Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.
Is the Mars acquisition of VCA cause for concern?
January 12 2017
An explosive, must-read article in Bloomberg Business Week looks at what happens when big business monopolizes the pet health business and how this corporatization might not be in the best interests for our dogs.
Ever wonder why many veterinarians do not heed the 2003 American Animal Hospital Association’s recommendation for core vaccines to be administered every three years? Instead a number of vets still prescribe annual vaccinations—with boosters for distemper, parvovirus and adenovirus. According to the Bloomberg article the immunologist, Ronald Schultz, from the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, was one of those researchers who recommended this three-year protocol in the 1970s. He recalls that the AAHA Canine Vaccination Task Force, facing a revolt from vets about the decrease in their future vaccine incomes, struck a compromise at three years instead of the once-in-a-lifetime approach that he and others recommended. But yet you can find that annual vaccines are still being recommended by the 1,000 Banfield Vet Clinics in this country. Another surprising fact is that pet vaccines seem to be the only vaccines where one size, seemingly, fits all—the doses are the same regardless of weight or size of the animal, so the same 1 milliliter is given to a Chihuahua or an Irish Wolfhound—very little research has ever justified that approach. Bloomberg points to an example from Banfield's software program "Pet Ware," used to instruct the veterinarians in diagnosing and prescription advice:
“the book shows a checklist of therapies for a dog with atopic dermatitis, or itchy skin. Doctors are encouraged to recommend a biopsy, analgesics, topical medications, antibiotics, a therapeutic dietary supplement, an allergy diet, and a flea control package. They’re required to recommend antihistamines, shampoos, serum allergy testing, lab work, a skin diagnostic package, and anti-inflammatories. It’s a treatment course that might run $900 for symptoms that, in a best-case scenario, indicate something as prosaic as fleas. The manual reminds doctors: You cannot change items that were initially marked Required. They must remain required.
No wonder the pet health industry is booming and going through a period of rapid consolidations, Banfield, located in many PetSmart stores, was purchased in 2007 by Mars, the candymaker and pet food giant (the largest in the world with over $17 billion in sales from brands like Pedigree, Cesar, Eukanuba, Iams, Natura brands, Royal Canin, Sheba, Nutro). Then in 2015 the Mars Petcare portfolio of vet clinics grew when they acquired BluePearl Veterinary Services, with an additional 55 locations.
Mars, seemingly, facing a slowdown in consumer purchases of prepared/package foods and sugary products, is acquiring even more veterinarian companies and it was announced that their newest acquistion that they are paying $7.7 billion is VCA, Inc., the veterinary and doggie day-care business based in Los Angeles. VCA owns 750 hospitals and employs 3000 vets and 23,000 people, and had a 2015 revenue of $2.1 billion. The Los Angeles Times noted that “VCA has used acquisitions to combine hospitals, diagnostic labs and veterinarians into its network. In 2014, the company even acquired a dog day-care chain called Camp Bow Wow.”
And similar to Banfield’s approach, the Times notes that “VCA has been criticized at times by some customers for requiring tests that can be costly, but VCA maintains that it’s against its policy to sell unnecessary tests or treatments.” But 41 percent of VCA’s operating profits comes from their company’s Antech Diagnostics that also does bloodwork and other tests for more than half of the country’s hospitals, including their own of course. As Bloomberg reported, Tom Fuller, VCA’s chief financial officer, puts it this way when he speaks to investors: “Diagnostics is what grows the industry.” And the company’s business strategy has been “to leverage our existing customer base by increasing the number and intensity of the services received during each visit” (as found in their annual financial reports by Bloomberg reporting.)
Pushing tests unto clients is “good” for business, if not always for their clients’ pets,
"according to Wendy Beers, a veterinarian who resigned in 2014 from a VCA hospital in Albany, Calif. 'Every month they would print out things to say how many packages you sold, how many procedures you did,' she says. 'And if they came out and said, ‘This month we want everyone to do 20 heartworm tests,’ and you only did eight, well, next month you have to do better. I don’t feel when they’re lecturing us that their chief interest is to make sure animals get the best care.'”
According to Ken Shea, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, who says that with Mars’ expanding presence in animal hospitals, the company will have an opportunity to use the facilities to sell even more of its pet foods. Is this troubling news for pet parents? A recent class action suit brought on behalf of consumers by a San Francisco law firm thickens the plot further when you consider that this suit contends that pet food manufacturers (including Mars) and retailers (such as PetSmart) are using "prescriptions" to justify overcharging consumers for food that contains no restricted ingredients. Neither the FDA nor any other government agency mandates such prescriptions.
