Helpful tips and starter recipe for making homemade dog food.
If you’re nervous about feeding your dog home-cooked food, you’re not alone. Many dog owners have concerns about the time involved, the cost and the consequences of failing to include the right ingredients to keep their furry friends healthy. On top of that, most vets frown on home cooking for dogs.
Eight years ago, I started cooking for my dogs as a way to introduce quality ingredients into their diets and to help clients who had dogs with health problems. Since then, many clients have raved about the effects of a home-cooked diet on their dog’s health; seeing flaky fur turn glossy and the pleasure dogs seem to get from eating better is definitely inspirational.
In the process, I found the slow cooker to be the perfect (and easiest) tool for homemade dog food meals. Combining the ingredients in the cooker and setting the time takes only minutes, which makes it appealing to those who shy away from home cooking because they think it’s too time-consuming.
I started by using ingredients listed on the label of a high-quality canned food. I’ve also cooked chicken thighs and even whole young chickens with most of the skin removed. After 14 to 16 hours in the slow cooker, chicken bones become soft and crumbly and are a great source of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamins and healthful fats. (However, this isn’t true for cooked beef bones, which should never be given to dogs.)
If your dog doesn’t have major medical problems and has tolerated food changes in the past, start the transition to home-cooked meals by preparing a small batch of low-fat food and gradually adding increasing amounts to his normal diet (25, 50, 75, then 100 percent over a four- to seven-day period). I recommend using low-fat meat or fish combined with white or brown rice.
Because slow-cooked dog food may have more fat and vegetables than some commercial foods, dogs have been known to experience stomach or bowel upsets. Vomiting, indigestion or gas are signs that a dog’s digestive tract needs more time to adjust to the new ingredients, which can take days, or even weeks.
Dogs who have had pancreas issues need to eat a low-fat, limited-ingredient diet and be transitioned very carefully for a longer period of time. Remember, too, that dogs can be allergic to wheat, beef and/or chicken. Signs that your dog may be sensitive to the food include hives; excessive scratching; or red, itchy ears.
On the other hand, if your dog seems happy and has normal stools with the new home-cooked food, increase the amount over a week’s time, as noted previously. Once you know he can tolerate the new diet, cook a larger batch and portion it into daily servings. Keep one week’s supply in the refrigerator and freeze the rest in resealable freezer bags or another suitable container. Thaw before feeding, but after that, to avoid spoilage, do not leave the food out longer than mealtime or allow it to sit at room temperature for hours (if your dog likes his food warm, it’s fine to heat it up before serving).
In the starter recipe provided here, the protein is higher (about 50% dry matter) and the fat is lower (about 10% dry matter) than in most recipes. This mixture yields about 70% moisture, 10 to 15% protein, 5 to 7% fat, and 5 to 7% carbohydrates, depending on how much fat is in the meat and the quantity of green beans and rice used (or, 40 to 50% protein, 20 to 25% fat, and 25 to 30% carbohydrate by dry matter).Starter Recipe: Chicken and Vegetable Stew for Dogs
*Not needed for the trial period or if the home-cooked food is less than 10% to 20% of the dog’s daily diet.
In a slow cooker, combine the chicken breasts, chicken liver, chicken hearts, gizzards and eggs. Add the bone meal, rice and green beans. Add water, then stir. (The longer the meat and veggies are cooked, the more water is needed. For this basic starter recipe, you don’t need to completely cover the ingredients. If you are slow-cooking chicken and bones for 14 hours, then more water is needed.) Cover and cook on low for 4 to 8 hours, until the breasts fall apart. Stir and add or drain water as needed to make a drier or moister stew. Let the mixture cool before feeding and refrigerating.
Yield: 7 to 8 cups (60 oz.)
Supplements (given separately or added to each meal)
• Vitamin E: 2 IU per pound of dog daily.
• Sardines in water: one-quarter to one tin twice weekly, or one to three 1,200 mg fish oil capsules daily. (Dose is based on 10 to 30 mg/pound of DHA and EPA).
Note: Because it’s high in protein, this combination isn’t suitable for dogs with failing kidneys. To decrease the protein, double the amount of rice and green beans and/or use less meat (1/2 to 3/4 pound).
