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News: Editors
Genetic Testing for Dogs Made Easy
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
Fight the Bite
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
Beware of Algae
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
Why good nutrition matters
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. 

News: Editors
FDA Warns on Pet Exposure to Topical Pain Meds
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.

Wellness: Recipes
Food Works: Putting Homemade To The Test

For about a year, I’ve been supplementing our dogs’ quality kibble with homemade turkey burgers (along with whole-wheat pasta and cooked vegetables). Our three dogs eat twice a day; at each meal, our largest dog (45 pounds) gets half a burger, while the two smaller ones (30 and 25 pounds) roughly share the other half.

I developed the recipe myself, and while I tried to cover the bases in terms of appropriate canine nutrition, I had no particular agenda in mind—I mostly just wanted to make our dogs’ meals a little more interesting for them. Curious about the burgers’ nutritional value, I turned to Roschelle Heuberger, PhD, RD, professor at Central Michigan University and devoted Akita person, to find out how my culinary experiment stacked up.

The Recipe

Turkey Burgers

Makes approx. 36 3-inch patties, each about 3.5 ounces

Total prep time: 20 minutes

Total cooking time: 1 hour

Preheat oven to 400°

Combine

  • 6 1/2 lbs. ground dark-meat turkey
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tsp. ground dried eggshells
  • 3 tsp. chia
  • 1/2 c. garbanzo bean flour
  • 1/3 c. wheat bran
  • 2 Tbsp. ground flax seed
  • 1 c. plain organic pumpkin
  • 3 c. organic rolled oats
  • 2 Tbsp. rehydrated dried shredded seaweed (low-sodium variety)

Mix well, making sure all the ingredients are completely incorporated. Shape into 3-inch patties, place on lightly oiled (with spray oil), rimmed baking sheet(s). Optional: Spread little ketchup (about 1/8 tsp.) on top of each patty.

Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour. A longer baking time will produce a drier and easier-to-crumble burger.

Tip: Deglaze the baking sheet with water, which makes a great gravy that can be used to moisten the meal. This recipe makes around 1 1/2 to 2 cups of this gravy. It’s also an easy way to help clean the baking pan.

The Analysis

By Roschelle Heuberger, PhD, RD

There is much controversy within the veterinary nutritionist community about commercial pet food and home cooking. And, since manufacturing standards for canine food are so much different than those we apply in our own kitchens, it’s difficult to make an “apples-to-apples” comparison. Nonetheless, using proprietary nutrition software, it’s possible to determine the relative values of the major food components of Claudia’s recipe with those found in commercially produced dog food (in parens).

Analysis (per patty)

Note: All measurements are given in terms of 100 kilocalories (kcals) against measurement standards used by commercial food manufacturers.

Protein: 7.5 grams (8 grams is considered high protein)

Calories: 5.3 kcals (5 or more kcals is considered high calorie)

Fat: 2 grams (a low-fat food contains less than 2 grams, so this is neither high nor low)

Sodium: 30 mg (anything less than 100 mg per serving is considered low-sodium)

Fiber: 0.75 grams (neither high nor low)

Moisture loss with one hour covered cooking time is approximately 10 to 15 percent. High heat and long cooking time will destroy 90 percent of the thiamin and up to 50 percent of some of the other B vitamins in the burgers. On the bright side, it will also kill pathogens, so you don’t have to worry about the contamination that’s a concern when it comes to undercooked meats.

The Verdict

Used as a “topper” to both to increase palatability and provide calories, protein and other nutrients, the turkey burger is a great addition to a complete commercial dog food. Feeding turkey burgers as toppers may also be helpful for older dogs, who often have poor appetites, or dogs who have been ill or malnourished. In those cases, the turkey burger need not replace the commercial food, but rather, could be fed in addition to it.

As the recipe is given, it would not be advisable to feed turkey burgers as the sole source of nutrition because they may be too high-calorie for some dogs, and also because they’re missing some of the other nutrients dogs need. Obesity is becoming an epidemic among dogs, as it is in humans. Caloric restriction and regular exercise are important for weight maintenance, particularly as a dog ages.

As always, choose the best commercial food you can afford. To educate yourself on the options and issues, try out one of the online dog food evaluators; Dogfoodadvisor.com is a good place to start.

The Background: Canine Nutrition

Dogs, who are omnivorous, require the same sorts of major nutrients—proteins, carbohydrates and fats, and vitamins and minerals—as human omnivores, but in different ratios. For example, they have an absolute requirement for linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid, and for nearly a dozen amino acids, the building blocks of protein. These amino acids range from the complex (arginine and phenylalanine) to simple (leucine and valine).

We and our four-legged companions get all 22 amino acids from protein sources such as eggs or meats, which contain varying percentages of each one. Some protein sources contain most of them, others only a fraction. Meats, eggs and fish are among the best sources of complete amino acids, and their proteins are highly digestible; this means that the amino acids are absorbed more readily from the gut.