Bloomberg clearly makes the case why all these things, like over vaccinations, unnecessary testing, false prescriptions for pet food matters is that veterinary medicine is largely unregulated. And one of the reasons why businesses like Mars find the pet industry a good investment strategy is that
“...pet owners pay cash: Vets don’t deal with insurers haggling for better prices or questioning whether that vaccine or ultrasound or blood panel is really necessary. (A small percentage of pet owners carry insurance, but they pay vets upfront, like anyone else, and then take on their insurers for reimbursement.) What’s more, when veterinarians make fatal mistakes, they face no real financial consequences. The law hasn’t changed to reflect the attitudes of the average pet owner; courts still treat pets as property. Damages paid to owners whose pets have been killed or injured are so low that a typical medical malpractice insurance policy for a veterinarian costs less than $20 a month. Damages are so low, in fact, that few pet owners can find a lawyer willing to take even the most egregious case of veterinary malpractice.”
So, yes, it should matter, and as always, it is good to understand what you are up against, what to expect if you use any of these services, to double check before you agree to over vaccinations, or receive a “prescription” for pet food, you are after all the only advocate your dog has and the better informed you are, the better decisions you will make. Nancy Kay, DVM, author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life, added that she “feels truly disheartened for my profession” about this expansion of Mars’ vet monopoly. Be sure to read the Bloomberg story and get the word out.
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Human Grade, Human Made
November 2 2016
This marks the first in a series of articles about making home-prepared meals for our dogs. The series is inspired by our belief that the best way to feed both our human and canine family members is to select the ingredients and whip up meals ourselves—not to mention the sense of satisfaction that comes from presenting a well-filled dish or bowl.
Even if we’re confident in the kitchen, when it comes to putting our skills to use for our dogs, many of us waver, concerned that we won’t be up to the challenge of producing the “complete and balanced” meals we’re told are critical for canine health. We rely instead on processed food that comes in bags, cans or boxes.
To offset this concern, we turned to experts who have experience with home-prepared diets. With their help, we can learn how to provide our dogs with nutritious, delicious meals that are reliably safe and made with little or no fuss. We start with the one of the easiest of preparation methods. Dust off that slow cooker (aka Crock Pot®) Auntie Em gave you, and let’s get started.
Our first expert is Greg Martinez, DVM, who practices at Gilroy Veterinary Hospital in Gilroy, Calif., and is a rising YouTube star. He’s been a vet for more than 30 years and is passionate about the benefits meals made in slow cookers have for his own dogs and his patients. He recently followed up his first book, Dr. Greg’s Dog Dish Diet, with a new volume, The Dog Diet Answer Book. He turned out to be the perfect guide to slow cooking for your dog.
Over the past year, I have tried a variety of recipes and cooking approaches. To begin with, I cooked each ingredient individually. Meats would be poached, braised, roasted or stir fried; veggies, steamed and ground up in a food processor; grains and pulses (legumes), well cooked; eggs, hardboiled or made into a frittata. I would then weigh each ingredient class on my go-to digital scale (a must for homecookers!), ounce by ounce, and combine them in each dog’s bowl. Alas, two of my three dogs consistently refused to eat their veggies. No matter what combo I gave them or how I tried to disguise them, those two always pushed the vegetables off to the side.
That changed after I switched to the slow cooker for most of their meals. Stewing veggies—from kale to parsnips to sweet peas—with the meat meant increased palatability, and they gobbled it all down. Today, slow cooking is my preferred method. I can produce around nine pounds of food each in my two seven-cup cookers, alternating the protein sources from turkey and chicken to beef and pork, (with white fish and a variety of livers/gizzards/hearts) and varying the vegetables, fruit and carbohydrates.
Once I established the slow cooker as my tool of choice and refined my technique and food choices, I found that feeding my dogs for their optimal benefit required answering a few more questions. These questions, by the way, apply whether you’re 100 percent home cooking or using home-cooked food to supplement or enhance your dog’s commercial diet.
How Digestible Is The Meal?
As the head of quality control for your dog’s food, you need to know about digestibility, or, as the dictionary defines it, “the percentage of a foodstuff taken into the digestive tract that is absorbed into the body.” As Linda Case pointed out in her excellent book, Dog Food Logic, pet food manufacturers claim that their food is “highly digestible” or “easily digested,” but rarely back that up with proof. Since digestibility has a direct effect on how much nutritional value your dog gets from a particular food, it’s an important indicator that ought to be available to consumers. As Case also points out, digestibility is increased by “the inclusion of high quality ingredients.” And this goes for not just the protein sources but for the grains, legumes and vegetables too. So all ingredients have quality levels that can provide different levels of nutritional quality to the food with the potential for a wide variation in nutrient composition. That is one of the reasons to consider home-prepared meals that are made with ingredients found at the supermarket, farmers’ market or from your garden—they are not only fresh but human grade too (a claim that few pet food companies can make)—even if you use it to supplement a manufactured diet.
I recently attended SuperZoo, a mammoth pet industry tradeshow in Las Vegas, where I talked to representatives from many pet food companies. Few knew what I was talking about when I questioned their products’ “digestibility index” (which should be higher than 82 percent). Or actually even knew how their feeding guidelines were derived—or the formulas used to calculate them.
