Saturday, June 13, 2009

Behavior Problems in Pets: Fear of Fireworks

Another already very hot summer has arrived and with it come the holidays with fireworks. While they are awesome to watch for us pet owners the affect on our companions are quite different. Today’s comment deals with this problem and provides some background info as well as some suggestion as to how to make things better for our pets.

That a dog (or person) can be startled when surprised by a sudden loud noise is quite normal, as is an immediate fear response such as increased alertness and rapid heart rate. A show of fear when startled is a normal adaptive response that prepares a dog (or any species) to escape from a possible threat to its safety. In the natural state, this is a useful and possibly life-saving reflex. However in pets, the feeling and display of fear is usually not needed and can sometimes become harmful.

A dog’s excessive fear, or phobia, is damaging to its welfare. The behaviors that result from the fear, such as trembling, whimpering, panting, constantly seeking the owners attention (or protection), and attempting to escape from the noise, can cause injury to the dog and are stressful to the owner. This can be particularly frustrating when a pet over-reacts to fireworks even though it is clear that the stimulus that caused the problem is temporary and clearly of no threat.

A fear of fireworks and of loud noises generally is common in dogs and other pets and in many cases is accompanied by other anxieties, such as thunderstorm phobia or separation anxiety. Dogs with multiple anxieties appear be predisposed to such fears.

For many dogs, the age at which such a phobia develops is not known. Sometimes, even with older dogs, it can originate from being exposed to a sudden loud noise that is particularly disturbing. Some pets may have been exposed to stressful or loud noises when still very young, leaving a lasting bad memory. For fireworks, it may not be just the noise causing the problem, it may be the flash of light that accompanies the loud noise, or the strong sulfur smell that comes after the explosion, or it may be the suddenness or the frequency of the noise (e.g. an explosion or a screeching rocket).

An unfortunate difference between people and dogs who suffer from phobias is that in people we can ask questions and discuss and identify the root of the problem. This can be important in getting to a solution. Usually in dogs we cannot know how or when the phobia started, and so must work with the tools we have to help find a solution.

The most important aspect of solving a dog phobia problem is to manage and de-condition the behavior. Veterinarians and clinic staff to whom the owner turns for advice need to be able to advise the owner on what should and should not be done. In educating the owner it is important to remember that the goal is to change the pet’s association with the fireworks from negative and frightening to neutral, through a process of gradual desensitization.

What owners should do to help their dog is not as clear as what they should not do. The first step is to avoid doing anything that reinforces the behavior. For instance, if the dog runs away and escapes the noise, that behavior is reinforced. Similarly, the fear response will be reinforced if an owner rewards the behavior with extra attention to the dog through stroking it, or trying to reassure it in any other way. The opposite approach of becoming angry or reproaching the dog will also be counterproductive. One tactic that may be useful is playing a game with the dog to distract it from the fireworks, or having it play with another dog (as long as the other dog does not have the same fear).

Because it is beyond most owners to make the commitment to change what are usually strongly established canine behaviors, a veterinarian can dispense various products to help alleviate these phobias. Regrettably, the treatments that are available for dog phobias are very limited, none have been proven to work completely, and there are no drugs registered to treat fireworks phobias in dogs. Treatments for fear of fireworks fall into two broad categories: Drugs and alternative therapies such as dog appeasing pheromone and homeopathic treatments.

The drugs most commonly discussed in treating fear of fireworks include benzodiazepines, the alpha-adrenergic propanolol (generally administered with phenobarbitone), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). All of these have possible side effects, such as lethargy and sedation, some may cause vomiting and none have really been proven to work in relieving the fear of fireworks. In the case of SSRIs and TCAs, treatment needs to be started weeks ahead of the stimulus that causes the phobia. In many cases, this is just not practical. Acepromazine is not recommended because of the sedation it can produce, and it can also sensitize the dog to sound, potentially making the problem worse. In contrast, natural homeopathic remedies do not cause side effects and have received promising reports.

Homeopathy is a traditional area of medicine that has become established over centuries of use, and now appears to be making a resurgence in veterinary medicine. The leader in veterinary homeopathic remedies is HomeoPet, and reports suggest that its product TFLN (Alternative Remedy for Fear of Thunder, Fireworks & Loud Noise) has produced substantial improvement in dogs suffering from a fear of fireworks. This is the only treatment for fear of fireworks that has been tested in a placebo controlled study, described in a report by veterinary behaviorists in the Veterinary Journal.1 In this study, compared with baseline, TFLN produced a significant improvement (71%) in the severity of behavioral signs.

An interesting finding in this study was that the owners of dogs who received a placebo were instructed on how to manage their dog’s fear. Just this good advice alone was followed by a significant improvement of 65%: improvement that is consistent with the placebo response generally seen in behavior studies in dogs.

The improvement reported after starting TFLN matches the results of a survey of dog owners who used a slightly different HomeoPet product designed to treat anxiety. In this survey, 25 of the treated dogs suffered from more than one anxiety, one of which was either fear of fireworks and/or fear of loud noises. Of those 25 dogs, the owners reported that 23 (92%) benefited from treatment. These owners indicated that they would use the product again, providing substantial evidence for the client satisfaction that can come from use of HomeoPet products.

Regardless of the treatment used to reduce a pet’s fear of fireworks and loud noises, it is important to recognize that a single approach is very rarely adequate. Any treatment should be combined with every possible effort to institute constructive behavioral modification that can improve the welfare of the pet and reduce the stress on the pet and owner alike.

Contributed by: Author Tom Farrington MVB MRCVS VetMFHom
Cracknell NR, Mills DS. A double-blind placebo-controlled study into the efficacy of a homeopathic remedy for fear of firework noises in the dog (Canis familiaris). Vet J. In press

Friday, June 12, 2009

EPA scrutinizing Flea and Tick Products

According to June’s issue of the Veterinary Practice News (VPN), the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently intensifying its evaluation of whether further restrictions on the use of spot-on flea and tick control pesticides are in order. With the measurement the agency aims to better protect our pets. Under review are both, veterinary as well as over the counter products.

