Home
wellness
News: Editors
FTC’s Concern about Lack of Competition is Requiring Mars to Divest 12 Vet Clinics

Earlier this year we reported on Mars’ plans to acquire VCA, for $9.1 billion that would mean that the world's largest pet food company would also own the most vet clinics in the US. It is interesting to see that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is charging that this purchase would violate antitrust laws. So Mars had to agree to divest 12 vet clinics, especially those with specialty and emergency services.

The FTC complaint goes on to detail its concerns about how this purchase would affect competition:

According to the FTC’s complaint, if the acquisition takes place as proposed, it may substantially lessen competition for certain specialty and emergency veterinary services in 10 U.S. localities by eliminating head-to-head competition between Mars specialists in the area and those of VCA.

According to the complaint, without a remedy, the acquisition would likely lead to higher prices for pet owners and lower quality in the specialty and emergency veterinary services they receive. These effects are unlikely to be mitigated through timely new entry, as opening a specialty or emergency services veterinary clinic presents some unique challenges, including the need to recruit specialist veterinarians with considerably greater training than general practice veterinarians.

One clinic each in the Kansas City, New York, and Phoenix areas will be divested to National Veterinary Associates. One clinic each in Chicago, Corpus Christi and San Antonio, and two clinics in Seattle, will be divested to Pathway. Two clinics serving the Portland area and two clinics in the greater Washington, DC area will be divested to PetVet.”

These are the veterinary clinics to be divested and their buyers, according to the FTC:

> One clinic each in the Kansas City, New York and Phoenix areas will be divested to National Veterinary Associates.

> One clinic each in Chicago, Corpus Christi and San Antonio, and two clinics in Seattle will be divested to Pathway.

> Two clinics serving the Portland area and two clinics in the greater Washington, D.C., area will be divested to PetVet.

Mars is also prohibited from entering into contracts with any specialty or emergency veterinarian affiliated with a divested clinic for a year after the order takes effect, the release states. Mars is also required for 10 years to notify the FTC if it plans to acquire any additional specialty or emergency veterinary clinics in certain geographic areas. 

More information about the divestiture and consent agreement can be found here. Good to know that the FTC is, in this case, looking out for the interest of pet owners. The commission’s vote to issue the complaint was unanimous. The FTC will publish the consent agreement package in the Federal Register shortly.

Comments can be filed electronically here or in paper form by following the instructions in the “Supplementary Information” section of the Federal Register notice once it’s published.

 

Wellness: Recipes
Kitchen Tricks: New Equipment for Dog Treats
DIY Moist Dog Treats

Silicone bakeware is all the rage lately, and one type—a 16" x 11.5" nonstick baking mat aptly named the Pyramid Pan—can be used to whip up more than 500 dog treats in a jiff. The mat has lots of little pyramids and was originally intended for cooking meat using less fat. But flip it over and the pyramids become 556 little indentations, perfect molds for tiny dog treats. A friend pointed me to a recipe from Eileen Anderson's website that was designed to be used with these mats. In her preamble to the recipe, Anderson notes that you can use your favorite non-chunky treat recipe, but will probably need to run it through a food processor first. The dough should be smooth and about the consistency of pancake batter rather than cookie dough.

Place two upside-down mats on large cookie sheets or baking pans. Now comes the tricky part: filling the little holes. Using a spatula or silicone scraper spread the batter back and forth; you don’t want any on the boundaries between the holes, so it will take a few swipes.

TINY CHICKEN TREATS

  • 1 10-oz. can chicken, including liquid, or 5.5 oz. cooked, chopped chicken meat and 4.5 oz. stock or water

  • 2 eggs

  • 1 cup tapioca flour

  • 1/2 cup whole wheat, sorghum or buckwheat flour (or other gluten-free flours)

  • 1 tablespoon oil

Optional add-ins: Small amounts of flaxseed meal, chopped parsley, kelp

Directions

  • Blend the chicken, the liquid and 2 eggs in a food processor.
  • Pour the mixture into a bowl and stir in the flours and oil. The batter should be slightly thicker than pancake batter.
  • Divide the batter between two silicone mats on cookie sheets as described.
  • Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool completely, and then have fun popping them out.
  • Put the treats in bags or small glass jars; freeze some and store a week’s worth in the fridge for daily use.
  • This recipe makes two full sheets, or around 1,100 tasty tiny treats.

    Adapted from Eileen Anderson’s recipe for Simple Baked Chicken Treats at eileenanddogs.com

    For the past few years, I have been using a dehydrator to make sweet potato jerky treats as well as to dry a summer’s bounty of fruit (especially luscious strawberries), tomatoes, herbs and mushrooms. It works great. Now, the experts at Excalibur® have a new product, a smaller counter-top, six-tray model, designed especially for making treats and other small-batch goodies. It comes with a pet treat recipe book, a plastic jerky gun and cookie cutters. Great for making trail mix for those summer camping trips as well! Crafting nutritious treats for yourself and your dog has never been easier (and this model is much quieter than the standard dehydrator).

    The Excalibur EPT60W 6-Tray Compact Pet Treat Dehydrator 10"W x 12"H x 8"D, around $50

    YUM-YUM LEFTOVERS

    • 1 cup meat, cooked (chicken, turkey, beef etc.)
    • 1/3 to 1/2 cup water
    • 1/2 cup uncooked oatmeal
    • 1/2 cup oat bran or whole wheat flour

    Directions

  • Cut meat into small pieces, put into a blender or food processor and blend.

