our on-line store for plenty of more ideas and choices. Besides kibble or canned formulas, try food mixes from for example Sojos, Honest Kitchen, Dr. Harvey or Addiction. These are pre-mixed formulas combining all essential ingredients except in some cases a meat source. You simply add your own novel meat source according to your needs. And finally, the best route you can go is feeding raw. Even here are plenty of novel choices available to include venison, quail, pheasant, kangaroo, ostrich, even gator and llama are available. Again, visit our store for more info, enter the protein source of your choice into the search field for the easiest way to find out what’s available. Keep in mind, the same what I said for canned and dry food, applies to food mixes and raw, make sure to read the ingredient listing to avoid multiple protein sources and ingredients your pet may have a problem with.
To truly determine if the restricted diet is helping you may need to keep your dog or cat on this single protein diet for up to 12 weeks, however, progress is sometimes seen way earlier within 4 to 8 weeks. Once a food tolerance is established, however, find at least one and preferably two other protein sources that can also be tolerated for rotational feeding. A dog or cat that has developed an allergy to one protein is more susceptible to developing additional sensitivities, so rotation in their diet is important.When feeding a restricted diet to a food sensitive pet, don’t forget to read the labels on treats and supplements as well. As it is true for the food, just because your pet has a food sensitivity does not mean there are only a very limited number of options available. There are just as many options on treats as there are on food. And the same guidelines when making a selection apply.Some dogs and many cats may have grain allergies rather than, or in addition to protein allergies. The increase in the availability of grain free food makes feeding much less problematic than it was a few years ago. There is basically no more manufacturer left not offering some kind of a grain free formula. The downside to the influx of grain free foods seems to be the trend to include combinations of more uncommon or exotic meats in these formulas including buffalo, venison, duck and salmon in combinations with each other or with more common meats such as chicken, turkey beef or lamb. Should an animal on these diets become sensitive or allergic, the search for a novel protein becomes much more difficult.
A couple more things you want to keep in mind: Obviously apply all the pet food selection rules as you use the for “ordinary” food, i.e. make sure you read the labels, understand the ingredients, select the right ingredients, make sure you get a complete formula covering all nutrients required and so on.
Use common sense and take everything what’s being said and recommended to you with a grain of salt. Here I have a real life example. It happened a couple days ago that this owner of a Dachshund with food allergies called me looking for a food with a novel protein source. She was told by a friend that we would be the place to go to. To me, at first this was nothing new. After all, novel protein source pet food must be the most sought for answer I am being asked for every day. But this woman took me by surprise. For our conversation she had readily prepared a list of protein sources her dog is allergic to. Coming with compliments from her vet. When listening to the animals listed I got the feeling that her vet must have read the most horrific stories about his risk of being sued for making a wrong recommendation. It almost sounded as if he copied the index of an animal encyclopedia to make sure he got his grounds covered. And to be honest, all my options mentioned in my comment above went right out the window. I was speechless and did not know what to say. Except, that poor Dachshund is going to starve to death because according to his vet he cannot eat anything. However, I did come up with one option: New Zealand brushtail. That animal must not have been listed in the vet’s encyclopedia, it is relatively unknown in this country and he probably never heard of it. However I am sure by now it has made its way onto his list.
Now, I am not a vet, but as far as I have learned, food allergies develop over time. The reason for an animal to become allergic to a specific protein source is that the animal was fed the same food over a long period of time and it’s body started rejecting the specific source. That’s when you introduce a new or novel protein source. There may be certain relationships within certain protein sources, for example a pet may be sensitive to not just chicken, but poultry in general to include possibly for example turkey. But throughout my years in this rewarding business of successfully helping pet owners day in and day out I have never come across a case where a truly novel protein source would not take care of the problem. So therefore, in my opinion an animal which never has been fed kangaroo simply cannot be allergic to it. Is kangaroo for you too exotic of an example? Well, someone has yet to show me a dog allergic to a home grown American duck, I just never met one (unless of course he developed over years a sensitivity to duck because that was what he was fed all his life). You see what I am saying? There is no logic behind such recommendations as the one made by my customer’s vet. Obviously my customer now is devastated. Whom can she believe? And her dog is wondering: What am I going to eat now? There is no food for me in this world.
Finally, be patient. Results don’t show over night and it may require quite a while before improvements can be seen. Sometimes this can take up to 3 months.
Pet itching for relief? Leading cause Allergies Part 1 Introduction, Flea, atopic (inhalant) and contact allergies
Pet itching for relief? Leading cause Allergies Part 2 Food allergies, allergy testing and treatment

P.S. It just did bother me too much: Wikipedia says: “In American Western culture, the bison is commonly referred to as "buffalo"; however, this is a misnomer: though both bison and buffalo belong to the Bovidae family, the term "buffalo" properly applies only to the Asian water buffalo and African buffalo. The gaur, a large, thick-coated ox found in Asia, is also known as the "Indian bison", although it is in the genus Bos and thus not a true bison.”

Monday, December 29, 2008

Don’t let feeding your pet turn into a science: Vet setting base nutrient intake values for cat impossible to meet by pet owner

A couple days ago one of my customers gave me a brain workout. Quite some homework he gave me there. I have been calculating for hours out trying to find what he is looking for in my assortment. His vet wants his cat to get every day 27g of protein but at the same time restrict the caloric intake to 210 kcal/day. Here is how far I got to this point and my response:
“The bottom line is simple: I do not know where your vet got his numbers from, but finding a food matching those markers is quite a challenge. In general either we are ok in protein values but then can’t match the calories or vice versa.
I looked at my raw foods (all figures based on 10 lbs body weight of the cat, which is what the 210 kcal requirement set by your vet translates to in my calorie tables):
The AFS Chicken/Beef formula (the freeze dried version) is perfect in calories (220), though high in protein, 40g.
Primal makes a Turkey/Veggie Mix (80% meat, 20% organic produce), calories are 196, but with 19g/feeding there is not enough protein.
They also make a, what they call “Frozen Raw Formula”. The Chicken/Salmon Formula (85% chicken, 5% salmon, 10% produce) has 252 calories (high) providing 25 g protein. A Pheasant Formula (95% meat, 5% produce) provides the same value in protein, 25 g but has a lower caloric content of 236. This would be the closest one I can get with my products.
Aside from frozen raw, I was checking into other options as well. And this is where my problem starts: Are we sure we have the right numbers from your vet? Basically when using the protein and calorie figures I come up with the fact that nothing would match your requirements. That just seems awkward. Our foods have proven themselves to be helpful for hundreds of pets, regardless what their conditions may have been. Over weights lost weight, under weights gained, diseases and allergies have been helped, pets become more lively and simply over all healthier. Just last night I got a call from a customer. Her cat was underweight and has a kidney problem. We put her on a strict Wysong diet with Archetype and Geriatrx, the cat now is gaining weight (after 3 years of losses and 2 months of feeding my food), after being totally inactive, she now plays with the kittens, talks a lot and it is just amazing and easy to see that the food took care of a lot of problems. My diet plan, which is a varied feeding of a Wysong dry formula like Geriatrx, any Archetype TNT processed variety (TNT processing is a proprietary method of preserving raw food, it is similar to freeze drying just does not utilize heat, which destroys important food elements) and any Wysong canned Meat Au Jus flavors combined with various supplements and fresh food like fresh, whole meat, veggies and fruit, is simply a working solution. Yet, if I run the numbers and compare them to what you told me you need for your cat, they are way off. This in turn would mean it is not a working solution in general, but we know that the opposite is the case. One of the problems we are running into with my plan is that it is going to be extremely difficult to figure out the numbers since so many different components are involved.
I understand that every animal is different from the next one. But I want to help you out here and I am sure that ultimately we will come up with the right plan for your cat. It is as simple as that. Let’s just make sure, before putting in all this work, we start out with the correct numbers. Also, please let me know as much as you know about your cat, like age, breed, any specific health conditions, what does she prefer to eat (i.e. fish, poultry, lamb, beef, etc.), etc.
Like I said, you can rest assured together we are going to figure this out. That is what we are good at and what ultimately will become our trademark.”
What I really want to know and asked the customer to find out is if the vet has any food recommendation. It doesn’t look like it, otherwise my customer wouldn’t ask for help. Pet food by the book and straight down to the most particular detail? An interesting approach. Especially since much of today’s commercially mass produced pet food is quite the opposite of what we should have learned from the books. Sounds to me like this is taking it from one extreme to another one. I am anxiously looking forward to the continuation of this story coming soon.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

How Often Should You Feed Your Cat?