The magazine reports that according to an EPA spokesman this all comes because of the recent increase in reported incidents: In 2008 44,000 plus potential incident cases with registered products were reported. By federal law, all EPA registrants are required to submit reports of possible adverse reactions if they are possibly related to the use of the registrant’s products. These reports are to be submitted regardless of whether the product was or was not used according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Flea and tick products are available in a variety of application media, such as spot-on’s, sprays, collars and shampoos, however, according to VPN, most EPA reported incidents are based on spot-on products, which is what the evaluation seems to be focused on.

Active ingredients in those products include amitraz, cyphenothris, dimotefuron, etofenprox, fipronilimidicloprid, metaflumizon, permethrin, pyriproxyfen and S-methoprene. The EPA according to the magazine claims, that the adverse reactions reported ranged from skin irritations to seizures and unfortunately in some cases were even fatal.
VPN further reports that the evaluation started out at mid April of this year with a few products from about 7 different manufacturers, but by now was by the EPA extended to include all EPA registered spot-on flea and tick products. The EPA on its website provides a
complete list of all registered products.

I visited the agency’s website and apparently “Since the chart previously located on this page reflected only a portion of the numerous pet spot-on products available, EPA felt that pet owners and consumers might be led to believe that only those products listed were the focus of concern. In fact, EPA is intensifying its evaluation of all spot-on products and is providing a more comprehensive list of these products.”

At this point I feel that it is also important to reiterate that “EPA is not initiating a product recall of these products nor is the Agency suggesting that the products not be used. EPA recognizes the importance of the products in effective flea and tick control. EPA’s objective at this stage is simply to advise consumers and pet owners to exercise caution when using the products and to monitor pet behavior following their use, as some animals have experienced adverse reactions following treatment.”

Here is the agency’s view on all of this:
“Pets may experience adverse reactions from flea and tick control products, including spot-on treatments, sprays, collars and shampoos. However, the majority of reports to EPA are related to flea and tick treatments with EPA-registered spot-on products. Spot-on products are generally sold in tubes or vials and are applied to one or more localized areas on the body of the pet, such as in between the shoulders or in a stripe along the back.
Flea and tick products can be appropriate treatments for protecting your pets and your family’s health because fleas and ticks can transmit disease. While many people use the products with no harm to their pets, EPA recommends that pet owners take precautions when using these products. People should carefully follow label directions and monitor their pets for any signs of an adverse reaction after application, particularly when using these products for the first time. Also, before use of these products on weak, aged, medicated, sick, pregnant or nursing pets, or on pets that have previously shown signs of sensitivity to pesticide products, EPA recommends that a veterinarian be consulted.”

Additional safety tips are available for
taking care of fleas and ticks on your pet.

As VPN writes, it is all a “Matter of Perspective: One needs to temper the 44,000 potential incidents with the available units for sale in the field, said Mark Newberg, director of corporate affairs at Central Life Sciences of Schaumburg, Ill. In that context, he said, the number of adverse reactions turns out to be very small.
“And of those 44,000, I’m going to guess that the lion’s share are mild or moderate reactions,” he said.
Newberg said he believes that many of the reports involve consumers applying the product incorrectly. For example, he said, because of the ailing economy, some consumers buy a product for a larger animal and mete it out over several months instead of buying the proper dose.
“It may sound like something that everybody is preaching, but (it comes down to) the label directions,” Newberg said. “Nowhere on the label directions do you see, ‘Split up doses.’ It says very clearly, ‘Do not use these products on cats’ when they are designed for dogs. I don’t know how much clearer you can be.”
What more can be done?
“That’s exactly what the EPA meeting is for,” Newberg said. “Once we put the cards on the table, we will have the opportunity to look at the adverse reactions. Maybe there will be a sub-meeting or subgroup that puts together a task force to look at labeling. … They may come back after the meeting and say these instructions are very clear and maybe change the way adverse incidents are reported, so that numbers don’t skew one way or another.”
Whatever the result, Newberg said he is anxious to work with the EPA on this issue.”

Here are some reactions coming from the manufacturers mentioned in the VPN article: “Common misuses include pet owners applying a spot-on product dose that is inappropriate for the pet’s size and applying a product designed for a dog on a cat and vice versa, said Hal Little, DVM, director of field veterinary services for Merial Ltd. of Duluth, Ga. That is why following instructions and working with a veterinarian are so important, he added.
“The veterinarian is a very important gatekeeper,” Dr. Little said. “Clients should be working with their veterinarian, asking questions, talking about directions and about the products.”
Merial maintains that while the EPA noted a “sharp increase” in the number of reported adverse events associated with spot-ons, company records do not indicate such a case for Frontline.
“The number of adverse events reported per volume of sales has remained consistently low since the introduction of Frontline in 1996,” Little said. “Over 1 billion doses of Frontline have been sold, so there is extensive experience with the product in marketed use.”
Merial and other spot-on product manufacturers are working with the EPA. A meeting was to be held in May in conjunction with the Canadian health department, which has identified similar concerns.
Fort Dodge Animal Health of Overland Park, Kan., is working closely with the EPA to identify and resolve any issues related to ProMeris for dogs, spokes-man Ryan Noonan said.
“Before ProMeris for dogs was released to the market in 2007, it went through extensive clinical testing,” Noonan said. “Because ProMeris is a new product, there may be more questions related to its use, as compared to other available spot-on products that have been on the market for a number of years.”
Mark Levin, vice president of technical affairs at Sergeant’s of Omaha, Neb., said he thinks the increased number of reports can be tied to the fact that products traditionally sold through the veterinary channel are being sold over the counter.
“The one item we feel we at least need to get on the table … is that when (veterinary products) are sold to a consumer and the consumer has an issue with that product, they take it and the animal back to the vet,” Levin said. “The vets don’t necessarily report those adverse events back to the manufacturer. Whereas for our over-the-counter products, if a consumer has a problem with our product, they call us directly and we respond with those numbers to the EPA.”
In regard to reports of incidents involving Sergeant’s products, Levin said those numbers are low.
“We don’t feel good about even one case, and we constantly look at any opportunity that we can to improve our products across the board,” he said.
For example, Levin said the company has found cases in which consumers used the wrong size product or used the product on the wrong species. Levin said the company also found cases in which household pets licked each other shortly after application.
Melinda Fernyhough, DVM, Ph.D., manager of Scientific Affairs for Hartz of Secaucus, N.J., agrees that reading the label carefully is important.
“Hartz wholeheartedly en-dorses the EPA advisory’s call to action to pet owners regarding the importance of carefully following label directions and making informed decisions when selecting and using spot-on flea and tick pesticides,” Dr. Fernyhough said. “As the EPA states: ‘The pesticide label is your guide to using pesticides safely and effectively.’”
Fernyhough said that EPA-reported adverse effects for Hartz UltraGuard products for cats decreased in 2008 from 2007 and those for Hartz UltraGuard for dogs maintained the same low ratio of reported incidents to sales.”