  • Add 1/3 cup water, then puree into a thick paste. Remove to a bowl.

  • Add oatmeal and flour, stir well. Knead dough until well mixed. Roll out the dough on a floured board, to around 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick. Use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes.

  • Place in dehydrator for about 8 to 16 hours or until crunchy. Or bake on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet at a very low temperature for 2 to 3 hours or until crunchy.

  • Adapted from Pet Treat Recipes by Excalibur®.

    Wellness: Health Care
    New Pain Management for Canine Arthritis
    New pain treatments for dogs with arthritis are on the horizon.

    According to experts from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet), 60 percent of dogs over the age of seven suffer chronic discomfort from degenerative joint disease, more commonly known as arthritis. It often goes unnoticed by the dogs’ owners, however, because they are not familiar with the signs. Humans talk about pain, and express it by crying or wincing. Dogs will rarely vocalize unless the pain is acute—a toenail cut too short, stomach distress, a broken bone.

    Signs of chronic discomfort are subtle and can come on so gradually that the dog’s person often doesn’t notice until a veterinarian points out the changes. A dog who’s uncomfortable may slow down, reluctant to run as fast or walk as far as she once did. She may be stiff after lying down, or take longer to get up and moving when it’s cold or damp outside. An uncomfortable arthritic dog may be grumpier, sleep more and decline to take part in games she used to love.

    Unsure if your dog is suffering from arthritis? One of the easiest ways to tell is with a trial of pain medication. Talk with your veterinarian about your concerns, and request a week’s worth of anti-inflammatory medication. While your dog is on the medication, keep a diary and note changes in her behavior. People are often amazed at how youthful their older dogs act once their discomfort is relieved.

    Penn Vet assistant professor of small animal surgery Kimberly A. Agnello, BA, DVM, MS, one of the nation’s foremost researchers in canine pain management, has some advice on how people can help their arthritic dogs feel better.

    According to Dr. Agnello, one of the easiest, most cost-effective and beneficial ways to reduce pain associated with arthritis is to maintain dogs at their healthy weight. She described a recent patient with hip dysplasia who came to her overweight and in pain from arthritis. The dog was scheduled for hip surgery, but first the dog’s owner was instructed to put the dog on a diet. Turns out that when dog lost weight, he improved so much that he ended up not needing surgery. The dog felt better and his owner saved money on food as well as on the procedure.

    Once the pain is controlled, strengthening in the form of rehabilitation exercises is vital to maintaining strength and mobility; even one visit to a canine rehab veterinarian for instruction in how to do these with your dog can be useful. Dogs can also be helped by alternative therapies such as joint supplements (high quality fish oil is an excellent choice; check with your vet for the appropriate dosage), acupuncture and cold laser.

    When it comes to medication, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) continue to be the mainstay of pharmaceutical treatment for canine arthritis. These drugs are relatively safe, and generic forms are available. Dogs on NSAIDs long-term require annual blood work to check liver and kidney function.

    As with humans, one size does not fit all when it comes to NSAIDs. Most commonly, a veterinarian will start by recommending carprofen, which has been around a long time, is highly effective, more affordable in the generic formulation and tolerated well by most dogs. It may sometimes provoke an upset stomach or diarrhea, and abnormal changes in blood work may also be seen. In that case, most veterinarians will reach for a second or third NSAID, such as deracoxib, meloxicam or firocoxib.

    A new anti-inflammatory drug, grapiprant, was approved by the FDA last year for management of chronic canine arthritis pain. A prostaglandin receptor antagonist, it specifically blocks the EP4 receptor, which is the primary receptor involved in arthritis pain. It is considered safer than many of the other NSAIDs available because its mechanism of action is so specific, meaning that it does not affect other systems in the body like other NSAIDS might. Grapiprant is labeled for use in dogs as young as nine months of age, which makes it a good drug for those with early-onset arthritis from hip or elbow dysplasia, but should not be used for dogs smaller than eight pounds.

    For Dr. Agnello, the most exciting and promising advances in the treatment of arthritis in dogs are likely to come from what are known as translational studies. Arthritic dogs are an almost perfect model for arthritic humans, which means that while researchers are developing new treatments for arthritis in humans, dogs also benefit (and vice versa). Treatments designed to resurface cartilage, partial joint replacements and transplanted ligaments are all being actively explored even as you read this article. Studies to improve blood supply to cartilage are also on the horizon, providing more options than ever before. It is truly an exciting time.

    Dr. Agnello believes that joint-specific treatments are also the future of pain management. One such possibility is a compound called resiniferatoxin (RTX), a naturally occurring chemical found in red-hot sap produced by a Moroccan cousin of the chili pepper plant. When the chemical —which is about 1,000 times more potent than capsaicin, the active ingredient that gives chili peppers their kick—makes contact with pain-transmitting nerve cells, it spurs a rush of calcium into the cells, destroying them and providing relief from pain.