How Much Should I Feed?
Figuring out how much to feed your dog can be rather confusing. In the past year, I’ve read most canine nutrition books, talked with vet nutritionists and read articles online. What I’ve discovered is that when it comes down to it, the number of calories a dog needs on a daily basis can be determined via a variety of formulas.
The first thing to do is to confirm or calculate how many kilocalories your dog requires to be fed on a daily basis (Daily Energy Requirement or DER). The total calorie requirement should be divided by the number of meals (usually 2) fed to your dog daily. All treats and snacks also need to be accounted for and their calories should be subtracted from the total that will be provided in their meals. It is always recommended that before making changes to a dog’s current diet you discuss this plan with your veterinarian. Do keep in mind that there are a number of different approaches that are used to calculate a dog’s caloric needs so while our app [link to app] calculates your dog’s DER, there are other formulas with slightly different results (we have included a chart that uses another popular measurement, the Maintenance Energy Requirement, that you can also follow.)
It is important to note that nutrient and caloric needs are not linear: for example, a 50-pound dog does not require five times the amount needed by a 10-pound dog.
How Active Is My Dog?
The feeding guidelines that most pet food companies provide on their packages usually offers wide ranges of weights such as from “30 to 50 lbs.” and some offer scant activity levels beyond “average and highly active,” but in order to not over or under feed your dog, it is vital to know more precisely how much your dog weighs, along with her Body Condition Score. It’s important to truly understand your dog’s activity level too; few pet dogs fall into the “highly active” category. Christine Zink, DVM, a leading expert on canine sports medicine, provides good thumbnail guidelines: “An inactive dog is one who rarely gets more than a jaunt around the yard, a moderately active dog is one who gets 15 to 30 minutes of continuous exercise every day, an active dog is one who walks twice daily for about 45 minutes each time, and a highly active dog is one who gets at least several hours of exercise every day.” Some food companies do provide more specifics online, and most should be able to tell you about them if you call their customer service departments.
How’s My Dog’s Weight?
In order to avoid over- or underfeeding your dog, it is vital to know precisely how much she weighs, along with her Body Condition Score, which can be determined in consultation with your vet. With this score in mind and a realistic understanding of exactly how active your dog is, you can determine just how many calories your dog should be fed. Note, too, that you need to consider everything your dog eats during the day, including treats and chews. Those calories have to be taken into consideration when determining how much to feed at mealtime. Note, you might have to check with treat makers for calorie counts, unfortunately a few put that useful information on their packaging at this time.
It’s important to remember that dogs are individuals. No matter what type of calculation you use, the best way to judge a feeding plan’s efficacy is by simply keeping track of any weight loss or gain, and then adjusting accordingly.
Go to our calorie calculation Apps.
Slow Cooking Tips
• For optimum performance, fill the cooker to about two-thirds capacity, and not less than halfway; don’t over- or underfill.
• Use the right size slow cooker. For making dog food, the larger 6- to 7-quart sizes work best.
• Keep the lid on. Slow cookers can lose 20 to 30 minutes of cooking time if the lid is removed.
• One hour on the high setting equals 2 to 2 ½ hours on low.
• Remove excess fat from meats and the skin from poultry. Since it’s wise to control the amount of fat in a dog’s meal, brown ground meats and drain off the residual fat before putting them in the cooker.
• Never put frozen foods into a slow cooker; defrost ingredients before adding.
• Cut all ingredients into uniform pieces so they cook evenly.
• Put the densest ingredients—sweet potatoes, potatoes, carrots and heavier root veggies such as parsnips, turnips and rutabagas—on the bottom. Then add the meat/fish/organ meat and top off with other veggies and fruit. I like to top it all off with green leafy veggies, great way to use beet greens and other more “exotic” greens.
• Grains absorb a lot of liquid; if you cook them with the other ingredients, you may have to add more water during the cooking process. This is especially true if you are using brown rice. I have found it best to add the grains and legumes that require only light cooking (oats, millet, whole wheat couscous, barley, bulgur, quinoa or lentils and split peas) three-quarters of the way through. Or, cook them separately and then mix them in afterward. (If you do prepare them separately, cook them in the excess broth from the stew, which is so tasty and rich in nutrients.)
• Meat and veggies may need to be broken into smaller pieces before feeding to your dog. Transfer the cooled meal to a large bowl, then use a potato masher, a spatula or the back of a wooden spoon (or your fingers, as I do) to mush it all together and tearing apart the chunks of meat. You can even put it into a food grinder or processor, if you like.
“A stick [immersion] blender works fine to combine the food (and liquefy the veggies which can be hard to digest if too large), even while hot. I then spoon the hot food into various sized mason jars, which speeds up the cooling process.”
