Wellness: Health Care
Senior dogs benefit from in-home vet care.
When I was in veterinary school, a house-call practice was far from the career I imagined. Yet years later, I found myself at a crossroads. I knew I wanted to work for myself, but the thought of opening my own vet hospital was daunting. So, I compromised, taking part-time jobs while building my in-home practice. Word spread, and within six months, I was able to focus entirely on veterinary house calls.
Though my practice was designed to offer full-service veterinary care to dogs and cats in all stages of life, it soon became clear that senior pets benefited the most. Elderly arthritic dogs with mobility issues are difficult to get into a car, and diabetic dogs with cataracts can become disoriented and anxious in a waiting area filled with young, active and noisy pets. Even routine vet-clinic check-ups can be distressing for old dogs.
In-home care guarantees a relaxed, familiar setting conducive to in-depth examination. And when dogs are at the very end of their lives, quality-of-life assessments, palliative and hospice care, and euthanasia are all most comfortably done at home. Two years ago, when I introduced Your Senior Pet’s Vet, a subdivision of my general house call practice, the response was overwhelmingly positive.
House calls for seniors don’t have to wait until dogs are in the last stages of a terminal illness. Most of the issues that arise with older animals can be addressed in the home, and when radiographs or surgery are necessary, the dog can be transported to a base animal hospital for tests and treatment. My senior house-call patients tend to tolerate less-frequent hospital care with ease, possibly because they have been conditioned to consider me a friend from home.
My clients are also much happier with this type of personalized service. Like their elderly dogs and cats, people also experience increased stress associated with vet-clinic visits. Taking the car ride, waiting-room delays and steel exam tables out of the equation is a great relief. Additionally, home visits make it possible for owners to evaluate my caregiving style on a more intimate basis than is possible with a quick hospital visit, resulting in a higher degree of trust and comfort when it comes to my treatment of their special pets.
Katie and Poppet, 13-year-old Jack Russells, lived with Patsy, who was in her early 80s at the time. She and her two terriers walked a couple of miles to the beach and around the golf course every day. I made my first visit in response to a handwritten letter Patsy left in my mailbox requesting a house-call appointment for Katie and Poppet’s routine check-ups. This was also the start of a wonderful friendship; Patsy gave me parenting advice and told me stories of her years as a nurse and a law student, and of past dogs in her life.
Eventually, Katie developed congestive heart failure that required medication and regular rechecks. Poppet survived a serious case of leptospirosis, but ultimately slid into canine cognitive disorder. After Patsy had lost both dogs, I helped her adopt a new senior Pomeranian from the local shelter. Billy moved in, and I continued to be Patsy’s on-call vet.
I share this story as an example of the benefits of in-home vet care for senior dogs such as Katie and Poppet. Whether the issue is simple old age or a chronic, debilitating problem, an objective professional evaluation and consult can make it possible for a dog to continue to live comfortably at home. Sometimes, people are sure it’s time to let their dog go, but in many cases, I am able to alleviate their worries and help them find ways to keep their dogs with them longer than they thought was possible. As dogs and cats transition into the final phase of their lives, in-home visits coupled with pain-management therapies, changes in treatment protocols and environmental accommodations (ramps, carpeting on slippery floors, support harnesses and slings) can make all the difference.
When I met Rocky, a 13-year-old, 75-pound Pit Bull mix, his family was very upset. Not only was he incapacitated by severe arthritis, he also had a large mass at the base of his tail and had been diagnosed with Cushing’s disease. Because his family couldn’t get him into the car, Rocky had not been to his regular vet in over a year. When I first saw him, he was lying on a piece of carpet surrounded by small sample-sized carpet squares, panting and wagging his tail as three adorable small children doted on him, petting him and offering him water. The children were interested in the equipment in my house-call box and asked questions about what I was doing with Rocky. The parents and grandparents waited anxiously to hear what I had to say about their amazing old boy.
The mass was large and open, and Rocky’s nails were very long. After reviewing all aspects of Rocky’s situation, we made a plan to treat the infected mass with antibiotics, cut his toenails so he would have an easier time with foot placement, and cover the slippery wood floor with larger carpeting and runners. We also started conservative but effective pain-management medications. We discussed harnesses and slings that would make it easier and more ergonomic to get Rocky from place to place within the house and yard.
He was a cooperative, friendly patient, and I was able to draw blood for the necessary full senior dog panel before putting him on anti-inflammatory medications. Rocky’s response to these interventions was remarkable. His family was delighted at his increased comfort and improved ability to get up and down, and they had a much easier time caring for him.
