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Wellness: Healthy Living
Creating a Behaviorally Healthy Lifestyle For Our Dogs
Annual check-ups are in order.

With few exceptions, most of us in the pet industry deal with problems and solutions. Consider these examples:

  • Grooming salons and self-service dog washes offer solutions for the problem of dirty and unkempt coats.
  • Boarding kennels and pet sitters offer solutions for the problem of caring for dogs in the owner’s absence.
  • Daycares and dog walkers solve the problem of dogs being left alone all day with nothing to do.
  • Trainers, behavior consultants and behaviorists have solutions for behaviors that have become problems for owners.
  • Veterinarians have solutions when dogs are ill, even at those terrible times when the solution includes a painless, peaceful death.

A problem-based approach is still the way almost anyone who sells a product or service focuses their marketing. In fact, a reliable marketing formula is “problem, agitate, solve.” State the prospective customer’s problem, make it sound even worse, offer your solution. However, people are becoming more proactive and health-conscious regarding both themselves and their pets. The number of premium, organic pet-food diets on the market has exploded. Training techniques have, for the most part, moved away from the historical “show ’em who’s boss” approach to ones better grounded in the science of animal behavior and learning (although there is still plenty of room for improvement!). Initiatives have been undertaken to help veterinary visits be less stressful for pets.

All of these efforts to help dogs live happier, better-quality lives are laudable, but to be most helpful to owners and professionals alike, let’s put them into a broader context: which common, daily husbandry or caretaking practices have a big effect on behavioral health, both good and bad? Before we offer some examples to answer that question, we should step back and offer a few definitions.

We’ve all heard the statement “health is more than the absence of disease.” The terms health and wellness, which are sometimes used interchangeably, are rarely defined by specific, measurable criteria. When we applied that statement to pet behavioral health in our article “Behavior Wellness Concepts for the General Veterinary Practice,” we defined behavior wellness as “the condition or state of normal and acceptable pet conduct that enhances the human-animal bond and the pet’s quality of life.” To define “pet conduct,” we created the “Characteristics of Behaviorally Healthy Dogs and Cats” (which you can find at SensibleDogTraining.com and CatBehaviorHelp.com).

To conform to a wellness approach, behavioral health should be described in terms of what pets do, not what they shouldn’t do. For that reason, we’ve long encouraged our clients to ask themselves, How can I get my pet to do what I want? instead of How can I get him to stop [fill in the blank]?—which is usually the behavior(s) we are called upon to help change.

If we want to take a wellness approach, then it’s up to us to create a life for our furry family members that promotes healthy behaviors and provides an environment that meets their behavioral needs. We know that behavioral and physical health are intertwined, so the first responsibility of any pet owner is to provide preventive and all other needed medical care.

To create a behaviorally healthy lifestyle for our dogs, one that meets their needs, we first must know what their behavioral needs are. That’s a trickier undertaking than you might think.

One of the earliest attempts at this came in the 1965 Brambell Report (Farm Animal Wellness Council 1992), which listed “Five Freedoms” in reference to the care and welfare of farm animals:

  • Freedom from Hunger and Thirst—
    Ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.
  • Freedom from Discomfort—
    Providing an appropriate environment, including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  • Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease—
    Prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  • Freedom to Express Normal Behavior—
    Providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
  • Freedom from Fear and Distress—
    Providing conditions needed to prevent mental suffering.
  • We worked from these freedoms and other research on behavioral needs to create our version of the Behavioral Needs of Companion Animals (Hetts, et al. 2004):

    • Provision of a safe, comfortable place to rest and sleep.
    • Freedom from or the ability to escape from unnecessary pain, fear, threats and discomfort.
    • Ability to control some aspects of the environment.
    • Opportunities to express speciestypical behaviors such as chewing, scratching and elimination.
    • Opportunities for appropriate exercise and play.
    • Opportunities for mental stimulation.
    • Opportunities for pleasant social contact with conspecifics and humans to which the animals have been socialized.

