Wellness: Health Care
It can’t be cured but it can be managed—partnering with your vet is the key.
Failure is a harsh word. It signifies loss of hope, or defeat. So when your vet diagnoses your dog with chronic kidney failure, how can your heart not sink? That’s why some DVMs call it chronic renal insufficiency (CRI) or chronic kidney disease (CRD) instead.
Maybe you made a vet appointment because your dog spends more time at the water bowl, seems overly thin and shies away from previously loved food. Some pets with kidney disease may also have urinary incontinence, vomiting, diarrhea, bad breath, blindness, depression or lethargy—all of which may be signs that the kidneys’ multitasking capacity is impaired.
These two bean-shaped organs are responsible for water conservation, blood pressure control, salt balance, phosphorus and calcium regulation, and the initial step in red blood cell production. When their performance of these jobs begins to falter, many of the body’s functions start to tumble too. Blood levels of BUN (blood urea nitrogen), creatinine, calcium and phosphate escalate; protein spills into the urine; potassium levels fall; red blood cell counts drop; and blood pressure rises. Your dog starts to feel very unwell, indeed.
Where to Start
CRD affects one in ten dogs (compared to one in three cats), and the initial medical goals are to investigate and address an inciting cause in an effort to halt the disease. The origins of CRD are many: chronic bacterial infections, kidney stones, immune-mediated diseases, high blood pressure, congenital kidney malformations, leptospirosis, Lyme disease, grape/raisin or antifreeze poisoning, cancer. Often, we don’t find the specific reason. We also want to attend to the dog’s clinical signs—dehydration, nausea, weight loss, fatigue—with treatments fine-tuned by test results. If the dog’s getting nephrotoxic drugs like NSAIDs and certain antibiotics, we’ll take him off them too.
CRD is managed, not cured, and your vet will refine her treatment plan by regular monitoring of your dog’s health. Tests recommended every three months might involve a renal panel (CBC and chemistries), urinalysis, urine culture, urine protein/creatinine ratio and blood pressure.
The first signs of CRD—elevations in BUN and creatinine levels—typically occur when the kidneys have lost 75 percent of their function, which has made its treatment challenging. However, Idexx Laboratories now offers a blood test, SDMA (symmetric dimethylarginine), which catches CRD at the 40 percent mark and allows earlier intervention.
Treatment goals for CRD are life-long and supportive, aimed at improving quality of life and slowing disease progression. Since the kidneys perform numerous functions, various medications are used to address specific disorders. ACE (angiotensin-converting-enzyme)–inhibitors are prescribed for hypertension and/or urine protein loss, antacids like famotidine or omeprazole for GI ulcers and overly acidic stomach, maropitant and metoclopramide for nausea. When indicated, phosphate binders reduce nausea, and potassium supplements boost low levels.
Your veterinary team can teach you how to give subcutaneous fluids at home, if needed, to hydrate your dog and flush out toxins. You can also encourage your canine friend to increase his water intake by providing a pet water fountain, adding wet food to his diet, and placing clean bowls with fresh water in multiple rooms. Your vet will also likely suggest a diet change. Prescription diets like Hill’s K/D, Royal Canin Renal MP and LP, Iams Renal Plus, and Purina N/F restrict phosphorus and sodium, reduce protein and add omega-3 fatty acids with B and C vitamins, a combination that has been tested to increase lifespan and overall quality of life. Restricting protein too early, however, can lead to muscle wasting. IRIS, the International Renal Interest Society, endorses a kidney-specific diet when a dog’s creatinine level rises to 2.1 to 5 mg/dl (Stage III). You can also find online support for home-cooked CRD diets via veterinary prescription (see info box). To make it more likely that your dog will accept a new diet, make the switch slowly.
The body does not store water-soluble B-complex and C vitamins, so we need to replace them every day. When dogs have CRD, these essential nutrients wash out too easily with the dilute urine. Prescription foods compensate for these expected losses, and Renal Essentials by Vetriscience, a highly palatable and balanced supplement with vitamins, potassium, fish oil and herbs, can be given twice daily as well.
Studies document that high daily doses of oral omega-3 fatty acids enhance the function of joints, heart, skin, brain and kidneys. In one study, fish oils decreased mortality, improved renal function and diminished protein loss. The recommended dose of marine fish oil, omega-3 EPA and DHA, is 300 mg per 10 pounds of dog weight. Do not use cod liver oil, as it may have excessive A and D vitamins.
In the Manual of Natural Veterinary Medicine, Drs. Wynn and Marsden advocate traditional Chinese herbs for CRD, based on clinical experience. Studies in rats showed that Liu Wei Di Huang/Rehmannia 6 enhanced renal blood flow. Wynn and Marsden have also seen cats thrive for years when started in early-stage CRD on Shen Qi Wan/Rehmannia 8, another important formula. Rehmannia 8, with cinnamon and aconite, is warming, and this combination, when consistently used, can lower BUN and creatinine levels, reduce vomiting and thirst, boost appetite and weight, decrease urine volume, and increase urine concentration. Consultation with a TCVM vet is highly recommended for beginning and monitoring pets on Chinese herbs.
Rounding out a holistic kidney care plan, consider chiropractic to release spinal fixations and improve hind-end weakness that are common with CRD, and acupuncture to enhance the TCVM herbs’ effectiveness.
We who love dogs want our companions to live long and happy lives. If your canine has CRD, you can approach the disease from an integrative approach, maintaining quality of life and slowing kidney degeneration. Optimizing our dogs’ health may involve monitoring and close management, but they repay us with their company and more days of infinite joy.
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Expanding the frontiers of the canine capacity to help us carry on.
We can’t find our glasses, our car keys or the right word. We forget an appointment. We’re unable to bring to mind the name of a long-ago best friend. Many of us jokingly refer to these as “senior moments,” but the humor is only skin-deep. Underneath is the niggling worry that dementia—the term for a set of symptoms signaling a decline in mental abilities severe enough to interfere with our daily lives—lurks. This fear is fed by a sobering statistic: according to the Institute for Dementia Research and Prevention, in the U.S., at least 5 million individuals suffer from age-related dementias (Alzheimer’s disease accounts for roughly 70 percent of the total). These numbers will continue to rise as the population ages.
Severe memory loss is no laughing matter. The brain, a mysterious and complex organ, is, among other things, the repository of the very essence of who we are: our memories. Generally speaking, memory breaks down into three broad categories: sensory, short-term and long-term. Things as dissimilar as childhood recollections and how to walk, hold a spoon or comb our hair reside in our memory As damaged nerve cells (neurons) cease to function, they take much of this information with them. This is where dogs come in.
Dogs love routine. People with dementia have difficulty with routine, everyday activities. Roughly a dozen years ago, two people had the idea to put them together. When Israeli social worker Daphna Golan-Shemesh met professional dog trainer Yariv Ben-Yosef, they chatted about their respective occupations. As Ben-Yosef recalled, “It was clear to us that Daphna’s expertise in Alzheimer’s and my expertise with dogs could result in something new.” Together, Golan-Shemesh and Ben-Yosef pioneered the idea of training dogs to help those with dementia to not only feel better but also, to assist with daily activities.
Fast-forward to early 2012, when Alzheimer’s Scotland secured funding to study the possibility that specially trained service dogs could benefit people in the early stages of dementia. Four students at the Glasgow School of Art developed the initial concept as a service design project in response to the Design Council’s 2011 Living Well with Dementia Challenge. Focused on “finding practical solutions to social problems,” the competition required entrants to “design and develop products and services that rethink living with dementia, and launch them as real initiatives.” The Dementia Dog project grew from this call to action.