Eventually, his arthritis worsened, the mass grew and his overall quality of life deteriorated. We met a number of times after our initial visit, and had many email and phone conversations. Over a period of about eight months, I was able to guide them smoothly through their transition to saying good-bye to their sweet Rocky. When the decision was made to let him go peacefully, Rocky left this life on his bed, in his own home, surrounded by his loving family,
In-home euthanasia is a gift to beloved old animals and to their families as well; it makes the final goodbye comfortable and natural. Take Petey, for instance. To a man and his three daughters, the 16-year-old Bichon was not only a cherished companion, he was also a living link to the wife and mother they had lost to cancer nine years earlier. However, Petey’s quality of life had diminished to the point that he couldn’t eat and was vomiting and in pain. It was clear to the family that it was time to let him go, but they were distraught and having a very hard time with the process.
We discussed keeping the focus on what was best for Petey; what an important, special friend he was; and that they would always have pictures and beautiful memories to keep him with them. We set a time for in-home euthanasia, and when the day came, the weather was perfect. We were able to go outside to a beautiful grassy area in their back yard. After a very long goodbye, I euthanized Petey. The family agreed that I should make ink paw prints and clip some hair for them to keep. For this family, being together in the privacy of their back yard was the only way this could have been done.
Whether for routine, palliative or end-of-life care, senior dogs and cats benefit from in-home veterinary visits—compassionate support in the most comfortable environment they know. When I was searching for my niche within the veterinary profession at the beginning of my career, I never would have guessed how rewarding house calls and senior pet care could be. It has been profoundly gratifying to see the difference it makes in the lives of so many animals and their owners.
Wellness: Healthy Living
Online courses are all the rage. Here’s one from Udemy that caught our interest: Dog CPR, First Aid & Safety. Taught by Melanie Monteiro, author of The Safe Dog Handbook and a canine CPR and first-aid expert. Monteiro offers workshops and private consults in California and Oregon, and now, you can learn from her in the comfort of your own home. There are 36 lectures (three hours of video), covering pet CPR, canine Heimlich, how to stock a first-aid kit, how to take and read vital signs and more. Important techniques like how best to approach and capture an injured dog and restrain her for treatment, and how, why and when to use a muzzle (or not) are covered, using real dogs as subjects. Also included are tips on puppy-proofing your home as well as special pointers for dog walkers, sitters and pet-care providers. At only $60, it’s a great value. Learn more at udemy.com.
Wellness: Health Care
Would this breakthrough procedure improve a young Lab’s severe dysplasia?
Montilius (Monty) Tiberius is our two-year-old yellow Labrador best friend and faithful companion. On March 12, 2015, he became just the 15th dog in the world to undergo a groundbreaking procedure that, we hoped, would reduce his severe bilateral hip dysplasia and give him a chance at a normal life.
How difficult was the procedure? “On a scale of one to 10, the operation was a 12,” said veterinary orthopedic surgeon Dr. Loïc Déjardin of Michigan State University Veterinary Medical Center in East Lansing, who performed it. Dr. Déjardin is regarded as one of three surgeons worldwide able to execute this delicate operation.
The surgery on Monty’s right hip took nearly four hours. “There were some difficult areas through the surgery, finding just the right depth and shaving some bone away so Monty can access total mobility. Now, we wait and see,” Dr. Déjardin told us afterward. Monty would be closely monitored at six-week intervals for six months post-op.
Taking it slowly was key to Monty’s healing process. As Dr. Déjardin pointed out, “It’s up to you to make sure Monty heals properly, and having him take it easy is important.” My wife Ann and I took his advice seriously. For the next 10 weeks, Monty went outside on a leash to “get busy” as often as necessary; otherwise, he stayed in and rested. During the first four weeks in particular, we handled Monty oh-so-carefully, and our other dogs were kept away so they wouldn’t jump on or play with him.
A New System
Dr. Déjardin had given Monty a Centerline BFX Prosthesis. This trademarked prosthetic biologic fixation “hip system,” created by BioMedtrix Company of Boonton Township, N.J., uses an implant that is approximately eight inches long and made of steel (picture a skinny, steel ice cream cone with a scoop on top).
Unlike standard canine hip replacement implants, which are inserted down the central axis of the femur itself, the Centerline-BFX is hammered into the center of the femur neck; its base protrudes from the bone, allowing it to be secured at the top, attached without being cemented into the pelvis. It’s described as a lever (femur) and fulcrum. In order for Monty to regain complete range of motion, the prosthesis had to be inserted in exactly in the right spot, which required shaving off bone in the pelvic region.
This prosthesis and the procedure required to insert it are so new that they have not yet been fully documented in medical journals. Veterinarians with patients who are candidates for such a procedure would certainly review and study Monty’s case. Particularly if the operation was completely successful, which wasn’t a given.