• Let the food cool down before packaging it in whatever containers you intend to use for the refrigerator or freezer. Meals stay fresh for three to four days in the refrigerator. Defrost frozen meals in the refrigerator, not at room temperature on the counter.
“If you are camping, freeze meal-size portions as flat burgers.”
• Meat contains a lot of water and shrinks during any kind of cooking process. Find out just how much by consulting the USDA’s website, where you’ll find a table at catalog.data.gov/dataset/usda-table-of-cooking-yields-for-meat-and-poultry. This is important to understand because cooking a pound of chicken or meat results in much less meat in the finished product, meaning less calories and assorted nutrients. So in calculating calories and nutrients, it is the “after cooking” weight that should be considered.
• You can adjust the protein to carb levels by simply adding more meat to your recipe. You can even cook some additional meat separately and add it to the finished product at mealtime.
Have we gone too far with this Halloween dog costume thing?
October 26 2016
I hate to admit it but I’m a Scrooge when it comes to dressing dogs up in Halloween costumes. I know that some dogs look irresistibly cute but few, in my eyes, really seem to enjoy it as much as we humans do. Especially when the costumes are too elaborate, that seems to be happening more and more. So I was relieved when I read New York Magazine’s blog “The Cut” and how they too frowned at this extravaganza that, at this time of year, is on display at dog runs around the city. Foremost among them is the ever popular event at the Tompkins Square dog run. That particular one we have covered in the past with contributing editor, Lee Harrington (author of the popular Rex and the City), even serving as one of the judges. I guess it is just that people might just be going overboard and not paying enough attention to how their dogs are taking it on it, or trying to squirm out of restrictive costumes. As The Cut pointed out, that a few years ago Alexandra Horowitz had this observation about costuming a dog in the New Yorker:
“To a dog, a costume, fitting tight around the dog’s midriff and back, might well reproduce that ancestral feeling [of being scolded by a more powerful dog]. So the principal experience of wearing a costume would not be the experience of festivity; rather, the costume produces the discomfiting feeling that someone higher ranking is nearby. This interpretation is borne out by many dogs’ behavior when getting dressed in a costume: they may freeze in place as if they are being “dominated”— and soon try to dislodge the garments by shaking, pawing, or rolling in something so foul that it necessitates immediate disrobing.”
Or Patricia McConnell, the leading dog behaviorist and former Bark columnist, commented on this topic last year that
“I can’t think of anything that better exemplifies our changing perception of the social role of dogs as the current splurge in dressing them up for Halloween.”
She then went on to say that:
“But what about the family Labrador dressed up like Batman? Or the Persian house cat dressed up as a mouse? Are they having as much fun as their owners? I suspect that many are not.”
Karen London, our behavior columnist, also agrees and she urges “caution when considering costumes for dogs. Most dogs hate costumes. They easily become stressed and uncomfortable when wearing clothing, especially anything on the head or around the body.”
Simple, soft costumes, like this one, work best. But heavy, stiff and hard ones like this one, should be avoided.
There are so many better ways to share the joys of our relationship than imposing the necessity to “perform” for us on our dogs, then dress them up as a superhero, pope, or a presidential candidate. Just think of much more they would like it if you just took them on a nice long walk in the woods letting them sniff around, letting them follow their noses and embracing them for being “just” dogs.
So what do you think? Do you or have you ever dressed your dog up for Halloween? How did your dog like it?
October 18 2016
Are the rules governing service animals on airplanes about to change? The US Department of Transportation’s advisory committee on accessible air transportation met recently to consider refining the presents rules for Emotional Service Animals. Ever since 2003 when the DOT revised its policy on service animals to include emotional-support animals, there have been no restrictions for these animals and no real definition of a service dog. As Jenine Stanley, who serves on the committee and is with the Guide Dog Foundation, has noted there are no real rules as to what is a legitimate service or support animal.
“Once you board your plane with your animal and you say ‘I am coming with a service animal,’ i.e. an animal that is trained to medicate my disability, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether it’s true or not,” she said. Which is why the U.S. DOT wants to change the rules.
There have been numerous complaints from fellow travelers about the wide assortment of species, from miniature horses, pigs, boas, cats, and of course, dogs, that have been accorded the status of ESA and who usually have scant training about how to behave on an airplane. Some of the complaints have also been generated by people who have highly trained and skilled service dogs, such as seeing-eye dogs. Many of the ESA pets on planes can also distract (to put it mildly) a service dog from doing her job.
One key issue the committtee looked at was: Should specific species be defined? If so, what are they? The group suggested only dogs be listed as service animals, and dogs, cats and rabbits qualify as emotional support animals.
Another complication surrounding ESAs are the legal ramifications to the mental health professionals who are providing certifications. The University of Missouri recently conducted a study about the possible conflicts this presents to psychologists. Cassie Boness, a graduate student in clinical psychology, says these requests for certification for emotional support animals present several potential conflicts for mental health professionals.