Depending on the level of fat and moisture in the food, most home-cooked diets prepared with lean meat have about 20 to 35 calories per ounce. To increase the calories, strain off some of the liquid from the stew or add some healthy fat, such as olive or non-GMO canola oil. An 8-ounce serving of this chicken-and-vegetable stew has about 200 calories. After the transition period, I recommend that you start out feeding your dog about the same amount of home-cooked food as you would canned food.
So, to summarize, by cooking for your dog, you’re able to use the best ingredients available to you and mix them in the way that best suits your dog’s needs. If you follow a basic formula of muscle meat, organ meat, bone or bone meal, and a variety of vegetables, your dog will thrive. Home-cooked dog food can also be used to add quality ingredients to a kibble or canned-food diet. Your dog will love the variety!
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
A vet speaks out on genetically modified pet food.
Most dogs now dine on some type of genetically modified (GM) food, often in the form of corn and soy in their kibble. As these ingredients increasingly enter the food supply, we have one more reason to wonder if our shopping choices might be harming our pets.
More animal feeding studies are needed, experts say, and a recent long-term, peer-reviewed report points out why. It found that a diet of GM corn and soy led to higher rates of severe stomach inflammation in pigs, which are physiologically similar to dogs.
Robert Silver, DVM, a Boulder, Colo., holistic vet, tackled the issue earlier this year when he presented his paper, “Genetically Modified Food and Its Impact on Pet Health” at the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association conference in Kansas City, Mo. Why did he choose this controversial topic, one that few vets even acknowledge?
Silver—a pioneer in the field of holistic veterinary medical practice—says he was inspired by a seminar he attended in Boulder on GM foods and human health. The speakers included Don Huber, a Purdue University professor, and activist Jeffrey Smith, who discussed problems, including reproductive difficulties, that have occurred in livestock fed GM crops.
“I found this seminar mind-opening,” says Silver, the lone vet in attendance. “I had always believed the PR about GM foods—that they are going to feed the world and are a good outcome of our genetic technology.”
The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the safety of GM crops consumed by humans and animals, considers most GM plants “substantially equivalent” to traditional plants and “generally recognized as safe.” Their regulation involves a voluntary consultation process with the developer before products are brought to market.
Smith, founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology, disagrees. On its website (responsibletechnology.org), he warns that “nearly all GM crops are described as ‘pesticide plants.’ They either tolerate doses of weed killer, such as Roundup, or produce an insecticide called Bt-toxin. In both cases, the added toxin—weed killer or bug killer—is found inside the corn or soybeans we consume.”
Silver says that while “allergies, GI problems, increased risk of cancer, neurodegenerative conditions” and other ills could all be, in part, related to GM foods, “there is no objective evidence of this yet” in dogs. “However, all vets will agree that there has been an uptick in [these diseases] in the past 10 to 20 years.” The advent of GM foods in the 1990s “fits into this timing of disease increases,” he says.
His presentation referred to studies that raise doubt about the safety of biotech crops, such as one reported in 1996 in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that genes inserted into crops can carry with them allergenic properties.
Silver says that genetic modification introduces foreign proteins that may encourage allergies, and the widely planted Bt corn, which makes its own insecticide, “could possibly cause leaky gut, the gateway to chronic disease.” Corn is a major component of most commercial pet foods. “The big problem with commercial foods is that they are manufactured at high temperatures and pressures,” which alters them and makes them “potentially more allergenic.” And commercial foods contain industrial ingredients that are “more likely to contain GM and herbicide contaminants.”
A study published last year found that GM crops engineered to withstand the toxic herbicide Roundup must now be doused with even more herbicide, since weeds have also developed resistance to it. Residues of these chemicals on crops can find their way into pet food.
A 2013 study published in the science journal Entropy reports that the heavy use of Roundup could be linked to Parkinson’s, autism, infertility and cancers. It goes on to report that residues of Roundup in food can interact with, and enhance, the damaging effects of other environmental toxins. “Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body,” the study’s researchers say.