While I was browsing around at the EPA’s website I followed the link “
Taking care of fleas and ticks on your pet “ , where among other advice the agency makes a point of how to properly use flea and tick control products:

“To help minimize incidents that may be caused by product misuse, EPA is reminding consumers to always carefully read and follow all instructions on the label for these products and these
Safety tips for pet owners:
Consult your veterinarian:
Before use on weak, aged, medicated, sick, pregnant, or nursing pets, or on pets that have previously shown signs of sensitivity to pesticide products; and
If your pet experiences an adverse effect.
If you use a spot-on product or any other pesticide on your pet, carefully read and follow the product label.
Use flea and tick control products only on the animal specified by the product label, for example, dog products for dogs only and cat products for cats only.
Follow any label prohibitions against use on weak, aged, medicated, sick, pregnant, or nursing pets, or on pets that have previously shown sensitivity to pesticide products.
Apply only the amount indicated for the size of the animal being treated.
Do not apply to kittens or puppies unless the product label specifically allows this treatment. Pay attention to the age restrictions for puppies and kittens on the label.
Monitor your pet for side effects or signs of sensitivity after applying the product, particularly when using the product on your pet for the first time. Do not apply spot-on’s to pets known to be sensitive to pesticide products.
If your pet experiences an adverse reaction, immediately bathe the pet with mild soap and rinse with large amounts of water.
Keep the package with the product container (such as individual applicator tubes). Also keep the package after treatment in case adverse effects occur. You will want to have the instructions at hand, as well as contact information for the manufacturer.
Besides spot-on’s, there are other pesticides registered for flea and tick control on pets. These include shampoos, collars, dust, and sprays. Consumers should apply the same precautions when using these products as recommended for spot-on’s. Pet owners may also wish to consult their veterinarian for advice and recommendations.”

Advice for Reporting Incidents
Keep the package with the product container (such as individual applicator tubes). Also keep the package after treatment in case adverse effects occur. The package contains the product label, which includes important information such as the EPA registration number and contact information for the manufacturer.
Report any adverse effects to the manufacturer, who is required by law to report it to EPA. Contact information can be found on the product label. In addition, you may report the incident to the
National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC), 1-800-858-7378
Encourage your veterinarian to use NPIC’s Veterinary Pesticide Adverse Effects Reporting portal at to report any incidents. This portal is not for use by the public.”

Updated information on the agency’s progress is frequently being made available at

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pet nutrition in Layman’s terms: Part 1 Nutrients and Protein

Does the food I’m providing meet my pet’s nutritional needs? As our knowledge of the relationship between diet and health continues to advance and as the range of foods available for our pets continues to expand, it’s more important than ever to base feeding choices on good information. This information can come from various sources. For example from “Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats”, a technical report issued by the National Research Council as part of its Animal Nutrition Series. The Food and Drug Administration relies on information in the report to regulate and ensure the safety of pet foods (Or better: is supposed to ensure, as we all know too well, pet food isn’t always safe). Scientists who study the nutritional needs of animals use the Animal Nutrition Series to guide future research. The series is also used by animal owners, caretakers, and veterinarians to develop specialized diets for individual animals.
To provide good information is one of my goals with this blog. At numerous times I have published on this blog comments and articles about pet nutrition in general. The problem is that many of those articles sometimes get very technical and can be confusing to some of us, others again maybe based on opinions or written for a certain purpose, like for example in order to sell a certain type or brand of food. What I have been missing is simple explanations, kind of written in Layman’s terms and understandable for everybody, easy to read and short and quickly getting to the bottom of things. That was until now when recently, while doing my daily research work, I came across a course, which I decided to publish here with slight modifications. The site itself looks to me like it has not been maintained for quite a while, the last time its copyright notice was updated was in 2005 and many parts of the site are no longer accessible or corrupted. We don’t have to worry about the age of the info, nothing has changed about the basics. The Australian pet food manufacturer Advance created the self study course in cooperation with the Waltham Centre for Pet Care and Nutrition. Waltham, since 1965 has contributed to the advancement of global knowledge on nutrition for companion animals and now has over 600 research and development personnel all over the world. They continuously study in detail the nutrition and behavior of companion animals in a non invasive environment. Their studies cover many specialist areas including veterinary medicine, dietetics, biochemistry, animal behavioral science and breeding science. While this initially all sounded too science oriented to me, it turned out they came up with a pretty cool “crash course” and I decided to share what I was able to salvage here on this blog. As a result I hope I will be able to come up with a simple series designed for those of you who want to learn more about pet nutrition. A series suitable for breeders, vet nurses, pet store retailers, animal trainers or any pet owner who simply wants to learn more about feeding their dog or cat. Today let’s get started with Nutrients and Protein.


Our companion animals, just like we pet owners or as a matter of fact any living creature require food in order to grow, stay alive and live healthy. Food can be defined as either solid or liquid. When ingested, food supplies any or all of the following: Energy providing materials used by the body to produce movement, heat or other forms of energy, material for growth, repair or reproduction and substances necessary to initiate or regulate the processes involved in the aforementioned categories.

The components of food, which have these functions are called nutrients. The food ingested is commonly referred to as diet. Nutrients, which are required by an animal and cannot be synthesized in the animal’s body are called essential nutrients and must be provided for the body via dietary sources, i.e. food.

Diets containing no essential nutrients at all or only in insufficient quantity are considered inadequate. Feeding inadequate diets long term can and will most likely result in suboptimal performance or even in disease.

This series will take a closer look at the basic nutrients, their structure and their functions within the animal’s body. Today we are getting started with Protein.