    Let’s examine one common caretaking example in light of these behavioral needs: the use of crates. Is a crate really a good thing for a dog? How a crate is used to confine a dog has an impact on almost all of the behavioral needs mentioned above. It’s not uncommon for owners to crate their dogs for a typical eight-hour workday. Some also crate their dogs at night, leaving the dog with perhaps four to six hours of unconfined time each weekday. Can a dog have his needs for exercise, play, social contact, mental stimulation and expression of species-typical behaviors met in those limited hours? Unlikely, in our opinion, especially when you consider other responsibilities and activities the owners typically have on their agendas during those same hours.

    And what about a crate as a comfortable place to sleep and rest? At six square feet, the crate we used to housetrain our Irish Setter, Coral, was bigger than what we often hear recommended: “just large enough for him to comfortably turn around in and not And what about a crate as a comfortable place to sleep and rest? At six square feet, the crate we used to housetrain our Irish Setter, Coral, was bigger than what we often hear recommended: “just large enough for him to comfortably turn around in and not

    While crating can be a short-term technique, useful for housetraining and safe traveling, in too many instances, it becomes a way of life for dogs, one that virtually ensures that their behavioral needs will not be met. One study found, in fact, that dogs who spent considerable time in their crates were at significant risk for being surrendered to a shelter (Patronek, et al. 1996).

    With so many high-end pet products available these days—from food to spa days—it’s easy to overlook the basics that dogs need to lead behaviorally healthy lives. Take a look at the characteristics of behaviorally healthy dogs and the behavioral needs of companion animals and see how your dog measures up.

    In our behavior consulting work, we see common practices and beliefs that interfere with a behaviorally healthy lifestyle for dogs, including:

    • Insufficient exercise or mental stimulation.
    • On-leash greetings among dogs (the only time many dogs encounter other dogs) that often do not result in “pleasant social contact,” but instead, are setups for conflict and frustration.
    • Erroneous ideas about social dominance, which would have us believe that dogs should have no control over their environment because the owner should always be in control.
    • A crate that is too small even by federal guidelines, which is supposed to be desirable for housetraining.
    • Leash walks that don’t allow sufficient opportunities for dogs to sniff and explore and instead, are just frustrating experiences as the dog struggles against the leash or is dragged along.
    • No “kid-free” (or even adult-free!) zone or bed where the dog can rest, relax and be assured he or she won’t be disturbed or pestered.

    Taking a wellness approach to your dog’s behavior also means being proactive and considering what your dog needs and how you can mitigate stress during changes in your lifestyle, such as moving, the birth of a child, or a significant change in schedule that will result in your dog being left alone for longer periods.

    It also means ongoing monitoring of your dog’s behavior using our healthy-dog criteria and taking action when you notice small changes before they become big issues.

    It’s human nature to avoid attending to things until they break or become problems. We may be better at getting regular maintenance on our cars than we are at maintaining our own physical and mental health and that of our dogs. We hope, however, that this article provides food for thought about how you can monitor and improve your dog’s behavior health.

    News: Editors
    Physical Therapy Helps Paralyzed Dog Recover

    Golden Retriever Rocky 3 was hit by a car and sustained a major spinal cord injury, that virtually paralyzed him. Watch how Karen Atlas, MPT, CCRT and her team at HydroPaws in Santa Barbara performed amazing rehabilitation physical therapy on him. Karen also serves as the president of the California Association of Animal Physical Therapists. This is a coalition of animal physical rehabilitation professionals (licensed physical therapists with advanced training/certification in animal rehabilitation) who seek to play a leading role in defining appropriate legislative/regulatory language in California; similar to those states (such as Colorado, Nevada, and Nebraska) who have already successfully regulated this area of animal care. Even now, the California Veterinary Medical Board wants to limit/restrict our access to qualified non-vet rehab therapists and this video is proof of why this coalition disagrees. This inspirational video of Rocky 3 certainly does demonstrate the important work that is performed by these highly skilled professionals.

    Wellness: Health Care
    Canine Seizures
    Out of the blue, your dog rolls on his side and starts to shake. What’s going on?

    Charlie, a four-year-old Shih Tzu mix, held his head low and cried out when touched. His regular veterinarian performed blood tests and took X-rays, none of which revealed a reason for the neck pain. After discussing possible causes—a slipped disk and meningitis among them—the vet prescribed a trial of antibiotics and pain medication. At first, Charlie improved, but within a few days, his pain seemed to increase. Then he had a seizure.