Dementia Dog is a collaborative effort, with Alzheimer’s Scotland, Dogs for the Disabled, Guide Dogs Scotland and the Glasgow School of Art pooling their respective areas of expertise. Last year, the research phase was completed, and the group is now in the early stages of a small-scale pilot program. As noted on the Dementia Dog website, the program “aims to prove that dogs can help people with dementia maintain their waking, sleeping and eating routine … improve confidence, keep them active and engaged … as well as provide a constant companion who will reassure them when they face new and unfamiliar situations.”
They are also developing programs for two more assistive functions: intervention dogs, trained to help the client with specifically identified tasks, and facility dogs, who enhance the emotional well being of those living in residential care.
The program’s dogs receive instruction at the Guide Dogs’ Forfar Training School. After 18 months’ work, the first two dementia service dogs—Kaspa, a Lab, and Oscar, a Golden Retriever—were certified last year, and two more dogs are currently being trained.
As noted in the program statement, the dogs help their people with core needs: support for daily living (exercise, balance, alerting to hazards, environmental safety), reminders (prompts to take medication), “soft” support (companionship, a bridge to social interaction, confidence building), and physical and emotional anchoring (staying with their person while the partner/caregiver shops, or helping their person feel safe and secure when alone).
The dogs are also trained to provide another critical service: getting their people home safely. The dogs’ collars are fitted with a GPS unit, and if the person doesn’t give the “home” command, the device helps families or law enforcement zero in on the pair’s location. Unlike guide dogs for the blind, dementia dogs operate at the end of a six-foot leash, which allows them to most effectively steer their people in the appropriate direction.
Dementia service dogs are being trained in the U.S. as well. DogWish.org, a California-based charity that trains and sponsors service dogs, lists “dementia dogs” as one of their training options, as does Wilderwood Service Dogs in Tennessee.
This service dog program taps into our almost primal love for dogs in a very personal way. The dogs of our present, the dogs of our past: their names and quirks and the bone-deep understanding of their nonjudgmental and unconditional love often stay with us when much else has been lost. A person living with dementia may not be able to recall what she had for breakfast or where she lives, but the dogs she loved? That’s another story.
In a 1.28-minute YouTube video clip that’s been viewed by more than 5.6 million people (go to see it for yourself), an elderly man with Alzheimer’s who’s lost almost all of his speech talks to and interacts with the family dog. It’s hard to imagine a better example of the very real value that dogs—purpose-trained or not—provide to the most vulnerable among us.
Read deeply touching comments from family members and caregivers about the ways dogs help their loved ones cope at dementiadog.org.
Wellness: Healthy Living
Investigating the microscopic worlds in our dogs may reveal pathways to better health.
The microbiome is the invisible world of the hundred trillion bacterial, viral and fungal microbes that live on us and in us—on our hair and skin, behind our ears and inside our eyelids. The bulk of these miniscule microbes are good guys, gut microbiota that congregate in the digestive tract, where they bolster the immune system, manufacture vitamins and digest food to generate nutrients and energy.
Microbial equilibrium is a delicate balancing act, and a broad spectrum of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases is linked to having too many microbes—or too few. For example, researchers know that significantly lower bacterial diversity is found in both people and dogs with chronic inflammatory bowel diseases.
Teasing out the biological interaction of trillions of miniscule microorganisms that colonize the body, and the role they play in well being, is a new frontier. Will it be a watershed moment in veterinary medicine? Scientists are hopeful. The human microbiome has become a hot topic in biologic investigations, and canine research is fast catching up, much of it inspired by the success of the Human Microbiome Project, launched in 2007 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Using stool and tissue samples to isolate microorganisms, researchers are mapping the diversity and normal profile of the human microbial community.
Another undertaking, the Human Food Project, invites the public to submit personal and family microbial samples along with samples from family dogs to better understand how a person’s microbiome compares to that of animals living in the same environment. (The project’s dog segment has been discontinued.) The analysis centers on the anthropological co-evolution of humans, animal and plant microbes to understand modern disease against the backdrop of our ancestral/microbial past.
It’s all about dogs at Companion PBx, a new startup that primarily targets the canine digestive tract. Its goal is to build a cumulative gut flora database and develop dietary products customized for dogs’ digestive health. In January 2015, the company launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for construction of the database.
According to Companion PBx Chief Science Officer Kelly Scott Swanson, PhD, who’s on the faculty at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Animal Sciences, “By sequencing the microbes in your pet’s sample, we obtain a fingerprint of the microbial community in your pet’s GI tract.”
Microbes in Common
Affected by age, environment, ancestry, evolution, genetics and diet, microbial communities vary widely between species and across individuals within a species. A recent study suggests that our housemates—including the family dog—may also affect the composition of our personal microbial signature.
If you and your significant other kiss, hug and/or share a bed with your dog, the three of you have more in common than you think. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder, revealed several similarities: Adults who share a dog have more similar mouth microbes than those who don’t. Dog-owning families have more diverse and different microbial colonies than dogless households. Parents tend to share more kinds of mouth bacteria with their dog than they do their children. And children raised with dogs have a wider variety of microbes than dogless kids (Song et al. 2013).
Whether these spit-swapped microbes serve a purpose or are just passing through is not clear. But research shows that children raised with dogs are less likely to be afflicted by eczema (Epstein et al. 2010) and asthma (American Society for Microbiology 2012).
The notion that microorganisms in the canine gastrointestinal tract might have unique properties is not new. Early Romans understood the medical value of a well-run therapy dog program. Health temples, the ancient equivalent of modern-day outpatient clinics, were staffed with live-in cynotherapists, gentle dogs who wandered about the grounds greeting patients and licking wounds. Were the dogs healing only psychosomatic injuries? Time and additional research funding will tell.
The idea that our microorganisms may to some extent be collectively beneficial is intriguing. People and dogs have been exchanging microbes for at least 30,000 years, since the first little cave girl kissed the first proto-dog puppy smack on the muzzle. That’s a long history of sharing. It’s possible that our microorganisms are at least symbiotic, and perhaps even played a role in the dramatic domestication of the dog.
Theoretically, many thousands of years ago, a population of carnivorous wolves or ancient proto-dogs (depending on where you stand in the dog-domestication debate) transitioned from a meat-heavy diet to one laden with grain, a consequence of the agrarian revolution.
Scientists know that the acquisition of a new diet is a fundamental driver for the evolution of a new species (Dale, Moran 2006). When species transition from carnivorous to omnivorous diets, the gut microbial community co-diversifies with the host and drives further evolution (Ley et al. 2008). As human diets changed, so too did those of Canis familiaris. Over time, as we incorporated these unique animals into our daily lives, we continued to reshape them.
In humans, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases are on the increase. Scientists can’t verify a similar pattern in dogs because epidemiological studies are rarely conducted in veterinary medicine. Additionally, many autoimmune conditions are diagnosed based on the patient’s subjective description of symptoms.
But this is not the case with itchy skin. Dogs who scratch themselves incessantly are highly likely to have allergies. When researchers compared microbial colonies on the skin of healthy dogs to those of dogs with allergies, they found that non-allergic dogs have much richer and diverse skin microbial communities (Hoffmann et al. 2014).
But when it comes to proving causality, scientists wisely err on the side of caution. It’s not understood if a change in the microbiome causes certain conditions, or if it occurs as a consequence of the conditions. Nor is it absolutely clear that more diversity is better than less. At this point, scientists cannot say with confidence exactly what a healthy microbiome should look like in the dog.
Moreover, what seems logical may not be so. For instance, anyone who has lived with a poop-eating pooch has wondered why some dogs do and other don’t. Are coprophagic dogs seeking microbes lacking in their gut? Surprisingly, research involving mice suggests that this might not be the case; coprophagia in germfree mice is the same as in conventional lab mice (Ebino et al. 1987).