According to Silver, heightened sensitivity to dietary ingredients “is probably what we are seeing with GM foods. It is of concern that this may be driving the increase in GI problems in pets.” Although gluten probably does account for some problems with grain consumption, “I think that grain-free diets, if they are also soy free and contain protein from animals not fed GM crops, can help many dogs, due to being GM free—and not due to some allergy or gluten issue.”
To a holistic doctor, food is medicine, and Silver strongly recommends home meal preparation from individually sourced ingredients to avoid feeding GM ingredients, especially to pets who have other health problems. “I am truly a holistic practitioner in that I believe an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Benbrook, C.M. 2012. Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S.—the first 16 years. Environmental Sciences Europe 24: 24.
Ordlee, J., et al. 1996. Identification of a Brazil-nut allergen in transgenic soybeans. The New England Journal of Medicine 334: 688–692.
Samsel, A., and S. Seneff. 2013. Glyphosate’s suppression of cytochrome P450 enzymes and amino acid biosynthesis by the gut microbiome: Pathways to modern diseases. Entropy 15 (4): 1416–1463.
DIY: How To Make Yogurt at Home
Crock Pot Yogurt Method
This is a very easy method to make yogurt. All you need is a slow cooker, milk, a live-active yogurt starter (either from a previous batch, or a store bought plain yogurt), and, a cooking thermometer (that is optional).
1. Pour one to two quarts of milk (low fat or whole) into a slow cooker, cover the pot. Turn the heat on medium or high. Heat the milk slowly, it needs to get to reach at least 180 degrees (30 mins. to an hour or longer). Stir a few times while it is heating, make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot and that it doesn’t boil.
2. Turn the slow cooker off, uncover and unplug it and let the milk cool down to 110 degrees, this too can take 30 mins. to an hour or even longer.
3. While the heated milk is cooling off, take the starter out of the refrigerator. If you are using a quart of milk use a tablespoon of the starter, if you are using two quarts, use 2 tablespoons.
4. Once the milk has cooled to 110 degrees, ladle a small amount (1/3 of a cup or so) into a small bowl or measuring cup with the starter, then stir or whisk. Make sure you incorporate all of it, and then slowly add that mixture back into the crock pot, stirring thoroughly.
5. With the crock pot turned off, replace the lid, and wrap the pot with two or more towels. Make sure you do NOT disturb the pot; yogurt prefers a very still environment to go through the fermentation process. The low heat that was generated in Step 1, is sufficient for this process. This process can take 6 to 8 hours.
6. If you are making Greek style yogurt, carefully transfer or pour the yogurt into the EuroCuisine strainer (or use cheesecloth) and refrigerate at least 4 hours. If you are making regular style yogurt, you can put the yogurt in mason/glass jars, and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight. If you are making Greek style yogurt, you will place the “finished” yogurt in glass jars, preserving the whey.Dehydrator Yogurt Method
Yet another sure fire way to make yogurt is using a dehydrator. Following the same cooking steps in the “heating pad” method of heating the milk, cooling it, and inoculating it with a yogurt starter, the next step is to pour the milk into glass jars, cover each with a lid (the plastic mason jar lids work well) and place them on the bottom shelf of a dehydrator, first removing the other shelves. Many dehydrators have a temperature setting for yogurt. Place the cover back on the dehydrator and incubate for 8 to 10 hours at 115 degrees (or following the setting on your dehydrator). Similar to the other methods, after the yogurt has set, refrigerate at least 4 hours. You will be amazed at how different (thicker) the yogurt becomes after it has been refrigerated.
If you are making Greek style yogurt, strained it either using cheese cloth in a strainer or the Euro Cuisine GY50 Greek Yogurt Maker method, first in the refrigerator, and then putting it into jars. Yogurt keeps for about a week.What is Whey?
Whey is the by-product of the yogurt making process, especially when you strain yogurt to produce a thicker, i.e. Greek style product. Whey protein is considered a complete protein and contains all 9 essential amino acids and is low in lactose content, so do not throw this precious liquid away! If you do not use it within a week or so, you can freeze it for later use.
Here are some of the endless ideas for using whey protein:
• For making smoothies (2 g of protein in one cup)
• In baking muffins, pancakes, breads, dog treats.
• Soaking beans or lentils (great to add to your dog’s meals)
• Use as a “topping” for your dog’s food. *
• As a substitute for buttermilk in recipes.