    His people rushed him to a local emergency clinic, where he was admitted. The clinic kept Charlie overnight to stabilize him, and the next day, transferred him to our practice, Southeast Veterinary Neurology in Miami, Fla.

    Charlie was minimally responsive. When we examined him, we saw that he tended to turn his head to the left and didn’t react to stimuli on the right side of his body; he didn’t blink when touched near the right eye or when his right eye was approached. After a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and spinal fluid analysis, we had a diagnosis: encephalitis. Treatment was started immediately.

    Seizures—a manifestation of uncontrolled electrical activity in the cerebral cortex—are the most common canine neurological disorder. The cerebral cortex is made up of cells (neurons) that communicate with each other via electrical activity. A seizure happens when that electrical activity becomes excessive or uncontrolled.

    Seizures are classified as either focal or generalized, with the latter being the most frequently seen. In a classic generalized seizure, all four legs become stiff and the dog lies down or falls over before losing consciousness and convulsing. During a convulsion, many dogs will vocalize and salivate; some will urinate or defecate. The seizure may last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes, or longer.* Focal seizures are milder and only affect one part of the body—part of the face, or one leg.

    Any disturbance that either increases the electrical activity in the brain or decreases the control mechanisms that prevent seizures can cause these episodes. There are three basic types of disturbances: extracranial (problems outside of the brain that secondarily affect the brain), intracranial (physical or structural problems with the brain itself) and idiopathic epilepsy.

    Low blood sugar, severe liver or kidney disease, electrolyte abnormalities such as low calcium, and toxins/poisons are among the causes of extracranial seizures. All of these conditions are relatively easy to identify with blood and urine tests.

    Intracranial causes include brain tumors, strokes, encephalitis/ meningitis (as in Charlie’s case), head injury or a malformation such as hydrocephalus (“water on the brain”). Diagnosing these conditions requires an evaluation by a neurologist, an MRI of the brain, and possibly a cerebrospinal f luid analysis. Seizures experienced by certain breeds of dogs—including Boxers, Yorkshire Terriers, Maltese and other terriers—are more likely to have an intracranial cause.

    Idiopathic epilepsy—seizures with no known cause—is the most common reason for recurrent seizures, and is the result of an inherent hyperexcitability of the neurons of the cerebral cortex. In general, dogs with idiopathic epilepsy are between one and five years of age when they have their first seizure, which is usually of the generalized type. In between seizures, they’re completely normal, as are their neurological examinations.

    Seeing your dog have a seizure can be distressing, but the primary thing you need to do is to remain calm. Do not put your hands near your dog’s mouth, as in the throes of a seizure, he’s not aware of his actions and may unintentionally bite you. Keep your dog in a safe area where he is unlikely to hurt himself, moving him away from stairs, pools or other hazards. If this is your dog’s first seizure, take him to your veterinarian immediately.

    Your vet will likely start with a series of blood and urine tests to evaluate the liver, kidneys, electrolytes and other internal organs, looking for an extracranial cause. A consultation with a veterinary neurologist and an MRI may be recommended if the blood tests are normal, if your dog is younger than one or older than six, or if he acts abnormally between seizures.

    Diazepam (Valium) or midazolam, fast-acting drugs, will halt a seizure in progress. Depending on the cause and the dog’s response to treatment, longer-acting anti-seizure medications are also prescribed. Among these are phenobarbital, potassium bromide, levetiracetam (Keppra), zonisamide (Zonegran) and felbamate (Felbatol); each has both positive and potentially adverse effects. Your veterinarian or neurologist will discuss which medication makes the most sense for your dog. For many conditions, including idiopathic epilepsy, medication can help reduce the frequency and severity of seizures, but some seizure activity can still be expected.

    Seizures are indeed scary, but understanding their causes and knowing what to do when they occur go a long way toward successfully coping with them.

    *Ed. note: According to other sources, a seizure that lasts more than five minutes or that reoccurs three times in a 24-hour period should be considered an emergency.

    News: Editors
    Are Some Dogs Hardwired to Overeat?

    Researchers at Cambridge University looked at Labrador Retrievers (the most popular breed in the U.S. and the UK) to assess why that breed is more prone to obesity than other breeds. Their findings, recently published in the journal Cell Metabolism, point to a possible genetic reason behind this.