    Presently, RTX can only be delivered by spinal injection, and patients must be anesthetized. When RTX is injected into the spinal fluid, pain cells are permanently ablated, or destroyed, and pain is eliminated. This selective deletion of pain-receptor cells has been coined “molecular neurosurgery” and has the advantage of sparing neurons that are in charge of other functions, such as gross motor movement and feeling. Consequently, the dog is pain free, can maintain coordinated movement, perform activities of daily living and experience a good quality of life.

    The Penn Vet research team also studied RTX’s ability to reduce pain in dogs with bone cancer. Anyone who has ever watched a dog suffer from this disease knows that the pain can be debilitating. After receiving injections of RTX, dogs who were virtually immobile were able to run and jump almost as though they felt no pain at all. The cancer persisted—and eventually proved fatal—but owners reported weeks to months of happy times with their dogs. RTX could eventually provide veterinarians with another tool in the ongoing fight to relieve pain associated with arthritis. Other exciting advancements in arthritis treatment and prevention include research into joint-specific stem cells and long-lasting intra-articular treatments.

    So, stay tuned: many new, exciting options will be available to veterinarians and pet owners in the near future.

     

    Note: The interviews in this article were sponsored by Big Barker.

    Wellness: Healthy Living
    Help Your Pup Shed Excess Weight
    Pounds Off Pups

    How many times has your veterinarian commented on your dog’s weight? How many times have you been told, “Here’s a bag of prescription diet food—if you feed your dog this and only this, he will lose weight.” But what if he doesn’t? And why should you care?

    Clinical research has shown that losing just 10 percent of body weight will slow or prevent many life-threatening disease processes, including debilitating osteoarthritis and diabetes, and perhaps even some types of cancers. By taking a few simple measures, you may be able to add more quality time to your dog’s life, time the two of you can enjoy together.

    Food Watch
    Fortunately, there are ways to take pounds off your pup that don’t involve prescription food (“senior” or “weight loss” commercial diets are usually low in protein and fats and do not offer the body as much nutrition to build strong muscle mass). Once it’s been determined that the extra weight isn’t the result of something like hypothyroidism or Cushing’s Syndrome, make it your goal to reduce your dog’s total volume of food by 5 to 10 percent every two weeks until steady weight loss is observed. Aim for a loss of 1 percent of body weight per week, or one to two pounds per month, depending on the size of your dog, until he reaches the target. Slow and steady weight loss prevents the body from going into “starvation mode,” which slows the metabolism.

    Feed higher protein/lower carbohydrate foods (a 3:1 ratio); proteins and fats are converted to usable energy faster than starches and carbs. Think of this as the “puppy Paleo diet”! And even if you’re feeding a high-protein, grain-free variety, cut down on kibble. In general, all kibble has 60 percent more starch than canned food because starch is needed to maintain the kibble’s shape when it’s baked or extruded. Too much dry food equals too much starch, which breaks down to sugars and is stored as body fat. It’s easy to overfeed dry foods, especially if you follow the directions on the packaging.

    Add water or broth to kibble to make it nicely soupy. The extra liquid will help your dog digest his food more easily and reduce his body’s need to pull water from his system to his stomach, which can contribute to dehydration.

    Try gradually reducing your dog’s kibble ration by half, replacing it with more moisture-based foods such as lean meats, fish or eggs, and low-starch green and orange vegetables and fruits. I’ve found that companion animals do best with at least 50 percent of their diet fed as fresh foods—cooked, raw, dehydrated or freeze-dried—mixed with a significantly reduced volume of highgrade kibble. This keeps them satisfied and helps with the faster metabolic change that promotes weight loss. Another option is to feed him a low-carbohydrate canned food; these have less starch and more water, and therefore, fewer extra calories to stick around. Or, transition him to a complete and balanced commercial raw diet, which has very little starch.

    Decreased fat content also helps with weight loss, but do not eliminate fats entirely, as they satisfy hunger; look for 4 to 7 percent fat content in canned foods. Also, avoid feeding excess insoluble fiber; among other things, it may interfere with nutrient absorption. Roughly 5 to 6 percent fiber is ideal. If stools become soft, add 1/4 teaspoon of psyllium to each meal. Make mealtime more fun with interactive feeding toys. These not only stimulate a dog’s mind, they make him work for his supper (or breakfast, or snack). Dogs eat more slowly and expend more calories. Google “how to stuff a dog-feeding toy” for helpful tips. The Kong is the granddaddy of dog-feeding toys, and there are other excellent options on the market as well, among them Nina Ottosson’s ingenious products.

    Walk It Out
    Exercise is the other part of the weight-loss equation, but don’t expect an aging, sedentary or extremely overweight dog to join you on a cross-country run. Look for ways that work with his physical condition, gradually increasing the pace and duration as he becomes more fit. For example, start with two or three short daily walks instead of one long one, and warm him up and cool him down with gentle, passive, range-ofmotion exercises. If your dog’s arthritic, ask your vet for help in developing appropriate activity goals. Go low-impact if your dog has a condition that makes exercise uncomfortable. Hydrotherapy—swimming in a warm pool or walking on an underwater treadmill—provides almost weightless exercise, removing pressure on painful joints or injuries while supplying the benefits of resistance, warmth and circulation, pain relief, and endorphin release, aka nature’s Prozac. (Ed. note: Read about water-based exercise at thebark.com/ hydrotherapy.)