It is not always concerns about the correct diet I am being asked about by my customers. Very often it is very simple issues pet owners are worried about and want to make sure they do the best they can do for their pets. One of these questions is “How often should I feed my cat?”
While I have my very own opinion on this issue, to make sure I am providing proper advice I did as usual consult the Internet with its hundreds of related websites addressing feline dietary issues. This time I ended up at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Based on an article I found there written by Karen Commings for the Feline Health Center I came up with the following:
Obviously the amount fed and frequency of meals depends on your cat's age, health and preference.
Karen says “Check the pet food aisle at your local supermarket, and you'll find a dozens of varieties of food to entice your cat.” I am not too happy with this statement, especially not since it is coming from the College of Veterinary Medicine. These guys should know better than recommending the food as quoted. At least they should have added “outlets where you can find high quality and healthy food”. Anyway, this is a different subject and Karen continues:
“Feed your cat too little or the wrong kind of food, and he won't maintain good health. Feed him too much, and he'll get fat. But you can help get your cat off on the right paw by establishing regular feeding routines. Although the food you feed your cat should be complete and balanced, the simple answer to how often you should feed him is that there isn't a simple answer.”
The cat’s life stage should be the first consideration. “Kittens require more food per pound of body weight to support their growth than do adult cats, and therefore should be fed more often throughout the day. "Growing kittens up to six months of age may require three meals a day," says Francis Kallfelz, DVM, PHD, board certified by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition and James Law professor of nutrition at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. "From age six months to maturity, most cats will do well when fed two times a day."
Once the cat becomes an adult, at about one year, feeding once or twice a day is appropriate in most cases. Senior cats, age seven and above, should maintain the same feeding regimen. "Once cats reach adulthood, once a day feeding is fine as long as they are healthy and have no disease problems suggesting a reason to feed differently," says Dr. Kallfelz.”
Then, obviously the health of your cat matters. If your cat suffers from a health problem such as diabetes, you may need to feed him based on whenever he is administered insulin, depending on the type. "Talk to your veterinarian," says Dr. Kallfelz. If your cat has hyperthyroidism, he may want to eat all the time. "Treat the disease," says Dr. Kallfelz. "If it is a treatable problem, treat it and then feed your cat normally." With age, the cat’s teeth may go bad, or gum disease may develop making it difficult to chew dry food. "If they get to that point, then offer them canned food or dry in a finer nugget size," says Dr. Kallfelz. You can also mash up the dry and mix it with water to make it easier to chew.
Going the extra mile for your cat: Should pets be put on special diets? "If they are obese, then weight reduction diets may be often required to get the weight off. Historically, higher fiber and low fat containing diets have been used," says Dr. Bartges. I would like to add that most of the times simple portion control will do the job just fine. It is a fact that many pets are simply being overfed. But continue reading as this still is going to be addressed.What is the best type of food: Many cat owners feed only dry food to their felines. "Dry food is fine as long as it is complete and balanced," says Dr. Kallfelz. Dry food may be less expensive than canned cat food and may stay fresher longer. Cats that eat only dry food need to be provided with lots of fresh water, especially if they are prone to developing urinary tract blockages. For all cats, constant availability of fresh, clean water is important.
Canned cat food is typically about 70 to 80 percent water, and can be fed in addition to or instead of dry. Some cats may find canned food more palatable. These cats may consume too much if they are allowed free access to food. Of course, this may occur with dry food as well. "Food with average palatability may be preferable," says Dr. Kallfelz. If it is extremely palatable, the cat may be more likely to overeat. If it is not quite so palatable, he may be less likely to overeat.
Super sizing food portions is not just a problem for people. Since the feeding instructions on pet food labels are based on the needs of the average cat, you may be feeding more than necessary if your cat's needs are lower than average. Also keep in mind that feeding instructions typically are recommendations based on ideal and not actual body weight. So if your cat is overweight to begin with and you use that value for figuring out how much to feed you are guaranteed to over feed. If you feed your cat dry food, you may provide it to him at specific mealtimes in measured quantities. Dry food can also be supplemented with a small amount of canned food to make meals more appealing.
According to Dr. Kallfelz there iss no problem mixing the two types of food as long as you make sure the calories are what your cat needs and and don’t exceed those needs.
Free feeding dry food is acceptable for cats exercising self control. However, some cats like to snack. For them, free feeding can add up to extra pounds. "If a cat can maintain his weight, free choice feeding is okay," says Dr. Kallfelz. Even dry food left out for your cat to free feed needs to be fresh, so be sure to provide new food each day. If free feeding doesn't work, you need to control how much they eat. "Several small meals may make them feel less hungry," says Dr. Kallfelz. "But one (meal) is okay nutritionally."
Here is another useful hint especially for cats who tend to be way more finicky than dogs, at least I am being told so daily by my cat owning customers: If you have a finicky cat, switching foods occasionally may help keep from the cat becoming hooked on only one diet.
And finally: How often you feed your cat depends on your schedule as well. Whether you feed in the morning or in the evening, make sure the cat gets used to your schedule and not the other way around. Most important, find a schedule that works for you and your cat and then keep it consistent.
In a multi cat household, not all cats automatically come when called for dinner, potentially making it difficult for some to get food unless it is left out all the time. That in turn comes along with the risk that other cats may eat too much when food is always available. It's up to you to be creative and come up with a plan. Hints: Feed them separately or in different parts of the house.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Hierarchy of Your Family (From Your Dog's Point of View)

Dogs are pack animals and have a pack mentality. They think that you with your family are other members of their pack! It is important from the beginning and on a continuing basis to establish and maintain a "pecking order" which your dog understands and accepts as his way of life in your family, or his view, his "pack". This requires nothing more than ensuring that your dog knows you are the boss, or "top dog", and he/she is somewhere below you.
Other adults in the household must be above your dog in the "pack". There is only one "top dog". Other adults normally come below you unless of course your spouse or any other adult is actually the "top dog" and you are a little lower in the pecking order.
Children will also be below the "top dog" and above your dog. With younger children your dog is less likely to agree that they can tell him what to do! This is because your dog is well aware that older dogs get to boss young puppies around. To a dog a younger child may well be seen as a puppy. It is funny how dogs know that children are not the same as adults. This is probably because kids tend to be more boisterous, more interested in playing around, often louder, and very often inconsistent in their behaviors. It is important to reinforce to your dog that he/she is in fact at the bottom of the hierarchy of the pack, but with small children, this can be problematic and sometimes even impossible. The dynamic between dog and child is really interesting, and shows us just how innately intelligent our canine friends are.
Back to the dog's pack mentality: If a dog is not taught the core concept of its owner being the top dog, it will be intolerable to live with and very often aggressive or potentially aggressive. This does not make for either a happy family life, or a happy dog. And believe it or not, if a dog is not a happy dog, it is not likely to be as healthy as it could or should be.
Some dog owners think that dog psychology is a bit silly. It is really not. Think about it: Psychological principles can be applied to a lot of animals, certainly most animals that people have as pets. Sometimes dogs can develop problem behaviors for no apparent reason. Those behaviors can most often be traced to an incident which happened to the dog, or an anxiety which has developed maybe due to separation from the owner or any other stressful occurrence. If such problem behaviors surface, your vet or a dog trainer may well be able to suggest strategies for modifying that behavior or psychology. However, the very best way to discourage or prevent such behaviors from surfacing in the first place is to ensure that your dog is happy and contented. Remember: A happy dog is a psychologically healthy dog.
The bottom line is: Make sure your dog always understands his/her place in your family (whether it's just you and your dog, or a family of 10). It is essential for your dog's happiness. If your dog shows any signs of anxiety or starts behaving not quite him/herself, think about what might be bothering him or her. If you can't figure it out, go have a chat with your vet. Simple! You don't want to end up in a position where your dog says: "Humans, if properly trained, make good companions for dogs."