Other questions arise: Are the microbiomes of individual dog breeds more similar to each other than they are to those of other breeds? And could these isolated microbial communities drive breed-specific ailments?
Jan Suchodolski, DVM, a Texas A&M veterinary medical and biomedical sciences researcher who studies dog and cat gastrointestinal diseases, says that this doesn’t seem to be the case. As he noted, “So far, we do not have any clear evidence that gut microbiomes are more similar within breeds. Environmental influences such as age, diets and antibiotics, and especially the effects of GI disease, are larger than any breed effect.
“It may be possible that we missed an effect, as we have not evaluated thousands of animals. But if there were a breed effect, it would probably be very minor. Even within puppies of the same litter, the microbiome shows huge inter-animal variation, so the animal effect is much stronger than any other effect.”
Idiopathic canine inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a gastrointestinal condition in which the digestive tract is chronically inflamed. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss. Dogs with IBD have significantly lower bacterial diversity as well as microbial communities that are distinct from those of healthy dogs. In 2014, Dr. Suchodolski and his colleagues conducted a study of 22 companion dogs, half of whom suffered from idiopathic IBD (Minamoto et al. 2015). They wanted to know if traditional treatments—steroids and special diets—directly or indirectly created a more robust microbial community.
After treatment, the sick dogs felt a lot better. However, there was no change in their gut microbiota. The researchers concluded, “This study demonstrates intestinal dysbiosis [microbial imbalance] and altered serum metabolite profiles in dogs with IBD. But medical therapy doesn't seem to affect the intestinal dysbiosis.”
It could be that, rather than triggering the condition, microorganisms are compromised by it. Researchers also suspect that biological environmental stresses are involved in ways not yet understood. Dr. Suchodolski added, “It may be that we need longer follow-up periods of treatments to see potential improvements. Another reasonable theory is that with the current standard therapies—for instance, immunosuppression—we just control clinical signs, but the underlying etiology of the disease is ongoing.”
When it comes to treating dogs for myriad problems, vets often prescribe antibiotics, and for good reason: antibiotics save lives. But the war on infection sometimes puts good bacteria in the line of fire, too. When assaulted by repeated antibiotic use, some classes of gut bacteria struggle to recover. If the affected bacteria play a pivotal role in autoimmune health, overuse of antibiotics may coincide with a decrease in healthy autoimmune responses.
Antibiotics are not the only culprits. Scientists suspect that in human births, Cesarean deliveries may contribute to an increase in autoimmune weaknesses as well. In a vaginal birth, the fetus departs the womb without a single microbe but acquires them by passing through the mother’s birth canal. By the time the newborn takes his first breath, he is covered with colonies of bacteria that kick-start his immune system, establish a healthy digestive tract, help shape his growing brain and even protect him from psychiatric disorders. C-section babies start life without the microbes they would have picked up from vaginal delivery, suggesting that the colonization of the newborn might be delayed (Jakobsson et al. 2014).
Medical disorders connected to non-vaginal delivery and the slow introduction of protective bacteria have not been studied in the dog. Considering that a number of breeds with exceptionally flat, wide skulls—such as the Boston Terrier, French Bulldog and Bulldog—must have their pups delivered via C-section, it’s an area that deserves further study.
Or is diet the problem? Commercially manufactured dog chow was introduced in the U.S. in the mid-1920s. By the 1950s, processed dog food like Friskies, Sergeant’s and Purina were widely available through local grocery stores. Today in the U.S., we spend more than $10 billion a year on commercial pet food. The question arises: has the increase in autoimmune diseases paralleled the rise in popularity of processed dog food?
Because veterinary practices typically don’t collect this type of empirical data, the answer is, at best, a guess. But many dog owners think so, and have eliminated or cut back on processed foods in favor of raw meat and vegetables. However, as of now, there is no definitive evidence to show that fresh foods modulate the gut microbiota.
Sophisticated DNA sequencing technology has opened up the invisible world to scientific scrutiny. But determining its impact on the host species is difficult and time-consuming. Researchers need to locate and identify a microbe’s fingerprint, then remove a sample and grow it in a culture, a process especially difficult with shyer microbes that are destroyed by oxygen or stomach acid.
To figure out why we get sick and the role microbes play in illness, researchers must first determine how these trillions of organisms interact with each other. And the fact that scientists can prove a problem exists doesn’t mean they know how to fix it.
Developing therapeutic dog foods that target specific vulnerabilities may help, but will take time to develop. Although the probiotic movement may oversell their benefits, probiotics (friendly bacteria like those that live in the gut) are effective in some cases. And prebiotics, foods that encourage growth of good bacteria already present, may help as well.
The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) is recruiting dogs with acute symptoms of diarrhea and/or vomiting for a new clinical trail that will evaluate the role of the intestinal microbiome—the community of “good” bacteria that live in the gut—on chronic gastrointestinal diseases. Therapy will include simple diet change, treatment with antibiotics or combination therapy with steroids for more complicated cases.
Penn Vet researchers anticipate that their study may reveal how gut microbiota influence and respond to treatment, which in turn could lay the groundwork for future projects using treatments such as prebiotics, probiotics or fecal transplants (transferring “good” microorganisms from a donor’s healthy stool to the patient’s gastrointestinal tract). According to Research Assistant Professor Dr. Daniel Beiting, “Whereas past studies have used a single method to sequence bacterial DNA, the Penn Vet study will use a more sophisticated approach called metagenomics, generating a much more comprehensive catalog of bacteria in the stool and providing insight into what they might be doing.”
Penn Vet is currently looking for dogs with chronic gastrointestinal problems. People interested in enrolling their dog in the study—Evaluating the Role of the Microbiome in the Resolution of Canine Chronic Enteropathy—should email Penn Vet’s Veterinary Clinical Investigations Center at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (215) 573-0302.
Future possibilities are exciting. In the meantime, kiss your dog. It’s good for you in more ways than one.
Wellness: Health Care
A low-stress approach paves the way to successful dog handling.
Elissa and David Miles moved from Manhattan to Mattituck, Long Island, to pursue their lifelong dream of opening a dog-grooming salon. Their shop, Groom + Gear, which has attracted a clientele of more than 400 since opening in late 2013, practices something most others don’t: low-stress handling.
“I learned about Dr. Sophia Yin’s philosophy of low-stress handling 14 years ago while apprenticing with Lydia DesRoche, a New York City dog trainer,” says Elissa. (DesRoche is the owner-operator of Sit Stay Dog Training.)
Dr. Yin, a veterinarian well known for her work in animal behavior, coined the phrase “low-stress handling” It describes her philosophy of helping dogs through unpleasant or scary encounters by using positive reinforcement and creating comfortable environments. (Her death last year, at 48, stunned a nationwide group of passionate followers.)
Dr. Yin’s lasting legacy of low-stress handling stands in contrast to the unfortunately still-popular philosophy of establishing dominance over a dog as a way of dealing with unwanted behaviors and aggression. Dr. Yin recognized that many of these behaviors—among them, lunging, guarding food or toys, aggression, and separation anxiety—are based on a dog’s fear.
Further, she found that exercising dominance or trying to force a dog (or cat) to become compliant in a situation in which they are fearful often causes the undesired behavior to escalate and worsen over time.
As a vet, I have too often experienced how quickly a dog or cat’s aggression can ratchet up; they can go from mildly uncooperative to full-on trying to bite and physically escape as the level of restraint is increased. It’s critical to recognize this dynamic before their fear takes over, and it’s smart to back off and try a “less is more” restraint approach, or to include their owner in the mix.
Back to other canine contexts … low-stress handling also benefits dogs who are undergoing what may be a challenging task, such as grooming.