    As your dog becomes stronger, try walking in water at the beach, up streams and against gentle currents. (The caveat here is to be aware of water temperature; very cold water can lead to achy joints.) Or, walk on sand, on grassy slopes, and up and down gentle inclines. Finally, when he’s ready for it, take him on longer hikes or try a doggie treadmill.

    Keep your dog on his feet and improve his balance with some fun exercises. To work his gluteals and hamstrings, have him take several steps backward. Stepping sideways tunes up his adductor and abductor muscles. Navigating cavaletti (small hurdles set at uneven heights); threading through poles or cones; or walking on cushions, an air mattress or a thick foam pad will help him with balance and proprioception (knowing where his feet are). Sit-to-stand and lie-to-stand exercises strengthen hip and knee muscles.

    Weight-shifting is another way to help your dog’s balance. Hold one of his legs off the ground for three to six seconds at a time, or have him stand with his front feet on a stair step to eat. To loosen his neck, shoulder muscles and upper spine, lure him into stretching his head back toward his body with a carrot or small lean meat treat.

    So, here’s the proverbial bottom line: One—paraphrasing Michael Pollan—feed your dog real food, feed him less of it, and include a variety of protein sources and dog-safe fruits and vegetables. Two, strengthen and improve his muscle tone, balance and stamina with condition-appropriate activities. He’ll have a sleeker physique and you’ll thank yourself for making the effort.

    Wellness: Healthy Living
    Protecting Your Dog Against Foxtails
    Dog in Foxtails

    Tonight my littlest dog Nellie came in the house sneezing. Any other time of year and I would be unconcerned, but in late spring and early summer an abrupt onset of sneezing after being outdoors is a “foxtail-in-the-nose alarm bell.” I’ll be watching Nellie like a hawk for the rest of the evening. Any crinkling of her nose, ongoing sneezing or bloody nose, and she’ll be my first patient tomorrow morning.

    If you are unfamiliar with foxtails, count your blessings! These pesky, bristly plant awns grow in abundance throughout California and are reported in most every state west of the Mississippi. Once the plant heads dry, they become hell-bent on finding their way into dogs’ noses, ears, eyes, mouths and just about every other orifice. They can dive deep into a dog’s nostril or ear canal (beyond sight) in the blink of an eye. And a foxtail camouflaged under a layer of hair can readily burrow through the skin (a favorite hiding place is between toes). Foxtails can wind up virtually anywhere in the body, and associated symptoms vary based on location. For example, a foxtail within the ear canal causes head shaking, under the skin a draining tract, or within the lung, labored breathing and coughing. Not only is the dog’s body incapable of degrading or decomposing foxtails, these plant awns are barbed in such a way that they can only move in a “forward” direction. Unless caught early, they, and the bacteria they carry, either become walled off to form an abscess or migrate through the body causing infection and tissue damage. Once foxtails have moved internally, they become the proverbial needle in a haystack—notoriously difficult to find and remove.

    Take the example of Emma Louise, an undeniably adorable Brittany Spaniel mix whose family told me that her favorite pastime is running through fields with her nose to the ground. They described her as a “foxtail magnet,” having accumulated several in her ears and nose over the years. I was asked to help figure out the cause of Emma Louise’s hunched back and straining to urinate. With abdominal ultrasound, I discovered a gigantic abscess tucked up under Emma Louise’s spine, extending into her pelvic canal. Given this girl’s history, I just knew there had to be a foxtail in there somewhere. The question was, would we be able to find it?

    As is my medical tradition before launching a foxtail search, I recited a prayer to the “god of foxtails.” I then turned Emma Louise over to one of my surgical colleagues for exploratory surgery. After two hours of nailbiting and a barrage of expletives originating in the O.R., I heard a shout of, “Got it!” The foxtail had been located and removed, and sweet little Emma Louise made a rapid and complete recovery. Not finding the foxtail would have meant a lifetime of antibiotics to treat her foxtail-induced infection.

    If you suspect your dog has a foxtail-related issue, contact your veterinarian right away to find out what steps can be taken (at home or in the veterinary hospital) to rid your dog of this unwanted plant material. Whenever possible, avoidance of foxtail exposure is the best and only foolproof prevention. If your dog does have access to foxtails, carefully comb through his or her haircoat—checking ears and toes, too —a couple of times daily to remove any that are embedded and poised to wreak havoc!

    Good Dog: Activities & Sports
    Dogs Make Great Exercise Partners
    Helpful tips on shaping up with your dog.
    Get Fit Running with a Dog

    Frank Wisneski of West Covina, Calif., started smoking when he was 11 years old. When hit by a heart attack at the age of 38, he weighed 215 pounds and had been smoking a pack a day for 27 years. He had a five-year-old daughter and a wife who was eight months pregnant. But it wasn’t until about seven years ago, when his daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, that he knew he had to make changes.

    “At the rate I was going, I realized I probably wasn’t going to be around to help my wife take care of her. That’s what pushed me to quit smoking. About six months after that, we got Major, and I’ve been running with him ever since.”

    Major, his black Lab, is their service dog and Wisneski’s primary exercise partner, along with the family’s other black Lab and a Malinois. The four-pack runs four to five miles every weekday morning, starting out at 4 am, before Wisneski goes to work On weekends, he and Major hit the trails around a local lake, where the dirt is a bit easier on the joints, running up to 16 miles in a day.