    “About a quarter of pet Labradors carry this gene [difference],” lead researcher Dr. Eleanor Raffan noted. “Although obesity is the consequence of eating more than you need and more than you burn off in exercise, actually there’s some real hard-wired biology behind our drive to eat,” she added. Labs have the greatest documented obesity prevalence.

    More than 300 Labradors, from pets to assistance dogs, were screened for known obesity genes in the study. The international team found that a change in a gene known as POMC was strongly linked with weight, obesity and appetite in both Labradors and Flat-Coated Retrievers.

    Other breeds—from the Shih Tzu to the Great Dane—were also screened, but this particular genetic difference was not found.

    Dr. Giles Yeo, was one of the human geneticists from the University of Cambridge, who worked on the study. “What we have found is that some Labradors get fat because they have a deletion in a gene within their brain,” he said.

    “And this particular gene plays a role in sensing how much fat they have in their body—and so some Labradors don’t know how much fat they have and so keep eating to try to get fatter.”

    Researchers also found that the mutation is significantly more common in Labradors selected to become assistance dog breeding stock than those selected to be companions.

    It is certainly intriguing why assistance Labs are more prone to be carrying this gene deletion, but as they hypothesized, dogs carrying the POMC deletion may be more likely to be selected as for work as assistance dogs because trainability and temperament are the main “drivers for selection of these dogs, and positive reinforcement with food reward is the mainstay of puppy training.”

     

    Wellness: Healthy Living
    Fighting Valley Fever
    Chocolate lab sits on the dried grass. Discussions of Valley Fever in Arizona's research group.

    Arizona genetics researchers are taking the unusual step of asking for dog lovers’ help in fighting a mysterious, potentially lethal infection that plagues both dog and man.

    They are looking for dogs to be registered and potentially to have their DNA collected to help combat valley fever, a fungus-based disease once confined to the Southwest desert but is now spreading across the country.

    Valley fever can be triggered by inhalation of just a handful of spores of a particular fungus. People, dogs and cats are susceptible to the illness that was once believed to occur only in Arizona and California. The disease is not contagious and is not spread from species to species.

    The risk for valley fever increases as climates get drier, say California State University, Bakersfield researchers. Warmer temperatures and less rain basically kill off the fungus’ competitors for nutrients and thereby creating an ideal growing environment for the infection-causing fungus.

    Valley fever is now being reported in states such as Michigan, Ohio and Minnesota, which never used to see the condition. And the states that typically see the condition are reporting more and more cases: The number of Valley Fever reports is increasing in more than a third of California’s  counties, putting more dogs at risk for a disease that can lead to lameness, extreme weight loss and coma.

    When Charlie, a 75-pound Chocolate Lab, started coughing, it didn’t set off any alarms. But then he developed a fever and was diagnosed as having kennel cough, which can be easily treated by antibiotics and steroids. Then the symptoms returned and again it was misdiagnosed as pneumonia. More than two months passed before Charlie was given the correct medication; the delay in a correct diagnosis lessens his chances for a full recovery.

    Charlie now spends most of his time sleeping off the effects of valley fever, instead of being his normal playful self.

    There is no cure for valley fever. Currently treatments focus on helping dogs beat the symptoms. Vet bills can mount up since a dog may have to get medication for up to eighteen months; in some severe cases, a dog may be on medicine for the rest of his life.  It is estimated that Arizona dog lovers spend $60 million per year in caring for dogs with valley fever.

    Seeing the increase in valley fever cases across the U.S., Phoenix-based Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) researchers are now asking for dog people to take a brief online survey about their pet’s breed, health history and lifestyle. After the survey, the dog may be selected to give a saliva sample.

    Then after the swabbing is done, researchers will look for differences in the genes of dogs who are sick compared to dogs who show signs of exposure to valley fever but who aren’t sick.

    “In certain dogs, a minor infection can progress to severe disease, and the reasons for this are unknown,” said Dr. Bridget Barker, assistant professor and head of TGen’s Northern Arizona Center for Valley Fever Research in Flagstaff, Ariz.

    This information would be used to help develop new therapies for both dogs and people, she said.

    For more information about TGen’s Valley Fever PAWS (Prevention, Awareness, Working for Solutions), visit us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/vfpaws, and on Twitter at @ValleyFeverPAWS.

