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Food Safety Watch
How to report problems to the FDA

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is on a public outreach tear these days. A few days after announcing a Twitter feed, with regular updates on food and drug safety issues (pet food recalls among them), it has released a video primer on how to report concerns about and adverse reactions to food and drugs for people and/or animals. Hopefully, this campaign on the consumer side is matched by aggressive inspection and enforcement efforts to ensure products are safe before they come to market.

News: JoAnna Lou
Diets for Dogs
Navigating the canine obesity problem.

This time of year, many people have diets and weight loss on the brain. But humans aren’t the only ones that could stand to lose a few pounds. A study by Pfizer Animal Health found that veterinarians consider 47 percent of their patients to be overweight, making them susceptible to a myriad of health problems and possibly a shorter life span.

Earlier this month, I wrote about exercising with your pup, but for obese pets, dietary changes may be necessary. In the last few years, inspired by both the growing human and canine obesity problem, many brands of low calorie animal diets have cropped up. 

A recent study, published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, looked at almost 50 of these so called diet dog foods. The researchers found a wide range of calories, ranging from 217 to 440 kilocalories per cup.

The study also found that many dogs fed according to the directions on the back of the packaging would not result in weight loss and might even cause the pets to gain weight. 

I’ve never followed the feeding guidelines on the back of food packages. Quantity depends not only on the brand of food you feed, but on your particular dog and his activity level. I routinely feel my dogs’ ribs to regulate their diet. If I can feel too much, I increase the amount I feed and vice versa.

If you’re unsure how much you should be feeding your dog or how to tell if your pup is overweight, discuss proper diet and identifying characteristics of obesity with your veterinarian. Check out PetEducation.com’s online resources to educate yourself before you get to the veterinarian’s office.

How do you regulate your dog’s diet?

News: Guest Posts
Are Vegan Dogs the Future?
Humane Society goes into the dog food biz

Earlier this month, the Humane Society of the United States announced it would be marketing an all-natural, vegetarian, organic dog food called Humane Choice—responding to the public’s desire for a cruelty-free option with ingredients we can trust. I admire the work of the HSUS, but I greeted this announcement with a big, Huh?

  First, is it really a good idea for a nonprofit advocacy organization to go into a commercial venture supplying food to the animals they are supposedly working to protect? Isn’t that a conflict of interest? Especially, when food safety is such a controversial and important issue.   Second, vegetarian dogs? Really? No animal protein—someone is going to have to explain this to my dogs. To me, this sort of feels like the last straw in remaking dogs’ in our own image. I’m no food expert but Susan Thixton at TruthAboutDogFood.com isn’t liking what she sees on the label. Here’s what she has to say about the first five ingredients: “Organic ground canola seed, organic brown rice, organic soybean meal, organic buckwheat, organic flaxseed. This dog food would rate in Petsumer Report three paw prints on a five paw print scale. It does not contain chelated or proteinated minerals (for better absorption); it does not contain probiotics (to build a stronger immune system).  An email sent yesterday (2/5/10) requesting country of origin information of ingredients has not been responded to; my guess would be some vitamins and minerals are sourced from China.”   And don’t get me started on the fact that the food comes from Uruguay. What about supporting our farmers? Not to mention the environmental impact of creating a new product that has to be sent from another hemisphere. I really want to hear what Bark readers think. Is this the future? Does it make sense to you?

 

News: Karen B. London
A Dog in the Road
How best to help

While driving recently, I was preparing to turn onto the main highway near my neighborhood when I saw a dog in the middle of it. She seemed scared and confused, and looked about to bolt, but seemed unsure where to go. I was terrified for her—cars were coming at 50 miles an hour and the roads were still snowy and even icy in patches from the almost 5 feet of snow plus some rain that recently landed on Flagstaff.

