Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Some things to know about "low-cal" pet food
There’s no denying obesity is a major canine health issue. Obesity contributes to arthritis, heart and liver disease, diabetes, respiratory difficulties, heat stroke, some cancers and more. And somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of domestic cats and dogs in the United States are overweight, according to several estimates. As we do in our personal battles of the bulge, we turn to reduced calorie diets for help. Unfortunately, these may not be the straightforward solution they appear to be.
A study of so-called light or low-calorie pet foods performed at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University revealed a confusing variation in calorie density and feeding recommendations among brands. Researchers found dry dog foods making weight management claims ranged in calorie density from 217 to 440 kilocalories per cup (kcal/cup), and that the recommended intake ranged from 0.73 to 1.47 times the dog’s resting energy requirement.
What this means is that well-meaning dog owners following manufacturer guidelines might not see promised weight loss in their chubby pups—in fact, they might see weigh gain—leading to frustration for people and ill health for dogs.
Knowing and counting calories is a priority for weight management, according to veterinary nutritionist Edward Moser, MS, VMD, DACVN, with whom we talked about the Tufts study and canine weight management. Dr. Moser is an adjunct assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. In addition, he serves on the National Organic Standards Board Pet Food Task Force.
“It’s incumbent on the pet owner to know what calories are in the food and the energy their dog needs,” Dr. Moser says. While weight and age are a good starting point for calculating what your dog requires maintain or lose weight, there are other important multipliers to take into consideration, such as whether your dog is spayed or neutered, and the intensity and duration of their daily activity. Also, pregnant or nursing dogs and puppies need more energy (aka calories).
A good way to set a calorie baseline is with a visit to your veterinarian. Since only about 17 percent of owners think their dogs are overweight, according to one study, the first step is breaking through denial. Your vet can help. There are several ways to set a daily calorie count, such as aiming for a one percent of total weight loss each week, or 75 percent of the calories required to maintain a goal weight, etc., Dr. Moser says.
The important thing is to be consistent and engaged. Once you cut back on calories, weigh your dog about every ten days, Dr. Moser says, to see when they plateau. Also, he recommends something called “body condition scoring.” The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine website provides an illustrated chart that shows dogs and cats from emaciated to obese. Look at the pictures and ask: Where does my dog fit? You should be able to feel your dog’s ribs but your fingers shouldn’t fit between them.
Why diet food? Why not just feed your dog less of his or her regular food? “What makes a diet food different is we’re essentially diluting calories,” Dr. Moser says. There are only a couple ways you can do that including reducing fat content, which decreases calorie density and palatability, or adding fiber or even air, in the case of kibble. The calories in canned food can be diluted with water. “We are making dogs think they are full when they’ve really only eaten 75 percent of the calories,” Dr. Moser says. “The other stuff is just helping you feed more so the dog doesn’t beg.”
One reason Dr. Moser says people aren’t successful with low calorie food is because they leave it out for free-choice feeding. (Imagine a sort of bottomless bowl." “Because even low calorie foods have calories,” he says. He agrees with the study recommendation that free-choice feeding is not a good option—in part because food today is extremely palatable and so it’s easy for dogs to overeat. The better option is a measured quantity of food a couple times a day, he says.
If you don’t see calories listed on your label that’s because calorie counts are only required on dog food that claims to be lite, light, less calorie or low calorie. (The Academy of Canine Veterinary Nutrition, to which study co-author Dr. Lisa Freeman and Dr. Moser belong, is advocating for requiring calorie information on all pet food labels.) Foods with a light, lite, or low-calorie designation must also adhere to a maximum kilocalorie per kilogram restriction. However, Dr. Freeman pointed out that more than half of the foods evaluated in her study exceeded this maximum.
Why does it matter if your pup’s a little plump? Dr. Moser points to research that shows keeping dogs thin can extend their lives by as much as one and half years—that should motivate us to study labels and get out our measuring cups.