    Wellness: Health Care
    Acupuncture Can Help Dogs
    Holistic Medicine
    Back Problems / Acupuncture

    Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)—what some call a “slipped disc”—can smolder or it can strike full-blown, leaving your dog in excruciating pain and unable to walk. Initially, signs that a dog is afflicted can be subtle: a hesitation about going up or down stairs, paws that knuckle under or cross over, nail scuffing, an arched back, a tense abdomen. Dogs may shy from their food bowls to avoid bending their necks, or cry when picked up.

    IVDD causes compression of the spinal cord and leads to weakness, pain and sometimes paralysis, and is divided into two categories: Hansen Type I and II. Type I often swoops in suddenly, usually in younger, smaller dogs ages three to six. The center jelly of the vertebral disc, called the nucleus pulposus, degenerates, then ruptures and presses on the spinal cord. Not surprisingly, the chondrodystrophic breeds (dogs with short legs and longbacks)—Dachshunds, Corgis, Lhasa Apsos, Shih Tzus and Beagles—are predisposed to this type.

    Type II, which is typically seen in large dogs like German Shepherds, Labradors and Dobermans ages eight to ten, progresses more slowly. Though the disc doesn’t burst its center, it bulges between the vertebrae and impinges on the spinal cord, causing chronic pain and weakness.

    To rule out fractures, bone infections and cancers, your vet will start with X-rays, but a contrast myelogram, CT or MRI (all of which are often done at specialty centers) is needed to visualize the spinal cord and determine the nature and location of the problem.

    In addition to type, IVDD is described by level of severity. Roughly, grade I involves pain; grade II, unsteadiness; grade III, weakness that prevents standing or walking; grade IV, paralysis but able to feel deep pain when the toes are pinched; and grade V, complete paralysis with loss of deep pain.

    Dogs with grades 1 through IV will likely be managed with pain meds, muscle relaxants and strict rest for up to a month, and are often referred for physical therapy or Class IV laser treatments. Depending on the duration of neurological deficits and amount of pain, surgery may also be recommended for dogs with grades II, III and IV. Because the disease can change quickly, even dogs diagnosed with lower-grade IVDD need sequential exams to ensure that the condition is not progressing.

    When a dog is completely unable to walk, decisions have to be made swiftly. Dogs who stay in the grade V stage longer than 48 hours often remain paralyzed despite intervention, while up to 50 percent of those who have surgery in the first 24 hours may regain their ability to walk.

    IVDD surgery removes compromised discs, hemorrhage and adjacent bone compressing the spinal cord. With severe disease, it’s the best chance for a dog to walk again. It does, of course, also entail expenses and risks that not everyone is able or willing to undertake. What other options do we have?

    Thankfully, veterinarians have been studying other modalities to treat IVDD, acupuncture among them. In 2007, a team lead by A.M. Hayashi found that dogs of all IVDD grades recovered more quickly with electroacupuncture (EAP) combined with a standard Western medical approach than Western treatment alone (JAVMA 231[6]: 913–918).

    In 2009, A. Laim et al. reported that dogs receiving EAP and pain medications after surgery for acute IVDD were less likely to need higher doses of pain meds during the first 12 hours than those who received meds alone. These patients also had significantly lower pain scores 36 hours after treatment (JAVMA 234[9]: 1141–1146).

    A 2010 study compared three options for IVDD dogs with severe neurologic deficits of greater than 48 hours’ duration: decompressive surgery (DSX), EAP, and DSX followed by EAP (DSX + EAP). The study, led by J.G.F. Joaquim, showed that EAP was more effective than DSX + EAP, and that DSX alone was the least successful. These dogs had severe, long-standing IVDD in the thoracic and lumbar (thoracolumbar) spine, and in the past, their prognosis would have been dismal. (JAVMA 236[11]: 1225–1229).

    How does acupuncture work? While there is some debate over definitions, it’s generally accepted that acupuncture points (acupoints) concentrate clusters of free nerve endings, small blood and lymphatic vessels, and mast cells, part of the immune system. A veterinarian certified in acupuncture inserts small, sterile needles into specific points to stimulate muscles, nerves, circulation and the immune system. For IVDD, one needle may be placed at the top of the spine by the shoulders, and a second above the pelvis, which moves the qi and stagnated energy caused by the disc disease.

