Saturday, October 11, 2008

Top 10 Pet Insurance Claims

Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI), the world's largest pet health insurance company, analyzes its claims each year to formulate a list of the top reasons that pets were taken to their veterinarian over the past year. The list is out for 2007 and it is an interesting one. The number one ailment on the list is ear infections. Ear infections are relatively common in all breeds of dogs, but especially problematic for dogs with heavy ears and ears that hang down over the ear canal, trapping moisture and keeping it dark. Often, because the ear is painful, dogs must be sedated or lightly anesthetized in order to flush out and treat the ear. This can become quite expensive, explaining why pet insurance customers often submitted claims for the treatment. Skin conditions took the number 2, 3 and 7 positions with skin allergies, hot spots and benign skin tumors respectively. Vomiting was number 4 and diarrhea was number 5. Veterinary Pet Insurance reports that nearly 1/3 of the claims for gastrointestinal upset were related to diet, diet change or dietary indiscretion. To help prevent digestive problems, VPI recommends that a pet food be selected that meets the pet's specific needs and that this diet be fed consistently. Filling out the remaining slots were urinary tract infections as number 6, eye inflammation as number 8, osteoarthritis as number 9 and hypothyroidism as number 10.
I think it is important to realize that not just the as numbers 4 and 5 listed claims are related to the diets being fed to the insured pets. Most likely numbers 2, 3 and 7 can be allocated to the diet as well and so is number 6. Maybe the insurance companies can figure out how to stop the ongoing feeding nonsense. Plus I object to feeding our pets consistently the same diet. Maybe that’s good for the insurance carriers in the short run, but they too, just like pet owners look at it with a long term view.

Presidential support in sight?

Who is going to be our next president? Considering that 63% of the US households are pet owners, it is actually a good question to be asked in this newsletter. Where are the presidential candidates standing on pet food issues? How is the outcome of the upcoming election affecting the problems we pet owners have, such as pet food import safety, FDA, AAFCO and stricter regulations in general? And who actually on the pet food side is lobbying for whom?
It appears as if none of the candidates are really making this issue a subject to their campaigns. Go, check their websites, none of them make any mention of pet related issues at all. Granted there are other important issues such as the economy, the war in Iraq and the one on terrorism, all much bigger and more important, but isn’t pet food safety an important issue too? To us pet owners it is. By the way, the same findings apply to human food issues as well, nobody nowhere mentions any intentions or plans to make any changes. So I guess, all will stay the same. For now at least and just until the next disaster happens.
Now let’s take a look at who is sponsoring whom in this race for the top job in this country.
Employees identified as working for the top pet food producing corporations so far have donated $54,715 to the Republicans and $22,556 went to the Democrats. The companies include P&G (Iams, Eukanaba), Nestle (Friskies, Alpo, Purina, Beneful), H.J.Heinz (Nine Lives, Nature’s Recipe), Mars (Pedigree, Cesar) and Colgate Palmolive (Hill’s Science). FDA employees contributed $4,700 to the Republicans, 46,156 to the Democrats. Then, from a group identified as veterinarians the Republicans received $302,088 while the Democrats enjoyed getting $413,048. And Cargill, Inc. an ingredient supplier to the pet food industry figured it was a nice gesture to give an equal amount of $483,832 to each of the 2 parties’ convention host committees. Then there was also money coming from pharmaceutical companies. However, without further details available, an allocation to pet food is not possible.
I tallied it up for you: $845,335 went to the Republicans vs. $956,642 to the Democrats. I guess the contributors are seeing the Democratic side as the winning party since they figure they have to put their money in that pot. Have you ever seen the movie “The distinguished gentlemen?” If not you should. In his own funny way , Eddy Murphy provides a little of insight as to how politics work and how the players function. Having said that, let’s rest assured: Related to pet food nothing will change. (Data for this article was gathered by Susan Thixton, she found it at and