    Wisneski, who now weighs 180 pounds and has completed five marathons, gives his dogs full credit for his good health. “Dogs don’t care if it’s raining. Dogs don’t care if it’s cold. Dogs don’t have another meeting to be at or some other obligation. Dogs are the best training partners ever. They just want to spend time with you.

    If you’ve got to get up and go run, you’ve always got a partner to go with you.”

    Phil Zeltzman, DVM, a certified vet surgeon based in Pennsylvania and author of Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound, completely agrees. “People make up all kinds of excuses not to exercise, but dogs are always ready to go,” he says. Multiple scientific studies have shown that humans and canines derive similar physical, psychological and emotional benefits from exercise.

    Zeltzman recommends that dogs of all ages have a complete physical exam before beginning any exercise program. He has a few other pointers as well: Tailor your activity to your dog’s breed, age, personality and health status. Start slow and progressively build endurance. If you and your dog are just starting to exercise, begin with simple walks, which can later morph into more strenuous activities. Read your dog for stress signals during and after exercise, particularly if your dog is a senior. However, age by itself isn’t a disqualifier, Zeltzman says. “Age is not a disease. I see 12-year-olds that act like six-year-olds.”

    At the human end of the leash, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults—including those 65 and older who “are generally fit, and have no limiting health conditions”—get 150 minutes per week of moderateintensity exercise, such as brisk walking. These 150 minutes can be broken into 10-minute increments throughout the day. So, taking a break for a quick stroll with the dog is possible for even the busiest among us.

    Walking is a great starting point. “You don’t have to run for hours with your dog to benefit,” Zeltzman says. According to the American Council on Exercise, even modest exercise improves circulation, bringing more oxygen to the heart and muscles and decreasing both the risk and severity of many diseases. Like dogs, people need to start slowly and build up the intensity and duration of their walks. Zeltzman suggests that adding variety to an exercise routine will help ward off boredom; switching up the routine can also help avoid a workout plateau. Following are a few of Zeltzman’s suggestions for doing just that.

    Stair walking. For a terrific workout that benefits both the cardio system and leg muscles, find a stairwell, either outdoors or indoors. A variety of types of stairs (such as spiral or half-turn stairs) and/or a variety of stair surfaces (wooden, concrete, brick) can add a distraction for the dog that will ultimately build overall confidence. This comes with a caveat, however: many dogs don’t care for open stairs, and they should not be attempted until your dog is a well-seasoned stair climber.

    Hiking. Find a trail at a local park and hit the dirt surface. According to Zeltzman, every organ in our bodies benefits from this type of exercise. Add a few obstacles, such as crossing logs and climbing hills, and you’ve engaged even more muscles, built intensity and spiced up the adventure.

    Resistance walks. Lakes and beaches are prime territory for this activity, which involves walking in shallow water and/or on dry or wet sand. Dry sand is the more strenuous option; walking in it exhausts muscles pretty quickly.

    Fetch. Retrieving can be a great boredom-buster while walking or hiking. However, this doesn’t mean that you get to relax on a stump while your dog fetches the ball or toy. Rather, you’ll be moving quickly, either toward or away from the dog, during retrieves. A Frisbee or a portable ball launcher such as a Chuckit complements exercise routines.

    Power walks. Recommended for physically fit humans and canines, power walking provides a thorough workout. The brisk pace interspersed with intervals of jogging or running and/or armpumping doesn’t allow time to stop and sniff. You can also mix it up with squats, fetch or another activity you both enjoy.

    Swimming. Taking your dog for a swim is easy on the joints and great for building endurance. Introduce your pup to water slowly, perhaps starting with resistance walks in warm, shallow water. Add a floatable ball and retrieves can be enjoyed by all.

    “Dogs are the best for a healthy, active lifestyle. If a dog is by your side, he doesn’t care what he’s doing. And if he gets to smell a park along the way, that’s a good day,” says Wisneski, who credits his canine exercise partners with saving his life every day.

    Wellness: Food & Nutrition
    GMO: Are genetically modified crops safe in your dog food?
    A vet speaks out on genetically modified pet food.

    Most dogs now dine on some type of genetically modified (GM) food, often in the form of corn and soy in their kibble. As these ingredients increasingly enter the food supply, we have one more reason to wonder if our shopping choices might be harming our pets.

    More animal feeding studies are needed, experts say, and a recent long-term, peer-reviewed report points out why. It found that a diet of GM corn and soy led to higher rates of severe stomach inflammation in pigs, which are physiologically similar to dogs.

    Robert Silver, DVM, a Boulder, Colo., holistic vet, tackled the issue earlier this year when he presented his paper, “Genetically Modified Food and Its Impact on Pet Health” at the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association conference in Kansas City, Mo. Why did he choose this controversial topic, one that few vets even acknowledge?

    Silver—a pioneer in the field of holistic veterinary medical practice—says he was inspired by a seminar he attended in Boulder on GM foods and human health. The speakers included Don Huber, a Purdue University professor, and activist Jeffrey Smith, who discussed problems, including reproductive difficulties, that have occurred in livestock fed GM crops.