  I unrolled my window, called “Come!” and clapped my hands, smooched, and called out “pup pup pup” in the high-pitched happy voice so often spoken of in dog training books. Miraculously, she moved enough in my direction to avoid being hit by the cars and trucks, but it was close. Several of the drivers honked and swerved to avoid her. I then tossed her some treats to lure her towards me, and took hold of her collar and led her into my car.   Then I was able to read her tags (thankfully up to date!) and call for her family to come pick her up. They were frantic with worry as she had never gotten out before and they had no idea where to look for her. Like many dogs in the area, she probably left her own yard by standing on top of a snowdrift and simply walking over the fence. (This is probably the reason we have had so many more loose dogs in our neighborhood than ever.) She had wandered over a mile from home and crossed the highway at least once before I saw her.   If you see a loose dog at risk of being hit by a car, there are many things you can try. My favorite techniques are 1) Call “Come!” or use the sounds that attract dogs—clapping, smooching, or saying “Pup pup pup” in a light, happy voice. Many dogs are not trained to come when called, but it is always worth a try. The other sounds often bring in dogs without training. 2) Open a car door. Many dogs are happy to get in any car, though this is of course risky since you are inviting a strange dog into an enclosed space with you. I’ve done this with dogs I know, or particularly small or sweet looking dogs. 3) Hold a leash up and say, “Want to go for a walk?” Many dogs will come right over because those words and a leash have always meant fun. 4) Toss treats and lure the dog to you with food. (I realize not everyone has treats or a leash in the car at all times, but I usually do.) 5) If it’s safe, get out of your car and run away from the dog. Many will follow and at least they are out of the road at that point. 6) If you can’t get near the dog, try saying “Go home!” or “It’s dinnertime!” That may get the dog headed back to the safety of home, though it’s impossible to know whether they have to take a dangerous route to get there.   There’s no guarantee that any of these techniques will work or that they won’t put you at risk either of injury from traffic or a possibly frightened dog, and they are just a few of the possibilities for helping save a dog from traffic. Have you had luck saving a dog from being hit by a car with any particular technique?
News: JoAnna Lou
Keeping Track of Recalls
FDA compiles pet food recalls in a searchable database

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently launched a searchable pet food recall database, similar to the resource that already exists for humans. The database contains the 971 pet food recalls that have occurred since the beginning of 2006. It’s scary to think that there have been almost a thousand recalls in the past four years alone.

I’m glad, however, to see that the FDA is responding to the growing need for resources like the new database and the Pet Health and Safety Widget that they created last year. The best part about the pet food recall database is the ability to easily see if a company has a bad track record, information that everyone should have at their fingertips. I’m hoping that the FDA will make a similar database for pet drug recalls.

I’ve always relied on the FDA web site and various dog e-mail lists to keep myself informed of the latest recalls. The database and the widget definitely make this easier. How do you stay on top of the growing list of recalls?

News: Karen B. London
Getting Fit With Your Dog
Skip the gym!

A recent study in Great Britain found that people with dogs exercise more than those who work out at the gym. The difference was considerable. People with dogs exercised for an average of eight hours a week compared to the two hours a week of people going to the gym.

  The researchers speculate that the difference may be because more people (86 percent) enjoy the time that they spend walking their dogs compared with the 16 percent of people who say that they enjoy going to the gym. Perhaps the fact that walking our dogs is generally a positive experience accounts for the observation that people are more likely to walk their dogs when short on time than to go to the gym when similarly busy.   So, if you love walking your dog, but are not so crazy about going to the gym, you are in good company. The combination of lots of little walks and some longer walks during the week can really add up to a considerable amount of exercise.

 

News: JoAnna Lou
Indoor Fun
Keeping busy when it’s cold outside

The freezing weather and snow have been making me and the dogs a little stir crazy lately, especially now that the holidays have come and gone. 

Here are some of the activities I have lined up to keep the pups busy until the snow melts.

Food Balls and Kongs
An easy way to occupy the dogs is to feed meals in stuffed Kongs or food balls, toys that can be filled with kibble and rolled on the floor to release the treats. 

My Sheltie, Nemo, has gotten quite good at getting kibble out of most treat balls, so I usually use the Nina Ottosson DogPyramid, which is more challenging. The beehive-shaped toy is weighted at the bottom so that it always returns to a standing position.

Nina Ottosson Interactive Toys
Speaking of Nina Ottosson, my crew got a couple of her puzzle toys from Santa this year. There are several different versions, each with varying degrees of difficulty. They require a little more thought than the food balls and are definitely more interesting for the humans to watch!