Preventive pet care during challenging economic times

One major issue in these days of challenging economic times is looking for ways to cut back on expenses. Dr. Tracy Acosta, D.V.M. at the Biloxi Animal Hospital says in an article written for the South Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association and published by the Idaho “One area you don't want to cut back on is the basic preventive care for your pets. So, how do you define basic preventive care? First, keep in mind that prevention is worth a pound of cure and that prevention is always less expensive than treatment.
Depending on how dire your economic situation is, will help to determine where you should trim the budget. The best place to look for help with those questions is your pet's personal veterinarian. Your veterinarian knows your particular pet and its health status best, and can definitely help make critical decisions with you. Be honest with your veterinarian about your situation; while at the same time explain that you don't want your pet's health to fall to the wayside either.
The bottom line for most pets' basic requirements include good nutrition, parasite prevention and necessary vaccinations.
As you can see, a fancy bed or collar is not on that list. Not that those items aren't nice, but they can be added later once the basic health care needs have been met.
In regard to good nutrition, this is one area you can truly make a difference in the quality and length of your pet's life. You get what you pay for. I do not encourage any pet owner to ever skimp when it comes to feeding their pet a good quality food. At the same time, I don't believe you have to pay a fortune for quality food. Now, with so many different foods and choices, any pet owner can be easily overwhelmed and find it difficult to make a good choice. Remember, quality commercially produced pet foods are available. So, ask your pet's veterinarian to give you a couple of brands they think would be a good choice for your particular pet's needs. Remember, with the better quality foods, you actually will have to feed your pet less, because it has less fillers, which in the end (literally) means less fecal output.
As far as parasite control goes, no owner can fail to do their part to provide their pet proper external and internal parasite prevention. The paramount reason is many parasites can pose a health risk to the humans who live with them. The Centers for Disease Control encourages veterinarians to be vigilant against any disease or parasite that can have a zoonotic potential, which means can be passed from animal to human. Most pet owners are aware of the dangers of ticks on their pets as a source of a zoonotic threat, but most, unfortunately, are unaware of the serious dangers their pets' intestinal parasites can pose, especially to young children.
Where you and your pet live in the United States, will determine what types of parasite prevention will be necessary. Some of the top parasites of concern: fleas, ticks, heartworms, roundworms and hookworms. Consult your local veterinarian on this area of preventive care for your pet. Not only will your pet be healthier, but you will also assure the health of your entire human family.
Vaccinations for your pet are another critical aspect of a healthy pet and a healthy human family. We have come too far in absolute preventive care with the use of proper vaccinations in both human and veterinary medicine to let this aspect of care be ignored.
Where you live and the lifestyle of your pet, help determine the best vaccination protocol to keep your pet healthy.
There is no "blanket" approach to vaccination protocols, so discuss with your pet's veterinarian what your particular pet needs.
Hopefully, I don't have to remind pet owners that rabies is a disease that poses a human risk. This is only one of the zoonotic diseases that we vaccinate pets for routinely, so be sure to have your pet properly vaccinated.
Those are just a few of the basics of pet health care that should not be cut back. Every pet has its own special needs and should always at least have an annual physical exam by a veterinarian, or twice a year if over the age of 7 years. Veterinarians believe prevention is imperative when it comes to every pet's health. So, I encourage all pet owners to provide the best they can for their pet's health since it not only promotes a healthy and happy pet, but also promotes a safe environment for its human companions. “
For my taste, Dr. Acosti places a whole lot of the burden on the pet owners’ veterinarian community. While I am not saying don’t follow her advice and disregard your vet completely, I would say though that running to your vet with every little issue and question you have is not necessary. Since the objective was to come up with some money saving strategies and ideas, I also would say that frequenting your vet is certainly not the way to save money. After all, his/her business nowadays seems more and more to be making money, rather than following his original veterinary ideologies, which as far as I see it were to make sure that you don’t need him or her, rather than making you more vet dependent. Related to pet nutrition, definitely an area of my expertise, if you are a follower of my blog, you know already that I am not a fan of the idea of having the vet make decisions or recommendations about pet food. Most of them do not have the required knowledge of a nutritionist and adopt pet food just as an additional profit center for their offices. Yet in most cases their prescribed or recommended diets are, as we have found and shown many times, often questionable and certainly leave room for discussion.

Pet food ingredient Grain: Controversy vs. chemistry Part 2

In part 1 of “Pet food ingredient Grain: Controversy vs. chemistry” I started the discussion about an ingredient we see heavily discussed in pet food marketing these days: Grain. We took a closer look at what the experts Dr. Wysong D.V.M and Dr. Harvey, D.V.M had to say on the topic and concluded that the issue and controversy about grain is not the ingredient itself, it is the way how the commercial mass producing pet food industry is using it. There is nothing wrong with adding grain to our pet’s diet. I am sure some of you were shaking their heads in disbelieve while reading the above. They go “Dogs and cats eating grains? Not my pets. They are meat eaters and not rabbits.” Now I have to admit this is true. But nobody here is saying feed them exclusively grain. We are talking about adding fractions of it to the food. Whole grains in appropriate proportions, applied using common sense is the golden rule here. Today let’s see what Steve Brown, co-author of “See Spot Live Longer” has to say about the issue on hand:
“Do Dogs and Cats Need Grains?
The natural, ancestral diet of dogs and cats included minimal amounts of grain, yet even the “healthiest” dry foods are half grain. Help your animals live longer by feeding them diets more appropriate for their bodies! Learn about the differences between the natural diet of dogs and cats and the modern diet of dry foods.
Dogs and cats are designed by nature to be primarily meat eaters
Dogs are scavengers. Their diet included almost any food that provided calories – but rarely grain. A major factor in the domestication of dogs was the food available at the human garbage dump: The “tamer” wolves, those least afraid of humans, over a period of tens of thousands of years, became our close companions. According to a recent study by biologists Ray and Lorna Coppinger, the natural diet of dogs included: ”Bones, pieces of carcass, rotten greens and fruit, fish guts, discarded seeds and grains, animal guts and heads, some discarded human food and wastes” (1)
Cats are more selective about food by nature and anatomy: Their ancestral diet consisted of small rodents. Their usefulness to humans had much to do with their eagerness to dispatch the rodents so plentiful around human habitats.
There is almost no grain in the natural diet of dogs and cats
The natural diet of both cats and dogs includes high levels of protein, fat, and water, and very little carbohydrate. The “recommended” diet of dry foods, which is the diet of most cats and dogs, is the complete opposite of this natural diet: High in carbohydrate, low in protein, fat, and with almost no water.
Dogs and cats do not need carbohydrates, and most veterinary textbooks agree:
Canine and Feline Nutrition ( co-authored by two scientists from Iams®): “The fact that dogs and cats do not require carbohydrate is immaterial because the nutrient content of most commercial foods include (carbohydrates).(2)
Small animal Clinical Nutrition III, written by the founder of Science Diet® (Mark Morris Sr.) and his son (Mark Morris Jr.): “Some question exists regarding the need of dogs and cats for dietary carbohydrate. From a practical sense, the answer to this question is of little importance because there are carbohydrates in most food ingredients used in commercially prepared dog foods.”(3)
The Waltham Book of Companion animal Nutrition: “There is no known minimum dietary requirement for carbohydrate….”(4)
More Grain, More Insulin, More Inflammation
A highly processed, grain based diet fed to an animal designed to thrive on a meat based, fresh food diet is very likely to produce symptoms of ill health over time. Diets to address disease most frequently address the symptoms that are the result of a lifetime of inappropriate food, not the cause of the symptoms. The optimum diet for a dog or a cat should closely resemble their natural diet.
A diet balanced heavily toward grain promotes insulin production and the production of inflammatory chemicals. Over-production of insulin makes it hard for the body to maintain its correct weight, and can lead to diabetes and other problems. An overabundance of inflammatory chemicals means more aches and pains.
Improve the balance of your dog’s diet by reducing grain, and you may not need the dangerous Non-Steroidal and Steroid drugs so commonly prescribed for dogs. Less grain means less inflammation! Toxic drugs make animals more comfortable, but are likely to shorten their lives.
Diabetic animals or those with any other medical condition making a switch to a more protein-based diet should be under the close supervision of a veterinarian.
It is our opinion that the best diet for a dog or cat is a fresh meat, bone and vegetable diet. We can’t always follow that advice due to financial constraints; the following suggestions will help you to move toward that goal. Every step helps.
Add Meat To Promote Health
Reduce the grain content of your animal’s diet by adding meat. The following steps can have a profound effect on your animal’s well-being! Please remember to reduce the total amount of dry food your pet eats.
Add up to 15% fresh meat, raw or cooked. This increases the protein and reduces the carbohydrate content of the pet’s food. This simple step will not unbalance the levels of any essential nutrient in your animal’s diet. Be sure that the meat scraps you’re adding are mostly meat! Your doggie bag is likely to have much more fat in it than meat. Fat is a very important nutrient but one that needs to be kept in balance. Every fat gram provides double the calories of a gram of protein or carbohydrate.
Don’t use “senior”, “lite” and “diet” foods. These varieties usually have fewer calories per cup because the manufacturer increased the fiber and carbohydrates, and reduced protein and fat, compared to adult maintenance diets. This is the opposite of what is needed, and has no scientific foundation. Older and overweight pets need meat, not grain.
Add canned food. Good canned food has no grain, and has more protein and fat than dry pet foods. “Complete and balanced” canned diets may be fed as an animal’s sole diet. For cats, we highly recommend switching all the way. Cats should not eat dry foods. Urinary tract problems and kidney failure in cats have been closely related to dietary water, which has a different effect on the body than water an animal drinks. It’s much better for the cat to eat her food with the water in it!
Add a commercially prepared frozen raw diet. As with canned foods, if these are “complete” they can replace all other food fed to your animals.
Research proper homemade meat, bone and vegetable diets and supplement with good dry food to cut cost. Homemade foods can be nutritious and affordable, but must be made correctly. This option provides the protein and fat our pets need, reduces the amount of grain they eat, and is affordable by most people.
Feed your animal a meat and vegetable based diet, the best choice for almost every animal.”
Origin, Behavior & Evolution, Scribner, 2001. 59 – 78.
2. Case: Cary, and Hirakawa, Canine and Feline Nutrition, Mosby, 1995. 93.
3. Morris, Mark, Lewis, Lone and Hand, Michael, Small Animal Clinical Nutrition III, Mark Morris associates, 1990. 1-11.
4. Burger, I., Ed. The Waltham Book of Companion Animal Nutrition, Pergamon 1995. 26-27: 10
Steve definitely seems to be against grain in general and tends to favor vegetables instead. Certainly an acceptable opinion in my mind and as he also documents with the references he refers to. Additionally Steve too, just as Dr. Wysong and Dr. Harvey, makes clearly his point about whole vs. highly processed grains. What I do find kind of amusing is the reference where he quotes the scientists representing Iams and the founder of Science. I am somewhat confused: According to these gentlemen we (and they/their companies) know that our companion animals require very little or no dietary carbohydrates. But this is “immaterial” or “of “little importance” because (their companies’) food includes them anyway? Am I missing something here? If the animals don’t need it why to we give it to them? That to me says we have done wrong since the introduction of kibble. I can see that, and we have made this point numerous times before. But what actually justifies wrong doing by simply ignoring Mother Nature’s rules? Or is it ok just because your name is Iams and Science and you are overwhelmingly represented in the market? So much indeed that one could say there is sort of a dependency of pet owners on your products. I am sue glad that we still have choices and that well educated pet owners take advantage of that opportunity.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Omega 3 & 6: Good fat demystified