    “I found this seminar mind-opening,” says Silver, the lone vet in attendance. “I had always believed the PR about GM foods—that they are going to feed the world and are a good outcome of our genetic technology.”

    The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the safety of GM crops consumed by humans and animals, considers most GM plants “substantially equivalent” to traditional plants and “generally recognized as safe.” Their regulation involves a voluntary consultation process with the developer before products are brought to market.

    Smith, founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology, disagrees. On its website (responsibletechnology.org), he warns that “nearly all GM crops are described as ‘pesticide plants.’ They either tolerate doses of weed killer, such as Roundup, or produce an insecticide called Bt-toxin. In both cases, the added toxin—weed killer or bug killer—is found inside the corn or soybeans we consume.”

    Silver says that while “allergies, GI problems, increased risk of cancer, neurodegenerative conditions” and other ills could all be, in part, related to GM foods, “there is no objective evidence of this yet” in dogs. “However, all vets will agree that there has been an uptick in [these diseases] in the past 10 to 20 years.” The advent of GM foods in the 1990s “fits into this timing of disease increases,” he says.

    His presentation referred to studies that raise doubt about the safety of biotech crops, such as one reported in 1996 in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that genes inserted into crops can carry with them allergenic properties.

    Silver says that genetic modification introduces foreign proteins that may encourage allergies, and the widely planted Bt corn, which makes its own insecticide, “could possibly cause leaky gut, the gateway to chronic disease.” Corn is a major component of most commercial pet foods. “The big problem with commercial foods is that they are manufactured at high temperatures and pressures,” which alters them and makes them “potentially more allergenic.” And commercial foods contain industrial ingredients that are “more likely to contain GM and herbicide contaminants.”

    A study published last year found that GM crops engineered to withstand the toxic herbicide Roundup must now be doused with even more herbicide, since weeds have also developed resistance to it. Residues of these chemicals on crops can find their way into pet food.

    A 2013 study published in the science journal Entropy reports that the heavy use of Roundup could be linked to Parkinson’s, autism, infertility and cancers. It goes on to report that residues of Roundup in food can interact with, and enhance, the damaging effects of other environmental toxins. “Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body,” the study’s researchers say.

    According to Silver, heightened sensitivity to dietary ingredients “is probably what we are seeing with GM foods. It is of concern that this may be driving the increase in GI problems in pets.” Although gluten probably does account for some problems with grain consumption, “I think that grain-free diets, if they are also soy free and contain protein from animals not fed GM crops, can help many dogs, due to being GM free—and not due to some allergy or gluten issue.”

    To a holistic doctor, food is medicine, and Silver strongly recommends home meal preparation from individually sourced ingredients to avoid feeding GM ingredients, especially to pets who have other health problems. “I am truly a holistic practitioner in that I believe an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

    References
    Carman, J., et al. 2013. A long-term toxicology study on pigs fed combined genetically modified (GM) soy and GM maize diet. Journal of Organic Systems 8 (1): 38–54.

    Benbrook, C.M. 2012. Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S.—the first 16 years. Environmental Sciences Europe 24: 24.

    Ordlee, J., et al. 1996. Identification of a Brazil-nut allergen in transgenic soybeans. The New England Journal of Medicine 334: 688–692.

    Samsel, A., and S. Seneff. 2013. Glyphosate’s suppression of cytochrome P450 enzymes and amino acid biosynthesis by the gut microbiome: Pathways to modern diseases. Entropy 15 (4): 1416–1463.

    Wellness: Food & Nutrition
    Do Better Canine Diets Support Longer Lives?
    Optimal Nutrition
    Dog Food Kibble

    Veterinary nutritionists can be found in universities, teaching veterinary students and treating patients with special dietary needs. We may work in the pet food industry as consultants or by contributing to research, development and education efforts. We also work with veterinarians and their clients, providing answers or input aimed at resolving dietary quandaries.

    As a veterinarian with more than 25 years’ experience and a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN), I enjoy doing a little of all these.

    For example, I may develop a homemade diet for a Labrador with copper liver storage disease, a very particular liver problem. Or I’ll check in with one of my consulting clients to see how a picky young German Shepherd with recurring diarrhea is doing with his new diet. A presentation for a large veterinary meeting focusing on diets that can be used to not only treat disease states, but also to perhaps prevent them may be on my to-do list. Conference calls with veterinary students to discuss nutritional biochemistry and how cats differ from humans and dogs also occupy my time.

    But my favorite part of the day is reaching out to pet parents through my work with the Companion Animal Nutrition and Wellness Institute (CANWI), a grassroots not-for-profit organization focusing on optimal nutrition and wellness to improve and extend the lives of our furry children and best friends.

    At CANWI, we recognize the difficulty people have in accessing companion-animal nutrition information not sponsored by the pet food industry, a multibillion dollar operation instrumental in providing the bulk of consumer information as well as in supporting veterinary nutrition research and education. While we agree that the industry’s goals align with the need for safe nutrition, we firmly believe that there is also a need for unbiased information on the subject.

    As part of this effort, CANWI raises funds for veterinary education, including forums and programs that educate veterinary technicians, students and the pet-vested community. In fall 2016, CANWI named Danielle Conway, DVM, as its first Veterinary Nutrition Resident; the organization will support her two-year formal training program at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. Typically, this sort of advanced training is funded by the pet food industry. As CANWI president Patricia Micka noted when announcing the award, “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time a nonprofit is funding a Veterinary Nutrition Residency program. It is our intention to make this an ongoing program and not a one-time event.”