Obviously, a dog who doesn’t have to spend the day in a cage, but rather, comes into a place to be groomed and goes home afterward will be much more willing to go there again, and will also be more cooperative about the grooming itself. This situation plays out at Groom + Gear, a cageless facility. “David grooms one dog at a time, and they are picked up right after their grooming’s finished, “ Elissa says, adding that she had seen this business from the inside when she worked at a groomer’s in New York City.
In many grooming facilities, she says, “The dogs are dropped off in the morning and spend the day in a cage. The dryer is noisy and attaches to the outside, blowing hot air around the dog.
“[In our shop,] we use earmuffs that stay on the dog’s head, or a hand-held, quieter dryer on about one-third of the dogs. We have a pheromone diffuser, which releases calming pheromones into the grooming room, and each grooming begins with a bath and massage by David. The dogs are strapped with a wide band that crosses the chest when they’re on the table—nothing around the neck. We only use muzzles when the dog is a known biter.” On average, David grooms five dogs per day. He takes his time with each, typically one-and-a-half to two hours.”
And not surprisingly, she says, dogs come running in to see him.
The more dogs are accustomed to being touched and being around other dogs and people when they’re at home, the less stress they will feel later when in a new environment or activity, like grooming or being examined at the vet.
“Typically, puppies don’t show intolerance to being touched,” says Kristi Vizza, a trainer at Andrea Arden in New York City. “When a new puppy comes into your home, handling [the pup while] giving treats [should] be part of the daily routine.”
According to Vizza, a puppy or dog who begins taking treats more roughly, or stops taking them altogether, is displaying signs of discomfort with being touched. Looking at your hand when you touch a sensitive area is another way dogs convey their unease.
“If you see signs of discomfort when touching a certain area of your dog, back off and move to touching another area. Typically, dogs resent their paws (particularly the hind paws), ears or tail being touched,” Vizza says. “Handling your dog is something you’re going to do [daily] for the first couple of years. It’s relationship building. Behavior issues pop up between the age of 7 and 18 months, so for the first 6 months, socializing and handling your puppy as much as possible is extremely important.”
Low-stress handling is about meeting dogs where they are. It sets them up for success by teaching them to be less shy, and to tolerate being handled. Owners need to know to expect some unwanted behavior issues with their dog—they can and will come up. It doesn’t mean that either the owner or the dog has failed, however.
Although low-stress handling is highly regarded among vets, it requires patience, time and staff training to implement. In busy pet-service operations, carving out additional time can be a challenge, but is eminently worth the effort. Sedation, muzzling or roughly handling a noncompliant dog or cat may be faster, but they are techniques that can take a toll on our companion animals. As public awareness of the low-stress-handling approach increases, the demand for, and number of, facilities that practice it should increase as well.
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
What we feed our seniors has a nose-to-tail affect on their quality of life.
We are what we eat, or so the saying goes, and the emerging science of nutrigenomics (nutrition + genome), puts this adage to the test. Nutrigenomics is the study of how the foods we and our pets eat “speak” to our cells to regulate gene expression, which in turn plays a role in determining if we’re healthy or plagued by illness. In this article, adapted from Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health, by W. Jean Dodds, DVM, and Diana Laverdure, MS, the authors consider the ways that applying related discoveries in nutrigenomics can help our dogs gain or retain quality of life as they move into their senior years.
Which ingredients are proven to ramp up cognitive activity in aging dogs? Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, fed their dogs vitamins E and C (antioxidants) along with a mixture of fruits and vegetables to reduce free radical damage. They also included alpha-lipoic acid and L-carnitine (mitochondrial cofactors), which improve the function of aged mitochondria—specialized parts of cells that produce most of a cell’s energy—in their diets. The result? According to the study report, the diet resulted in a significant improvement in the ability of aged (but not young) animals to acquire progressively more difficult learning tasks (Cotman et al. 2002).
Other important nutrients also show the ability to improve cognitive function in senior dogs. Among the most studied: milk thistle, phosphatidylserine (a phospholipid), SAMe (s-adenosylmethionine), medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) found in coconut oil, and DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids (Milgram et al. 2002, Landsberg et al. 2011, Bensimoun 2013).
Many functional nutritional ingredients don’t just benefit one part of the body; they promote health across a wide range of systems. This, of course, makes sense because the body is not made up of isolated parts (as many Western medical specialists would like us to believe); it contains an intricately related set of systems that all perform a complex, wonderfully intertwined dance. Coconut oil, omega-3 fatty acids and many of the other functional ingredients target the body holistically, producing a wide range of benefits from head to toe—or, in the case of dogs, from nose to tail.
Coconut oil possesses many therapeutic qualities, but perhaps the most amazing is its scientifically proven ability to improve brain function in older dogs and people. As the body’s supercomputer, the brain requires a lot of energy, most of which is satisfied when the body breaks down glucose from food. However, as we age, we metabolize glucose less efficiently, leaving a gap in the brain’s energy requirement.
When this occurs, alternative sources of fuel become important to fill this gap and provide much-needed energy to the brain. This is where medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), such as those contained in coconut oil, can help save the day. Unlike regular fats (which the body metabolizes slowly), MCTs break down and absorb rapidly into the bloodstream, providing a quick source of non-carbohydrate energy.
Further, they readily cross the blood-brain barrier, supplying up to 20 percent of a normal brain’s energy requirement; are important for ketone production, which serves as an additional source of “brain food”; and help the body use omega-3 fatty acids more efficiently and increase omega-3 concentrations in the brain—a good reason to give your dog both omega-3s and coconut oil (Aldrich 2009, Laflamme 2012, Wolf 2009).
One study showed that when 24 Beagles who were between the ages of 7.5 and 11.6 years old at the start of the trial were fed a diet supplemented with 5.5 percent MCT, their cognitive ability improved significantly. The dogs showed improvement in learning-related tasks after only about two weeks of consuming the supplemented diet, and within one month, their learning ability improved significantly. The study’s authors concluded that supplementation with MCTs can improve age-related cognitive decline by providing an alternative source of brain energy (Pan et al. 2010).
In addition to its brain-boosting qualities, coconut oil is purported to provide a host of other benefits. It contains antiviral, antimicrobial and antifungal properties; helps with weight loss (MCTs increase metabolism, so they send signals of satiety and cannot be stored as fat), improves digestion and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, benefits the skin and coat, and provides a rapid form of non-carbohydrate energy (Aldrich 2009, Wolf 2009).
The coconut oil you select should be unrefined (virgin) and expeller- or cold pressed. Processed, heat-treated foods lose their natural life-giving nutritional force. If possible, choose organic brands to avoid potential contamination from pesticides.
Coconut oil does not need to be stored in the refrigerator, but since it is light sensitive (like all oils), it’s best to keep it in a dark cupboard. Dark glass containers are excellent storage choices, as they protect the oil from light while also ensuring that no bisphenol-As (BPAs) leach into the product.
There are many ways to incorporate coconut oil into your dog’s diet. Try mixing a tablespoon into some goat- or sheep’s-milk yogurt, or adding a dollop on top of some fresh organic blueberries. You can even scoop it straight from the container and let him lick the spoon. Dogs love the taste!
Studies show that coconut oil fed as 10 percent or less of your dog’s diet poses no digestive or other health issues (Aldrich 2009).
The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA fight obesity, decrease inflammation, combat arthritis and cancer, and promote overall health, so it should come as no surprise that DHA and EPA also benefit brain health—especially since the brain is made up of as much as 60 percent fat (Mercola 2012).
About 20 percent of the brain’s cerebral cortex (the outermost layered structure of neural tissue) is made up of DHA, which also provides structural support to neurons (the cells that make up the central nervous system). Studies in people show that supplementation with DHA is beneficial in supporting cognitive health in aging brains, and that inadequate levels can cause neurons to become stiff, hindering proper neurotransmission both within and between cells (Mercola 2012, Yurko-Mauro 2010).