For many pet owners it is hard to believe, but some fats are good and in fact necessary for your pets’ health. But what are they, and why are they beneficial and why is such a big deal being made about them?
Dogs derive 70% to 90% of their energy for muscle contraction from fat metabolism and only a small amount from the energy derived from carbohydrates. There is 2 ¼ times more energy in fat than in the same amount of protein or carbohydrates. Fat can originate from plant and animal sources.
For humans: Essential Fatty Acids are a form of polyunsaturated fat which the human body derives from food, and have long since been regarded as key to human health. As they cannot be produced by the body and need to be obtained from our food intake, they are called essential. Just like in humans, essential Fatty Acids cannot be produced naturally by dogs and cats. There is increasing awareness of the need for these essential Fatty Acids to be supplied in pet diets. Amongst the many kinds of Fatty Acids, two in particular feature significantly in the synthesis of physiological regulators in pets, Omega 3 & Omega 6. As Omega Fatty Acids play a big role in dogs and cats by establishing a strong barrier to infections and maintaining the nervous system, a pet that is suffering from an Omega deficiency often displays eczema like skin conditions, hear and circulatory problems, arthritic symptoms, susceptibility to infections and excessive hair loss and shedding.

However, there are good news. Pets in such apparent poor condition can be treated effectively by just taking nutritional measures. The culprit of a deficiency in Omegas 3 & 6 in dogs and cats is a poor quality diet. Typically this is the case with mass produced commercial pet food that contains harmful fillers and chemicals but yet very few healthy supplements. Many worrying skin, heart and arthritic conditions often disappear when the pet receives sufficient amounts of Omegas 3 & 6, along with a good quality diet. The manifold benefits of Omegas 3 & 6 help the management of allergies and inflammatory skin conditions by building up a healthy skin barrier, maintaining a handsome coat and healthy skin, supporting the proper development of the nervous system and visual acuity, aiding in reducing arthritic conditions, aiding in clotting after an injury and helping your pets’ immune system respond to injury and infection. Latest research also shows that the Omega 3 and 6 Fatty Acids, when provided in a proper ratio to one another (Vaughn DM, Reinhart GA, et al Evaluation of dietary n-6 to n-3 fatty acid ratios, Veterinary Dermatology pg. 163 to 173) are to be of value in treating chronic renal disease. Their vasodilatory properties alter hemodynamics, lower intraglomerular³ pressure and slow the progression of renal disease in dogs. (Brown S.A. Influence of dietary fatty acids in intra renal hypertension – Recent advances in Canine and Feline Nutrition Vol. 2 pages 405 to 411)
Omega 6 Fatty Acids are common in most pet foods. They are derived from plant sources such as corn and sunflower oils. Omega 6 Fatty Acids are considered pro inflammatory, immunosuppressive and pro aggregatory. Omega 3 Fatty Acids on the other side are far less common in pet foods as they are derived from more expensive ingredients like for example flax seed and cold water fish oils and fish meals. They are considered less inflammatory, anti aggregatory, vasodilatory and not immunosuppressive. (Reinhart GA, Review of Omega-3 Fatty Acids and dietary influences on tissue concentration, Recent advances in canine and feline nutritional research, pg. 235-242) In order to get the full benefit of those two Omega Fatty Acids, they must be in a proper ration to one another. This ratio is believed to range between 5 to 1 and 10 to 1, i.e. a ratio of 5 to 10 parts of Omega 6 to 1 part Omega 3. This ratio is considered to be ideal in order to achieve the maximum benefit of the fatty acids. As usual, the low end foods are nowhere near these ratios, thereby delivering little value. Pet food manufacturers of high quality pet food having the well being of our pets in mind fully understand the importance of making Omega 3 & 6 Fatty Acids readily available to your pets. Their holistic range of food products very often is unique in that they utilize premium ingredients such as for example venison, salmon, and alikes for their Omega rich properties. Thereby they are making it as easy as possible for pet owners to ensure their pets receive the essential Fatty Acids they need.
What does it mean to you when you are looking for pet food? Naturally preserved chicken fat is highly digestible and perhaps provides the best balance of fatty acids. When combined with fat from flax, deep water fish meal and fish oil, the ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 can be considered as being ideal.
¹ Vasodilation refers to the widening of blood vessels resulting from relaxation of smooth muscle cells within the vessel walls, particularly in the large arteries, smaller arterioles and large veins.
² Hemodynamics, meaning literally blood movement, is the study of blood flow or the circulation
³blood flow regulating

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Coming up with an answer in Layman’s terms: What pet owners need to know about Pet Food Ingredients – An impossible task?

The question I am being asked by pet owners the most is “How do I pick the right food for my cat or dog?” Usually I have a standard explanation and I also refer to the many articles not just I have written myself on the subject, but also comments and articles, even books written by other experts knowledgeable about the subject. Yet, and I agree with the pet owners looking at these answers, these explanations are usually very extensive, therefore making the issue even more confusing.
Actually it should be easy, after all, the rules are seemingly pretty simple. But instead, the rules to the average pet owner make it more complicated. In addition, marketing tactics and strategies used by the pet food manufacturers do their own part to finally confuse us to the point that we don’t know anymore what to do.
That is why I made it my objective to come up with a simple solution to the problem, one that is easy to understand and useable by anybody without even knowing too much or getting too involved in studying pet food pro’s and con’s. But as we will learn today, it remains a complicated subject. I guess we just have to get used to it.
Pet food is regulated on individual state legislative level. The states are provided with guidance from the AAFCO (American Feed Control Officials). However, contrary of what they are made to believe, pet owners need to know that this does not mean that pet foods contain the optimal ingredients for all pets. Pet food companies represent the largest single outlet for human food by-products. Many of these ingredients can consist of inexpensive, inconsistent, and less nutritious fractions or waste. Following here I will try to make some recommendations on what pet owners should look for on pet food labels concerning the most important main ingredient categories: Protein, carbohydrates, fats and oils and preservatives.
Starting with your protein sources, as a rule of thumb, good pet food will have a high quality protein source. In most cases you want to make sure that the main protein source is listed as one of the first couple ingredients, I personally always make sure I take one which lists it as number one ingredient. I would rate as the best choice any named meat meal. “Named” meaning by what it actually is, like for example chicken, beef, turkey, lamb, duck, venison, etc. rather than “unnamed, generic” “poultry” meal or “animal meal”. As an example, AAFCO considers as chicken meal “the dry rendered product from a combination of clean flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the parts of whole carcasses of chicken or combination thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet, or entrails.” And so that everybody can understand it: A named meal, such as for example chicken meal is considered to be a good source of protein in commercial pet foods.
That was simple, right? So where does it become confusing? For starters, let’s see the remainder of the AACO statement, which I have left out: “(the meal) shall be suitable for use in animal food.”??? The remainder left out in “so that everybody understands”: …it is basically cooked down chicken.??? The quality of the chicken meal depends completely on the chicken it is derived from??? Plus: There are minimum requirements (AAFCO Nutrient Profiles) for all life stages of an animal. Animals at different life stages require different amounts of protein. And why is a “chicken meal” better than pure “chicken”? What is the difference in the first place?
Let me throw in more important things we are told to pay attention to: Digestibility, metabolizable energy, dry matter basis. By now I probably have most of you scratching your heads. And I don’t blame you.
That is why I like Dr. Wysong’s, D.V.M. straight forward, simple advice:
“Your pet does not need “a” food. It also doesn’t need a certain % of protein, calcium, taurine or any other nutrient guaranteed on a package. It needs a variety of foods and different meals. Those meals should be fresh, natural and healthy as much as possible.
… Be as creative with your pet’s food bowl as you are with your own…. You do not have to feed every nutrient at every meal. Your pet has reserve capacity. Take it easy; apply the same simple logic to pet feeding that you do to yourself. Change your definition of “simple,” from one specific food fed at every meal, to the “simple” logic of feeding pets like you feed yourself…. Health is not something somebody else like a doctor, food manufacturer or pharmacist does to you. It is something you do to yourself … and your pet. So relax a little. You don’t need a rocket scientist to help you feed your pet. Just use the same common sense you use for yourself and your family everyday. Think of it this way: After all, pets are people too.”
If we all follow his advice, we are not going to need a rating system. For the ones who still would like to have one, I will keep thinking about it and promise to come up with something. Just not this morning at 2 am. Of course it would be helpful if I could get some feed back and even maybe ideas how to approach this objective. Concepts and visions of what the resulting easy reference rating system should look like. My problem is that I sometimes myself get carried away and with my best intention to cover every possible aspect then make it too complicated again. Just yesterday a friend of mine who is also a good customer told me: “At one side I learn a lot from you. But on the other side you are no help. You make it too confusing because you give me too many options.” If I am honest with myself I have to agree. I am going to chew on that for a while and in the meantime will be waiting for your feedback to come in.