“There are no standards for evaluating the need for an emotional support animal, whereas there are concrete rules to determine if someone is eligible for a service animal. These emotional support animal letters are formal certifications of psychological disability, and the psychotherapist is stating, by writing such a letter, that the person needing the emotional support animal has such a disability and that the presence of the animal addresses that disability.” Jeffrey Younggren, professor of clinical and forensic psychology, believes that the evaluation process should address the specific psychological issues that are going to be improved, and not just that the owner wants to be with their pet. They also noted that the lack of scientific guidelines regarding emotional support animals would make it difficult for the psychologist to defend this certification letter in court.
Younggren noted that "the study recommended was two fold: First, that these letters not be written by treating therapists for ethical issues but that they should be written by forensic evaluators/psychologists who do not have a dual role with the client. Second, we stated that, since these are disability determinations, there needs to be some type of comprehensive psychological assessment of that disability and that assessment should directly assess how the presence of the animal ameliorates the disability."
The working group committee members include representatives from American Airlines, Psychiatric Service Dog Partners, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind and America’s VetDogs. Key issues about service animals can be found here.
Stanley said she expects the new rules to be out for public comment within the year and to be set within three years.
DIY: How To Make Yogurt at Home
October 17 2016
Crock Pot Yogurt Method
This is a very easy method to make yogurt. All you need is a slow cooker, milk, a live-active yogurt starter (either from a previous batch, or a store bought plain yogurt), and, a cooking thermometer (that is optional).
1. Pour one to two quarts of milk (low fat or whole) into a slow cooker, cover the pot. Turn the heat on medium or high. Heat the milk slowly, it needs to get to reach at least 180 degrees (30 mins. to an hour or longer). Stir a few times while it is heating, make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot and that it doesn’t boil.
2. Turn the slow cooker off, uncover and unplug it and let the milk cool down to 110 degrees, this too can take 30 mins. to an hour or even longer.
3. While the heated milk is cooling off, take the starter out of the refrigerator. If you are using a quart of milk use a tablespoon of the starter, if you are using two quarts, use 2 tablespoons.
4. Once the milk has cooled to 110 degrees, ladle a small amount (1/3 of a cup or so) into a small bowl or measuring cup with the starter, then stir or whisk. Make sure you incorporate all of it, and then slowly add that mixture back into the crock pot, stirring thoroughly.
5. With the crock pot turned off, replace the lid, and wrap the pot with two or more towels. Make sure you do NOT disturb the pot; yogurt prefers a very still environment to go through the fermentation process. The low heat that was generated in Step 1, is sufficient for this process. This process can take 6 to 8 hours.
6. If you are making Greek style yogurt, carefully transfer or pour the yogurt into the EuroCuisine strainer (or use cheesecloth) and refrigerate at least 4 hours. If you are making regular style yogurt, you can put the yogurt in mason/glass jars, and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight. If you are making Greek style yogurt, you will place the “finished” yogurt in glass jars, preserving the whey.Dehydrator Yogurt Method
Yet another sure fire way to make yogurt is using a dehydrator. Following the same cooking steps in the “heating pad” method of heating the milk, cooling it, and inoculating it with a yogurt starter, the next step is to pour the milk into glass jars, cover each with a lid (the plastic mason jar lids work well) and place them on the bottom shelf of a dehydrator, first removing the other shelves. Many dehydrators have a temperature setting for yogurt. Place the cover back on the dehydrator and incubate for 8 to 10 hours at 115 degrees (or following the setting on your dehydrator). Similar to the other methods, after the yogurt has set, refrigerate at least 4 hours. You will be amazed at how different (thicker) the yogurt becomes after it has been refrigerated.
If you are making Greek style yogurt, strained it either using cheese cloth in a strainer or the Euro Cuisine GY50 Greek Yogurt Maker method, first in the refrigerator, and then putting it into jars. Yogurt keeps for about a week.What is Whey?
Whey is the by-product of the yogurt making process, especially when you strain yogurt to produce a thicker, i.e. Greek style product. Whey protein is considered a complete protein and contains all 9 essential amino acids and is low in lactose content, so do not throw this precious liquid away! If you do not use it within a week or so, you can freeze it for later use.
Here are some of the endless ideas for using whey protein:
• For making smoothies (2 g of protein in one cup)
• In baking muffins, pancakes, breads, dog treats.
• Soaking beans or lentils (great to add to your dog’s meals)
• Use as a “topping” for your dog’s food. *
• As a substitute for buttermilk in recipes.
• Use in salad dressings (it is as acidic as a citric juice).