    Functional MRIs reveal that acupuncture activates pain-associated brain stem regions. The specific mechanism of acupuncture on IVDD has not yet been fully explained, but it’s surmised that it reduces local swelling, inflammation and pain; decreases cord compression, scar formation and tissue oxygen deprivation; and restores damaged nerves.

    When compared to the use of needles alone, EAP has been found to increase the body’s response to acupuncture. In EAP, needles in the skin are connected by metal clips; electro-impulses move between the clips and into the needles, producing sensations that range from a tingling to a vibration. Frequency and intensity are determined by the type of condition being treated. Sessions usually last from 10 to 30 minutes, and dogs often fall asleep during treatment.

    EAP has a cumulative effect and is typically prescribed as a series of treatments, every one to two weeks for at least a few months. Appropriate Chinese herbal formulas are often prescribed at the same time to reduce pain and enhance the effects of acupuncture. Dogs then proceed to maintenance acupuncture at one- to three-month intervals to prevent recurrence.

    Ideally, your dog will never go through the pain of IVDD, and you won’t have the worry. But if you do find yourself up against a down dog, it’s good to know that adding acupuncture to the treatment repertoire may help your friend get back on all fours.

    Good Dog: Behavior & Training
    New Life-Saving Law in Florida
    It’s now legal to break into cars to rescue pets and people

    The governor of Florida just signed a law making it legal to break into a car to rescue a person or a pet who is “in imminent danger of suffering harm.” It applies to vulnerable people and pets (including cats and dogs), but does not apply to farm animals. Many people and pets die each year because they have been left in overheating cars, so this law could save many lives. It is especially important in a hot southern state like Florida with the summer months approaching.

    The law specifies procedures that must be followed in order for a person breaking into a car to be protected from civil liability for damage to the vehicle. If you are trying to help someone in danger, here’s what you should know about the law. It is required that you check that the car is locked before breaking in. If you do break in, the law requires that you do so with the minimum force necessary. You are required to call 911 or law enforcement before or immediately after rescuing the person or pet from the car, and you must stay with the rescued pet or the person until first responders arrive.

    I’m delighted to know that Floridians are now protected by this law if they see an individual in danger in a car and choose to act. Many people would rescue the pet or person regardless of the risk to themselves, but it’s far better to give legal protection to  such potential heroes.

    Wellness: Healthy Living
    Calories Count

    Winter not only keeps us inside, it’s also a time of food-centric holiday celebrations. How can we share the fun with our dogs without packing pounds on them? When you want to get the facts, you go to the pros, and for an answer to this question, we checked in with Julie Churchill, DVM, PhD, ACVN and associate professor of nutrition at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center. Her general advice is that we be mindful of our dogs’ daily caloric needs and their total intake. (More on this in a future issue.) Dr. Churchill also shared a few tips.

    > Go for frequency, not volume, and choose either very small treats (pinkie fingernail-size) or ones that can be broken into small pieces.

    > Look for tasty low-cal alternatives; if your dog likes likes raw fruit and veg —carrots, celery, green beans, cucumbers, apples, blueberries—keep a ready-to-eat supply on hand.

    > Unsalted, unbuttered popcorn provides lots of bang for its caloric buck; there are only 20 calories in a popped cup, and a cup goes a long way, especially when scattered around for the dog to find.

    We saved the really big question for last. How do we resist those soulful eyes as we eat our turkey sandwiches and our special holiday cookies? Dr. Churchill advises that if we’re going to cave, we should do it with the lowest-calorie treat. It’s also important to avoid reinforcing begging (do your best!) and to preserve our dog’s routine. Dr. Churchill’s final takeaway: Dogs choose joy, and the time we spend with our dogs means more to them than food. Carve out time to make some joyful memories.

    Wellness: Healthy Living
    Exploring the Humane and Canine Microbiome
    Q&A with Dr. Robynne Chutkan

    Dr. Robynne Chutkan, one of the leading gastroenterologists in the country, is the author of a new book, The Microbiome Solution, in which she takes us on an exploration of our guts’ ecosystems. Her rousing endorsement of “living dirty” includes the benefits of living with dogs. Bark’s editor speaks with her about just how helpful dogs are to our health, inside and out.