What made Monty’s individual case special was the fact that he had severe dysplasia in both hips. The femoral head (the “ball” of the ball-and-socket joint) and pelvis area were seriously deteriorated, and he was almost completely lacking a hip socket (the acetabulum).
Before the surgery, when Monty walked, his left back leg dangled and flapped; when he ran, it was as if both hind legs vibrated. On his right side, his leg moved in an awkward semi-circle, like a leaf dangling from a branch. The right hip had the severest degree of lameness and, we were told, made Monty an excellent candidate for the procedure.
The regular prosthesis used for canine hip replacement wouldn’t work for Monty. Rather, in time, it would render him totally lame. During our initial September 2014 consultation with Dr. Déjardin, he explained Monty’s rare condition. He also made it clear that there was no guarantee of complete success. The specialized prosthetic implant would need to be precisely angled into the bone and secured around muscles that had already formed, which was risky. Additionally, the depth of the implant couldn’t be known until the actual surgery, another risk factor.
Before the surgery, Proto-Med Company in Colorado made 3D models of Monty’s hip (pelvis) and femur from CT scans. Dr. Déjardin practiced on the models, rehearsing the surgery to reduce the margin of error.
In weeks five to eight after his surgery, Monty was walking very short distances, which we were told was appropriate in order for him to begin strengthening the muscles in his right leg. But during week nine, something seemed to be amiss. One morning, he was fine when he went outside to get busy, but in the afternoon, when it was time for his short walk up and down the driveway, I noticed that he was seriously limping on his right hind leg. When Ann came home from work, I told her about it. She asked me if he’d done anything unusual, and I made what I thought was a joke: I said he ran around the neighborhood and seemed fantastic, which nearly put me outside in our decorated antique doghouse. In reality, I took this development very seriously, and myriad “what-ifs” raced through my mind.
I immediately made an appointment with Monty’s veterinarian, Dr. Thomas Frankmann, at the Animal Clinic of Chardon, who took X-rays. “It’s not good,” were Dr. Frankmann’s first words after he looked at them. “The Centerline implant has completely moved out of the pre-made socket [acetabulum] and is rubbing against bone. This, I suspect, is causing the limp and some discomfort.”
Dr. Frankmann said that he’d never had seen anything like it. “It’s not supposed to do that—these implants are secure. It’s bewildering.”
Dr. Frankmann called Dr. Déjardin for a consultation. Over the next few days, Dr. Déjardin spoke only to Dr. Frankmann. He also scheduled Monty for emergency surgery at MSU to reattach his implant. Needless to say, Ann and I were both sick with worry. We didn’t know what to expect or what would happen to Monty—would he be permanently disabled, or worse, would he even survive another operation?
We never did find out what might have caused this problem. Prior to Monty’s surgery, we heard only from the MSU nursing assistants and Dr. Frankmann, who detailed the severity and risk of the reattachment; Monty’s decaying bone structure and pelvic deterioration raised a concern that the repositioned prosthesis might not hold.
After the nearly eight-hour surgery Dr. Déjardin finally spoke with us directly. As it turned out, he could not save the implant; as Dr. Frankmann warned, it could not be readjusted or replaced. He immediately began a second operation while Monty was still sedated, performing an FHO (femoral head ostectomy), removing the head and neck of the femur to alleviate pain. The FHO is a salvage procedure intended to prevent total incapacitation; it basically allows Monty’s femur to “float” unattached, supported only by scar tissue that creates a false joint. Through physical therapy, he would build up muscle that would help secure the bone somewhat in place.
Two days later, during the five-hour drive to pick up Monty at MSU, I envisioned his feeble body after his first surgery two months prior and reflected on the pain he had endured. I also thought about how many pills he would now need to take; he was up to five medications at one point.
Upon seeing me, Monty couldn’t restrain himself. He tried to jump up but couldn’t because of the weakness in his right leg. He had been shaved, again of course, and seeing him was disheartening. I decided that the operations were finally over; no matter what miraculous cure/invention/procedure was discovered, I would not subject Monty to any more.
Then and Now
Monty has traveled a difficult path to get where he is today. He was diagnosed with “hip problems” as a puppy, but the severity of his condition wasn’t seriously investigated until shortly before he was a year old. Discarded and abused, he had at least three different owners before I adopted him from Joanne Dixon, president of Providing for Paws of Garden City, Mich., a nonprofit rescue organization helping animals in need. Patrons of PFP raised nearly $6,000 during the year leading up to Monty’s first surgery to help with its cost.
We received other financial help as well. Dr. Déjardin waived some of the charges associated with the first operation, and suggested Monty for MSU Veterinary Hospital’s Lucky Fund, which provides resources for specialized cases of dogs in need. The Lucky Fund donated $1,000 toward Monty’s cause.