    Another CANWI mission is to fund scientific research to identify healthy, or what we term optimal or best, nutrition for our companion animals. Every day, we field queries from people interested in feeding their dogs and cats the best possible diet, one that will sustain longer, healthier lives.

    While we humans are told to eat plenty of fresh foods, most of our dogs and cats are fed processed commercial foods throughout their lives. What effect does this have— do processed foods provide optimal nutrition and support longevity?

    Heat processing improves nutrient availability, shelf life and food safety, but it is also known to cause the Maillard reaction, chemical reactions between amino acids in proteins and sugars that give browned food its distinctive and appealing flavor. Similar Maillard reactions occur in body tissues, especially with aging, and form what are termed advanced glycation end products, or AGEs. Diets high in Maillard reaction products (MRPs) have been shown to increase levels of AGEs in the body.

    Studies in humans and rodents have revealed that elevated levels of AGEs in tissues are associated with a number of age-related ailments, including diabetes, cataracts, osteoarthritis, atherosclerosis and vascular diseases. The absorption of MRPs from the diet and their accumulation in the body’s AGE pool may be one of the ways foods have an impact on age related diseases in both humans and animals.

    The role of dietary MRPs on health and disease in dogs and cats is unknown. Prior studies measuring MRPs in dry and canned dog and cat diets have shown that the intake of MRPs is estimated to be 122 times higher in dogs and 38 times higher in cats than the average intake for an adult human on a body-weight basis. In our study, we want to determine if it’s possible to modify canine and feline MRP intake by making dietary adjustments. Investigating the effects of a highly processed diet with high levels of MRPs compared to one that is more like homemade—or a whole food diet—with low levels of MRPs may help us unravel diet’s effects on our dogs’ and cats’ lives.

    CANWI has given me a forum to share my veterinary experiences and my specialty training. It is truly my honor to work with the organization, which enables me to connect my passion for education and research with my desire to share the best nutrition and veterinary care with all my beloved animal patients, present and future.

    Dr. Raditic invites you to join her in supporting this important work with a donation to CANWI, either online through PayPal or via the mail. For more information, go to companionanimalnutritionandwellnessinstitute.org.

    Wellness: Healthy Living
    Six Tips on Caring for Older Dogs
    We look at ways to make their lives easier.

    In your eyes, your dog will alway s be a puppy, even if she’s getting up there in canine (and human) years, or her muzzle is beginning to gray. However, eventually the day will come when you notice that your pup is panting a little bit harder after a long walk and struggling to climb onto your bed. It’s time to start adjusting to the lifestyle needs of an older dog.

    When a dog is considered a senior largely depends on breed. Smaller dogs (such as Chihuahuas or Terriers) don’t reach their golden years until they’re 10 or 12, while a Great Dane may attain senior status at the age of five or six. Beyond size and breed, genetics, diet and environment all have an impact on a dog’s life expectancy.

    Just as modern medicine has extended the lives of people, with the right combination of attention and preventive care, it can also extend the lives of dogs. If you want your older dog to have a long and happy life, consider incorporating these strategies into your pet care routine.

    Remember your dog’s teeth. Dental hygiene is particularly crucial as your dog ages. Regular brushing and professional cleaning can prevent painful dental disease and decay (and help your dog avoid the chewing problems mentioned earlier). If your dog doesn’t enjoy having his/her teeth brushed, consider dental treats and toys instead.

    Watch your dog’s diet. Mature dogs often have food issues, including problems chewing, lack of appetite, obesity and digestive difficulties. Consult with your vet on the best diet and exercise plan for your aging dog. Dietary changes may include adding more fiber to aid with digestion or decreasing carbohydrates to maintain optimal weight. Supplements such as fish oil or glucosamine can be added to alleviate joint pain.

    Exercise your dog’s body and mind. Like people, aging dogs experience pain and have difficulty performing physical activities they used to enjoy. However, exercise continues to be imperative to their health and well being. Take your dog on short, gentle walks and monitor his/her breathing and gait to make sure nothing is amiss. Your dog’s brain needs plenty of exercise as well. Stimulating toys such as food puzzles help keep your dog sharp.

    See the vet more often. Take your dog in for a vet checkup at least twice a year. Just as elderly people need to be aware of health issues and visit their doctors more often, aging pets benefit from more frequent visits. Older pets may need additional blood tests, dental care and examinations. Additionally, many breeds have predispositions toward certain ailments, including arthritis, hip dysplasia, cancer and diabetes. Early detection can help catch these before they become major problems.

    “Seniorize” your house. Just as you once puppy-proofed your home, you now need to provide your older dog with special accommodations. For dogs with hip dysplasia or joint issues, consider a special ramp or stairs so they can still get in the car or join you on the bed. Keep food and water in areas they can easily reach, especially if they are vision-impaired. Heated beds can soothe achy joints, particularly if you live in a colder climate. Finally, non-slip surfaces will prevent falls and help your older pet maintain traction when rising.

    Pay attention. Monitor changes in behavior; appetite; weight loss or gain; dental issues; and any lumps, bumps or lesions and bring them to your vet’s attention. (A journal is a great memory aid.)