    Is it true that there are similarities between our microbiome and those of our dogs, and that dog-owning families have more diverse microbial colonies than dogless households?

    Although we share many of the same microbes, dogs in general have a more diverse microbiome than we do. Not surprisingly, some of their additional species are soil microbes (rolling in the dirt from time to time may be a habit worth copying!). Close contact with our dogs is hard to avoid, and that’s a good thing, because they end up passing on some of their unique microbes to their owners, giving dog-owning households a microbial boost.

    Dog owners who have children share more mouth bacteria with their dogs than they do with their children. Is this a good thing?

    The microbiome in children under the age of three is still developing and as a result, is very different from that of an adult, although there are still lots of shared species with household members (and pets), given the proclivity children have for [putting] everything in their mouths. So, most adults (not just dog owners) have a very different microbiome from their young children. As children get older, their microbiome starts to more closely resemble that of the other household members—not just parents, but pets, too. The vast majority of microbes our canines pass on to us are helpful or benign, not harmful, so keep those doggie kisses going.

    So bacteria aren’t species-specific? Is that why, as you note, owning a dog is a highly effective way to replenish and revive bacteria that are basically under attack by modern-day living?

    Some bacteria are species-specific, but many are shared by both humans and dogs. Most dogs are much more in touch with the natural world than their owners are, and that’s exactly where lots of the health-promoting microbes come from: soil; unfiltered, unchlorinated water; and, of course, the poo of other animals that our dogs are constantly checking out. Dogs tend to go easy on the hand sanitizer and antibiotics and eat a less processed diet (all habits worth emulating), so they haven’t super-sanitized away as many of their microbes as we have. Some of these canine microbes can be passed on to us, helping to replenish our lackluster microbiome.

    The high-fat, low-fiber food we eat, attracts a different range of microbial types; do you know if that is the same for dogs?

    I’m not aware of any specific studies looking at variations in canine diets and the effects on their microbiome, but certainly, dogs who eat more processed grains and other foods not natural to their diet tend to have more health problems, and the same is true for humans.

    You mention that it’s okay to be a little dirty and sweaty. Why do you think Americans are so obsessed with being hyper-clean?

    In the pre-antibiotic era, epidemics of the plague, cholera and other highly infectious diseases wiped out vast numbers of people. The advent of penicillin in the 1930s is still one of the most important contributions to modern medicine, and antibiotics have saved countless lives. But now the pendulum has swung the other way; we’re currently in an era of overdiagnosis and over-treatment, and we’re seeing the emergence of new “modern plagues,” not from infection, but from not enough microbes.

    However, the public still sees antibiotics as the life-saving miracle workers they were in the first part of the last century, not as the overprescribed menace they’re becoming. Plus, 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used in the livestock industry, mostly to fatten animals for slaughter. Clearly, that’s not a lifesaving endeavor.

    I think the pharmaceutical and personal-product companies also have a lot to do with it. They’re responsible for many of the public-health campaigns that incorrectly equate cleanliness with health, and of course, they make billions of dollars selling hand sanitizer and other anti-bacterial products.

    It’s not just okay to be a little sweaty and dirty, it’s great for your microbiome and your overall health. We need exposure to dirt and germs (bacteria, fungi, protozoa and so forth) to train our immune systems to recognize friend from foe. Not enough exposure to germs, especially when we’re young, leads to a confused immune system that tends to overreact. The result is allergies and autoimmune diseases.

    In defense of less bathing and shampooing: your body is really good at concocting the exact formula needed to keep your skin and hair moisturized and healthy. But what do we do? We scrub away our natural oils with harmful antibacterial products and then try to revive our skin and hair with store-bought products full of chemicals. Live dirty for a healthier— and better looking—you!

    Many studies have shown the benefits to children of having a dog, including a decrease in eczema and asthma. Why else would you recommend that a family get a dog?

    Having a dog is great for reducing stress and anxiety and lowering blood pressure. And we already know they improve the microbiome of the entire household.

    What’s your personal dog “biome”?

    My mother’s bridge partner, Eva, worked for the Swedish embassy, and when she moved back to Sweden, she left her beloved German Shepherd, Trygg, with us. He’d been used to spending all his time with Eva, and became immediately attached to my mom. We had to be super vigilant in the bathroom because he loved to drink from toilets (all kinds of rewilding going on!).