Nonetheless, next to our home, Monty is our biggest investment, albeit a loving one, and well worth the sacrifice.
As he neared the completion of his weekly physical therapy sessions at Pawsitive Results Animal Rehab Center in Auburn Township, Ohio, his rehab vet, Kathy Topham, was absolutely astounded by Monty’s recovery and his ability to walk almost normally. “He probably won’t be great for search and rescue, but he’ll run, play, jump and maybe make a great therapy dog,” she said.
During our summer beach trip to North Carolina, Monty walked, jogged, swam and was eager to greet every beach-goer who meandered within petting distance. He has a marvelous outlook on life. As Ann said at one point, “He really has made adjustments to compensate for all his ailments; it’s amazing to witness how he moves around.” Monty plays like a normal, healthy, juvenile dog but close observation reveals his physical idiosyncrasies, the split-second adjustments he makes when he walks, runs, squats and lies down.
Monty has changed my outlook on life. We have that dog-human telepathy that most dog people have with their companion animals. However, he’s also “training” me to meet his needs, for which I couldn’t be more grateful.
Humans are ambivalent about life, but dogs are not. Our canine companions befriend us for our greater happiness, making us better people. They elevate our quality of life (teaching us to wag more and bark less, as the saying goes), and love us unconditionally without regard to the situation they’re dealt.
As Ann observed, he follows me everywhere, and watches and waits for me constantly. Now, she says, I owe Monty. I wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s the faithful companion every dog owner dreams about, and that’s my good fortune in this life.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Water: some dogs love it, some don’t.
And some win prizes for jumping into it. Take, for example Tommy D’s Limoncello—Cello to her friends and family—of southern New Jersey. While she’s no fan of guns (something of a problem for a hunting dog), the four-year-old German Shorthaired Pointer took to dock diving like a duck to, well, water.
In November, she’ll be among the dogs representing the U.S. at the DockDogs World Championship in Dubuque, Iowa. (Her little brother, one-year-old Hooch, following fast in her footsteps, recently qualified for two of the world championship events.)
DockDogs is open to all breeds and all sizes six months old or older. The dogs compete in three categories: Big Air (go long!), Extreme Vertical (go high!) and Speed Retrieve (go fast!). The Iron Dog ranking goes to dogs—like Cello—who participate in all three.
How does a canine athlete get to this level of performance? We asked Cello’s person, Jenny Beadling, who, along with her husband, Brian, handles coaching, conditioning, training, transportation, housing, meal and dog-love duties.
Bark: How do you train Cello and Hooch?
Jenny Beadling: Most DockDogs events take place on the weekend, so Mondays are their rest days. We work with them Tuesday through Thursday; Fridays are more relaxed (walking or playing with toys). We do a variety of stretching, cardio, strength and stability training and exercises with the dogs. Also, we live in a log cabin on a lake, so we installed a 40-foot runway and an Extreme Vertical rig on our dock.
B: What’s a typical competition day look like?
JB: GSPs are on the “top 10” list for bloat, so on competition days, we wake up in the wee hours to feed them a very, very small amount of kibble. Throughout the day, they get small pieces of TurboPup bars for nutrition and sustained energy. A few hours after the completion, they get a full “regular” meal, a mixture of Orijen kibble; either salmon or coconut oil; Nupro supplement; and one of the following: ground bison, ground lamb, an egg or wild-caught salmon (all fresh-cooked, organic and humanely raised). We also make sure they get a warm-up and a cool-down before each jump of their competition, as well as stretching time.
B: How do you deal with weather-related issues?
JB: Keeping the dogs hydrated is really important. They drink bottled water, and if they’re not drinking enough, we give them watermelon throughout the day (a trick we learned from our agility instructor). When it’s warm, we shade their crates with reflective cloth and use crate fans, and when it’s cold, we dry them thoroughly and get them into their Trover coats, double-lined fleece coats made in England that have great wicking and thermal qualities.
B: How big a problem are injuries in this sport?
JB: Injuries are always a concern and something we worry about, but we’ve been fortunate; neither Cello nor Hooch has been injured so far. The most common thing we’ve seen in other dogs at competitions is called “cold tail” or “dead tail,” which some say is caused by overexertion.
B: What kind of proactive steps do you take to prevent injuries?
JB: We provide the dogs with appropriate high-quality nutrition and are diligent about their training, which helps them avoid “weekend warrior”-type of injuries. We also keep in close contact with our vet; she does the dogs’ joint and hip checks. It’s time-consuming, but well worth it to us.
A simple home-prepared meal that incorporates healthy ingredients that not only improves our animals’ health but is also easier on our budgets.
Combine all ingredients, mix well. Serve.
Hint: Powdered calcium sticks to wet ingredients, sprinkle evenly over wet food.