And this is a very good thing
We first learned about the microbiome In “The Secret Life of Germs,” a fascinating article (with a great cover) in the New York Times Magazine. In that article back in 2013, Michael Pollan explored the subject of microbiome—the microbial species as he notes, “with whom I share this body.” The “gut” it seems is all the rage these days. Many writers like Pollan and Mary Roach (author of Gulp) are taking on the subject of bacterial life, many of which resides in our “guts,” and how influential they are to our good health and well-being. There is also a new fascinating book by Dr Robynne Chutkan, The Microbiome Solution, that will be featured in the next issue of Bark (winter 2015), along with an interview with the author.
But back in 2013, Pollan observed that “as a civilization, we’ve just spent the better part of a century doing our unwitting best to wreck the human-associated microbiota with a multifronted war on bacteria and a diet notably detrimental to its well-being.”
From antibiotics (both medicinally and from our foods) and anti-bacterial soaps to our obsession with ridding ourselves of germs and dirt—modern life is destroying our microbial ecosystems—with very harmful results.
It was pointed out that, "This may “predispose us to obesity and a whole range of chronic diseases, as well as some infections.” Also.
Some researchers believe that the alarming increase in autoimmune diseases in the West may owe to a disruption in the ancient relationship between our bodies and their “old friends” — the microbial symbionts with whom we coevolved.
When Pollan pressed the researchers about the best ways to ensure a rich and thriving diversity of microbiome, dogs rank high in their suggestions:
“Some spoke of relaxing the sanitary regime in their homes, encouraging their children to play outside in the dirt and with animals — deliberately increasing their exposure to the great patina.” …
“What about increasing our exposure to bacteria? “There’s a case for dirtying up your diet,” Sonnenburg told me. Yet advising people not to thoroughly wash their produce is probably unwise in a world of pesticide residues. “I view it as a cost-benefit analysis,” Sonnenburg wrote in an e-mail. “Increased exposure to environmental microbes likely decreases chance of many Western diseases, but increases pathogen exposure. Certainly the costs go up as scary antibiotic-resistant bacteria become more prevalent.” So wash your hands in situations when pathogens or toxic chemicals are likely present, but maybe not after petting your dog.”
This underscores the findings from a couple other studies that we also reported on. In these studies researchers looked specifically at how dogs contribute to making children healthier, especially related to respiratory aliments. In one study, conducted in Finland, they found that
Children with dogs at home were healthier overall, had fewer infectious respiratory problems, fewer ear infections and were less likely to require antibiotics. Researchers considered these results supportive of the theory that children who live with dogs during their early years have better resistance throughout childhood. They also found that the effect was greater if the dog spent fewer than six hours inside, possibly because the longer dogs are outdoors, the more dirt they bring inside with them.
And the other conducted by a study team at the University of California, San Francisco found that, “Exposing the gastrointestinal tract to pet dust and other microbes early in life prepares it to respond appropriately to a variety of invaders. But since our modern lifestyles involve living in immaculate houses, our immune systems often overreact instead.” Early childhood is a critical period for developing protection against allergies and asthma, and exposure to pets can help.
Dr. Chutkan also fully endorses the healthful benefits to living with a dog and getting a dog tops her list of "LIve Dirty Lifestyle Dos." Noting too that "children with pets have fewer infections and require fewer antibiotics."
There certainly are many reasons why we consider our relationship with dogs to be mutually beneficial—we provide them with love, mental and physical stimulation, shelter and food. And what research is discovering is that we are only beginning to uncover the extent of the benefits dogs bestow on us.
News: Guest Posts
Tools to Groom
For those of us with dogs, summer is a season to be outdoors—early morning walks, afternoons at the lake or beach, weekend camping trips. Life outdoors is great but it has a tendency to follow you home as it attaches to your dog’s coat and paws … burrs, sand, mud and plain old dirt. Having our own pack’s three coats and dozen paws to clean and maintain, we’ve searched out a small arsenal of canine grooming products to help combat the inevitable summer soiling. Here are some of our favorite tools to keep ready in your mudroom, porch or garage … wherever your dog grooming takes place.