What is protein? Proteins are very large molecules made up of hundreds of simple, single units called amino acids, bound together by peptide bonds. A wide variety of different proteins are found in nature, with each made up of strings of hundreds or thousands of amino acids, like the beads in a necklace. There are only about 20 amino acids typically found in proteins, but these may be arranged in any combination to give an almost infinite variety of proteins, each with its own characteristic properties.
Functions of proteinAll animals need protein in their diet. Proteins are essential components of all living cells where they have several important functions including regulation of metabolism as enzymes and some hormones and a structural role in cell walls and muscle fiber. Protein is continually being lost in feces, hair, skin and sweat, so there is a constant turnover of protein in the body, even in adults. Of course a growing body needs large amounts of protein for building new tissues. Additional protein is required during periods of growth, pregnancy, lactation and for repair of damaged tissue, such as wound healing. Protein is essential for the body's defenses against disease, including the formation of antibodies. Proteins are also a source of energy in the diet. A Cat's and dog's coat is made primarily of protein. Protein is required for the normal growth of hair and epidermal cells, for skin pigmentation and for sebum production. In a dog, this may account for an amazing over one quarter of the daily protein requirement. Essential and non essential amino acidsAmino acids are classified as either essential or non essential. Essential amino acids cannot be synthesized by the body in sufficient amounts and must, therefore, be provided in the diet. Non essential amino acids are equally important as components of body proteins, but they can be synthesized from excesses of certain other dietary amino acids or other sources of dietary nitrogen. The amino acid profile of a protein determines the proportion of essential and non essential amino acids. Animal proteins generally have a more balanced amino acid profile, with a greater proportion of essential amino acids, and better digestibility than plant proteins. As a general rule, the more egg, fish, poultry and meat protein a food contains, the better it meets the animal's needs for amino acids. This does not mean that pets should be fed entirely on meat, milk and eggs, but the diet should be carefully balanced with amino acids if cereals form a large part of the diet.Protein quality

It all comes down to this simple formula: Amino Acid Profile + Digestibility = Protein Quality Not all the nutrients in food can be digested and absorbed, so the amount of protein an animal needs in its diet also depends on how easily it is digested by the animal. Digestibility is a measure of the how efficiently the nutrients in a food are digested and absorbed into the body. The digestibility of proteins varies from 50 to 95%. This means that between 5 and 50% of protein in food remains undigested and is not available to the animal. Plant proteins generally have lower digestibility than animal proteins. The protein in high quality pet foods usually has a digestibility of over 75%. However over processing of prepared pet foods can reduce their digestibility.
The protein cycleWhen foods containing protein are eaten and digested, the amino acid necklace is progressively cut into smaller pieces by specific digestive enzymes in the gut, until eventually the whole structure has been dismantled either into single beads or pairs of beads called peptides. Protein can only be absorbed from the gut into the bloodstream in this simple form. Once absorbed into the bloodstream, most of the beads are taken in by the body's cells and reassembled in a different order to build the protein structures which the body needs e.g. hair protein or muscle tissue. Therefore after a dog digests a meal containing beef protein, the components of the protein are pulled completely apart and rebuilt into new dog proteins, leaving no trace of the original beef protein in the dog's body. The urea cycleExcess protein is not stored in the body. Instead the left over protein is used to produce energy in a system known as the urea cycle. This process creates a waste product called urea, which must be eliminated from the body via the kidneys. Unlike fats and carbohydrates, proteins contain nitrogen molecules, and urea is one of the few safe forms in which nitrogen can be eliminated from the body. Protein deficiencyProtein deficiency can result from either insufficient protein in the diet or from a shortage of particular amino acids. Signs of protein deficiency include poor growth or weight loss, rough and dull hair coat, anorexia, increased susceptibility to disease, muscle wasting and emaciation, oedema and finally death. Deficiency of a single essential amino acid results in anorexia and subsequent negative nitrogen balance. Protein excessDietary protein in excess of the body's requirements is not laid down as muscle but is, instead, converted to fat and stored as adipose tissue or fat. Feeding excess protein is a relatively inefficient and expensive source of energy in the diet. Concluding key points: Protein is an essential component of the body: Tissues and body fluids, hormones, enzymes and anti bodies. The arrangement, sequence and proportion of amino acids in each protein give it unique properties. There are about 20 different types of amino acids, of which 10 are essential, since they cannot be made in sufficient quantity in the body. Protein quality is a function of the protein source and its digestibility. Excess protein is not stored, but broken down to produce energy in the urea cycle. Protein deficiency causes poor growth, lack of appetite, loss of coat condition and impaired immune function.

How does it all relate to our pets?
Dogs cannot survive without protein in their diets. Dietary protein contains 10 specific amino acids that dogs cannot make on their own. Known as essential amino acids, they provide the building blocks for many important biologically active compounds and proteins. In addition, they donate the carbon chains needed to make glucose for energy. High quality proteins have a good balance of all of the essential amino acids. Studies show that dogs can tell when their food lacks a single amino acid and will avoid such a meal. Dogs are known to selectively choose foods that are high in protein. Whether this is simply a matter of taste or a complex response to their biological needs for all 10 essential amino acids is not known. However, dogs can survive on
a vegetarian diet as long as it contains sufficient protein and is supplemented with vitamin D.

As carnivorous animals, cats derive most of their protein from meat, fish, and other animal products. Some animal-based protein is easier to digest than plant based protein and is better suited to the cat’s digestive system. Dietary protein contains 10 specific amino acids that neither cats nor dogs can make on their own. Known as essential amino acids, they provide the building blocks for many important biologically active compounds and proteins. In addition, they provide the carbon chains needed to make glucose for energy. High quality proteins have a good balance of all of the essential amino acids. Deficiencies of single essential amino acids can lead to serious health problems. Arginine, for example, is critical to the removal of ammonia from the body through urine. Without sufficient arginine in the diet, cats may suffer from a toxic buildup of ammonia in the bloodstream. Although not the case for dogs, the amino acid taurine is a dietary essential for cats. Taurine deficiency in cats causes a host of metabolic and clinical problems, including feline central retinal degeneration and blindness, deafness, cardiomyopathy and heart failure, inadequate immune response, poor neonatal growth, reproductive failure, and congenital defects. Found abundantly in many fish, birds, and small rodents, taurine is either absent or present only in trace amounts in plants. Strict vegetarian diets are not appropriate for cats
unless supplemented with nutrients essential for cats that are not found in plants.