Protein: 36 grams Fat: 28 grams Calories: 436
Daily serving for a 30 lb dog, can be divided into 2 feedings.
Culture: Readers Write
Every day pets are exposed to various temperature levels from heat to cold, and while it is easy to forget, you really need to consider just how much your pets can be affected in extreme conditions. That’s where we come into play.
We are Pause4Paws, the voice for pets who cannot speak up for themselves. Pause4Paws is a group of sophomore Community Problem Solvers from Flagler Palm Coast High School, Florida. Community Problem Solvers (CmPS), is one of the four competitive components of Future Problem Solving Program, International (FPSPI). FPSPI is meant to stimulate critical and creative thinking skills, encourage students to develop a vision for the future, and to prepare students for leadership skills. In CmPS specifically, we identify real problems in the community, then create and implement real solutions. We all share a strong passion for pets. As Pause4Paws, our mission is to increase familiarity of the dangers associated with climate for household animals so that a healthy lifestyle for them isn’t compromised.
Because we live in Florida, our group knows all too well about how hot it can get. We are called the Sunshine State for a reason—our sunny weather and high temperatures. Occasionally, the heat can be too much for us, and it’s just too hot to stay outside. This does not just apply to humans, but also to our furry friends.
Regardless of where you live and what your weather conditions may be like, a pet still has the possibility of overheating in a matter of minutes. When left in extreme heat, a pet’s body temperature can reach 109 degrees, to the point where it can no longer cool itself to accommodate the heat, a term called hyperthermia. A heat stroke commonly follows elevated body temperatures. Upon reaching these conditions, the pet’s health may begin to take a dramatic turn towards organ failure, damage to the pet’s brain, heart, liver, nervous system, and in extreme cases, death.
By taking a few precautions before spending the day with your pet in the sun, you can decrease the likelihood of your pet from getting injured.
With winter approaching quickly, we can’t forget our friends in states that aren’t as sunny as Florida! While it may be enjoyable to play with your pet in the snow and cold, you need to know what actions to take to keep your pets warm.
As you can see, pets are at risk of danger during the hot and cold seasons. Considering that pets are a part of your family, you need to make sure they stay as happy and healthy as possible. It’s up to you as an individual to take a stand for your pets. After all, they rely on you heavily. You feed them, wash them, love them, and care for them. It’s all up to you! They deserve the best care available to them, just like Pause4Paws’ slogan says, “Best friends need best care.”
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Q&A with Susan Thixton, authors of Dinner PAWsible.
Whole food, real food, clean eating: however it’s described, many of us are turning—or returning—to minimally processed, additive-free food made by nature rather than machines. In their newly revised cookbook, Dinner PAWsible, holistic veterinarian Cathy Alinovi and pet food safety advocate Susan Thixton apply that concept to the world of companion animals. They suggest that home-prepared meals incorporating healthy ingredients are eminently do-able alternatives that not only improve our animals’ health but also, are easier on our budgets. Bark recently spoke with the authors.
For years, we’ve been told that variety in a dog’s diet is a bad thing, yet in your cookbook, you encourage it. Why?
We promote variety for pets for the same reason it’s recommended for humans: to provide a balance of vitamins and minerals. Eating different foods from meal to meal helps achieve this.
How should we go about switching our dogs from commercial foods to a diet that incorporates the recipes from your book?
Changing brands of commercial pet food quickly (from one meal to the next) can cause some dogs to have “tummy issues,” aka diarrhea. So, to be safe when making the transition, we recommend switching slowly: for example, one-quarter new (home-prepared) food to three-quarters old (commercial) food for two or three days, half-and-half for another two or three days, and so on. Dogs who’ve been eating real food all along can be switched right over to the recipes we provide.
When preparing meals for our dogs, how can we be sure that the nutrients are bio-available? And, related to this, why is “lightly cooked” better than “thoroughly cooked”?
Remember when commercial cat food was introduced and researchers discovered that taurine had to be added, even though it was made with meat? Taurine, an amino acid [protein’s building blocks] cats require, occurs naturally in meat; however, in the manufacturing process, the meat was overcooked to the point that the taurine broke down and was no longer available as a nutrient.
It’s the same thing with cooking for dogs—if you cook the ever-living daylights out of meat, the nutrients will be degraded, while cooking it lightly leaves more nutrients accessible to the body. Feeding raw meat is also acceptable, but we recommend that people avoid feeding their dogs raw ground meat from the grocery store, as it is often contaminated with bacteria that can be harmful. Vegetables are a bit harder for a dog to digest, which is why we recommend lightly cooking them; if you feel you need to boil veggies, add the cooking water to your dog’s food, as boiling tends to leach the vitamins into the water.