Standards for minimal nutritional composition of food for dogs are based on percentages, which are determined by a dog’s physiological status; the percentages are higher for dogs during growth, reproduction and lactation stages, and increase as the weight of the animal increases. Usually, the amount fed to achieve the minimal percentages required for maintenance of normal physiological function in the dog is based on dry matter per kilogram of body weight. That is why labels that show the number of cups of food to be fed per day base the measurement on the size of the dog. Companies formulate their foods to provide a specific amount of protein, linoleic acid, and calcium-to-phosphorus ratio.

If you’re cooking for your dog and want to do your own analysis, a number of websites allow you to do that, but none can be considered foolproof. For example, there’s the USDA Nutrient Database. This is a food calculator only, and doesn’t contain information on ingredients that one might use in a dog-food recipe, such as eggshells (a free web calculator that includes eggshells can be found here: nutritiondata.self.com).

Wellness: Healthy Living
Dog Circovirus
A Virus Worth Watching

It’s not new, but a member of the circovirus family, usually linked to diseases in pigs and some birds, is now showing up in dogs. Research data from the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine suggests that this emerging virus, either alone or as a co-infection, may be a contributing factor in canine illness in California.

Data collection is underway in multiple regions of the country to determine if exposure to circovirus is common and widespread. Dog-to-human infection has not been documented.

“We know from looking at dog samples that were stored in our archives that canine circovirus has been around for at least five years,” said Patricia Pesavento, DVM. PhD, associate professor, Pathology, Microbiology, and Immunology at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “We are seeing it in dogs now because we are looking for it, and we have the tools to diagnose it now. The canine virus is not a modified strain of porcine circovirus, but is a completely different virus from the same virus family.” The good news is that circovirus does not always result in illness, being found in the stool of 14 of 204 healthy dogs screened.

“From what we know now, circovirus is not a major cause for concern, and the cases we’ve identified post-mortem seem to be isolated,” said Dr. Pesavento.

Among dogs that were sick and had circovirus in their tissues, vomiting and bloody diarrhea were the common symptoms, said Dr Pesavento. “However, diarrhea isn’t necessarily predictable, since two dogs had clinical signs that were limited to the central nervous system, and in those cases blood vessels in the brain were most affected. This reflects the fact that the virus seems to affect the vascular system.”

A symptom as non-specific as diarrhea could come from wide variety of common causes including other infectious agents, ingestion of foreign bodies or toxins, overeating rich treats, and even stress. Dr. Pesavento added that, among infectious agents, parvovirus is very common and can cause vomiting and bloody diarrhea.  

Circovirus is shed in feces, and transmission is presumably fecal-oral transmission. Doggie daycare and boarding facilities, where many dogs are gathered in one area, can be a prime source of infection for many illnesses, although the virus is not confined to boarding facilities.

To reduce the chance of any viral illness and to avoid infecting other dogs, apply the same simple measures that you would in a child attending daycare. Avoid contact with ill animals and contact with other dogs if your dog has symptoms of illness. Clean up your pet’s stool and avoid contact with other pet’s stool whenever possible.

“As you well know, dogs are not very picky about what they put in their mouths,” said Dr. Pesevento. “Monitor dogs carefully if they have ‘dietary indiscretion’ that causes vomiting or diarrhea that is mild and short-lasting. Blood in any vomit should be addressed quickly, said Dr. Pesavento.

Consult your veterinarian to get the correct diagnosis, including any laboratory testing. Prompt treatment, regardless of the cause, gives your dog a better chance of quick recovery and avoids infecting other animals.

“There is no circovirus-specific treatment, said Dr. Pesavento. “As with most viral infections, your veterinarian can treat symptoms with supportive fluid therapy or antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infections.”

A healthy pet is more likely to have a fully functional immune system to fight infections, so good preventive care is also important.

More than anyone, you know when your dog is not behaving normally. Prompt veterinary treatment can be critical to a good outcome, so address all illnesses early for the overall health of your pet.

 

 

 

 

 

Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Nutritional Analysis of Turkey Burgers
• Download a PDF of the analysis.   This recipe was analyzed using Nutritionist Pro, Axxya Systems™ (2013). Because there is no way to tell, without doing a guaranteed analysis of 100% dry matter in the finished turkey burger, what happened during the cooking process, a number of assumptions were applied, including moisture content and moisture losses. Destruction of vitamins during the cooking process was not factored in (AAFCO values are obtained from the finished product). The software calculated the nutrient composition of the recipe without taking into account the unique parameters of preparation by a home cook. (Home cooking is not standardized in the way a food manufacturer’s is, where plant processes are maintained at a very narrow range for quality assurance.)   An important caveat: Quantity of food fed varies according to the manufacturers’ processing and analysis values. So, if a 25 kg (55 pound) dog requires 5 cups of food per day according a specific commercial brand’s instructions, and vitamin and mineral supplements are added to the kibble post-processing, the comparison between feeding 100g of turkey burger that you make yourself and 100g of dry, extruded kibble that has been fortified post-processing with vitamins and minerals is an apples-to-oranges exercise.
Wellness: Healthy Living
Sleeps with Dogs

A snoring spouse, sirens and glowing electronic screens can all make it hard to get a good night’s sleep. Research from the Mayo Clinic finds that pets can be part of the problem, too.