Protein requirements for pets:
Are usually expressed in grams. For example, a kitten weighing 1.8 lbs requires 10 grams, an adult cat weighing 9 lbs 12.5 grams and a nursing cat mom weighing 9 lbs having 4 kittens needs 41 grams of protein daily. A 12 lbs puppy, expected to weigh 33 lbs at maturity needs 56 grams, a mature dog weighing 33 lbs needs 25 grams, a pregnant bitch regularly weighing 33 lbs and expecting 6 puppies 69 grams and a 33 lbs nursing mother with 6 puppies needs, yes, 158 grams of protein daily.

Figuring Grams of Essential Nutrients from Pet food labels
Pet food labels generally do not list amounts of essential nutrients in grams. However, all pet food labels must state guarantees for the minimum percentages of crude (referring to the specific method of testing the product, not to the quality of the nutrient itself) protein and crude fat, and the maximum percentages of crude fiber and moisture. To convert these percentages to grams, simply multiply the crude percentages times the weight of your pet’s daily portion. For example, if you feed your cat one 6-oz (170-gram) can of food per day, and the food contains 8% crude protein, the grams of protein would be 0.08 x 170 =13.6 grams.

Note: For weight conversions use these
conversion tools
Advance Pet Foods
Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats, National Academies Press

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Do puppies need supplements?

Most important key to growth and development of a puppy is without question proper nutrition. According to what we see at the store, a remarkably high percentage of puppy owners, first timers as well as experienced dog parents is extremely careful when it comes to feeding their puppy the right diet and definitely acknowledges that fact. I wonder sometimes why, strange enough not the same percentage of adult dog owners is nearly as sensitive and picky about their dogs’ food. I guess it must have to do with parental instincts, a feeling that a baby or kid just has different need and needs more of a parent’s care than an adult.

And as much as these puppy owners are concerned about the right food, as often they wonder if it is necessary to supplement the puppy food. The variety of supplements for all life stages being offered these days has become quite impressive and picking the right ones is almost as much a science as choosing the right food. There is also a great number of supplements specifically aimed at and formulated for puppies. So say the labels, whether this is true or not I would like to discuss another time. Reason why I make this statement is that in a press release I just recently read a warning coming from “Problems with Multi vitamins and Vitamin Water: Uncovers Defects in Over 30% of Supplements Selected for Testing and Finds Most Children's Multivitamins Exceed Tolerable Limits “ Aside from criticizing people products, the release also include a paragraph about “Problems with Pet Supplements: In addition to supplements for people, selected two pet supplements for testing, but neither passed. One contained only 46% of the vitamin A and 54.7% of its claimed minimum amount of calcium. Another was contaminated with 6.45 mcg of lead per tablet. This is several times higher than the amount of lead (1.41 mcg) found to be in this same product in 2007. Contamination limits for dogs are not well defined, but, as reference, the FDA notes that children should not be exposed to more than 6 mcg of lead per day and, as noted above, California requires warning labels on supplements for human use that contain over 0.5 mcg of lead per day. “

Therefore, a healthy portion of skepticism may be in order. However, for today and now, let’s just assume the supplements, especially the high quality ones are what they promise to be and to do. The question here is, are they really necessary? Generally opinions among researchers, vets, breeders, pet owners and members of the pet product industry vary widely, just as they do with everything else.

My typical answer usually is simple: If you feed your healthy puppy a high quality food such as the ones we offer at our store, you don’t need to supplement. Of course, as always, double check with your vet and see what he/she has to say. Sometimes they may recommend supplementing with products supporting normal health like fatty acids or probiotics. Keep in mind, every puppy is different and individual needs may vary.

Sometimes it may be necessary to supplement for short periods of time. One example comes to my mind: When the puppy joins the family for the first time it may be too excited to eat correctly, so it may need a little support there. But that is seldom the case. I have yet to see a puppy, which doesn’t get excited about food and gets so side tracked by its surroundings that it doesn’t satisfy its seemingly endless hunger. After all every puppy is a fast growing body and that fast growth needs a lot of fuel.

Actually I could finish right here. You got your answer: Feed the right diet and you don’t need to supplement. But that would be too easy. There are always those of you who do for what ever the reasons may be not feed the best available food or for example feed diets approved for all life stages. In those cases you have different needs. What is to be included in the “right” puppy food to make sure that it does not to be supplemented?

If you recall any of this blog’s previous comments about feeding a puppy you will remember fatty acids, like Omega-3 to provide DHA and EPA (docosahaexenoic and eicosapentaenic acid) for enhanced mental functions, vitamins to build a strong immune system and minerals to support proper skeletal growth. This is just to name a few.

I came up with an idea: Looking for details as to what should be the ultimate supplement? One supplement comes to my mind, which I definitely call the ultimate. You guessed right: Mother’s milk. This is the super premium fuel for all of the youngster’s needs and optimal growth and development. But what makes it so valuable?

It contains proteins with the appropriate amino acid composition needed for growth. These proteins include colostrum which provides immunoglobulins important in building a strong immune system and vitamins, minerals, hormones, complex sugars and growth factors to promote proper development.

Fats included in mother’s milk help to increase resident time in the stomach to optimize digestion of proteins and other nutrients. Healthy fats also make puppies less likely to develop allergies. The fats in mother’s milk also include medium chain triglycerides (MCT). Because bile and enzyme secretions from the liver and pancreas are not fully functional during the first few weeks of a puppy’s life it is important that the fats ingested are easily digestible. MCT require less bile and enzyme for digestion and are transported from the stomach and small intestine to the liver to be utilized for energy more rapidly than other fats, which must pass through the lymphatic system. MCT’s also increase the absorption of amino acids, fat soluble vitamins and some electrolytes.

Then there are omega 3 fatty acids, which are important for the formation of cell membranes, proper enzyme function, development of brain, eye and nerve cells, healthy liver function and energy and protein production.

Lecithin is necessary for the formation and maintenance of cell membranes, nerve transmission and normal brain and liver functions plus additionally it increases resistance to disease.

And finally, probiotics or intestinal micro organisms play a vital role digestion and overall health by improving nutrient availability, synthesizing enzymes and vitamins, enhancing the immune system and regulating bowel function.

Best of all, it is available as a supplement, typically in powder form to be sprinkled onto the regular food or mixed with water into a liquid formula.

Just as important as the question do you need supplements, is the question how much of them. Be careful, some vitamins and minerals can be dangerous if given in too high of a dose. Example: Calcium if given excessively or at the wrong ratio with phosphorus can lead to musculoskeletal disorders, especially in large breed puppies.