You advise boiling a whole chicken and then using the bones to make a broth that incorporates apple cider vinegar. What’s the advantage of adding vinegar?
Chicken can really be prepared by any method; broiling or baking works great too, and still leaves you with bones you can use to make broth. (Regardless of how you prep your chicken, don’t overcook it. We recommend using a meat thermometer to make certain the meat is cooked to the proper temperature of 165 degrees.) Apple cider vinegar helps leach the minerals from the bones, which gives you bone broth, a powerhouse food source.
Most of your recipes have around 10 to 15 percent fat. Why is fat important for dogs, and do highly active dogs need more?
For dogs—for all mammals, actually—fat is an energy source and provides nutrients necessary for an efficiently functioning nervous system. Some, like working sled dogs, need an amazing number of calories, on the order of 10,000 kcal a day when they’re running at top speed (10 times the amount comparably sized pet dogs require), and fat helps them meet these requirements. While our recipes are designed for pet dogs who are moderately active, they can be modified for higher energetic needs, which also come into play during pregnancy, puppyhood and agility work. We discuss these modifications at the beginning of the book, and we’re available to help individuals with specialized requirements.
Is there such a thing as too much of a good thing when it comes to some ingredients, for example, nuts and seeds? I use a NutriBullet to make drinks for myself and my dogs that include ground hemp, goji, flax and other seeds and nuts. It seems our dogs would also benefit from high-value “smoothies” made with raw leafy veggies, fruits and seeds, moistened with broth or whey. What do you think?
Just like humans, dogs can get too much of a good thing, although it takes repeated daily overeating of one item to cause a problem. Fresh grinding makes rich foods like seeds and nuts—wonderful sources of protein and trace nutrients—more digestible, as well as helps the body access their wonderful omega fatty-acid oils. You can make great pet food add-ins by using a NutriBullet, Vitamix or even a coffee grinder.
Why don’t you advocate a raw diet?
We promote minimally processed food, raw or cooked. Our original concept was to help pet owners new to real food get started, and some are grossed out by the idea of raw meat. We’ve found that as people become more experienced, many do switch to raw foods. On the other hand, some dogs—those who are older or who have particular health problems—cannot comfortably digest raw meat, so cooking it lightly makes sense for them.
You point out that not every meal needs to be complete and balanced. In the overall scheme of things, how important is balance, and how can we be assured that our dogs get all the nutrients they require?
Consider human diets: every meal, every bite, is not 100 percent balanced and complete. But over the course of a few meals with a variety of ingredients, balance is achieved. The same thing works for our dogs: variety fills in any “holes” that may exist in individual recipes. We like the concept of providing balanced nutrition through whole-food ingredients instead of via synthetic supplements (which is what most commercial pet foods use).
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Home cooking helps you feed ’em well for less.
When suppertime rolls around, there’s nothing like a healthy home-cooked meal. This is true not only for the human members of your family, but for your dog as well. Cooking for your canine companion has many benefits, including fewer preservatives and additives, more varied and potentially better ingredients and, of course, more interest for the canine palate.
Homemade meals may even make it possible to feed your dog well for less. A 15- pound bag of high-end dry dog food costs approximately $42, and a 5.5 oz. can of high-end wet food runs approximately $2. Feeding a medium-sized dog two cans of wet mixed with two cups of dry food costs about $5 per day. That doesn’t include the treats, bones and tidbits that inevitably make their way into her tummy! Compare that with four cups of Puppy Stew (recipe here) at $2.25 per day. Add the cost of a vitamin/ mineral supplement and calcium, and it is still less than the cost of feeding high-end commercial food.* (You can also combine homemade meals with commercially available dry dog food. This will, of course, change the nutritional calculations as well as the price, but your pup will still be pleased.)
As both able hunters and scavengers, dogs ate from a diverse menu when they began accompanying humans. An omnivorous diet of protein, carbohydrate and fat sources suits them; dogs in good health can also handle the fat in their diet more effectively than you can— their bodies use it for energy and then efficiently clear it from the bloodstream.
The caveats? Dogs have different nutrient requirements than people. For example, they need high-quality protein, more calcium and more minerals for their proportional body size. Calcium is particularly critical. In The Complete Holistic Dog Book, co-author Katy Sommers, DVM, notes that “calcium is perhaps the single most important supplement for a successful home-cooked diet. Even if you’re feeding a variety of foods, you’ll need to supply an extra source of calcium.” She recommends giving one 600 mg calcium carbonate tablet (or 1⁄2 teaspoon of the powder form) for each 10 to 15 pounds of body weight daily for most adult dogs. (She also points out that, if you’re mixing homemade and commercial foods, you don’t need to supplement as heavily, as commercial foods contain adequate or possibly even excessive amounts of calcium and phosphorus.) More good advice on this subject can be found in Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats by Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, PhD, and Susan Hubble Pitcairn.