A study of 48 Beagle puppies showed that dietary fortification of fish oil rich in DHA following weaning resulted in improved cognitive learning, memory, psychomotor, immunologic and retinal functions during the developmental stage. The high-DHA food also contained higher concentrations of the antioxidant vitamin E, taurine, choline and l-carnitine, which may also have played a positive role on the puppies’ development (Zicker et al. 2012).
EPA, along with DHA, can also benefit mood. As anyone who has cared for an elderly relative or friend knows, depression is a common side effect of age-related cognitive decline. EPA from marine sources such as fish oil can decrease cytokines associated with depression (Mercola 2012).
Silibinin extracted from the seeds of the milk thistle plant shows tremendous promise as a therapeutic agent to treat cancer, but its benefits don’t stop there. It also prevents impairment of both short-term memory and recognition memory in mice injected with a highly toxic peptide fragment called Aβ25–35, which exerts neurotoxic properties. Silibinin works as an antioxidant, protecting the hippocampus (the part of the brain associated with memory) against oxidative damage caused by this powerful neurotoxin (Lu et al. 2009).
Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid, a class of lipids (fats) that makes up a major part of cell membranes. Synthetic phosphatidylserine was once derived from cows’ brains, but due to concerns about mad cow disease, it is now manufactured primarily from soy lecithin.
Until November 2004, the FDA held the position that phosphatidylserine showed no benefit in people with cognitive dysfunction, citing a lack of credible scientific evidence. However, on November 24, 2004, they changed their position. In a document titled “Letter Updating the Phosphatidylserine and Cognitive Function and Dementia Qualified Health Claim,” the FDA acknowledged studies demonstrating the beneficial effects of phosphatidylserine for individuals at risk of dementia and cognitive dysfunction, and admitted that there is “credible evidence” for its use.
Senilife, manufactured by Ceva Animal Health, combines phosphatidylserine with ginkgo biloba, vitamin E, pyridoxine (vitamin B6) and grape-skin extract. According to the company’s studies, Senilife improves several signs of canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), decreasing sleeping problems, apathy and disorientation, and increasing playful behavior and response to commands. According to Ceva, dogs began showing improvement within seven days of taking Senilife (Straus 2012).
DNA methylation is an important epigenetic signaling tool for normal gene expression. SAMe (s-adenosylmethionine) is the brain’s major methyl donor and is responsible for forming a variety of compounds, including proteins, nuerotransmitters, phospholipids, glutathione, myelin, coenzyme Q-10, carnitine and creatine (Brogan 2013, Messonnier n.d.).
SAMe also improves neuron membrane fluidity and increases levels of serotonin and dopamine metabolites (Messonnier n.d.). In several human studies, reduced SAMe concentrations were detected in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease, indicating that a methyl-group deficiency in the central nervous system may play a part in causing the disease (Bottiglieri 2002). Supplementation with SAMe has also been shown to effectively reduce the symptoms of depression in people—and might even be as beneficial as some prescription antidepressants.
Novifit, a SAMe supplement manufactured by Virbac Animal Health, has undergone testing in senior dogs with signs of CCD. Novifit showed favorable results beginning after just one month of testing on client-owned dogs, including a 44 percent reduction in problem behaviors, including a reduction in house soiling, after both four and eight weeks (compared to 24 percent in the placebo group); marked improvement in activity and playfulness; significant increase in awareness; and decreased sleep problems, disorientation and confusion. A separate study on laboratory dogs supplemented with Novifit showed improvement in cognitive processes, including attention and problem solving (Straus 2012).
Denosyl, manufactured by Nutramax Laboratories, is another SAMe product marketed to support liver and brain health.
SAMe works in conjunction with the methyl donors folate and vitamin B12, so supplementing with a B-complex vitamin is also advised. People with bipolar disorder, migraine headaches, Parkinson’s disease and active bleeding, as well as those on prescription antidepressants, should not take SAMe. While the contraindications in dogs are not known, similar precautions should be followed. We advise starting with a very low dose and monitoring your dog for adverse effects, which in people have been noted to include anxiety, restlessness, insomnia and mania (Messonnier n.d.).
Antioxidants also benefit the cognitive health of senior dogs. Anthocyanins, the phytochemical compounds that give berries their pigment, are a rich source of antioxidants. Anthocyanins can protect against—and even reverse—declines in cognitive function due to age-related oxidative stress (Joseph 1999, Lila 2004, Mercola 2012).
Anthocyanins are credited with enhancing memory, helping prevent age-related declines in neural function, and modulating cognitive and motor function (Lila 2004).
And here’s a reason to consider removing gluten from your senior dog’s diet: gluten sensitivity in people has been linked with impairment of brain function, including learning disabilities, attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and memory problems. Gluten sensitivity may even manifest exclusively as a neurological disease, without any gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms.
The link between gluten sensitivity and impairment of brain function makes perfect sense, according to David Perlmutter, MD, FACN, ABIHM, a board-certified neurologist and fellow of the American College of Nutrition as well as the author of Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar—Your Brain’s Silent Killers.
Perlmutter points out that the body’s antibody response to gliadin, a protein in gluten, results in elevated levels of inflammatory cytokines that are present in Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and autism. The last thing your aging dog needs is a cascade of brain-related inflammation. For this and many other reasons, we advise removing gluten from your dog’s diet.
We’d also like to point out an important non-nutritional aspect of canine cognitive health: mental stimulation. Just as with humans, dogs “use it or lose it” when it comes to their cognitive ability. And, while your canine companion can’t pick up the latest New York Times crossword puzzle, he can engage in a variety of mentally challenging “dog brain games.”
Don’t for a second believe the old adage, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” It’s not true! Old dogs are wonderful students, and most love to learn. There are lots of great books and articles with fun tricks you can teach your dog, which will not only help keep his brain young, but will also add a new dimension to your relationship and deepen the bond the two of you share.
Adapted from Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health (Dogwise Publishing). © 2015 by W. Jean Dodds, DVM; Diana R. Laverdure, MS. Used with permission.
Learning a dog's heritage has its benefits
When we adopted our dog Charlie from the Sacramento Independent Rescuers, his foster mom, Shana Laursen, who specializes in Greyhound rescue with Greyhound Friends for Life, told us that he probably had some Whippet in him, thinking that not only his brindle coloring but the “set” of his back legs indicated that he might have a sprinter in him. She also added that was one of the reasons she picked him to foster. Lucky for us she did because by the time we saw his posting on Petfinder I had been getting discouraged after scouring for weeks online pet adoption services nationwide and local shelters to find a scruffy male terrier to be the “bro” to our three female dogs.
At that time we didn’t really know what breeds contributed to making Charlie the perfect match that he turned out to be. Some type of terrier definitely in the ascendency, his very first night in his new home found him scooting under the covers to sleep at my side, a position he has proudly claimed since. As for the Whippet? Sometimes he manages to keep up with our speedy Pointer, Lola, so perhaps Shana might be right. It was time to figure that out, so we decided to “test” Charles’ DNA using the really easy-to-use, Mars Wisdom Panel DNA test.