Patients at the Mayo Center for Sleep Medicine were asked about causes of interrupted sleep in 2002, and only 1 percent mentioned their pets as an issue, though 22 percent had pets sharing their beds. When patients were asked similar questions in 2013, 10 percent reported that their pets disturbed their sleep.

Dr. Lois Krahn, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic, says, “Dogs disturbed sleep by wanting to sleep in a particular place on the bed (where the sleeper would prefer to place their feet, under the covers, on the pillow), needing attention and creating sounds [such as] whimpering during dreaming.”

One benefit of having a dog is having a warm body to snuggle up with at the end of a long day. But sometimes, what you love gets in the way of what you need. In a 2009 survey done by Kansas State University, Dr. Kate Stenske found that more than half of dog owners allow their dogs to sleep in their beds.

How can you reconcile your need for solid sleep with the comfort of your canine companion?

First, take an honest look at how well you sleep. Do you fall asleep quickly, or do you spend a long time tossing and turning? Are you up in the night, for your own needs or to take care of something else? In the morning, are you energized or do you rely on coffee to get going?

If your dog is getting in the way of your falling or staying asleep, it’s time to make some changes. Try moving her from your bed to her own bed in the same room; create a comfortable space near you but on the floor. This is a hard habit to break, so plan to work on it. You’ll have to keep moving her back to her bed when she climbs up with you, but be patient and offer lots of praise.

What about doggie sleep sounds? If you don’t want to use earplugs, try white noise from a fan or other appliance with a constant humming sound.

Once you take back your sleeping space, you may realize that the dog wasn’t the problem. Dr. J. Todd Arnedt of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Michigan has tips for what he calls good “sleep hygiene.”

• Avoid evening exercise.
• Keep the bedroom dark, quiet and comfortable: reduce external light sources, turn off the TV and find your best sleeping temperature.
• No caffeine after mid-afternoon, and no alcohol in the evening.
• Make the bedroom a place for intimacy and sleep only; leave work outside.
• Establish an evening wind-down time. Lower the lights, do quiet activities, have a light carbohydrate snack.

If you make these changes and insomnia is still stalking you, it’s time to talk to a professional for more in-depth study.

Most dog owners can continue to enjoy the comfort and companionship of their furriest family member through the night. But if sleep is evasive, you may want to take a closer look at what’s keeping you up at night.

Wellness: Recipes
Thursday Thanksgiving
Fast, easy and nutritious turkey feast.

It doesn’t have to be Thanksgiving to give thanks! Working in animal rescue, I’ve seen a lot of heartbreak, but I’ve also seen and experienced the love that a rescued animal can bring to a human and vice versa. Each one of my rescued dogs gives me so much joy and love every day—cooking for them and making sure they are healthy is the least I can do to say thanks. This recipe is chock-full of nutritious and delicious ingredients that help keep your beloved pup healthy and happy.

Makes 4 servings for a 50-pound dog

2 tbsps. olive oil
2 1/2 pounds ground turkey
3/4 cup uncooked barley
1 cup chopped fresh spinach
1/4 cup (2 ounces) minced beef heart
1/4 cup canned pure pumpkin
1/4 cup salmon oil
4 sprigs fresh parsley, chopped

1. In a large sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium low heat. Add the turkey and cook until it is browned. Drain any excess fat and set the turkey aside to cool.

2. Prepare the barley as directed on the package. Set it aside to cool. You should have about 1 cup of cooked barley.

3. In a large sauté pan, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-low heat. If using the garlic, add it and sauté until it is lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the spinach and sauté, stirring frequently until wilted, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool.

4. Once cooled, puree the spinach and garlic mixture in a food processor and set it aside. You should have about a 1⁄4 cup of spinach puree.

 

To Make One Serving

1 1/3 cups cooked ground turkey
1/4 cup cooked barley
1 tbsp. spinach puree
1 tbsp. minced cooked beef heart
1 tbsp. pumpkin puree
1 tbsp. salmon oil
1 sprig chopped parsley

In your dog’s bowl, combine the turkey, barley, spinach puree, with beef heart, pumpkin, salmon oil and parsley. Refrigerate any leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

For a serving chart of proportions for different size dogs, see bowmeowraw.com

Home Cooking for Your Dog by Christine M. Filardi © Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2013

Note: We've omitted the garlic originally in this recipe.

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