• Protein Shake
Making A Super Protein Shake For Dogs
One of my favorite uses for whey is to make a super protein “shake” for the dogs, that I mix into their meals or as a mid afternoon “slurp” snack. I was recently introduced to “nutrient extraction” super-blender appliances, such Nutribullet and Ninja. They make blending delicious and nutritious drinks and sauces so easy. For the dogs’ nutri-blasts, I use a handful of whatever leafy green vegetable, kale, spinach or chard, we have on hand, a few blueberries, a mix of goji berries, hemp and chia seeds, whey, and, for extra thickness, a tablespoon or so of yogurt—you can also add pulverized egg shells for more calcium. The Nutribullet grinds and mixes all these ingredients up in less than a couple of minutes. The dogs simply love it. If I have some cooked sweet potato, I add that too. The ingredient mixes are endless, plus it makes digesting vegetables easier for a dog’s digestive tract too.
For more information about the other possible health benefits of whey protein, see dogcancer.net.au
October 17 2016
Yogurt is a wonder food, packed with probiotics, protein, calcium, B-12, and other nutrients, and oh so easy to make yourself. Being an ardent yogurt consumer (I like mine plain, thick and very sour), I had recently become dissatisfied with the batches I made using a standard yogurt maker that incubates the yogurt in little individual jars. So I went back to the drawing board (aka the Internet), and much to my amazement, there are at least three other methods (slow-cooker, dehydrator and heating pad) that produce perfect yogurt easily, each and every time. The one that I use is the heating pad method. So for that method you’ll need a heating pad, a large two-quart size glass vessel (with lid), a digital kitchen thermometer, a wooden spoon, whisk, spatula—a couple of large bathroom towels—and then the secret to making flawless Greek-style yogurt, a Greek-yogurt strainer from Euro-Cuisine (see below). That inexpensive utensil has become indispensable in my kitchen, so it’s hard not gush about it—also excellent for making homemade ricotta and other soft cheeses like quark.
Just follow these simple steps:
1. Heat ½ gallon of pasteurized milk (I typically use 2% but you can use whole milk as well) in a heavy pot slowly until it reaches around 185 ˚ on low to med-low heat. Be careful that you do not burn the bottom of the pot, stir occasionally but when it gets close to 165˚, stir more often. (Cooking time depends on the type of pot but can take at least 30 mins.)
2. Remove the pot from the stove and then cool the milk to 110˚. It is extremely important that it is cooled down, any higher temperature can kill the yogurt starter. This also can take at least 30 mins.
3. As the milk is cooling, remove 2 to 3 tablespoons of yogurt from the fridge (either from your previous batch, or store bought, but be sure to use plain yogurt with active bacteria, with no fillers) to get it to room temperature.
4. Using a ladle, pour about a cup of milk into a bowl or measuring cup and stir in the yogurt you’ll be using for your “starter”. Whisk to totally get it blended, add the rest of the milk and whisk again.
5. Place the container(s) on top of a pre-heated heating pad set to Medium. If you are using a pad that has a 2-hour automatic shut off (as many do), you will need to shut it back on at least 3 times during this incubation period. Or purchase a pad that does not have that shut-off feature (that type is actually less expensive). Put a top on the container, and then cover it with two thick bathroom towels, tucking the towels around the whole thing so it keeps to a reliable temperature.
Now sit back and relax, yogurt making should take 7 hours, do NOT disturb it during this time. But at the end of 7 hours, give a peak (but not before) and see if it looks like it has thickened, if it hasn’t just cover it back up and wait another hour or so.
6. For Greek style yogurt, carefully pour the thickened milk into the strainer (as explained above) or use cheese cloth placed inside of a colander or strainer and refrigerate for at least three hours. If you like a thinner style yogurt you can also just transfer it directly into pint Mason jars (with lids), but you will also need to refrigerate that for at least 3 hours to let it set.
The longer you keep the yogurt in the strainer, the more whey is produced and the thicker the yogurt will be. I typically let it strain overnight, or 8 hours or longer, but that also produces a more “sour” yogurt. You can always add some of the whey back into the yogurt if you want to thin in down. Depending on the length of straining time, it will produce at least 4 cups of thick yogurt (right) and an equal portion of whey (left). Do not throw out the nutritious whey! There are numerous uses for whey, including baking with it (substituting any recipe that calls for buttermilk, such as muffins, pancakes and waffles). Good to pour a little on your dog’s food too.
* You can halve this recipe using only a quart of milk, but use the same amount of starter, 2 to 3 tbsps.
See here for more recipes and directions on different preparation methods including using a slow cooker or dehydrator.
Good Dog: Studies & Research
October 13 2016
One of the best things about living with dogs is the unbridled joy with which they greet us every time we come home—no matter how long we’ve been away. It has long been thought, and oftentimes documented, that dogs have a sixth sense that allows them to “know” our ETA in advance. Just how do they do it?
In Alexandra Horowitz’s new book, Being a Dog, she offers what seems to be a very reasonable explanation. It isn’t that they can smell us from afar or hear our footsteps or the car motor. Rather, as she writes, “there was a potent combination of two forces leading to these dogs’ abilities. The first is the distinctness of our smell to our dogs. The second is the ease with which dogs learn our habits.”