My last word of advice to those of you who believe for economical reasons they cannot afford feeding their puppies a higher priced, high quality food: Do the math and add up your lower priced, low quality food and the dollars you will have to spend on supplements: The bottom line is most likely that you are better off feeding the better food to begin with. And this does not even consider the intangible risk of possibly having health issues with your puppy down the road at later ages.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pet Food Safety - Making a difference? Yes, we can!

My friend Susan Thixton of is going for it again: Susan, self declared “Caped crusader for Safe Pet Food”, just like all of us in this community, is on a mission to make a difference in this world with its overwhelming jungle of pet nutrition products and to separate the good and healthy from the bad and sickening.

She is the publisher of the, which is an on-line pet food evaluation and rating service. As of today she has developed and compiled an extremely informative database of over 1,000 pet food products, for each of those products providing a great number of details. Her evaluations include listings of proteins, health promoting ingredients, controversial ingredients, comments about by-products and chemicals, positives and negatives, information about the manufacturers and more. Also included, if necessary, are so called “Red Flags”, which are warnings about unfavorable circumstances. All this information she collects and then works it into a simple rating system based on quality ingredients with the result of each product being rated on a scale from 1 to 5 “Paws”. To make the information collected most objective, Susan contacts the manufacturers asking questions without giving away her “true” identity, just as any pet owner would and can do. The service is available to any interested party on a subscription basis at a very affordable price. I personally use her database all the time as a basis and part of my daily work in evaluating and comparing pet foods for our clients.

But that is not enough for Susan. She also publishes her blog, I guess I don’t have to further explain what it is all about, its name gives it away. Some of you may have noticed that I list her blog as one of the ones I follow very closely for obvious reasons. Just a few months ago I came with Susan to an agreement that allows me to use some of her comments either partially or in full on this blog as I see fit. In return I am supposed to write a comment here and there for hers (and yes, Susan, I promise I will. Right now there are just not enough hours in a day).

After all this preliminary intro info you rightfully ask, “,so what is she involved with now?” Just a couple days ago, in her blog comment
Will New Legislation Actually Improve Pet Food Safety?” Susan asked the question “Food safety advocates believe The Food Safety Enhancement Act will be the much needed answer to a series of nationwide recalls and lack of consumer confidence with food safety. Will this new legislation do anything to protect the safety of pet food?”

For those of you who haven’t followed her blog, it has to be said that Susan has made it her mission and priority to fight for improvements of pet nutrition. If she feels that requires her getting involved at the legislation level of that segment of problems, then she doesn’t mind that either. And when I say “fight”, I can tell you Susan means it. If she believes a letter to a congress man/woman is necessary she will just do that. Or getting the President involved? She will try that too without even thinking twice. And she never gets tired, even if after many attempts she does not too often find an open ear. She just remains persistent. She is realistic enough to not expect too much coming from the latest change in government. Like she puts it: “Knowing that the FDA has allied itself with pet food industries in the past (and currently), I have my doubts that benefits within The Food Safety Enhancement Act will actually reach pet food; dog food and cat food safety is last on a long list of ‘things’ to do. When you consider that presently the FDA, in defiance of Federal law, allows pet food to include diseased and/or dying livestock animals (and the diseases and chemicals in their bodies) as pet food ‘meat’ ingredients, when you consider that past laws required the FDA to complete pet food safety measures that they were ignored (, I have little hope that The Food Safety Enhancement Act will do anything to ensure the safety of pet food for our furry family members for a long, long time.”

So what’s her plan? “We cannot get discouraged (believe me I understand if you are), we must continue to write our law makers and decision makers. We must become a constant reminder in their email boxes that our pets are important; although they can’t vote, we can!”

And just a couple days later she showed what she meant. Under
Pet Food Warning Labels she reported:
“The Obama Administration has pledged to create an unprecedented level of openness and public participation in government. The FDA, in an attempt to abide by the Administration, has formed a ‘FDA Transparency Task Force.’ The following is an initial transparency guideline recommendation to the FDA regarding pet food. Please add your signature.Barely two months into his presidency, President Obama sent a memorandum to the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies of U.S. government. Dated January 21, 2009, the memorandum titled ‘Transparency and Open Government’, stated “Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing. (
Although the President’s memorandum required that “executive departments and agencies to take specific actions implementing the principles set forth” within 120 days, as typical fashion, the FDA stretched the deadline a few weeks to announce (on June 2, 2009 – exactly 131 days) to announce they have developed a task force seeking recommendations for “enhancing the transparency of the agency’s operations and decision-making process.” (”

Susan has composed a
letter to the FDA Transparency Task Force and needs our help. I figured the least I can do is pass on her pledge: Click here to access Susan’s article and letter and to add your name to the FDA letter.

Susan asks: “PLEASE forward this article and signature request to every pet owner you know. There are 74 million homes in the United States that own a pet. My goal is to collect One Million Signatures to send to the FDA. There is Power in numbers. To gain the signature of one in 74 pet owners seems to be a very conservative goal. One million signatures on the other hand will be an extremely powerful message to the FDA. “

Assuming that most of you are on the same page with Susan and myself I am sure we can drum up quite a few supporters. While we (the people of this blog) may not be able to come up with the expected One Million signatures, I say every single one counts and brings us closer.

All I have left to say is a “Thank you” to Susan. All of us truly appreciate your time and energy in this so very important matter. Following your relentless efforts is a great pleasure and for people like myself devoted to the health of our companion animals it is comforting to know that there are others too fighting for the “unwritten” rights of our beloved pets.
cc: Susan Thixton

Monday, June 8, 2009

Pets reducing risk of cancer in their owners

While I usually talk here about our pets’ health, today’s comment is a little different as it takes a closer look at our own, the pet owners’ well being. To be specific, our cardiac health, immune system and other problems we may be faced with in our lives. And since this is a blog about pets, how are pets affecting those problems? American researchers apparently have discovered that owning a pet can significantly reduce your risk of a common cancer. And that's not all, says Emine Saner of the Guardian.Co.UK.. I just recently came across her article and though it was published a while back ago last year in October, I would say it is still valid. Back then Emine wrote:

“The body of evidence supporting the notion that pet ownership is good for your health grew even fatter this month. A new study, published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, found that keeping animals can cut the risk of developing the relatively common cancer of the immune system, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, by almost one third.