Monday, December 22, 2008

FDA Continues To Receive Complaints about Chicken Jerky Products for Dogs and Cautions Consumers

It continues to amaze me with what speed news sometimes travel on the Internet. Within a couple hours of receiving an e-mail from the FDA earlier today I had immediately some inquiries from concerned prospects and customers. The FDA e-mail contained the following “Preliminary Animal Health Notification” issued on 12/19/08:
“FDA Continues To Receive Complaints about Chicken Jerky Products for Dogs and Cautions Consumers
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to caution consumers of a potential association between the development of illness in dogs and the consumption of chicken jerky products also described as chicken tenders, strips or treats. FDA continues to receive complaints of dogs experiencing illness that their owners or veterinarians associate with consumption of chicken jerky products. The chicken jerky products are imported to the U.S. from China. FDA issued a cautionary warning to consumers in September 2007.
Australian news organizations report the University of Sydney is also investigating an association between illness in dogs and the consumption of chicken jerky in Australia. At least one firm in Australia has recalled their chicken jerky product and the recall notification stated the chicken jerky product was manufactured in China.
FDA believes the continued trend of consumer complaints coupled with the information obtained from Australia warrants an additional reminder and animal health notification.
Chicken jerky products should not be substituted for a balanced diet and are intended to beused occasionally and in small quantities. Owners of small dogs must be especially careful to limit the amount of these products.
FDA, in addition to several veterinary diagnostic laboratories in the U.S, is working to determine why these products are associated with illness in dogs. To date, scientists have not been able to determine a definitive cause for the reported illnesses. FDA has conducted extensive chemical and microbial testing but has not identified any contaminant.
FDA is advising consumers who choose to feed their dogs chicken jerky products to watch their dogs closely for any or all of the following signs which may occur within hours to days of feeding the product: decreased appetite, although some may continue to consume the treats to the exclusion of other foods; decreased activity; vomiting; diarrhea, sometimes with blood; and increased water consumption and/or increased urination. If the dog shows any of these signs, stop feeding the chicken jerky product. Owners should consult their veterinarian if signs are severe or persist for more than 24 hours. Blood tests may indicate kidney failure (increased urea nitrogen and creatinine). Urine tests may indicate Fanconi syndrome (increased glucose). Although most dogs appear to recover, some reports to the FDA have involved dogs that have died.
The FDA continues to actively investigate the problem. Many of the illnesses reported may be the result of causes other than eating chicken jerky. Veterinarians and consumers alike should report cases of animal illness associated with pet foods to the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator in their state.”

To me, besides being a general concern for all my pet owning friends out there, this at first worried me since we carry the DogsWell product line in our store. Some of their chicken jerky products are being manufactured in China as clearly stated on the bags. While this is in general a concern, especially because of the seemingly never ending flow of bad news coming in about contaminated Chinese food ingredients, both for pets and humans as well, I am not the kind of guy who for no reason condemns everything coming from China just because it’s “in” to do so. I have adjusted to the fact that we live in a global environment and parts for everything being made in this world are coming from everywhere in this world. This is nothing exclusive to the United States, it works both ways, the Chinese are buying many products coming from the States. Whether they experience similar problems as we do with their imports, we don’t know.
Coming back to the original subject: When I visited the DogsWell website to send an inquiry to the company, I found there readily waiting a letter from the company’s CEO immediately responding to and addressing the issue within 24 hours on 12/20/08:

“Dear Valued Customers,
We would like to assure you that all of our products are safe, natural, and healthy and we have never been involved with any FDA issues or warnings.
The DOGSWELL manufacturing facilities in the United States and abroad meet the highest and most strict sanitary conditions. All of our plants have HACCP programs, have received high scores by independent Third Party auditors, have strict raw ingredient standards and continuously check our products during processing and when they are finished to ensure they meet our high quality standards. We regularly visit our manufacturing facilities to ensure the quality and safety of our products.
Along with knowing our supply chain very well, we conduct regular tests in APPA and FDA-approved U.S. facilities to assure you that we are only providing your pets with the very best ingredients. We certify that our products are safe and clean and ensure that our products meet our high quality standards. Feel free to contact me with any comments or concerns you may have.
Sincerely, Marco Giannini, President and CEO, DOGSWELL “

To me, for the time being this is a satisfactory response. Even more so since according to the FDA there have been no recalls issued in the States and only one overseas in Australia. The Australian recall was a voluntary one taken by KraMar Pet Company, a well established family owned pet supply manufacturer. The voluntary recall was issued by the company as a precautionary measure and concerns their KraMar Supa Natural Chicken Breast Strips made in China. The KraMar Pet Company had tested every shipment for E-Coli, Salmonella and Melamine. More recently at the request of some veterinary surgeons tests were done for other potential Toxins. The manufacturing facility in China has been approved by the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS). All tests to date have been clear.
In addition, the FDA states: “FDA, in addition to several veterinary diagnostic laboratories in the U.S, is working to determine why these products are associated with illness in dogs. To date, scientists have not been able to determine a definitive cause for the reported illnesses. FDA has conducted extensive chemical and microbial testing but has not identified any contaminant.”
Therefore I do not see any reason to take any further action. With highest confidence we will continue to recommend DogsWell products to our customers.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

How to Deal with the Food Allergy Suspect: The hypoallergenic diet trial

To determine whether or not a food allergy or intolerance is causing the skin problem, a hypoallergenic diet is fed for a set period of time. If the pet recovers, the original diet is fed for up to two weeks to see if itching resumes. If the result is recovery on the test diet and a return of the symptoms with the original diet, then a food allergy is diagnosed and the pet needs to be returned to either the test diet or another appropriate food. Looking for a “good hypoallergenic diet” can be approached in two ways:
Obviously, the test diet must be of a food source that the pet could not possibly be allergic to. The traditional method is the use of a novel protein and carbohydrate source, i.e., something the pet has never eaten before. In the past, lamb has been the protein source of choice as pet food companies had traditionally not offered any lamb based pet foods. Unfortunately, recent production of lamb and rice based foods have removed lamb from the acceptable hypoallergenic diet list due to the high number of such products now available on the market.
Many pet food companies have discerned the need for diets using unusual protein and carbohydrate sources with a minimum of additives. Foods can be obtained based on venison and potato, fish and potato, egg and rice, duck and pea, and even kangaroo, brush tail, ostrich, llama, herbs and more.
It is important that during the diet trial no unnecessary medications be given. No edible chew toys like for example rawhides or bones should be given. Treats must be based on the same food sources as the test diet. Be careful though, like for example stay away from rice cakes since wheat is commonly used as a filler. Replace chewable heartworm preventives with tablets.
Home cooking was originally the only option felt to be appropriately free of allergens but for most animals these special commercial foods are adequate. Occasionally home cooking ends up being necessary after all.
In the past, 4 weeks was thought to represent a complete trial period. More recent work has shown that some food allergic animals require 8 to 10 weeks to respond. This may be an extremely inconvenient period of time for home cooking. My current recommendation is to reevaluate after four weeks of diet trial and then again after eight weeks of trial. Eighty percent of food allergic dogs will have responded to diet trial at least partially by six weeks. Labradors, Retrievers and Cocker Spaniels appear to require up 10 weeks of trial diet before showing a response. Some dogs may even require a longer period.
To confirm that your pet indeed has a food allergy, return to the original food; itching resumes within 14 days generally if food allergy was truly the reason for the itchy skin. Many pet owners do not want to take a chance of returning to itching if the patient is doing well; it is not unreasonable to simply stay with the test diet if the pet remains free of symptoms.
It is possible to more specifically determine the identity of the offending foods after the pet is well. To do this, a pure protein source, like for example chicken or any other single food is added to the test diet with each feeding. If the pet begins to itch within 2 weeks, then that protein source represents one of the pet's allergens. Return to the test diet until the itching stops and try another pure protein source. If no itching results after two weeks of feeding a test protein, the pet is not allergic to this protein.
And if the trial is unsuccessful? Generally, this strongly suggests that an inhalant allergy is the primary problem but there are a few considerations that should at least be mentioned: Are you certain that the dog received no other food or substances orally during the trial? Your pet may require a longer diet trial. Are you certain regarding the factor that pointed us toward the food allergy?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