Unlike other genetic tests that rely on blood samples, for this one you only need to collect saliva samples from inside your dog’s mouth, using the two swabs that come with the kit. Next you dry the swabs out for a few minutes placing them in a convenient “holder” that comes with the kit. Next you register the sample online, filling out a few basic profile questions about the sex/age/weight of the dog. Plus they pose some really interesting optional questions like the reasons why you are doing the test—perhaps you want to understand your dog’s behavior better, or confirm the breed make up of a prospective adoptee, predict the adult size of a pup, or testing for health reasons? Many breeds are prone to a variety of genetic diseases, so it is beneficial to know what breeds your mixed breed dog might be, for possible preventive or diagnostic reasons. Importantly, this newest version of the Wisdom Panel 3.0 also includes a screening for the genetic mutation for MDR1 or Multi-Drug Resistance 1 that can be a really important consideration, and which can affect many herding breeds. As it is explained on their website:
“The MDR1 gene is responsible for production of a protein called P-glycoprotein. The P-glycoprotein molecule is a drug transport pump that plays an important role in limiting drug absorption and distribution (particularly to the brain) and enhancing the excretion/elimination of many drugs used in dogs. Dogs with the MDR1 mutation may have severe adverse reactions to some common drugs. Although the mutation is most closely associated with some purebreds, it can also be found in mixed-breed dogs. Therefore it is important for owners of mix-breeds to test their dogs and to share the results with their veterinarian in order to provide their pet with the best possible care. The discovery of the MDR1 mutation in dogs was made by Washington State University.”
While it is unlikely that terrier-mix Charlie has any herding breeds in him, he might have a Whippet ancestor—the long-haired variety having a 65% frequency of this mutation—so it is good for us to find this out now.
Browsing around their interesting site I also found this very informative video that explains the genetics behind a dog’s physical characteristics. I actually learned a lot from watching it, including the reason that many dogs have white markings on the their feet and paws—or on areas farther away from the dog’s back (where the dominate color starts off). Watch the video for the explanation of why this is:
So stay tuned, we’ll be getting Charlie’s results really soon. But until we do, what kind of terrier do you see in him?
Wellness: Healthy Living
Summer is prime time for fleas and ticks.
Keeping these nasty little blood-suckers off our dogs and out of our homes requires vigilance, but it’s work worth doing.
If you live in an area of the country that endured what seemed like an endless winter, you may think that the flea and tick population was diminished by the cold, and be tempted to let down your guard. Don’t do it. As Sheila Pell notes in “Tick Talk,” her excellent Bark article on the subject, “For ticks, it seems, the ice age was a snowbird’s vacation.” (Read the article online here.)
Both fleas and ticks transmit or initiate a host of unpleasant conditions that can seriously affect our dogs’ lives. Depending on where you live, ticks are responsible for Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, canine ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, tick paralysis and American canine hepatozoonosis. From fleas come tapeworms, allergic dermatitis, and other bacterial and viral pathogens.
Plus, it’s not just dogs that these pests bedevil. They also like another warm-blooded mammal: us. All the more reason to take them seriously.
Reliable advice on how to prevent or eliminate flea problems on your dog or in your home and yard can be found at the ASCPA website, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website has a page dedicated to ticks. Also on the subject of ticks, the best place to start, bar none, is the Tick Encounter Resource Center, the outreach arm of the University of Rhode Island’s Center for Vector-Borne Disease. This incredibly thorough and well-illustrated website has a plethora of tools to help you assess the tick threat in your area, as well as practical suggestions to offset it.
So, arm yourself with the facts, then take steps to protect your pups and other pets, yourself, and your family. Let peace of mind prevail!
News: Guest Posts
Can be toxic to dogs
Often, dogs are the first alert. Their willingness to swim in and drink slimy water makes them sentinels for some of the most powerful natural poisons on earth.
A Labrador Retriever enjoying a family outing in June collapsed after swimming in a Minnesota lake. He died that day at the vet’s office. Tests are pending but the vet suspects the dog was poisoned by cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae (BGA).
While most algae are harmless, some species of BGA produce toxins that can kill a dog within minutes. Those that survive, or dogs who are often exposed to low levels of toxins may develop health problems such as chronic liver disease, and possibly tumors; damage that may go unnoticed until it’s severe. Humans can be sickened, too, though deaths are rare.
Dog deaths are another matter.
As health agencies weigh the human risks that lie in recreational and drinking water from harmful algal blooms, they’ve been looking closely at animal deaths.
In New Mexico, 100 elk died last August after drinking water tainted with BGA. When it comes to pets, researchers suspect many deaths are missed because people don’t even realize their dogs were exposed. Vets may not recognize the symptoms, and tests to detect the toxins can be costly and complex.
A study published in 2013 found 368 cases of dogs that died or were sickened by BGA in the U.S. between the late 1920s and 2012. The authors say these “likely represent a small fraction of cases” in the U.S. each year. “The vast majority of BGA associated dog deaths remain unreported and often unrecognized by owners and veterinarians.”
And the cases have surged along with the number of toxic blooms fueled by nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen washed into waterways from agriculture, lawns and other sources—and by climate change.
Reports of canine poisonings were sporadic until the mid-1970s, when dog deaths attributed to BGA were reported “almost yearly,” the study notes.
In 2007, as drought plagued much of the country, the Minnesota lake region alone saw as many as 40 cases of canine algae poisoning, and at least four deaths. Since 2001, eleven dog deaths have been blamed on BGA in California’s Humboldt and Mendocino Counties.
The earliest known case in the U.S. was in the late 1920s when a dog swam in California’s Clear Lake during an algal bloom. The dog reportedly became ill after licking “a thick coating of algae” from its fur. In 2013, another dog sickened after playing in the lake was less fortunate... this dog did not survive.
Spotting Blue-Green Algae
There are plenty of clues for telling BGA— the most primitive group of algae—from harmless green, brown, and other kinds. But according to a fact sheet from the Humboldt County Health department, while most BGA blooms don’t produce toxins, only tests can tell. “All blooms should be considered potentially toxic.” Only “a few mouthfuls of algae-contaminated water may result in fatal poisoning.”
For one thing, its color isn’t always blue-green. It can also be reddish-purple or brown, and other hues. And not all blue-green species produce toxins, while the dozens that do are only toxic at certain times. Normally, algae are equally distributed throughout the water. But excess nutrients, heat and drought make for large blooms, followed by large die offs. As it decays, toxins are released. These can still taint the water after it looks clear. Blooms may last for a week; their toxins may last three weeks.
Even when BGA isn’t floating on the surface, it may lurk below, moving up and down with available light and nutrients. At night it often floats to the top, forming scum. So blooms can appear overnight.
Wind and waves can then concentrate toxic blooms in shallow areas or at the water’s edge—right where dogs like to splash, wade or drink. The water doesn’t taste bad, vets say, so dogs will lap it up. Some like to gobble down dried algae mats.
After the sudden death of a dog last July—hours after swimming in an Oregon reservoir—officials issued an alert, as they did in Minnesota. But toxic blooms and dog deaths were nothing new. According to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, from 2004 through 2007, the state had reports of eight algae-related dog deaths, while toxic blooms are a familiar scourge at the Oregon reservoir.
At least 18 states have monitoring programs to detect harmful blooms. But sometimes, even advisories aren’t enough. After two dogs died within hours of drinking water from a private lake in Nebraska in 2004, state agencies acted quickly. Two weeks later, monitoring and notification networks were in place. But by the end of the recreation season there were reports of three more dog deaths, wildlife and livestock deaths, and more than 50 cases of human effects at Nebraska lakes.
The Environmental Protection Agency hasn’t set national standards for BGA toxins in recreational or drinking water, though scientists and some politicians are calling for them. This summer, the agency is promoting safety and public awareness to help protect dogs and kids.
While most algal blooms just make the water unappealing, an EPA information sheet says, “there are some real risks if dogs swim in, wade, or drink from water” with harmful algal blooms. The toxins “can sicken pets, causing everything from mild eye irritations and diarrhea to extreme health problems, including liver poisoning and even death.”