Visiting a supersized pet supply store

Today I had to stop by at the local supermarket kind of pet store, I needed something urgently and didn’t have it in stock myself. Anyway, the good thing about that store is that well behaved dogs are allowed to come inside the store, so I took Roxy along with me (Camouflage is everything). Boy oh boy, when we got there they must have just received two semi truck loads of dry food. It was piled up all over the store up to the sealing, you hardly could find your way around and see any of the (few) other items they have. It was like the battle between the female TV chef and the scientists who also make a pet diet. I wonder who’s going to win this one, the female chef lately seems to have her “super premium” food in any place just remotely connected to pets. By the way, some day someone has explain the definition of “super premium” to me, because I did indeed now look at the ingredient panel and nothing on it appears to be super, except they mention a “lot of her love” as a nutrient. Hope that satisfies a dog’s appetite.
Well, we didn’t find what we were looking for. Asking the store clerks didn’t help either, they didn’t even know what I was talking about. But maybe that was because they really were busy discussing their weekend plans among themselves.
Before taking off, we stopped by at the treat corner. They now even carry Red Barn treats. I’m telling you, it is the original ones, not the knock off Red Barn brand you find at the grocery market. No, these ones are authentic, I know, because they have the banderole. But we ended up not buying any. Why pay more than twice as much as I pay at our own store. And I am talking retail, not wholesale price. On our way out we grabbed a brochure on healthy pet feeding. In it they told us that there are two kinds of food, premium and non-premium and that puppies have different nutritional needs than adult and overweight dogs. All of this without much of further explanation.
So why am I telling you all this? The concept of pet super markets doesn’t sound to be such a smart deal for the consumer after all. Think about it: The food and the treats you buy there are mostly not of the greatest quality and many certainly don’t deserve a classification as being really healthy. The high quality items they carry are outrageously overpriced. This is by the way similar to what I see at the supersized on-line stores as well. Customer service leaves a lot of questions unanswered and if you are looking for educational and professional background support, you are on your own.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Anal Gland Disease in Dogs despite raw diet

This morning I got a call from a local customer who owns a 1 ½ year old Bichon. She noticed lately that the little charming fellow is scooting and has problems with his anal glands. Her problem is that she is feeding the dog raw diets only, as she puts it “strict by the law.” The reason why I put this up here at the blog is that I am looking for input of petowners who have faced similar problems and possibly can contribute some advise beyond what I told her:
I am sure you have somewhat already researched the subject and do not want to bore you with too much details as to why, what and so on.
The bottom line is that the experts say anal gland disease is a common problem in dogs and cats. The anal glands, also called 'anal sacs,' can become impacted, infected, and abscessed.
What is new to me is that this is the first time that I hear of a dog having the problem while being on the “almost perfect” and “strict by the law” raw diet.

Anal gland problems occur when our pet's feces are too soft, and while passing through the glands, do not empty them completely. If the glands produce too much liquid, it can thicken and clog. Dogs and cats have two anal glands beneath the skin near their anus. You will know that your pet is having a problem, affected pets may lick the anal area, 'scoot' along the floor, or have problems with defecation.
Fortunately, this is a problem that you can look after at home. Have your vet show you how to deal with this by yourself. Here is basically how it is done:
Get a person to help hold the pet and make sure that you both change into some old clothing and wear some disposable gloves. Use an old blanket or sheet to lie underneath the animal as the material that is removed from the anal glands will be smelly and can cause stains. Clip away any long hair beneath the tail so that you have a clear view of the area you are going to work on. With one hand, lift the tail way up over the animal's back so that you can expose the glands (located at 5 and 7 o'clock positions on the anus). You will be able to feel if they are full. The ducts that will actually empty the glands are located a little bit higher at 4 and 8 o'clock. In a milking type fashion, use your thumb and forefinger to squeeze the glands in a C-shaped sweeping movement. The fluid will probably be a dark brown to clear color, however if it is yellow or blood tinted, it is likely that your pet has an infection and you must see a veterinarian immediately.
After you have finished, sooth the area by applying a luke warm, wet, soft cloth to it. Once the cloth cools, warm it again with water and repeat the process for at least ten minutes at a time three times daily.
If the glands are infected, which you would be able to tell by looking for signs such as, the glands themselves appearing red or discolored, the animal experiencing severe pain, developing a fever, loosing their appetite and becoming lethargic, it is at this point that you need to get immediate veterinarian help.
On the dietary side, in an effort to eliminate the problems of impacted glands, there are a few changes that you can make. Goal is to increase fiber intake. This can be accomplished in various ways:
The therapeutic effects of fiber are that it prevents the formation of stools that are difficult to pass and reduces colon luminal pressure. Cultures who regularly consume unrefined high fiber foods rarely suffer from the intestinal disorders of Westernized cultures. Fiber is not easily digested by the digestive secretions in a body and enters the intestine essentially intact. In the intestine, water is drawn into and confined within the spongy matrix structure that fiber provides. The hydrophilic nature of fiber assists in the development of a bulkier, softer stool and its quick passage through the body. Fiber has the ability to stimulate smooth, efficient working of the bowel makes it an excellent natural laxative.
There are some dry foods available with high fiber content, however under almost no circumstances I would want you to make a change to the raw diet you are feeding. I strongly believe that feeding raw is the best you can do for your pet since it is the food closest to natural prey. If you feed meat/veggie/fruit mixes look for some with higher fiber content. XXX offers some mixes with higher fiber rich content. Their lamb mix (YYY or ZZZ) contains carrots, which are rich in fiber. Also, please check back on our website towards the end of next week, we are adding ABC to our raw food assortment, another option with correspondingly similar or even higher fiber rich veggie/fruit ingredients.
The other option you have is adding a supplement to your current diet. The ones we recommend because they are rich in fiber are: XYZ 1, or from XYZ 2 the XYZ 3 or even with more fiber their XYZ 4. (Remember: No advertising here, if you want to know them e-mail me). All of these supplements have a 14 to 15% minimum fiber content on the guaranteed analysis base.
Your final option is to just add fresh fiber rich veggies to the food daily. Recommended items are carrots, sweet potatoes, cabbage and celery, all high in fiber. However the problem with this solution may be that your dog is not going to like it too much, while when adding a supplement to the food you sort of trick him into what is good for him and he does not even notice it.