How pet food is made. Our imagination and expectations from start to finish and the dangerous middle in between. Part 1

With the majority of pet owners feed our pets commercially prepared pet foods I am often being asked: “When choosing a pet food what type of food should I feed? Dry, semi moist, or canned?” We have countless choices these days, all of which are claiming to be the best one for your pet. This in itself can make choosing the best pet food a very confusing endeavor. When answering these questions I found it is helpful if one understands how pet food is actually made. Because this knowledge by itself may make it a little easier to choose the type of food to use. Though it is not the only and most important question to be considered when choosing the best possible food. Pet owners see usually two things. There is the beginning, in our minds a farm in which wholesome, healthy pet food ingredients originate. And there is the end, a beautiful bag in the store shelves, showing us again pictures of a so perfect world of pet food ingredients. What we don’t see is the, what many call “dangerous middle”, the processing, or as Dr. Wysong, D.V.M. calls it “food torturing” and the processing degradations.
The bulk of pet food available in today’s market is dry food. There are several types of manufacturing that lead to dry food. They include baking, pelleting and extrusion. The manufacturing process is similar for all of them except for the final pressing and cooking process. I decided to discuss the most commonly available type: Extrusion. While there are as many variations in the processing and manufacturing of dry pet foods as there are pet food manufacturers making them, I will explain the basic manufacturing process which is typically followed by most of them.
Obviously, the manufacturing of pet food begins with assembling the raw materials. Most raw materials are grain, meat and fat that arrive in train cars or semi trucks in loads weighing between 10,000 and 40,000 pounds. Concentrated vitamins and minerals typically arrive in 25 to 50 pound bags. After arrival these raw materials are stored in appropriate holding areas. Most grains being held in silos.
The raw materials are then ground to the correct particle size. Grinding increases the availability of nutrients. It also improves the ease in which they are processed. Commercial hammer mills are often used to grind the particles to the proper size. Most dry mixes are ground to a consistency of coarse flour. A uniform size is very important for proper water absorption and cooking.
The next step is proper mixing of all the ingredients, which is very important to create a consistent product. If the mix is not thoroughly blended, essential nutrients could be excessive or absent in individual pieces of the finished product. Large ribbon blenders are used to mix batches of up to 2,000 pounds at a time. At this initial mixing, only the dry ingredients are included. Then the dry mix is stored until the next step can be completed.
The extrusion process is very similar to the process of bread making: Mixing, kneading, proofing or rising, shaping, rising again, and slicing. The dry mix is first preconditioned to start the gelatinization of the starches. A pre-conditioner measures accurately the amount of the dry mix and blends it with the measured liquid portion that can include fat, meat products, additional water, and steam. This wet mix stays in the pre-conditioner for about 45 seconds. While in the pre- conditioner, the starch is cooked about 25%. The preconditioned food is then moved into an extruder. Extruders were originally designed for the plastics industry, but are now used by 90% of pet food manufacturers. The extruder consists of a cylindrical multi segmented barrel with a screw that propels, mixes, and further cooks the material, and then forces it through a die. There it is cut to the desired length by a knife. The product moving through the extruder produces its own friction and heat, which then cooks the mix. The speed and friction levels can be varied depending on the formula, to ensure that the product is cooked at the right temperature for the right length of time.
The newly formed kibbles, still being soft and spongy, are then transferred from the extruder to the dryer. Here additional moisture is removed. Most kibble takes about 15 minutes to dry properly. If kibble is dried too quickly or at too high of a temperature, it will be more fragile and will break during handling. This actually creates a high level of so called fines. Fines are very small particles of food, which often settle to the bottom of the bag.
The kibble then goes through a cooling process of around 7 minutes. If the kibble is too hot when it leaves the dryer and is packaged before it cools, condensation will develop, which will encourage the growth of mold or bacteria.
Enrobing is the last step in the manufacture of dry pet foods, and entails the addition of either liquids or powders to the outer surface of the kibble. Fat and flavor enhancers are usually added at this stage. Fat is not usually added during the mixing stage because it would disrupt the starch gelatinization. Fat and flavor enhancers greatly improve taste and palatability, and are most effective when applied to the outside of the kibble.
Pretty impressive, isn’t it? Now let’s come back to what I said in the beginning. There is the start. We see a farm, golden corn, oats and juicy, fresh chicken and other animals. At the end we are being told that exactly those ingredients are in our bag of pet food we just bought. Not just that, but now it is even 100% complete, all natural and scientifically tested. To prove it we are presented colorful charts and platinum, gold and silver certification seals and awards. If we spend a little more money we even get one which is endorsed by some Hollywood celebrity, possibly even made by one. But we are not being told the entire story here. During the manufacturing process, while drying, scoring, milling, heating, baking, dehydration, extruding, freezing and refining the wholesome ingredients the following took place: There were additions made. Such as artificial colors, flavors, texture, preservatives and chemicals. And then there are the processing degradations. Examples: Wheat. Whole wheat contains many minerals, vitamins, enzymes, proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Ground whole wheat retains many of those nutrients. Fractioned wheat, i.e. white wheat flour, as being used in mass produced dry pet food does no longer contain these nutrients. Therefore it has to be fortified to get those nutrients back into it. Often this is done by adding chemicals or synthesized substances. Or take rice. Whole rice contains dozens of important nutrients. However, during processing as described above, those nutrients are being lost and the rice ends up primarily being starch. Once whole rice is fractioned into white rice, unbalanced nutrition is created. This is setting a perfect stage for disease.
The bottom line is that once ingredients are being processed, they become something opposite and completely different from the wholesome starting material. The list of degradations taking place during processing of ingredients in the dry food manufacturing process is as impressive as the manufacturing process itself. Unfortunately to me it is a negative impression. Sure, packaged products must be processed. And if it is just for the sake of digestibility and shelve life. However, there are better, gentler processing methods out there. Those however are apparently only known to manufacturers who realize, as Dr. Wysong says, “that food processing is more than a mere business. It is an opportunity to do great by preventing disease and optimizing health.”
To complete my story, in Part 2 I will discuss in more detail the degradation and also take a look at the manufacturing processes for wet food. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Pet food costs continue to increase, still, pets are a priority

Last Sunday I was getting my physical workout by filling in yet another hole, which our German Shepherd Roxy had dug to escape underneath the fence from the back yard so just that she could sit in front of the house. She amazes me, she doesn’t disappear, and if she does she usually comes back after a short while, she just likes to spend her time waiting for us in front of the house. My wife says it is the Germans against the Germans, as of Saturday it was 4 to 3 for Roxy, since Sunday it is 4 to 4. All I need is one more move to get ahead again. And I have already a strategy on my mind as to how to get there. I am just afraid Roxy probably thinks the same. We will see.
Anyway, while doing that, as the old year winds down, I was thinking about what happened throughout the year. The good and the bad and how it all can be made better in the new year.
One very common complaint from all my customers across the board and country came to my mind. It is the cost of having a pet and feeding it in a healthy fashion. Definitely it was the “pet owner’s choice complaint of the year”.
First it was the cost of shipping, which with increasing fuel prices rose about 40% in fall compared to the beginning of the year. At least with fuel prices coming down, so are slowly shipping rates as well. But then there was also the fact that pet food manufacturers kept increasing prices. Not once, most of them twice, some even 3 times. And talk about increases: The last one coming in the 4th quarter of the year accounted for another most impressive and whopping 20%.
Pet food costs continue to increase. At the same time, many pet owners are experiencing decreased income or at least are worried about their financial security. There are alarming reports that families are giving up their pets in unprecedented numbers. However, beware, it is a fact that these numbers are not as high as some reports would have you believe. Nonetheless, the cost of feeding a pet is causing more concern now than two years ago.According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor's Consumer Price index, pet food prices for the second quarter of 2008 rose by an average of 8 to 9 percent compared to a year ago. As I kept looking at pet food prices in local stores, it appears that the foods that list grain as the first ingredient have increased more than others. As with any other industry the pet food industry too has been racked by inflation. This is mostly due to fuel and energy costs and unfortunately the not so good news is that we can expect to see continued price increases on nutritional pet products.The bursting real estate bubble and now our government with its astronomical bailout of financial institutions who got a little too greedy and failed to use sound business practices are just another very clear indication that things are everything but rosy.

There are other numerous areas of concern like the low value of the US dollar in the global market, oil prices never seen this high before and an inflationary spiral we have not seen in 30 years. Add to this the lowest consumer confidence level in 16 years of 50% and it’s time for a call: “Houston, we’ve got a problem.” As oil prices rise and the dollar loses value, inflation across all consumer goods sold is way out of balance. Many manufacturers are levying with two price increases a year by now.
What is the impact on pet food? This category, the core of the pet industry, has also been racked by inflation mostly due to fuel and energy costs. Fuel is important in different ways. It delivers the ingredients to the plants, it drives the food producing plants, it contributes to packaging cost (since most packaging components these days are poly bags) and last but not least, every bag of kibble and every case of cans has to be shipped from the manufacturer to the distributor, the distributor to the retailer and the retailer to the pet owner.