The EPA recommends that outings with pets to lakes, rivers and streams include an algae check. Dogs should not drink, swim or wade in water that is discolored, smells bad, or where there are mats of algae, foam or scum. If dogs do get into scummy water, rinse it off with tap water immediately, making sure they don’t lick algae from their fur. The toxins can also be absorbed through their skin. If a dog shows signs of poisoning, seek veterinary treatment right away. And report incidents to the Public Health Department. To avoid adding to the algae problem at home, the agency advises not over fertilizing.
According to the study of canine incidents, BGA toxins can be inhaled and ingested, and exposure can induce “acute, sub-acute or chronic poisoning” in animals and people.
Most reported dog deaths involved swimming in or drinking from lakes, rivers and other fresh waters where slime was visible. In California, BGA from freshwater tributaries drained into Monterey Bay, killing sea otters in 2010. Scientists were baffled by the deaths. They hadn’t known the toxins could reach the ocean. One major clue: suspicious dog deaths at a lake tainted with BGA that drains to the sea.
Other dog incidents may have involved beach outings. The study of canine cases says that between 2007 and 2010, at least 8 dogs developed serious or fatal liver disease after visiting Monterey-area beaches. Two of the dogs belonged to local veterinarians, but weren’t tested for the toxin that was killing sea otters.
Blue Green Algae Toxins & Treatment
Are water-loving breeds more at risk? Researchers warn that diagnosing algae poisoning is hard enough—such assumptions can lead to the wrong diagnosis. But the study did find that the most incidents involved Labrador Retrievers.
However, the “wide range” of affected dogs included Poodles, Dachshunds and toy breeds, which also encountered BGA in urban and residential water bodies. These waters, often shallow and stagnant in warmer months, can have high levels of nutrients escaped from nearby yards and gardens, “providing ideal conditions for toxic blooms.”
The belief that small dogs or urban-dwelling dogs don’t encounter algae may influence the diagnoses considered. Also adding to the problem of detection and treatment, the study claims: the tests are expensive and can take weeks, access to testing may be limited, and diagnosis may not be a priority for the owner after the dog has died.
According to an algae fact sheet from Humboldt County health department, the toxins of concern are nervous system poisons (neurotoxins) and liver poisons (hepatotoxins). The neurotoxins can kill animals within minutes by paralyzing respiratory muscles, while hepatotoxins can cause death within hours by causing blood to pool in the liver.
The canine study mentions the many reports of animals drinking algae-tainted water “and dying within hours from neurotoxicity or hepatotoxicity, or developing sublethal chronic liver disease.”
Another less dangerous compound causes allergic responses. But initial, low-level exposure to any of these toxins may cause skin irritation and stomach upset, the study says. So those symptoms alone may not help identify the toxin.
Both nervous system toxins and liver toxins can be fatal. Liver toxins cause weakness, vomiting, pale mucous membranes and diarrhea. Common signs of neurotoxins are muscle tremors, seizures, labored breathing and difficulty moving.
Often implicated in poisonings are anatoxins (neurotoxins) and microcystins (liver toxins, considered more common and possibly carcinogenic, research suggests). Dogs are especially susceptible to anatoxins, according to the North Carolina Department of Health’s website; these poisons can be fatal within minutes – or hours. Quick veterinary care with anti-seizure medication and oxygen may help.
The consensus is that there is no antidote for BGA toxins. But the review of dog poisonings says that most exposed animals aren’t given specific treatment, even though “simple, cost-effective treatments may improve their chances.” In the case of microcystin exposure, since many believe that no therapies exist, owners and vets “might euthanize suspect cases or provide limited supportive care.”
After several days of veterinary treatment, a Miniature Australian shepherd sickened by algae at a Montana lake was only getting worse. On the fifth day, her vets tried a new therapy not readily available. Last year, a report described what happened next as possibly the “first successful treatment of microcystin poisoning.”
Over the next few days the little Aussie made a surprising comeback.
After eight long days, that dog went home.
Wellness: Health Care
Bark speaks with W. Jean Dodds, DVM, co-author of Canine Nutrigenomics
W. Jean Dodds, DVM, founder of Hemopet, the first nonprofit national blood bank program for animals, has built much of her considerable reputation on her work in the development of advanced comprehensive diagnostic profiles. She’s also passionate about Greyhound rescue, minimum vaccine protocols and nutrition. So it’s no surprise that in her latest book, written in cooperation with Diana Laverdure, she takes up the cutting-edge topic of nutrigenomics. In a recent email exchange, Dr. Dodds expanded upon some of the concepts she includes in the book.
Bark: What makes a happy, healthy cell?
W. Jean Dodds: One that is exposed only to healthy environmental stimuli, including a variety of wholesome, nutrient-dense foods.
BK: How are cells influenced?
WJD: The process of turning genes on or off inside a cell is called “gene expression.” It determines how cells look, grow and act. Gene expression is controlled by the epigenome, a structural layer that surrounds our DNA and the proteins they are attached to. The epigenome initiates chemical reactions within cells that control gene expression, determining which genes are turned on or off and which proteins are produced.
BK: How is this relevant to what we feed our dogs?
WJD: Environmental assaults on the epigenome can become too much for the body to handle, and the result is chronic inflammation and disease. Epigenetic signaling tools manage and prevent chronic inflammatory diseases by affecting the expression of pro-inflammatory disease-fighting molecules. This can be promoted by feeding functional foods that include certain botanicals, amino acids, vitamins and phytochemicals (plant-based nutraceuticals).
BK: How is this signaling determined, and how is it measured?
WJD: The epigenetic response is determined by measuring the number of expressed inflammatory cell markers, like cytokines and interleukins. When these inflammatory enzymes are expressed from cells after exposure to unhealthy food ingredients, additives or contaminants, the result is chronic inflammation and disease. By contrast, functional foods express healthy enzymic marker responses.
BK: Throughout the book, you reference “canine functional superfoods”—blueberries, coconut oil, honeybee products, probiotics and so forth. Why are they so important, and what are some of their healing powers?
WJD: Functional foods are nutritional ingredients that switch on gene expression to fight disease and switch off the expression to promote disease. The functional effect of a food is only as good as the sum of its ingredients. Functional superfoods [have] the most beneficial effects on health: they reduce chronic inflammation and promote healing; are powerfully antioxidant, antimicrobial and antitumor; and are even believed to delay aging.
BK: What’s the difference between junk carbohydrates and functional carbohydrates?
WJD: The so-called “good carbs” originate from whole, fresh foods such as fruits; vegetables; beans; and unrefined, gluten-free grains. Unhealthy “junk carbs” come from processed foods that rank high on the glycemic index (GI), such as bread, pasta and cereal. These high-GI carbs contain sugary, refined ingredients that cause blood sugar levels to rise rapidly, which triggers the body to produce a chronic inflammatory response, contributing to a variety of health problems, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and cancer.
BK: You write that high-glycemic carbs can negatively affect brain health; please explain this.
WJD: High-glycemic foods such as corn and wheat create mood swings in dogs as they do in people. After ingesting them, dogs experience a “sugar high,” with hyperactivity and lack of focus that can be mistaken as ill-mannered and uncooperative behavior. This “high” is followed by a “low,” which can cause dogs to become sleepy, lethargic, moody and irritable.
Impaired glucose metabolism caused by sugary foods may promote brain starvation, leading to memory problems like cognitive dysfunction in dogs. These foods can also lead to a rapid rise and fall in blood sugar concentrations, which may leave dogs feeling hungry again quicker.
BK: There are many reasons to keep our dogs trim; what do you consider to be the most important?
WJD: Obesity leads to chronic inflammation, which promotes diabetes and predisposes to joint problems and cancer.
BK: You note that obesity is an inflammatory condition; why is this, and how do functional foods fight it?
WJD: Being obese affects gene expression, and this results in disease. Poor diet doesn’t just lead to health problems by creating fat in our bodies; it actually changes the expression of obesity-related genes. Feeding your dog foods that suppress his genomic expression for obesity may, therefore, not only result in loss of weight, but also in the reduced risk of a whole host of obesity-related diseases.