Up front I want to make you aware that increasing fiber in the diet will, besides helping to get the problem under control by helping them express or clear their anal glands, also increase the size of their droppings.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Pets and Allergies Part 1

Pet owners very frequently ask me if and how they should change the diet to address their dog’s allergy problems. Their dogs react to food allergies by generally suffering with skin and coat problems. The common symptoms are itchy, red, flaky skin and a dull coat. The problem is that a dog cannot point out the particular problem ingredient in the food that is causing the allergy. As pet owners we have the responsibility to be aware of any changes in our dogs’ health. If in doubt whatsoever, take the dog to your vet and let him do a formal diagnosis and treatment. Once the dog has been tested and the problem food determined, any allergy is treatable.
At this point I would like to throw in a comment, which I believe needs to be kept in mind: If you follow my blog on a regular basis, you will find that I wrote many comments on the problem of some vets treating our pets by prescribing some special food of which they have been told by the manufacturer that it would be good for treating a specific condition. There are many suspicions out there that mount on the believe that some vets judge certain foods and prefer one over another by determining which manufacturer provides them with the most benefits. I repeat the suspicion is benefits provided to “them”, not their pet patients. While this never has been proven and they have the benefit of a doubt, I believe that a good portion of mistrust is in order and would strongly recommend that pet owners in these situations evaluate all the options available to them. As successful track records show, there are other, non prescription foods out there suited to the task of supporting allergy treatment. The two major benefits of those foods are that they are first helping in our efforts and second cost a lot less than the very expensive prescription food. Most often, when compared, they feature, if not exactly the same, but even much better and healthier ingredients.
Coming back to the actual issue here: The symptoms you should be looking for to determine if your dog suffers from wheat allergies include itchy skin, shaking of the head , ear inflammations, licking of front paws, rubbing his/her face on the carpet, vomiting, diarrhea, flatulence, sneezing, asthma like symptoms, anal itching, behavioral changes and, the worst: seizures. Many dog owners never suspect that a wheat allergy could be the cause of their dog's health problems. This is usually because they have fed their dog the same food all its life and the symptoms have only recently appeared. However, fact is that food allergies don’t show up over night, they develop over a period of time. Dogs typically are not born with an allergy, it is the result of something going wrong over a period of time. Additionally, some pet owners assume that their dogs are unable to eat poor quality or cheaper dog food. However, this is not the case with a wheat allergy, if a dog can't eat a cheap brand of dog food that contains wheat, then it will not make any difference if you feed him an expensive brand containing wheat. Though, there may be an advantage in buying expensive foods since some avoid wheat as a cheap filler in the first place.
And, of course it's not just wheat that dogs can become allergic to, some of the other most common foods resulting in food allergies in dogs are corn, soya, preservatives, beef, pork, chicken, milk, eggs, fish.
The first step in diagnosing if your dog has a wheat allergy is to talk to your vet. Make sure he wants to deal with the problem, some of them don’t. In that case look for another one. Your dog will then have to go on an exclusion diet. On the exclusion diet you should feed your dog only a homemade diet, using ingredients that either the dog has never eaten before, or ingredients that are unlikely to be allergens, talk to your vet about this before starting though. Exclusion diets are nutritionally poor, so you won't want to keep your dog on it for very long at all. And remember, no little doggy treats, chocolate or table scraps while on the exclusion diet.
If after a few days on the exclusion diet the symptoms start to improve, switch back to the original diet. If the symptoms come back you know that something in the original food is causing the problem. As the next step go back on the trial diet until the symptoms disappear, then reintroduce one food/ingredient at a time, leaving a few days to a week before adding another item. As soon as the symptoms recur then you'll have identified the allergen.
Sounds simple, however exclusion testing is time consuming, you could as a quicker alternative try switching first to a brand of dog food labeled 'hypo-allergenic', if symptoms improve then you know it's a food allergy, you just won't know which ingredient it was that was causing the problem, unless you then try the exclusion diet.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Hear me now, believe me later