As she goes on to say, “It might be that the odors that we leave around the house when we leave lessen in a consistent amount each day.” Basically, our smarty dogs’ amazing noses know that “over the hours we are gone, our home begins to smell less of us.”
She tested this theory by recruiting a colleague to sneak one of her partner’s stinky t-shirts into the house hours after her partner left, once again infusing the house with his odor. And yes, the ruse seemed to work. That day, their dog, who had reliably demonstrated that he knew when his person was nearing home, was found snoring on the couch.
Following the Dog into a World of Smell
October 7 2016
Back in 2009, Alexandra Horowitz’s first book, Inside of a Dog, made it to the top of every bestseller list. Heralded in this magazine and by others who wanted to learn what it means to be a dog, it delivered on the promise of its subtitle: What Dogs See, Smell and Know. It also introduced many of us to the concept of Umwelt—another’s perception of the world—coined by biologist Jakob von Uexküll.
Imagining what it is to be a dog and to enter a dog’s subjective world was, and still is, an entrancing prospect. What better guide to the “inside of a dog” than a comparative cognitive scientist like Horowitz? She writes in a clear vernacular: accessible, erudite, poetic and downright friendly. No wonder her first book became such a sensation.
And now we have her new book, Being a Dog: Following the Dog into a World of Smell, which not only delves deeper into dogs’ amazing sense of smell, but also considers the human olfactory capacity, even if it is rather paltry compared with that of dogs. Truly understanding another species requires that, as ethologist Frans de Waal has explained, “we need to try to step outside our own narrow Umwelt and apply our imagination to theirs.” That is exactly what Horowitz brings to her books.
Similar to recent books such as Being a Beast by Charles Foster (where the author literally lived underground as a badger), or Thomas Thwaites’ excursion into the Umwelt of goats in GoatMan, in Being a Dog, Horowitz learns to polish her own sense of smell. She undertakes this quest not only to better understand what she might be missing, but also, to get a glimmer of how dogs’ noses help them navigate their world. The book begins with a look at the canine nose, which “is rich in a way we humans once knew about, once acted on, but have since neglected.” Following the lead of her two dogs, she puts her “nose to the places the dog nose goes.”
We all love factoids about dogs, and this book delivers a trove of them: Dogs scratch up the ground after they poop in order to transmit their personal message to other dogs; their paw pads have scent glands and digging spreads their odor, broadcasting their signal far and wide (canine social networking in action).
Wagging tails serve a similar purpose, spreading the scent from their anal sacs. They smell when they dream; watch their nostrils twitch. Dogs rarely mark over their own urine postings. Males like to sniff tail areas first, while females prefer to start with faces.
We learn about the physiognomy of their smelling instrument, from nostrils (nares) to olfactory epithelium and vomeronasal organ, or VNO, and up to the brain’s olfactory bulb. When they sniff, they start with either the right or left nostril, depending on what they’re investigating. Unlike other senses, nostrils are ipsilateral, meaning that an odor entering the right nostril goes to the right side of the brain for processing, and one entering the left goes to the left side.
Horowitz takes us on a grand tour of scent-work professionals, from the Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania to the University of Washington’s scat-detection dogs, with stops along the way to visit other working and detection dogs. At the book’s end, she treats her dog Finnegan to classes in nosework, which quickly become what she calls his “Favorite Place on Earth.” Definitely something in which all our dogs would love to partake.
It seems that for most of us, smelling isn’t something we practice much. One of the most remarkable comparisons she draws is the difference in the endowment of olfactory sensory cells (epithelium) between humans and dogs. As she explains, “If his olfactory epithelium were spread out along the outer surface of the dog’s body, it would completely cover it. In humans, ours would about cover a mole on our left shoulder.”
While we have a long way to go to catch up with our dogs, by the book’s end, the author has us tapping into our puny epithelium, sniffing and snuff ling. We thank Alexandra Horowitz for providing this inspiration.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
September 26 2016
Recently, our dog Lola got a little too personal with a skunk and wound up with a face full of stink. To remove the offensive smell, we very carefully washed her with the go-to formula of 4 cups hydrogen peroxide, ¼ cup baking soda and 1 teaspoon dish soap—that did the trick. Her leather collar was still pretty smelly, however, so I took another approach for it. After soaking it in warm water with 2 teaspoons baking soda and letting it air dry, I applied Skidmore’s Leather Cream with beeswax to both sides to recondition and soften it up. That not only worked like a charm, it also added a refreshing aroma.
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
How many calories does a dog need?
September 24 2016
Keeping dogs healthy is important to us so we’ve created new calorie requirement estimator and food counter apps. We are hoping that these web-apps will come in handy for you to try your hand in cooking for your dogs. You can make all the meals for your dogs, or simply add home cooked meals as a supplement to the manufactured food.