The Groom Genie
Messy Mutts Gloves and Chenille Grooming Mitt
News: Guest Posts
Dog fed blue green algae supplement develops liver problem, report finds
A new report by researchers at U.C. Davis points to the need for oversight of nutrition supplements. The pills and powders fed to pets to boost their health come with no assurance of getting what you pay for—or more than you bargained for, like toxic contaminants.
In this case, a tainted organic algae powder was damaging the liver of an 11 year old Pug, who lost her appetite and was lethargic after several weeks use. The authors say it’s the first documented case of blue-green algae poisoning in a dog caused by a dietary supplement. (Most reports of illness involve dogs exposed to water containing certain blue-green algae toxins.)
Blue green algae supplements are sometimes fed to dogs to relieve arthritis or boost the immune system.
Many consumers believe these products can only be sold if they are safe for use, the authors say. “Unfortunately, the opposite has been demonstrated in several studies showing the contamination of blue-green algae supplements with microcystins.”
With the use of commercial health products on the rise, the risk is growing. While supplements are regulated by the FDA, there are no requirements for proving them safe or effective before marketing. That is, the industry “is largely self-regulated,” the report says.
Toxic blue-green algae blooms occur in Oregon’s Klamath Lake, where supplement manufacturers harvest much of their source material. In 1997, the state became the first to regulate the amount of mycrocystins allowed in supplements.
Adrienne Bautista, the lead researcher on the current report, says in an email that the tests may not catch every problem. The tests many companies use to certify their products are below the 1 ppb Oregon limit are often ELISAs, Bautista says, which mainly detect “the LR congener of microcystin.” But there are more than 100 other congeners likely to have similar modes of action that the tests are “quite poor” at finding. So even if the supplement tests below the 1ppb for this common toxin, others may still be present.
What could lower the risk from these particular supplements is to produce the algae in a lab-like setting, Bautista says. “By harvesting it naturally, you have no control over contamination from other algae.”
The researchers call for stronger oversight of dietary supplements for companion animals, and greater awareness among veterinarians.
With treatment and by stopping the supplement, the Pug made a full recovery.
Wellness: Healthy Living
Summer is prime time for fleas and ticks.
Keeping these nasty little blood-suckers off our dogs and out of our homes requires vigilance, but it’s work worth doing.
If you live in an area of the country that endured what seemed like an endless winter, you may think that the flea and tick population was diminished by the cold, and be tempted to let down your guard. Don’t do it. As Sheila Pell notes in “Tick Talk,” her excellent Bark article on the subject, “For ticks, it seems, the ice age was a snowbird’s vacation.” (Read the article online here.)
Both fleas and ticks transmit or initiate a host of unpleasant conditions that can seriously affect our dogs’ lives. Depending on where you live, ticks are responsible for Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, canine ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, tick paralysis and American canine hepatozoonosis. From fleas come tapeworms, allergic dermatitis, and other bacterial and viral pathogens.
Plus, it’s not just dogs that these pests bedevil. They also like another warm-blooded mammal: us. All the more reason to take them seriously.
Reliable advice on how to prevent or eliminate flea problems on your dog or in your home and yard can be found at the ASCPA website, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website has a page dedicated to ticks. Also on the subject of ticks, the best place to start, bar none, is the Tick Encounter Resource Center, the outreach arm of the University of Rhode Island’s Center for Vector-Borne Disease. This incredibly thorough and well-illustrated website has a plethora of tools to help you assess the tick threat in your area, as well as practical suggestions to offset it.
So, arm yourself with the facts, then take steps to protect your pups and other pets, yourself, and your family. Let peace of mind prevail!
Wellness: Healthy Living
With tick season upon us, we spoke to Bruce Kornreich, Associate Director for Education and Outreach at the Cornell Feline Health Center, to learn the fine points of tick monitoring and removal. Ticks pose a serious threat to both dogs and their human companions. Canines are at risk of contracting tickborne diseases like Lyme disease, Hemobartonellosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, and others. Like the old scout motto says … be prepared!
Bark: How do you remove a tick?
Kornreich: To remove a tick, use a fine-tipped tweezer, hold it near the animal’s skin, grasp the tick and pull upwards without twisting. You should never directly handle or crush a tick with your hands. To dispose of ticks after removal, place them in a sealed bag, flush them down the toilet, wrap them tightly in tape, or immerse them in alcohol. Washing your hands well after removing a tick is a good idea.