John Cox of the Bakersfield Californian wrote this last weekend an article titled “Pet owners face tough decisions as medical advances increase vet bills”. In it he is reporting of a Bakersfield couple and their visit with their middle age dog to the animal hospital. Unfortunately they were facing the grim news that cancer had spread through the dog’s lymph nodes. The good news was that there is cure. The attending vet told them that the disease can be treated with chemotherapy. The bad news is that the treatment costs several hundred dollars a month. And the couple, not being able to afford the expense, had to decide that their dog has to go on a treatment regimen simply to relieve his pain, but not to cure the problem. I feel bad and sorry for all of them, dog as well as the owners.
In general, it all comes back to the same good and bad news. According to Cox’ research, advances in veterinary medicine these days are making a lot more options available to extend the lives of our ill companion animals. It’s just that the costs are extremely high. A cat kidney transplant or a dual dog hip replacement can cost easy $10,000. This makes it a lot tougher on pet owners to decide whether or not they want to proceed. “It’s different than people medicine” said the Bakersfield couple’s vet. “Since very few people have health insurance for their pets, we have to be a bit more realistic in veterinary medicine about the fiscal aspects of it.”
Cox further found that this kind of drama is a regular occurrence around Bakersfield, where many veterinary practices are investing in high tech equipment, like for instance digital radiology and ultrasound machines. Another reason for the high expenses is the hiring highly paid specialists in the area of advanced veterinary procedures.
Spending on veterinary care has been rising. The about almost half of 50,000 Americans surveyed in 2006, who considered their pets being part of their family rather than thinking of them as companion animals, shelled out $24.5 Billion for vet care already back in 06, an increase of 13+% over 2001. More updated numbers don’t seem to be available yet. As one vet put it: “People’s willingness to do almost anything for their pets has pushed our (the vet’s) profession ever closer to human medicine. Thirty years ago it was a choice between euthanasia and a week of penicillin. Today its way different from that.”
Nontraditional medicine is crossing over as well. Acupuncture ($65 for 15 minutes) to treat arthritis and cancer side effects or herbal medicine for cats and dogs are nothing new any more these days.
But in these tough economic times it is also a fact that “people are doing the basic necessities rather than going and spending money on extras.”
Here’s my take: I feel sorry for anybody who has an ill pet and can’t afford the right treatment. I think its great that we have all this advanced technology available to us. However, what does it do us good if we simply can’t afford it? I want to take this a little further. When the one vet talked about what was going on 30 years ago, he also should have mentioned that back then pets and owners were not facing so many diseases in such large numbers. Today the number of pets plagued with diseases is of epidemic proportions. 30 years ago there where no 60+% pets suffering from diabetes, or cancer, or kidney disease or obesity or you name them all, there is simply no more disease around, which does not apply to more than half of all existing companion animals. And 30 years before that there were even less. Those of you who know me, probably know were I am going with this. Right, there was no commercially mass produced pet food available. That’s the root of all the problems we are facing today. That’s were we should start making an effort towards healthier pets. To me it is amazing how many pet owners are still buying the 50 lbs bag of garbage for 25 bucks at the mass merchant or the grocery store. Saving with this short sight does not pay off. It will cost them dearly in the long run, as we have just seen here. But some people just never seem to learn. And then, when it’s too late (like the one woman said in the local paper’s pet corner the other day: “I know I was feeding him (her dog) the wrong food all this last 8 years, but now it’s too late. Please help me, what can I do?”) the pain is big and the crying starts. Somehow I just don’t understand. Especially not because there is so much information available to us these days on healthy and correct feeding. I am just afraid that we may end up like 30 years ago, with a lot more euthanasia.