"The idea that pets and good health are associated goes back 20 years or more," says Dr June McNicholas, a psychologist who has researched the relationship between people and their pets. The catalogue of health plusses can't all be attributed to regular dogwalking however. When a study suggested that people who own pets have better cardiac health, says McNicholas, "one of the significant factors in people recovering well from a heart attack was owning a pet, but it wasn't just dogs. It applied equally to cats." Here are some of the many ways in which pets have been found to strengthen our constitutions.

Pets are good for cardiac health
The Baker Medical Research Institute in Australia studied 6,000 people and found that those who kept animals had lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol - and therefore, a lower risk of heart attack. Another study, conducted at the University of Minnesota and published earlier this year, concluded that cat owners were 40% less likely to suffer a fatal heart attack than people who didn't have a cat. Adnan Qureshi, the neurology professor who led the study of nearly 4,500 people, said he believed that people who stroked their cat experienced less stress and anxiety and therefore were at a lower risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.

Pets boost the immune system
This month, a study by researchers from Stanford University and the University of California found that regular exposure to a cat or a dog could reduce one's chance of developing non-Hodgkins lymphoma. It is thought that exposure to allergens - from cats and dogs - could boost the immune system.

The immune-boosting power of pets is something that McNicholas has also investigated. In 2002, she studied 256 primary school children and found that children aged from five to seven from pet-owning households attended school for three weeks more than those who didn't. "We found that children brought up with pets had more stable immune systems. There have been other studies which suggest that children born into a household that already has a dog or a cat are less likely to develop asthma. Moderate exposure [to allergens] will prime the immune system." Meanwhile, a study in Japan found that pet owners over the age of 65 made almost a third fewer visits to their GP than people the same age who didn't have pets.

Dogs can act as a health warnings
After 20 years working for the charity Hearing Dogs for the Deaf, Claire Guest was struck by the story of a colleague whose dog had repeatedly sniffed at a mole on her leg before it was diagnosed as a malignant melanoma. Guest went on to work with researchers at Amersham hospital in Buckinghamshire, to discover whether dogs could be trained to detect bladder cancer in urine samples, and found that they could.

Similarly, in 2006, a cancer research centre in California published a study which found that ordinary household dogs could be trained to detect early breast and lung cancer between 88% and 97% of the time, by sniffing people's breath - it is thought that these particular cancer cells give off miniscule traces of volatile odours that dogs can smell. The idea is that, once they have worked out which odours dogs are detecting and which cancers emit them, a diagnostic machine could be developed.

Guest also trains dogs to warn owners with Type 1 diabetes of an impending hypoglycaemic, or low blood sugar, episode - they usually alert their owners by jumping up. "We don't know exactly how the dogs do it, but again they pick up on scent because they sniff the person before deciding whether to warn them or not. Because they also have a relationship with their owner, they may be able to pick up on other signs."

Pets can improve self-esteem and decrease the likelihood of depression
"There have been studies that have suggested pet owners are more likely to have higher self-worth and are less likely to suffer loneliness and depression," says Dr Deborah Wells, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Belfast, who has conducted several studies on the benefits of pet ownership. "Dogs seem to bring people the biggest benefits - you have to get out and walk them every day, and they can act as a social catalyst."

Wells says pets are particularly useful for children. "Pets can become like a therapist, for want of a better word. If children are bullied at school, or their parents are getting divorced, children will often tell their pets their problems whereas they wouldn't always talk to a person."

The charity Pets As Therapy has been running for 25 years and has 4,000 dogs and 106 cats, which visit 120,000 people in hospitals, hospices, care homes, day care centres and schools for children with special needs every week. "We started taking dogs into nursing homes, because elderly people had had to give up their pets when they went in and it was making them depressed and in many cases ill," says Maureen Fennis, the chief executive. "At one nursing home, there was a lady who used to say the visits were her reason for staying alive."

The routine and "normality" of having a pet can help people suffering a traumatic event, such as bereavement or a diagnosis of terminal illness. In one study, McNicholas found that people with animals to care for adjusted far better after the death of someone close than those without pets. "We live in a society where we do not like to cry in front of people," she adds, "but there are a large number of people who can cry in front of their pets" “

Sunday, June 7, 2009

General raw feeding guide lines for felines

Today’s comment is not about the usual discussion of raw, like which ingredients to look for or to avoid, nor whether it is advantageous. About the ladder one, to me there is no question anyway. Today is more about the little details, which we all too often don’t pay enough attention to, but, which make a difference to our beloved animals.

Please consider my recommendations as only being my guess. Your starting point when trying to figure out what works the best for your cat with regards to feeding amount and feeding times. It is a discussion about feeding adult felines only, I will address kittens, expecting and lactating queens in a separate comment at a later point.

So let’s get right into it:
Determining your cat’s ideal daily portion size is unfortunately not as easy as a chart telling you if your cat weighs X, feed her Y. Cats are individuals. Some are big and skinny, others small but fat. And yes, you guessed it right, cats can be young and old, male and female, active or sedate, and more. Some have fast metabolism and others don’t.

Any chance of providing you with a simple chart is made more difficult by the fact, that a homemade diet will turn out differently with the meat you use and with how precisely you follow instructions. I know of cat owners who use lean poultry, others use fatty beef. A fatty beef diet will be more filling and calorie dense than the same volume of a lean turkey diet. Some people add more water, giving the food more volume but not more calories, while another group omits water and wonders why their cats gain weight on so little food.

Like this one customer of mine who complained the other day: “My cat is “inhaling” her food like a dog” (now, who told that women that every dog eats like that?), cat owners are often distressed about their cat’s behavior of finishing their plate in less than a minute, asking for more food, pestering them at the fridge, or taking food stuff off counters or out of the trash, prompting them to think that their cat is starving or lacking something! Some cats don’t do this, but most will not miss an opportunity to eat. It is natural for an animal to be opportunistic. This is just part of their instinctive drive to survive. However, and I always stress this, much of this is conditioning. It really has a lot to do with how your cat was raised and how your cat has trained you! Most “monsters” are created by their owners.