Bark: What about those remedies we learned at camp?
Don’t believe the old tales about using burned matches, nail polish, or Vaseline to kill ticks embedded in the skin. Removal is a much better idea, and do it as soon as possible because there’s evidence that suggests the longer you wait the more likely it is your pet will contract a tickborne illness.
Bark: How should I monitor my dog for ticks?
If the tick is engorged with blood, then it’s been feeding for a while and it’s more likely that your pet could contract a tickborne illness. You can preserve the tick by taping it— with clear tape—to a piece of paper and keeping it in the freezer or preserve it in a small container of rubbing alcohol. If your pet becomes sick in the following weeks or months, your vet may be able to identify the tick, and that may provide information about the possible diseases involved.
In dogs, Lyme disease is one of the most common tickborne illnesses. Lameness is often the first sign of Lyme infection, and if your dog becomes lame during tick season you should be doubly suspicious of the possibility of Lyme. Other signs of infection include lethargy and fever.
Dog's Life: Home & Garden
Reduce Your Paw Print
This year we celebrate Earth Day’s 45th anniversary. This annual event is widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement back in 1970. The passage of the landmark Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and many other groundbreaking environmental laws soon followed. Today, events large and small raise awareness of the fragile balance we hold our planet, and educate to bring changes to the dangerous course we’ve set.
Our dogs bring us closer to the natural world, and help us appreciate the environment we share with them. They too will benefit by our stewardship improving. We all need to pitch in to make a difference. Here are some simple ways to raise eco-friendly dogs and reduce our mark on the world.
Adopt Rather Than Buy
Spay/Neuter Your Dogs
Choose Foods Wisely
Make Waster More Eco-Friendly
For a more comprehensive guide to living green with pets … see more simple strategies for reducing your dogs’ paw print.
Healthy home-cooked meals for your dogs
In the April/May 2011 issue of The Bark, we interview Barbara Laino about the nutritional benefits of feeding your dog home-cooked meals in addition to, or in lieu of, commercial dog food (see “Home Cooking with Barbara Laino” April/May ’11). Here are two more recipes cooked up at Laino’s Midsummer Farm in Warwick, N.Y., that are sure to please your pup’s taste buds and keep her healthy:
Homemade Dinner Recipe for Dogs
This recipe feeds 2-3 large dogs for 7-10 days.
Grind the following ingredients in a meat grinder. Alternate ingredients so the grinder does the mixing for you. For instance, grind six necks, one carrot, a handful of pumpkin seeds, then six more necks and so on. Mix with a large spoon as you grind.
Add a couple of the following items. Have these ready on hand as you are grinding and add a sprinkle here and there of each so you can thoroughly mix the batch of food.
After grinding and mixing all ingredients thoroughly, keep the food in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
Midsummer Farm Homemade Fish-Based Dog Dinner
(The below recipe is for 1 medium dog for 3 days, about 10 1-cup-size meatballs) This recipe can be made in larger batches for efficiency sake. This raw food can easily be frozen in meatball shapes appropriate for the size animals you are feeding.
Serving Sizes of Raw Meatballs:
Keep in a well-sealed container in fridge. Scoop out appropriate amounts for your pet, or if you made a very large batch that is more than can be consumed in about 5 days, roll into meal-sized meatballs and freeze. Then you can just take out whatever number meatballs you need and defrost them a couple days before you need to feed them. Meatballs will last at least 3 months in the freezer.
To learn more about homemade dog food and its many benefits, see our interview with Barbara Laino.
Note: We've omitted the garlic originally in this recipe.
Ever wonder how a professional athlete handles the pressure of competition and a grueling 6-month long schedule? For burgeoning NBA star Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors, it’s a walk in the park … the dog park. When Klay isn’t in the gym or on the road, he likes to take his dog Rocco, an English bulldog, to his local off-leash area at Cesar Chavez Park in nearby Berkeley (CA). We’ve seen him there, playing fetch and doing what dog people do … unwinding, taking in some fresh air. “With me, my friends or my family, I can’t help but talk about basketball, so this is my escape,” Thompson is quoted in a San Francisco Chronicle profile.