At the same time the price of raw ingredients has gone through the roof. Corn, for example, is up 35%. Predictions are that due to the flooding in the Midwest it will rise even more. It is a principle protein source for many brands and is also being fed to chickens, which are a primary protein source in natural, holistic and organic brands.
Veterinarian Joseph Wakshlag, Ph.D. and Assistant professor of Clinical Nutrition at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, estimates that consumers are paying, on average, 80 cents to $1 more for low end dry pet foods (grocery and mass merchandise market brands) and $2 to $3 more for high end vet and specialty store distributed pet foods. But Wakshlag points out not all high end pet food, regardless of whether it is dry or wet food, is worth the hefty price tag. "A more expensive brand of (pet) food will sometimes have more digestible ingredients," he says, "but that's not always the case. There are some really high-end foods out there that have some pretty poor (ingredients). It really comes down to going with a product that has worked well for your (pet) for a long time." There are ways that will save you cash while still assuring your pet receives the best quality nutrition available. Purchasing cheap foods is the worst kind of false economy. Quality nutrition is one of the best health protections you can provide your pet. In my column for Paw Prints The Magazine I wrote last month: “All I really hope for is that all pet owners will still be able to feed their animals healthy quality food rather than cheap fillers. It is my wish that they make educated buying decisions and understand that “cheap” usually stands for “not so cheap” and “unhealthy, disease promoting junk and garbage”. Because if the dog gets sick, it’s going to get really expensive.”
Buy the best food you can afford. Before you do so, check out the quality of the food by reading the label; you want to purchase a food that lists a form of meat (NOT meat by-products) among the first two ingredients whether you are shopping for a dog or a cat. Best by far are foods that contain no by-products of any sort. Additionally, check the recall lists. You will be surprised to find most of the heavily advertised foods on these recall lists at one time or another. Shop for discounted sales of the food you prefer, every place selling pet food has frequent promo deals going on, check for manufacturer rebates. Clearance sales are another route to go. The Internet makes comparison shopping so much easier these days. Buy in larger volume. Not just do you get a significantly lower per lbs price, but you also save on shipping cost if buying off the Internet or mail order. Canned foods most of the times have ample of time left on their expiration dates. You can safely stock up with enough food to last until the next sale comes up again. With dry foods buy the largest size bag you can afford. Keep enough meal for one week in a plastic container and put the rest in your freezer. Freezing the meal will prevent bug infestation and keep the food fresh.

Cassandra Kane, Staff Writer for The Lebanon Daily News wrote on 12/07/08:
“For pet owners in the Lebanon Valley feeling a need to save money when it comes to their pets, buying cheaper food is not a common option, music to the ears of area veterinarians.
At the PetSmart at the Lebanon Plaza, the purchase of premium pet food brands increased 13.9 percent since November 2007, said store manager Larry Mann.
“People are more concerned with what they’re feeding their pets,” he said. “They’re sacrificing fringe items like toys and dog treats, where we have seen declining figures.”
Pet Headquarters in Palmyra sells a variety of natural dog-food brands, and according to trainer Tammy Sickles, area pet owners continue to switch to the premium brands. She said quality is important for concerned owners, especially those of dogs with allergies to corn, wheat or soy.
“It (premium food) makes them healthier inside and out,” she said.
Keeping pets healthy with the right food is a must, said Stone, who advises her customers to “not skimp on nutrition.”
“Skimp on a new collar or extra toys,” she said. “Take care of health and nutrition first.”
Because food has a major effect on the bodies and health of pets, McNamee encourages pet owners to feed their animals high-quality food formulated with vitamins and minerals. Especially for overweight pets or those with diabetes or food allergies, owners must continue to purchase the prescription foods.
“You’re saving maybe 25 percent up front (when you buy cheaper brands), but it will come back to haunt you,” she said.
Tami Morgan of Annville is experimenting with food brands for her 2-year-old Yorkshire terrier, Meadow, until she finds one the “extended family member” likes. Price does not play a role in Morgan’s decision, although she said she would never spend thousands of dollars on an operation or procedure.
“You have your pet and you need to take care of them,” Morgan said. “It’s just what you do. You invest in having a pet, and you have to be willing to undergo taking care of it, within reason.”
When their two Jack Russell terriers, Maxwell and Daisy, and yellow lab, Ginger, require veterinary care, Mimi and Doug Shade of Richland do not hesitate to take their dogs immediately to Stone.
“You do what you got to do for your animals in your family,” Mimi Shade said. “For all those pet owners second-guessing whether they want to keep their pet, they should keep it and do what they have to in order to take care of it because they bring so much joy to your life.” “
I agree with Cassandra’s conclusion as she summarizes what most pet owners she had interviewed expressed: “You can’t really cut back”.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pet food ingredient Grain: Controversy vs. chemistry Part 1

One ingredient we see heavily discussed in pet food marketing these days is grain. Actually, to be correct it is NOT grain, grain free, what is promoted as all the sudden being the best since sliced bread. It is a subject causing many discussions between my customers and myself and it is certainly a controversial one. And as usual, besides making my opinion know, I go and see what the experts have to say about it.
Here is in a nutshell what I came up with so far.
Dr. Wysong, D.V.M. in his “How to apologize to your pet – Fresh and varied feeding with the Wysong Optimal Health Program” says: “Grains should be a smaller portion of your pet’s diet since they are technically not a natural food for carnivores. Raw organically grown rolled oats or raw barley flakes, soaked in raw milk overnight or pasteurized milk result in a treat many pets will relish. Porridges of oats, brown rice, millet, amaranth or quinoa can also be used occasionally. Sprouted grains, raised at home, make excellent additions to your pet’s diet and are eagerly accepted when combined with other foods. Small amounts of leftover table scraps such as cereals, sandwiches and homemade rolls and breads are beneficial additions to your dog’s or cat’s diet, provided they are prepared carefully and with whole grain natural ingredients.”
In his book “The truth about pet foods” he also says: “Within whole wheat, particularly in the germ and outer layers, are many minerals, vitamins, enzymes, proteins, fats and carbohydrates important for healthful nutrition. Ground whole wheat retains most of these nutrients, whereas fractioned white wheat flour does not. Synthetic vitamins are then added to impoverished white flour and this is, deceptively, called fortification.
Whole rice is highly nutritious. Once it is fractioned into white rice, unbalanced nutrition occurs, setting the stage for disease.”
The point he is trying to make is: “Once foods are milled, fractioned, blended, extruded, pelleted, dried, retorted, baked, dyed, breaded, fried, sauced, gravied, pulped, strained, enbalmed, sterilized, sanitized, petrified to permit endless shelf life and finally prettified, they become something entirely different from the wholesome starting materials.” He concludes: “In our age of convenience, packaged products are here to stay. However, as with everything in the market place, there are good and bad products. All creatures are genetically designed for foods directly from nature, not for the chemical potpourri resulting from vigorous processing. Good therefore means as close as possible to natural whole foods. Bad means highly processed food fractions and synthetics.”
Then I looked further through our store assortment and was anxious what Dr. Harvey, D.V.M has to say on the subject:
“I have been asked many times by people who feed their dogs a raw food diet about the use of grains as part of canine nutrition. I am aware that there is a great deal of controversy about the use of grains in the canine diet.
Since many of the people who ask about this are using Canine Health- The Miracle Dog Food , which is my pre-mix and the diet that I have advocated for over 25 years, I respond to their inquiries with the following information which is based on knowledge of chemistry and the facts.
For those who are using Canine Health- The Miracle Dog Food we look at the way in which the food is prepared “in reverse”. Canine Health is prepared with 6 ounces of protein to 7 1/2 ounces of water, which makes a total of 13 1/2 ounces. To this we add 1/2 to 1 ounce of oil and 3 scoops of Canine Health, which is a mixture of 6 different organic grains and 9 different vegetables and herbs. These 3 scoops equal 2 ounces of which one ounce is vegetables.
So the total amount of grain is approximately 1 ounce per pound of food, which is equal to approximately 6% of the total prepared recipe. In reality this is quite a small amount.
I use grain to provide glucose or storage glycogen, which is vital to a healthy canine diet. Every athlete knows that taking in pasta or grain loading prior to an athletic event, provides the necessary storage glycogen for the athlete to have sufficient glucose for muscle performance for the duration activity. This glucose is necessary for all muscle function.
I have seen that wheat, corn and soy can cause problems with animals so we do not put them in Canine Health. Our grains are certified organic, pre-cooked and freeze-dried which makes them easy to digest free of preservatives and incredibly healthy.
Some dogs do well on a completely grain-free diet, and for them I made Veg-to-Bowl , a grain free mix of wonderful dehydrated and freeze dried veggies. This mixture blended with meat and oils makes a wonderful grain free meal. But some dogs do better with grains, in fact, in my experience, many, many dogs improve dramatically when using our Canine Health with raw or cooked meat.
Nature made all muscle and brain function (99%) using glucose and oxygen. Carbohydrates, such as grains, are stored in the in the liver as glycogen this is then released as glucose in the blood as the body requires it.
For over 55 years most of the original commercial dog foods were made with 100% grain, using primarily wheat and corn. We know now that these grains were used because they were inexpensive fillers. Today most commercial foods still contain 40 to 70% grains.
I am not here to knock any other manufacturer, but I know that the companies who manufacture these foods don’t have even the slightest clue about good nutrition for dogs. What we do know, is that given in small amounts with lots of other nutritionally sound additions, grain is very beneficial to a dog’s overall good health.
I see that dogs do incredibly well and thrive on 6-10% grain in their diet. Dogs are able to utilize the glucose from grains, as athletes do when they are performing. We have come a long way in understanding how best to feed our canine companions. We now know how to do it better and improve our lives and the lives of our companions by providing the best nutrition possible.
I am positive that the real problem with commercial pet food is the added preservatives, coloring agents, poor quality protein sources and poor quality fat sources.
Feeding natural and healthy protein, rotating the source each week, adding good healthy oils, also rotated weekly, together with vegetables and a small amount of organic grains, will dramatically improve a dog’s health and well being. This is what I know makes the optimal diet for dogs.”
I would say listening to these two gentlemen it has become clear that the issue and controversy about grain is not the ingredient itself, it is the way how the commercial mass producing pet food industry is using it. There is nothing wrong with adding grain to our pet’s diet. I am sure some of you were shaking their heads in disbelieve while reading the above. They go “Dogs and cats eating grains? Not my pets. They are meat eaters and not rabbits.” Now I have to admit this is true. But nobody here is saying feed them exclusively grain. We are talking about adding fractions of it to the food. And, I fully agree with the 2 guys above. Otherwise, if my 5 cats wouldn’t like bread, why would I have to hide it from them. If I don’t, they look for it until they find the bag, grab it, disappear in their favorite hide outs, rip the bag apart and feast on the with pleasure. So much for a true carnivore. Or , I never saw my dogs turning their heads away from a handful of cooked rice added to their raw meat.
Whole grains in appropriate proportions, applied using common sense is the golden rule here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pet itching for relief? Leading cause Allergies Part 2 Food allergies, allergy testing and treatment