There are some human foods that dogs should never be given, including macadamia nuts, chocolate, tea, coffee, raisins, grapes, onions or excessive amounts of garlic. And, of course, check with your veterinarian before making big changes to your dog’s diet, particularly if she has any preexisting health conditions. Once you get the green light, make the changes gradually to avoid digestive upsets; introduce new foods slowly, substituting a small proportion of the new food for the old over time. Finally, be careful not to provide too many overall calories (energy), as obesity is just as unhealthy for dogs as it is for humans; your vet can help you determine how much your dog should be eating.
Food safety is also an issue. While dogs have many defenses against bacteria, parasites and other food-borne pathogens, they are not immune to them. Be sure to keep utensils clean, perishables refrigerated and ingredients cooked to appropriate internal temperatures to kill off any unwanted bugs. This is particularly important for puppies, old dogs or those with a health condition that makes them vulnerable.
In general, your homemade recipes should contain a high-value protein source (muscle meat, eggs, fish, liver), a fat source (safflower, olive, canola or fish oil; the best and most easily available fish oils are salmon and cod), a fiber-containing carbohydrate (brown rice, sweet potato, oats, barley), and a phytochemical source (fruits, vegetables, herbs). Substitutions can be made; for example, if you know your dog likes whole-grain pasta, substitute pasta for barley as a carbohydrate source. Some dogs, like some kids, hate veggies but will eat fruit, so use fruit instead; fruit can complement meats just as readily as vegetables can. Yogurt, cottage cheese, beans and tofu can occasionally be used as protein sources, but keep in mind that not all dogs can tolerate dairy products, beans or soy and may become flatulent or experience other gastrointestinal “issues”; test tolerance with small quantities.
When you cook a batch of homemade food, let it cool, and—if you make more than your dog can eat within a couple of days—portion it into reusable, washable containers, then freeze and defrost as needed. You can safely keep cooked food in the refrigerator for three days; after that, spoilage becomes a concern.
By adhering to the basic guidelines, you can be creative, provide great homemade meals and know that the ingredients are wholesome. You might even try serving some of these recipes to your human family so they can feel special too.
These recipes are calculated for a healthy adult medium-sized dog (approximately 35 to 40 pounds) who’s moderately active. The ingredients listed are standard (not organic) and can be purchased at any supermarket. Dogs of this general description require approximately 1,800 mg of calcium daily, according to Sommers, et al. If your dog is smaller or larger, her total calcium requirements can be calculated using 600 mg for every 12.5 pounds. (If your dog is a senior, still growing or has health issues, please consult your veterinarian— we really can’t say this often enough!) For a veterinary nutritionist– developed canine vitamin/mineral (calcium- inclusive) supplement, check out BalanceIT® powder.
Important: Many veterinarians, while acknowledging that pet food recalls and the poor quality of some pet foods are causes for concern, still feel that homemade diets, when fed exclusively, may result in nutritional imbalances and vitamin/mineral deficiencies that may pose threats to canine health. Therefore, if you choose to feed your dog a homemade diet, it is important that you understand and provide what your dog needs to stay healthy; veterinary nutritionists can assist in developing suitable homemade diets. While caution was taken to give safe recommendations and accurate instructions in this article, it is impossible to predict an individual dog’s reaction to any food or ingredient. Readers should consult their vets and use personal judgment when applying this information to their own dogs’ diets.
*The cost of feeding homemade will vary according to the size, activity level and health of your dog. Dogs who are pregnant or lactating, growing pups and those who perform endurance activities require much more nutrition (calories, protein, fatty acids) and have other special nutritional needs.
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Some things to know about "low-cal" pet food
There’s no denying obesity is a major canine health issue. Obesity contributes to arthritis, heart and liver disease, diabetes, respiratory difficulties, heat stroke, some cancers and more. And somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of domestic cats and dogs in the United States are overweight, according to several estimates. As we do in our personal battles of the bulge, we turn to reduced calorie diets for help. Unfortunately, these may not be the straightforward solution they appear to be.
A study of so-called light or low-calorie pet foods performed at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University revealed a confusing variation in calorie density and feeding recommendations among brands. Researchers found dry dog foods making weight management claims ranged in calorie density from 217 to 440 kilocalories per cup (kcal/cup), and that the recommended intake ranged from 0.73 to 1.47 times the dog’s resting energy requirement.
What this means is that well-meaning dog owners following manufacturer guidelines might not see promised weight loss in their chubby pups—in fact, they might see weigh gain—leading to frustration for people and ill health for dogs.