Remember, food requirement should be based entirely on body condition, and not on behavior. If your cat suddenly looses weight without changes in the diet, keep a real close eye on her and possibly consult your veterinarian about possible illness or internal parasites.
It is especially difficult to monitor food intake and its effects on a cat allowed outdoors. Outdoors, you cat can regurgitate food without you knowing, and all you notice is that he or she is loosing weight. The eating of mice and other prey will add calories, but also predispose your cat to intestinal parasites. Outdoor, cats will often travel long distances, which takes extra calories. Outdoor, cats may scavenge food from neighbors, which puts them at a great risk not only from weight gain.

Most cats prefer to eat off a flat dish with the food spread out onto it. For regular raw food, my suggestions are to feed a daily portion of 1/2 cup or appr. 5 oz to appr. 6 oz or 2/3 cup divided into two meals every day. If you have a dainty female cat, start by feeding ¼ cup in the morning and the same in the evening. If you have a robust male cat, feed 1/3 cup in the morning and the same in the evening. Unless you have a very large cat, like a young, active, outdoor, male Main Coon cat, or a crazy Siamese, 99% of cats will fall into this portion range. Some older, more sedate cats will actually gain weight on only 5 oz of food a day. Always follow the manufacturer’s feeding instructions and your vet’s recommendations. Remember that manufacturer’s instructions stating how much to feed your cat at which weight is based on the “ideal” body weight, not the actual weight. This means for example, if your cat is overweight and you feed her based on her “actual;” weight you continue to over feed her, which is obviously not helping in getting rid of the obesity problem.

Here are some other facts you may want to keep in mind:
Some cat owners and vets say that cats will digest food better and get more out of it, when given small portions 3 to 4 times a day. Cats will also pester you less for food, if you divide their daily portion into more frequent meals. Contrary to this advice, we feed our cats once a day. I wanted to make sure, they pester me only once a day. Just kidding, but my point is, this is what they are used to and they don’t seem to have a problem with that. Though I have to add that: They are 50/50 indoor/outdoor cats, i.e., I take it during their 50% outdoor time they may scavenge and hunt and possibly get food this way, plus they always are around me with our pet food store and Daddy always has a treat or sample to try and spare.

Most cats will not digest a portions size of ½ cup well, and will likely suffer from a degree of indigestion. Many cats will actually regurgitate food if you feed a portion larger than ¼ cup. A cat’s ability to eat a large meal in one sitting decreases with age. Occurrence of regurgitation is more frequently observed in middle aged to older cats. I noticed this with our oldest cat
Young cats often behave especially frantic to get their paws on food. They may climb up on you while you are preparing or serving their food, climb right into the fridge when it is being opened, and come running at any sound of activity in the kitchen. Young cats, but not exclusively so, may steal food left out on counter tops, sometimes even take off with a loaf of bread. I don’t remember now where exactly I found this part, but have to say, observing our cats, this does not just apply to the young ones. Young and old, in our family they are all the same.

Cats are individuals. Some will maintain a level of excitement about food throughout their live. Others are largely uninterested in eating, and need coaxing to eat even as kittens. Most cats do well eating three meals every day, but some are not interested in eating more often than twice every day; sometimes they only show enthusiasm for one meal per day. Other cats will eat anything, any time, for no reason. Cats’ personality and emotional state is very much expressed by how they eat!

Cats’ appetite and attitude towards food does not only hinge on a certain personality type, but also on early kitten hood conditioning. Competition from other kittens, type of food fed, and frequency of food fed will all affect what kind of relationship cats will have with food later in life.
Cats’ behavior towards food and eating is also influenced by how well they have trained you. Do you respond to their begging by feeding them something when you have a meal yourself, work in the kitchen, or open the fridge? A rewarded behavior will be repeated. Although your intention may not have been to reward your cats for that behavior, you did nonetheless yield to their pressure.

If you find a begging cat intolerable, start conditioning your cat early and consistently by feeding him or her at a quite, designated place, preferably not in your kitchen or dining room, so your cat does not form a strong food association with these areas. If you feed your adult cat three times daily as much as he or she needs to maintain body weight, and refrain from giving food out of the fridge or from the table, your cat should settle into a routine that is comfortable and predictable for both of you. Feed treats away from areas where you prepare and eat your own food, and keep groceries and the trash out of your cat’s reach. If your cat is allowed into the kitchen and on counter tops keep food stored away and inaccessible. If your cat is successful in snatching food off the counters once, it will continue to check out these areas for food. After all, they are not stupid and will not resist instinct simply to be a good kitty just to please you.

Cats of the genus Felis, including the domestic cat, are adapted to prey on rodents, small birds, and the occasional reptile and amphibian as the main staple of their natural diet. A single mouse weighing no more then 30 gram provides approximately 60 kcal. So, in order to meet daily caloric requirement a cat must eat an average of five prey animals daily. This amount of food is not consumed all as one meal, but as separate meals throughout the day as the cats succeed in catching that prey. Researchers during field observations have concluded that most small cat species are adapted to and prefer to be active during dusk and dawn, the time when they will hunt most of their prey, resulting in an intake of several smaller meals during these hours. Naturally, cats will rest, groom, doze or sleep during daytime hours.

Transferring that insight from Mother Nature’s model onto our domesticated animals, feeding five meals of 1 oz each during the morning and evening hours is sort of an impossible solution for most of us. Reporting on feedback from my customers I would say that cats do very well by eating meals of 2.5 to 3 oz each given twice daily. By the way, weighing of the servings is a good idea since we pet owners have a natural tendency to over feed.

If regurgitation of food is a problem, try feeding smaller meal sizes not exceeding 3 oz ea. and feed the daily portion spread out over 3 to 4 meals. Young, large, active cats requiring more than 5 oz of food daily should be given an extra meal rather then increasing the size of their meal. Remember that a cat’s stomach size is about the size of a walnut when empty. I can stretch, but trying to fit a ½ cup of food into it as one meal, is over stretching it a bit. Saliva and digestive juices will add additional volume. If the cat does not bring the food back up, proper digestion will be difficult. Additionally, your cat will not always select instinctively what he or she needs and how much of it. There are many cats that if offered as much food as they want, they will eat until overcome with an urge to purge. Only some, those raised without siblings and competition for food will eat until full and leave the rest behind.

And finally: Always remember that cats are individuals. While I can give you ideas, none of them may work for your cat. Cats are a joy and a challenge at the same time. The ladder especially holds true when it comes to feeding. Since cats are so specialized in what they would eat naturally, cat owners have a very narrow margin of error of what cats thrive on or die from.