In part one of this comment we talked about what flea, atopic or inhalant and contact allergies are and how they are affecting our pets. Today’s conclusion deals with the 4th type of allergies common in pets: Food allergies. Plus we will address allergy testing and some of the treatments available.
Food allergies are not related to a season, while many atopic allergies start out as a seasonal problem, says Daniel O. Morris, D.V.M., a board certified veterinary dermatologist and chief of staff of the veterinary hospital at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Dogs and cats that develop atopic allergies usually show symptoms between 1 and 5 years of age, he says, but food allergies can crop up at any time. They are high on the list of suspects when a dog or cat first exhibits itchy skin at an age less than 6 months or over 5 years.
To test for food allergies, the pet is put on an "elimination diet" for at least 10 weeks, which means it is fed food that consists of a protein and carbohydrate that the pet has not eaten before, such as duck, venison, and potatoes. These special foods may be found in specialty retail stores. Or the owner may choose to feed the pet a homemade diet of foods recommended by the vet.
If the animal's itching subsides by at least half, the allergen is considered to be one or more food ingredients, says James Jeffers, V.M.D., a board certified veterinary dermatologist at the Animal Allergy and Dermatology Clinic in Gaithersburg, MD. To confirm this, the owner can reintroduce the old food to see if the symptoms return. To find the specific ingredients that trigger the allergy, the owner should feed the special diet again and add one ingredient at a time from the old diet for at least a week until the itching increases, indicating that the last added ingredient is an allergen. Or the owner may choose to stay with the special food to avoid causing the pet discomfort each time an allergic ingredient is fed.
While the pet is being tested for food allergies, it should not be given treats, chewable medications, table scraps, or rawhide toys that may contain an allergen.
To check for atopic and contact allergies, veterinary dermatologists use an intra dermal allergy test, or skin reaction test. The pet is mildly sedated, a postcard sized area on the side of the pet is shaved, and small amounts of potential allergens are injected into the skin on the shaved area. If the pet is allergic to a particular substance, the skin will become inflamed at the area of the injection.
Jeffers tested Nora, a wire fox terrier, for 58 different allergens. The dog had been "scratching and biting herself all over, 24 hours a day," since it was 3 months old, says owner Katie Mathews of Bethesda, Md. "The scratching kept Nora up all night and kept the family up all night," she says. Before she was referred to Jeffers, Mathews had taken Nora to several veterinarians, who prescribed various antihistamines, shampoos, sprays, and a food elimination diet, none of which worked. "Steroids were successful," says Mathews, "but I didn't want to keep her on them because of the long term side effects." Mathews also "wanted to get to the root of the problem" so that the allergic substances could be avoided if possible.
Through skin testing, Jeffers determined that Nora had atopic and contact allergies and was allergic to dozens of substances, including pollens, molds, dust mites, grass, cotton, and wool.
Although allergies can't be cured, they can be controlled by avoiding the allergens, treating the symptoms, or desensitizing the pet. In Nora's case, all three methods are used.
Fleas, food ingredients, and some substances that trigger contact allergies may be avoidable, but "with atopic allergies, avoidance is virtually impossible," says Jeffers.
Drug products are available to relieve the symptoms of itchiness and inflammation in pets. Like any drugs designed for animals, these products must obtain FDA approval before they can be marketed by meeting rigorous scientific standards similar to those for human drugs.
The FDA approved two itch-relieving drugs in 2003: Atopica (cyclosporine) for controlling atopic dermatitis in dogs weighing at least four pounds, and Genesis Topical Spray (triamcinolone) for controlling itching related to allergic dermatitis in dogs. Atopica, a product of Novartis Animal Health US Inc. of Greensboro, N.C., is a capsule given orally. It works by inhibiting specific immune cells from reacting to allergens, and can be given as a lifelong treatment. Genesis, made by RMS Laboratories Inc. of Vidalia, Ga., is a steroid spray that is applied to a dog's skin for up to 28 days. Both of these drugs must be prescribed by a veterinarian.
The FDA has approved other steroid products for short term use in dogs and cats to relieve inflammation and itching. Long term steroid use is discouraged because these drugs work by suppressing the immune system; this suppressant action over time can leave an animal vulnerable to infection, diabetes, and other conditions.
Veterinarians often prescribe anti histamines approved by the FDA for humans to relieve itchiness in pets. Under the Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act of 1994 (AMDUCA), veterinarians may legally treat dogs and cats with drugs that have been approved for people but not for animals. Pet owners should check with their veterinarians before giving a pet any human medications, including over the counter antihistamines.
"If we can control the allergies through medication for occasional flare ups, antihistamines and steroids are useful," says Troutman. But if these medications are needed continuously to provide relief, Troutman recommends seeking other options, such as immunotherapy.
Immunotherapy is a treatment that stimulates the immune system to decrease the body's reaction to allergens. Similar to people with allergies, animals can be given immunotherapy, or desensitization injections. These "allergy shots" contain small amounts, or extracts, of the substances that the animal is allergic to, based on the results of skin testing. The owner gives the shots to the pet at home, usually in the scruff of the neck. The extracts used for allergy testing and treatment in veterinary practices are licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Center for Veterinary Biologics.
Somewhere between 50 percent and 70 percent of dogs and 75 percent to 80 percent of cats respond to immunotherapy, depending upon the study reported, says Morris. "Occasionally, it is so effective that the animal is normal without other treatments," he says, but the majority require medications in addition to the injections. The injections are usually given every 7 to 21 days, depending on the pet's response, says Morris. And rarely does an animal become permanently desensitized so that the injections can be stopped.
Nora gets a weekly injection. Mathews also gives her Atopica and, when the pollen count is up, an over-the-counter antihistamine. Mathews has placed synthetic blankets around the house for Nora to lie on, since the dog is allergic to cotton and wool in the furniture and carpeting. Nora also has a vinyl bed to lie on in the yard, since she's allergic to grass. This allergy management program helps keep the 18-month-old dog comfortable. "She still has periods of scratching," says Mathews, but "she's not biting herself as much and she's sleeping at night." Mathews reports that her other dog, Nora's littermate Nick, is allergy free.
Allergies in pets are neither preventable nor foreseeable, says Morris. "You can have one puppy out of a litter of 10 with allergic skin disease, or it can skip generations. We can't possibly predict it," he says, even if you have a pet examined by a vet at a very young age.”
This comment was written with information obtained in the FDA Consumer Consumer Magazine.
Pet itching for relief? Leading cause Allergies Part 1 Introduction, Flea, atopic (inhalant) and contact allergies