Knowing and counting calories is a priority for weight management, according to veterinary nutritionist Edward Moser, MS, VMD, DACVN, with whom we talked about the Tufts study and canine weight management. Dr. Moser is an adjunct assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. In addition, he serves on the National Organic Standards Board Pet Food Task Force.
“It’s incumbent on the pet owner to know what calories are in the food and the energy their dog needs,” Dr. Moser says. While weight and age are a good starting point for calculating what your dog requires maintain or lose weight, there are other important multipliers to take into consideration, such as whether your dog is spayed or neutered, and the intensity and duration of their daily activity. Also, pregnant or nursing dogs and puppies need more energy (aka calories).
A good way to set a calorie baseline is with a visit to your veterinarian. Since only about 17 percent of owners think their dogs are overweight, according to one study, the first step is breaking through denial. Your vet can help. There are several ways to set a daily calorie count, such as aiming for a one percent of total weight loss each week, or 75 percent of the calories required to maintain a goal weight, etc., Dr. Moser says.
The important thing is to be consistent and engaged. Once you cut back on calories, weigh your dog about every ten days, Dr. Moser says, to see when they plateau. Also, he recommends something called “body condition scoring.” The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine website provides an illustrated chart that shows dogs and cats from emaciated to obese. Look at the pictures and ask: Where does my dog fit? You should be able to feel your dog’s ribs but your fingers shouldn’t fit between them.
Why diet food? Why not just feed your dog less of his or her regular food? “What makes a diet food different is we’re essentially diluting calories,” Dr. Moser says. There are only a couple ways you can do that including reducing fat content, which decreases calorie density and palatability, or adding fiber or even air, in the case of kibble. The calories in canned food can be diluted with water. “We are making dogs think they are full when they’ve really only eaten 75 percent of the calories,” Dr. Moser says. “The other stuff is just helping you feed more so the dog doesn’t beg.”
One reason Dr. Moser says people aren’t successful with low calorie food is because they leave it out for free-choice feeding. (Imagine a sort of bottomless bowl." “Because even low calorie foods have calories,” he says. He agrees with the study recommendation that free-choice feeding is not a good option—in part because food today is extremely palatable and so it’s easy for dogs to overeat. The better option is a measured quantity of food a couple times a day, he says.
If you don’t see calories listed on your label that’s because calorie counts are only required on dog food that claims to be lite, light, less calorie or low calorie. (The Academy of Canine Veterinary Nutrition, to which study co-author Dr. Lisa Freeman and Dr. Moser belong, is advocating for requiring calorie information on all pet food labels.) Foods with a light, lite, or low-calorie designation must also adhere to a maximum kilocalorie per kilogram restriction. However, Dr. Freeman pointed out that more than half of the foods evaluated in her study exceeded this maximum.
Why does it matter if your pup’s a little plump? Dr. Moser points to research that shows keeping dogs thin can extend their lives by as much as one and half years—that should motivate us to study labels and get out our measuring cups.
For years, I kept a supply of phenobarbital on hand, prescribed by my vet for my mixed-breed dog's seizure. It turned out to be a one-time thing, and eventually, I disposed of the drug. But I can testify that watching her in the grip of it was both scary and confusing.
As dog-lovers, most of us hope we're never faced with a number of canine health conditions. Seizures fall into that category. When they happen, however, it's helpful to understand what we're looking at and what we need to do next.
Seizures, which are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain, can indicate a variety of conditions, some transitory, some longer-lasting. Our old friend "idiopathic" --or, of unknown origin--also comes into play more than either we or our vets would like.
As explained on the Texas A&M newswire, "For some dogs, a seizure is a one-time experience, but in most cases seizures reoccur. An underlying problem in the brain could be responsible for reoccurring seizures, often resulting in a diagnosis of epilepsy. Between the many causes of seizures in dogs and the often normal lab results, idiopathic epilepsy proves to be a frequent diagnosis." Other causes include toxin ingestion, tumors, stroke, or another of several related neurological disorders.
Dr. Joseph Mankin, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, describes a typical seizure. “The dog may become agitated or disoriented, and then may collapse on its side. It may exhibit signs of paddling, vocalization, and may lose bladder control. The seizure may last for a few seconds up to a few minutes, and often the dog will be disoriented or anxious afterward. Occasionally, a dog may be blind for a short period of time.”
When a dog is in the grip of a seizure, there's little we can do, other than to keep our hands away from his or her mouth. Afterward, the most important thing we can do is take the pup to the vet for investigation into the cause. Fortunately, a number of treatments, ranging from allopathic (Western medicine) to complementary (including acupunture) exist.
Like most things, especially those related to health, knowing what we're dealing with is half the battle.
For more on this topic, read Dr. Sophia Yin's excellent overview.
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