Tugging
Tugging with your dog is a great way to get lots of energy out--humans included! (I’m always amazed at how tired I feel after a good tugging session). Check out my previous blog for instructions on how to make your own tug toy from an old t-shirt.

Shaping Games
Playing with the clicker is a great relationship-building activity that you can do together. You’ll be surprised how exhausted your pup can get from just using his brain! This doesn’t mean that you have to actively train a new behavior; often it’s better if you don’t have a set outcome in mind. If you’re new to shaping, try the 101 Things to Do with a Box game.

Do you have any favorite indoor activities?

News: JoAnna Lou
Pets and Holiday Gatherings
Create a safe space to keep the pups jolly.

With the holidays approaching, the increase in good tidings unfortunately also comes with an increase in potential hazards. Earlier this month, Karen wrote on the dangers of poisoning, choking, and fires, as well as tips for holiday travel. 

If you’re hosting a holiday gathering at your home, don’t forget to consider your dog’s comfort though the commotion of visiting relatives and boisterous children. 

It’s important to set up a space where your dog can retreat to when the party is getting overwhelming. This might be a crate in your bedroom or a spare bathroom upstairs. Be sure to prepare some goodies like new chew toys or a stuffed Kong. I usually set up an exercise pen in the office with treat dispensing toys.

Doggone Safe suggests that an adult should be assigned to the dogs to monitor them for signs of stress and to protect them from unwanted attention from children. These signs include: 

  • Yawning
  • Licking their chops (without food present, of course)
  • Showing the white part of their eye in a half moon shape
  • Turning their head away
  • Walking away
  • Hiding
  • Freezing/standing still with their mouth closed (body stiff)

Don’t let behavior escalate; it’s better to err on the side of caution. Doggone Safe also has free coloring and activity pages that teach kids about good behavior around dogs. They can be downloaded and printed from its website. The pages make a great distraction to keep the kids busy until it’s time to open presents!

By keeping these guidelines in mind, you can ensure that everyone has an enjoyable holiday -- two and four legged alike.

News: Guest Posts
Walking Tall
More evidence dogs are great exercise buddies.

Researchers at the University of Missouri found that people walking shelter dogs versus people walking with other people were more consistent about walking and showed a far greater improvement in fitness. Tara Parker Pope reported on The New York Times’ Well blog that human walking partners often discouraged each other from getting out, while dogs, well, we all know how dogs feel about walkies.
 
Also, check out the reader comments on Well. One favorite: “It is true that when walking with a human companion you don’t have to pick up their crap -- instead you just have to listen to it!” from 2 Landeers. That’s something to think about.

News: Guest Posts
Buying Pet Insurance
Do you or don’t you?

Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal ran a short piece on pet insurance. Mostly, it’s a primer on how to shop for policies. In a Bark story last summer, Nancy Kay, DVM, recommended considering pet health insurance as one of ten strategies for stretching your vet dollars (More Bark for Your Buck, May/Jun 2009). Everyone seems to think it’s the coming wave, even though only about one million pets in the U.S. are currently insured.

But I’m not onboard. I haven’t invested in pet insurance for my dogs, and I’m not entirely sure what’s stopping me since I figure I’d willingly mortgage the farm to treat anything that might ail them. Part of my problem is an uncomfortable feeling about pet insurance turning into the convoluted nightmare that is our current health insurance setup. As treatment for dogs and cats becomes more advanced, specialized and expensive, it’s easy to imagine that pet insurance will distort costs and decisions. If I only pay for 20 percent of my dogs’ treatment (a pretty common coverage level), won’t I demand more care? Won’t that drive up costs overall? And what will more treatment mean to my dogs, especially late in life? Medical interventions to extend a dog’s life, such as surgery and drugs, aren’t without risks, side effects and pain all born by an animal who can’t understand why he or she is being subjected to these measures. And I haven’t even raised the specter of HMOs—but once pet insurance is firmly entrenched, won’t the industry push back and attempt to dictate treatment? After all, there’s a precedent.

Of course, I know the argument on the other side—an unexpectedly sick or injured pet with a good prognosis, plenty of quality life ahead but owners’ with no money to pay for care. I haven’t stood in their shoes, and probably if I had, I’d be writing my check to VPI right this minute. How are Bark readers making this decision?

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