    Taking care of an older dog may involve a little more work than you’re used to doing, but caring for a lifetime companion is a deeply rewarding experience. Your dog has been good to you (and for you) for years—now’s the time to return the favor!

    Wellness: Health Care
    Canine Rehab Can Help Your Dog Get Back On Her Paws

    My career as a physical therapist shifted dramatically 11 years ago after I adopted a dog named Teddy. Teddy came to me with a limp, so naturally, I wanted to help him. The first step was to find out what could be done. Several veterinarians later, the conclusion remained the same: rest and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs). As a licensed physical therapist, I knew there had to be something more; after all, bed rest and medication for the treatment of human conditions had fallen by the wayside decades ago.

    After Teddy landed in a vet ER with a horrifying reaction to a prescribed NSAID, I was determined to help him myself. I began by going online to explore the comparative anatomy and biomechanics of canines and humans. During this search, I discovered a whole new avenue I could take to not only help Teddy, but also, to help his species: a canine rehabilitation certification program available for licensed physical therapists and veterinarians.

    I enrolled in the program offered by the Canine Rehabilitation Institute (CRI), which is partnered with Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. During my course of studies, I gained an appreciation for the differences and similarities in canine and human anatomy. The CRI program confirmed that all the methodology and expertise I had gained in physical therapy school and human clinical practice could transfer nicely to serving our four-legged friends. While there are certainly important differences between the two species, in general, the years of training I undertook to obtain my advanced PT degree proved to be a huge asset to the profession and practice of my animal rehabilitation career.

    The goal of animal rehabilitation (aka rehab) is the same as the goal for humans: improve quality of life through restoration of function, increased mobility and reduction of pain. The best way to determine if your dog is a good candidate for rehab is to ask your primary veterinarian. If the vet is unfamiliar with the services these specialized professionals offer, do some research and become better acquainted with your options. Though the specialty practice of animal rehabilitation has been around for nearly two decades in some areas of the world, it is still in its infancy in the United States. Fortunately, the field is rapidly growing.

    Rehab can help any dog with a musculoskeletal or neuromuscular problem, from young puppies to seniors. Some of my canine patients participate in agility, flyball, dock diving, rally, and search and rescue. Others are companions who prefer to hang out and get plenty of nap time. Because conservative methods have proven to be successful a high percentage of the time, the rehab therapist makes every effort to help the patient avoid surgery. When surgery cannot be avoided, post-operative rehab has also been shown to be beneficial for a faster reduction of pain and a quicker return to a more fully functional lifestyle.

    PT CAN HELP

    • Soft tissue sprains and strains

    • Post-operative orthopedic recovery from cruciate ligament repairs such tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO) and tibial tuberosity advancement (TTA)

    • Congenital and degenerative joint disease (dysplasia and osteoarthritis)

    • Neurological rehabilitation following spinal decompression surgery (hemilaminectomy)

    • Other forms of non-operative neurologic insult, such as fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE) or spinal cord contusion

    Before trying physical therapy with your dog, clear it with your primary veterinarian to ensure that it’s appropriate. There are underlying medical conditions that can rule out PT as an option, so a referral/medical clearance is essential for your dog’s safety.

    Your dog’s first visit with a certified canine physical therapist or a rehabilitation veterinarian will involve a fullbody musculoskeletal and neuromuscular evaluation. This specialized, comprehensive, hands-on examination gives the practitioner information needed to develop an individualized treatment plan for your dog’s specific problem(s).

    Once the problems have been accurately identified, the practitioner goes to work to address them. A range of approaches is used: skilled manual therapy techniques (joint and soft tissue mobilization), therapeutic strengthening exercises, range of motion/flexibility exercises, and proprioceptive and balance exercises. Additionally, physical agent modalities—“techniques that produce a response in soft tissue through the use of light, water, temperature, sound, or electricity,” according to the California Board of Physical Therapy—may successfully address pain and accelerate healing.

    While physical therapy methodology and techniques transfer nicely from the human to the canine patient, canine PT has some important specifics that are beyond the entry-level competencies of human physical therapy programs in the U.S. Similarly, not all veterinary schools include physical rehabilitation as part of their core curriculum. So, finding the right practitioner with the right education is important. Physical rehabilitation rendered by a certified canine physical therapist assistant (PTA) or registered veterinary technician (RVT) is also an option, but these practitioners must be supervised by a qualified PT or DVM with additional training in canine rehabilitation.

    State regulatory bodies across the country are currently looking at establishing better laws and regulations to govern this particular specialty. These are needed to allow both non-vet rehabilitation professionals—certified and licensed canine physical therapists—to practice and to determine competency standards for veterinarians.

    In California, for example, these regulations have been hotly debated; efforts are being made to allow properly qualified animal physical therapists to practice on their own premises with a veterinary referral. Historically, the California Veterinary Medical Board has wanted to put qualified practitioners under the direct supervision of veterinarians, who may or may not have training in this specialty niche. A legislative task force has been created to work on more appropriate language.

    Everyone who’s a consumer of veterinary medical services has a stake in this discussion. Get involved by letting your legislators know that being able to choose a qualified canine physical therapist is important to you. Those who live in California can find out more at caapt.org.

    Pages