    Hugo, our German Shorthaired Pointer puppy, came into our lives about six months ago. Getting a dog forced me to slow down my too-busy lifestyle and spend more time sitting on my front steps, stroking Hugo and literally smelling the roses. He’s super active, so my husband and I take turns running with him in the mornings and evenings.

    We live near Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC, so, thanks to Hugo, there’s a whole lot of dirt and sweat happening on a daily basis. Our daughter Sydney loves him so much that we really can’t imagine life without him.

    Hugo slobbers over everyone he comes into contact with, and since I frequently have meetings with the Gutbliss team at our house, he’s become our CRO—Chief Rewilding Officer!

    Wellness: Recipes
    Mackerel Makes Great Toppers

    Rick Woodford, the man behind dogfooddude.com, is back with another highly informative, yet easy-to-use cookbook. His new, aptly titled Chow will enable even absolute beginners to try their hand at whipping up whole meals, or simple nutritious and delectable “toppers” (like the one here), for their dogs. Nothing says loving better.

    Greyhound are known to reach speeds up to 45 miles per hour, making them one of the fastest breeds around. They’re perfect for running in a straight line or chasing prey, but as soon as the race is over, the greyhound is ready to take a nap. The Alaskan husky can achieve speeds about half that of the greyhound but can sustain the speed for much longer—all while pulling a sled. Both breeds are remarkable for their achievements, but are hardly interchangeable for the unique requirements needed in each racing environment.

    Omega-3 fatty acids can be sourced from either plants or animals, and like the greyhound and husky, the different sources have different purposes and benefits. Flaxseeds, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which can contribute to the fight against cancer and enhance brain function; but what your dog’s body really runs on is eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Although your dog can convert some of the ALA into EPA and DHA, it’s not enough to support the body’s entire requirement. Supplying EPA and DHA as part of the diet, by including fish or meat from grass-fed animals, is far better in reducing inflammation and furthering cognitive development. Such foods as mackerel can provide a healthy dose of EPA and DHA when fed as part of your dog’s diet two or three times a week.

    Whenever possible, purchase mackerel without such additives as sugar and monosodium glutamate, a flavor enhancer that overstimulates neurotransmitters in the brain. Mackerel packed in water or tomato sauce is preferable over mackerel packed in oil, because your dog will already be receiving enough fats in his diet.

    1 cup of canned mackerel has about 300 calories; equivalent to about ¾ cup of commercial dry food

    Replace 10 percent of your dog’s regular meal with the following amounts:

    10-lb. dog: 2 tablespoons
    20-lb. dog: 3 tablespoons
    40-lb. dog: ¼ cup
    60-lb. dog: ⅓ cup
    80-lb. dog: ½ cup
    100-lb. dog: ½ cup
    KEY NUTRIENTS Calories 6% • Protein 30% • Total fats 15% • Omega-3 (DHA) 225% • Omega-3 (EPA) 123% • B3 (niacin) 46%  • B12 (cyanocobalamin) 26% • D3 69% Mackerel Mix-In — Meal Topper Recipe

    Mackerel can be used in place of salmon in salmon cakes for your plate, but it’s also beneficial for your dog and easy to prepare. With a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, this meal topper is a must for any dog. Using canned mackerel and chopping the vegetables in a food processor enhances digestibility without your having to cook anything. Don’t worry about those tiny mackerel bones; they’re really soft and will break down even further in the food processor.

    INGREDIENTS
    1 (15.5-ounce) can mackerel
    1 garlic clove
    1 medium-size carrot
    1 medium -size red bell pepper, seeded
    ½ cup frozen spinach, thawed
    1 medium-size red apple, stemmed and cored
    ½ cup blueberries

    1. Drain and rinse the mackerel.
    2. Place the mackerel and garlic in a food processor and process until chopped finely.
    3. Roughly chop the vegetables and apple, then add to the food processor.
    4. Add the blueberries and pulse five or six times to chop all vegetables finely.

    Yield: 5½ cups

    Serve the following amount once per day, replacing one-fifth of your dog’s normal meal.

    KEY NUTRIENTS 133 calories per cup • Protein 42% • Carbohydrate-to-protein ratio 0.4 to 1 • Total fats 40% • Antioxidants 38%

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