Once the body becomes “programmed” for fat, it’s a never-ending cycle, because fat cells lead to more fat cells. The more fat cells there are in the body, the more these cells secrete a type of pro-inflammatory cell messenger cytokine and the more chronic, systemic inflammation that is created.
A key step in helping animals (and people) lose weight is to add lots of fat-fighting anti-inflammatory foods while removing pro-inflammatory foods. Fat-fighting functional foods include high-quality, bioavailable novel proteins, virgin coconut oil, omega-3 fatty acids, L-carnitine, white kidney bean extract and anti-angiogenic foods that help shrink tumor cells.
BK: Why do you recommend novel protein sources, such as venison, buffalo and goat?
WJD: Because these are proteins that the body typically has not encountered before, sensitivity or intolerance is unlikely to occur, at least initially. Remember, however, that venison and related meats are considered as pro-inflammatory “hot” foods in Chinese medicine. Chicken and mutton [adult sheep] are also categorized as “hot” foods.
BK: Dogs require more fat in their diet than humans do; what is the best way to ensure they get the right amount?
WJD: Dogs are generally more active than many people, and dietary fat supplies them with the most concentrated and digestible form of energy. It also provides important essential fatty acids (such as omega-3 fatty acids) and promotes absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and a healthy nervous system. Functional fats include chicken fat or lamb fat (as long the dog tolerates chicken or lamb); fatty fish low in mercury and rich in omega-3s; novel meat sources; and oils, such as fish, krill, borage, coconut, olive, primrose, pumpkin seed, moringa and sunflower.
BK: Why is milk thistle so important?
WJD: Milk thistle (silymarin) is an important antioxidant for the liver; it acts as a detoxicant by scavenging inflammatory free radicals released from injured cells and stabilizing liver cell membranes. It also stimulates the production of new liver cells. (In addition to liver diseases, it has also been used to treat diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease.) However, it should not be given routinely as a supplement for dogs with healthy livers, and is best not given during pregnancy.
BK: If a vet determines that it’s needed, what is the best way to add milk thistle to a dog’s diet?
WJD: Silymarin is available in powder, capsule and liquid extract forms from the seeds of the Silybum marianum plant. All milk thistle products contain 80 percent of the active compound.
BK: What’s the difference between food allergies and food intolerance/sensitivities?
WJD: This is one of my favorite questions. True food allergies, which are rare, produce immediate hypersensitivity reactions to certain foods that result in release of the antibodies IgE, IgD and IgG. By contrast, food intolerances or sensitivities, which are much more common, are delayed reactions to exposure to certain foods, and result in production of the antibodies IgA and IgM in saliva, feces and other body secretions.
BK: Why is it important to know the difference?
WJD: A true food allergy can result in a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction. Food intolerance leads to chronic itching and/or bowel issues such as flatulence, abdominal discomfort, constipation, diarrhea and vomiting.
BK: What is the evidence for a connection between epigenetics and cancer? It’s interesting to learn that only 5 to 10 percent of all cancers originate from genetic predispositions.
WJD: That’s true—90 to 95 percent of cancers are linked to our environmental exposures and lifestyle. Scientific research has shown that 30 to 45 percent of cancers can be prevented or controlled by implementing dietary changes. Powerful functional foods for cancer protection include berries; pomegranates; cruciferous vegetables; curcumin; green leafy and yellow-orange vegetables; certain herbs, such as ginger and milk thistle; medicinal mushrooms; omega-3 fatty acids; probiotics; spirulina; and vitamin D. Anti-angiogenic foods starve cancer cells and are important dietary factors in cancer therapy.
BK: What about breed types such as the Golden Retriever, who seem to be genetically predisposed to cancer—how does this equate?
WJD: Other breeds are also at risk, but the facts point to the critical importance of reducing unhealthy environmental exposures and stress events, coupled with feeding a variety of wholesome, nutrient-dense foods. Controlling these factors should significantly reduce the expression of cancer-promoting genes.
BK: Given that, practically speaking, it’s almost impossible to totally detoxify our dogs’ (and our own) environments, what are the most important elements to work on eliminating?
WJD: I would focus on avoiding over-vaccination; herbicides; pesticides; GMO foods; food colorings; wheat, corn and soy; and preventives for heartworm, fleas and ticks (unless you live in a high exposure risk area).
BK: Many people are fearful of feeding their dogs a raw or home-prepared diet because there’s a chance that meals might not be balanced. What advice do you offer people on the importance of a “balanced” diet?
WJD: There is a large amount of misinformation pertaining to the benefits or drawbacks of raw or home-prepared diets. For the novice, it is best to consult an experienced and respected animal or veterinary nutritionist for advice. Reliable published books, articles and resources are also available and offer guidance. The resources section of our new book lists these options.
Creams can sicken and kill animals
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is alerting pet owners who use prescription topical pain medications containing flurbiprofen to use care when using them (on humans) in a household with pets.
Pets are at risk of illness and death when exposed to certain pain medications applied to the skin of their owners. Even very small amounts of flurbiprofen, such as a slight amount left on a cloth applicator, could be dangerous to pets.
This advice follows reports made to the FDA of cats in two households that became ill or died after their owners used prescription-strength topical medications containing flurbiprofen on themselves to treat muscle, joint, or other pain. The pet owners had applied the cream or lotion to their own neck or feet, and not directly to the pet, and it is not known exactly how the cats became exposed to the medication.
The products contained the flurbiprofen and the muscle relaxer cyclobenzaprine, as well as other varying active ingredients, including baclofen, gabapentin, lidocaine, or prilocaine. Flurbiprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).
People are warned to keep all medicines out of reach from their companion animals. With any sort of cream, lotion, or ointment, keep any applicators or cloths with the drug away from pets and be mindful of any drug that falls to the floor. If your pet experiences lack of desire to eat, lethargy, vomiting, or tarry stools, and you suspect exposure to such pain creams, bathe the animal and seek veterinary care immediately. Inform the veterinarian of the potential for flurbiprofen exposure.
Forbes also reports that:
Not included in the FDA warning is that no topical prescription product exists with these combinations. While the drug combinations are still prescribed by physicians, they are formulated at compounding pharmacies. These tailor-made, individual products are advertised for treatment of neck and back pain, tendon inflammation, and myalgia (muscle pain). Applying them directly to the skin allows for greater concentrations of the drugs to penetrate to the desired site of action while minimizing the toxicity to the rest of the body if large doses were taken orally.
Veterinarians with patients suspected of NSAID toxicity should ask whether flurbiprofen-containing products are used in the household.
As our dogs, the FDA warning states, “Understand that, although the FDA has not received reports of dogs or other pets becoming sick in relation to the use of topical pain medications containing flurbiprofen, these animals may also be vulnerable to NSAID toxicity after being exposed to these medications.”
- Store all medications safely out of the reach of pets.
- Pet owners who use topical pain medications containing flurbiprofen should take care to prevent exposure of the pet to the medication.
- Consult your health care provider on whether it is appropriate to cover up the treated area to prevent your pet from being exposed.
- Safely discard or clean any cloth or applicator that may retain medication and avoid leaving any residues of the medication on clothing, carpeting or furniture.
- If you are using topical medications containing flurbiprofen and your pet becomes exposed, bathe or clean your pet as thoroughly as possible and consult a veterinarian.
- If your pet shows signs such as lethargy, lack of appetite, vomiting, or other illness, seek veterinary care for your pet and be sure to provide the details of the exposure.
- Pet owners and veterinarians can also report any adverse events to the FDA.
Note that even very small exposure to flurbiprofen can be potentially life-threatening to pets.
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