Monday, October 6, 2008

COOL: We want that for pet food too so that we know it comes from China

Since last week it’s official: “Now coming to a supermarket near you: Beef from the United States, Mexico, Canada, New Zealand and Uruguay. All in the same pound of hamburger.” Reported the Palm Beach Post on Friday. They were talking about the new federal rules debuting last week mandating that food labels reflect where the food originated. In the interest of letting the consumer know where their food came from. According to a recent survey taken by New York based Consumers’ Union, “an overwhelming 92% of Americans want to know.” Claims Urvashi Rangan, a senior scientist with the organization.
It’s called COOL, which stands for Country Of Origin Labeling. Here is what’s COOL; Meat sold in super markets, fish sold in supermarkets, raw peanuts, pork chops, bagged lettuce, fresh salmon and shrimp. This applies to raw food. Cooked or salted items are exempt. Also exempt are meats sold in butcher shops, fish sold on fish markets, roasted peanuts and peanut butter, bacon, bagged mixed salads, smoked salmon and cooked shrimp to name a few of both categories. Obviously this looks like there are quite a few loop holes right from the get go. Just a couple days after the rule took effect a group of 31 senators has already asked US Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schaefer to put more restrictive meat labeling rules in place. Plus, senate bills were introduced to include dairy products and pharmaceuticals. And, of course there are already complaints from the meat packing companies: “The cost of segregating cattle at the plant, keeping carcasses separate and keeping meat products separated is extremely burdensome.” according to Mark Dopp, senior vice president at the American Meat Institute in Washington.
Regardless of complaints and loop holes, overall the new rule has been welcomed. “I think it’s wonderful, particularly because we should be eating more local. … if it doesn’t come from where I am I don’t want it.” said one citizen in Palm Beach County.
Already then, but what does all of this have to do with pet food you may ask? Nothing and at the same time a whole lot. It is my wish that we get similar rules implemented for the pet food industry. After all, we have been struck quite often now with ingredients coming from overseas, resulting in horrific incidents of illness and death. All to well we still have last year’s recall in mind where the contaminated ingredients were sourced from China.
Don’t get me wrong: In this age of global trade I have no problem with that we buy and sell products from and to countries all over the globe. That’s the way it is and is going to be, it’s real and we better get used to it. What I do have a problem with however is the quality of the products we buy and that there seems to be no or very little control over these products. For this reason I believe we have a right to know where our pet food ingredients come from. At least, at that point I have the choice to say Yes or No to a kibble bag with ingredients coming from who knows where. And if enough pet owners join me in deciding against a Chinese ingredient containing bag, maybe that is going to change the overall situation and get rid of the problem. Because it seems like as long as we don’t know and keep buying these products, nothing is ever going to change. If we don’t buy, the seller’s will notice that in their pocket books. Isn’t that where it hurts them the most? You wanna bet that this brings positive results and change?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Solution for all your feeding problems

I don’t remember where I read this, but wherever it was, that person deserves credit for finding it. And so does the journalist working for the LA Times. They wrote on 08/312/08:
"With, what, a possible 4,000 deaths of American pets caused by pet food contaminated by ingredients from China, you'd think the pet food companies would be a little more aware of consumers' sensitivities.
I picked up a can of dog food at the grocery store a couple of days ago and read every letter of the fine print, looking for where the ingredients came from. Then I picked up another brand and did the same thing. And a third, and a fourth. A fifth. I even looked at the top and bottom of each can, in case it had been stamped there with an expiration date.
Here's what I did find, and it did absolutely nothing to reassure me. There on the label were the words: "Printed in the USA."
So, if I'm worried about the origin of what I'm giving my dog, I guess I can safely feed him the label."
Patt Morrison, Journalist for the LA Times
I think Patt’s idea is priceless. Only criticism I have is the fact that he’s shopping for his pet food at the grocery store. With the knowledge he has he should know better. You don’t find the right food there…