ESPN analyst and hall-of-fame player Charles Barkley calls the 6 ft 9 Thompson the best NBA player at his position—strong praise. Thompson’s team, the Golden State Warriors, apparently agrees, recently resigning their star shooting guard to a multi-year, $70 million contract. What was Thompson’s response at the post-signing press conference? “We were trying to get the contract signed, and all he wanted to do was go home to his dog,” mused Warrior general manager Bob Myers.
We know the joys firsthand of Cesar Chavez Park OLA, it’s where the idea for The Bark was born. In fact, the 17-acre OLA overlooking the San Francisco Bay was founded by Bark co-founder Claudia Kawczynska in 2000. One of the founding dogs was Claudia’s dog Nellie … named after former Warrior coach Don Nelson. A bit of history we think Klay Thompson would appreciate.
Wellness: Healthy Living
A Virus Worth Watching
It’s not new, but a member of the circovirus family, usually linked to diseases in pigs and some birds, is now showing up in dogs. Research data from the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine suggests that this emerging virus, either alone or as a co-infection, may be a contributing factor in canine illness in California.
Data collection is underway in multiple regions of the country to determine if exposure to circovirus is common and widespread. Dog-to-human infection has not been documented.
“We know from looking at dog samples that were stored in our archives that canine circovirus has been around for at least five years,” said Patricia Pesavento, DVM. PhD, associate professor, Pathology, Microbiology, and Immunology at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “We are seeing it in dogs now because we are looking for it, and we have the tools to diagnose it now. The canine virus is not a modified strain of porcine circovirus, but is a completely different virus from the same virus family.” The good news is that circovirus does not always result in illness, being found in the stool of 14 of 204 healthy dogs screened.
“From what we know now, circovirus is not a major cause for concern, and the cases we’ve identified post-mortem seem to be isolated,” said Dr. Pesavento.
Among dogs that were sick and had circovirus in their tissues, vomiting and bloody diarrhea were the common symptoms, said Dr Pesavento. “However, diarrhea isn’t necessarily predictable, since two dogs had clinical signs that were limited to the central nervous system, and in those cases blood vessels in the brain were most affected. This reflects the fact that the virus seems to affect the vascular system.”
A symptom as non-specific as diarrhea could come from wide variety of common causes including other infectious agents, ingestion of foreign bodies or toxins, overeating rich treats, and even stress. Dr. Pesavento added that, among infectious agents, parvovirus is very common and can cause vomiting and bloody diarrhea.
Circovirus is shed in feces, and transmission is presumably fecal-oral transmission. Doggie daycare and boarding facilities, where many dogs are gathered in one area, can be a prime source of infection for many illnesses, although the virus is not confined to boarding facilities.
To reduce the chance of any viral illness and to avoid infecting other dogs, apply the same simple measures that you would in a child attending daycare. Avoid contact with ill animals and contact with other dogs if your dog has symptoms of illness. Clean up your pet’s stool and avoid contact with other pet’s stool whenever possible.
“As you well know, dogs are not very picky about what they put in their mouths,” said Dr. Pesevento. “Monitor dogs carefully if they have ‘dietary indiscretion’ that causes vomiting or diarrhea that is mild and short-lasting. Blood in any vomit should be addressed quickly, said Dr. Pesavento.
Consult your veterinarian to get the correct diagnosis, including any laboratory testing. Prompt treatment, regardless of the cause, gives your dog a better chance of quick recovery and avoids infecting other animals.
“There is no circovirus-specific treatment, said Dr. Pesavento. “As with most viral infections, your veterinarian can treat symptoms with supportive fluid therapy or antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infections.”
A healthy pet is more likely to have a fully functional immune system to fight infections, so good preventive care is also important.
More than anyone, you know when your dog is not behaving normally. Prompt veterinary treatment can be critical to a good outcome, so address all illnesses early for the overall health of your pet.
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