The first thing to do is to confirm or calculate how many kilocalories your dog requires to be fed on a daily basis (Daily Energy Requirement or DER). The total calorie requirement should be divided by the number of meals (usually 2) fed to your dog daily. All treats and snacks also need to be accounted for and their calories should be subtracted from the total that will be provided in their meals. It is always recommended that before making changes to a dog’s current diet you discuss this plan with your veterinarian. Do keep in mind that there are a number of different approaches that are used to calculate a dog’s caloric needs so while our app calculates your dog’s DER, there are other formulas with slightly different results (we have included a chart that uses another popular measurement, the Maintenance Energy Requirement, that you can also follow.)
Screenshot of Bark's DER Calculator
Do keep in mind that these calculations are really only estimates. Also, it is important to note that every dog is truly an individual, and their current weight, activity level, age, intact or neuter, physiological condition and other factors must also be considered. No matter what formula you use, the best way to judge a feeding plan’s efficacy is by simply keeping track of any weight loss or gain, and adjusting accordingly. And again, it is good to consult with your vet before making any changes to a dog’s diet.
When calculating the calories for ingredients, there are a variety of sources that can be used. I decided to do compute calculations in ounces to make it simpler for myself, and others to use. The ingredients we have included in our chart are the most common ones found in home cooked meals. If there are ingredients missing you can use any of the online calorie sources that we have noted under the chart to add those to your list.
A digital kitchen scale is definitely the easiest when to know how much any ingredient weighs—you need to measure the actual weight, not the volume (such standard measuring cups measure).
When using the slow cooker approach to making dog meals, you will also need to factor in the weight of the water you use in cooking the meals. So if you use 6 cups of water, or 48 ounces, that weight will need to be added to the total weight of the ingredients, to get an accurate calculation how many calories there are in one ounce of the food. Most slow cooker meals are around 20 to 35 calories per ounce.
As Dr. Greg Martinez has noted in his slow cooker recipe, you will need to provide supplementation to most diets (especially those that do not incorporate any manufactured food). Common supplements include calcium (or bone meal) about 1 tsp per pound of food, Vitamin E (2 IU per pound of dog daily), and either sardines in water (one-quarter to one tin twice weekly) or one to three 1,200 mg fish oil capsules daily (Dose is based on 10 to 30 mg/pound of DHA and EPA).
In my investigations into home cooking for your pet I have used a variety of excellent sources that you might also like to consult. Here is a sampling of the books, websites, and services:
Starting with Dr. Richard Pitcairn’s classic Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats. His was one of the first guides to home cooking and the ingredient charts are extremely helpful, especially detailing the amount of water to use per dry ingredient, and the cooked yields.
Home-Prepared Dog & Cat Diets by Patricia Schenck, DVM, PhD contains many different diet plans, and the special medical conditions that they cover.
Monica Segal offers nutritional consultations and menu planning, that can also include supplementing a kibble based diet. She is the author of 9Kitchen and Your Dog’s Diet. monicasegal.com
Rebecca Remillard, DVM, Veterinary Nutritional Consultations. She as been providing consultations for 20 years. She provides customized recipes for healthy pets, and nutritional consultations for pets with medical conditions. She works directly with pet guardians and with their vets. petdiets.com
Sean Delaney’s Balance It is also a veterinarian nutritional consulting service. His site offers many interesting recipes and diet plans. Balanceit.com, go to the “free balanceit ez tab” to build your own recipes and to understand their nutrient composition. balanceit.com
Mary Straus’ website dogaware.com is a good resource for sample diets (both raw and cooked) and supplements for home prepared meals, as well as general health related topics. dogaware.com
For recipes books:
Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs & Cats by Beth Taylor and Karen Shaw Becker, DVM has an emphasis on ancestral diets, but a lot of valuable information. drkarenbecker.com
Dinner Pawsible by Cathy Alinovi, DVM and Susan Thixton. Has over 60 recipes that will inspire you and entice your pets. drcathyvet.com
Dr. Greg’s Dog Dish Diet by Greg Martinez, DVM will get you started on the slow cooking approach to cooking for your pets. Be sure to watch his youtube channel too, so you can get some great cooking pointers.
Rick Woodford has provided an invaluable service with both his Feed Your Best Friend Better and his new Chow recipe books. His recipes can be used to supplement a kibble or canned food diet or provide healthy menu choices on their own. dogfooddude.com
Other Sources and Textbooks:
Dog Food Logic: Making Smart Decisions for Your Dog in an Age of Too Many Choices (Dogwise) by Linda Case
Applied Veterinary Clinical Nutrition Edited by Andrea J. Fascetti and Sean J. Delaney
Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 4th Edition by Michael Hand, DVM, Craig Thatcher, DVM, Rebecca Remillard, DVM and Philip Roudebush, DVM.
Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats National Research Council.
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