• Use in salad dressings (it is as acidic as a citric juice).
• Protein Shake
Making A Super Protein Shake For Dogs
One of my favorite uses for whey is to make a super protein “shake” for the dogs, that I mix into their meals or as a mid afternoon “slurp” snack. I was recently introduced to “nutrient extraction” super-blender appliances, such Nutribullet and Ninja. They make blending delicious and nutritious drinks and sauces so easy. For the dogs’ nutri-blasts, I use a handful of whatever leafy green vegetable, kale, spinach or chard, we have on hand, a few blueberries, a mix of goji berries, hemp and chia seeds, whey, and, for extra thickness, a tablespoon or so of yogurt—you can also add pulverized egg shells for more calcium. The Nutribullet grinds and mixes all these ingredients up in less than a couple of minutes. The dogs simply love it. If I have some cooked sweet potato, I add that too. The ingredient mixes are endless, plus it makes digesting vegetables easier for a dog’s digestive tract too.
For more information about the other possible health benefits of whey protein, see dogcancer.net.au
Yogurt is a wonder food, packed with probiotics, protein, calcium, B-12, and other nutrients, and oh so easy to make yourself. Being an ardent yogurt consumer (I like mine plain, thick and very sour), I had recently become dissatisfied with the batches I made using a standard yogurt maker that incubates the yogurt in little individual jars. So I went back to the drawing board (aka the Internet), and much to my amazement, there are at least three other methods (slow-cooker, dehydrator and heating pad) that produce perfect yogurt easily, each and every time. The one that I use is the heating pad method. So for that method you’ll need a heating pad, a large two-quart size glass vessel (with lid), a digital kitchen thermometer, a wooden spoon, whisk, spatula—a couple of large bathroom towels—and then the secret to making flawless Greek-style yogurt, a Greek-yogurt strainer from Euro-Cuisine (see below). That inexpensive utensil has become indispensable in my kitchen, so it’s hard not gush about it—also excellent for making homemade ricotta and other soft cheeses like quark.
Just follow these simple steps:
1. Heat ½ gallon of pasteurized milk (I typically use 2% but you can use whole milk as well) in a heavy pot slowly until it reaches around 185 ˚ on low to med-low heat. Be careful that you do not burn the bottom of the pot, stir occasionally but when it gets close to 165˚, stir more often. (Cooking time depends on the type of pot but can take at least 30 mins.)
2. Remove the pot from the stove and then cool the milk to 110˚. It is extremely important that it is cooled down, any higher temperature can kill the yogurt starter. This also can take at least 30 mins.
3. As the milk is cooling, remove 2 to 3 tablespoons of yogurt from the fridge (either from your previous batch, or store bought, but be sure to use plain yogurt with active bacteria, with no fillers) to get it to room temperature.
4. Using a ladle, pour about a cup of milk into a bowl or measuring cup and stir in the yogurt you’ll be using for your “starter”. Whisk to totally get it blended, add the rest of the milk and whisk again.
5. Place the container(s) on top of a pre-heated heating pad set to Medium. If you are using a pad that has a 2-hour automatic shut off (as many do), you will need to shut it back on at least 3 times during this incubation period. Or purchase a pad that does not have that shut-off feature (that type is actually less expensive). Put a top on the container, and then cover it with two thick bathroom towels, tucking the towels around the whole thing so it keeps to a reliable temperature.
Now sit back and relax, yogurt making should take 7 hours, do NOT disturb it during this time. But at the end of 7 hours, give a peak (but not before) and see if it looks like it has thickened, if it hasn’t just cover it back up and wait another hour or so.
6. For Greek style yogurt, carefully pour the thickened milk into the strainer (as explained above) or use cheese cloth placed inside of a colander or strainer and refrigerate for at least three hours. If you like a thinner style yogurt you can also just transfer it directly into pint Mason jars (with lids), but you will also need to refrigerate that for at least 3 hours to let it set.
The longer you keep the yogurt in the strainer, the more whey is produced and the thicker the yogurt will be. I typically let it strain overnight, or 8 hours or longer, but that also produces a more “sour” yogurt. You can always add some of the whey back into the yogurt if you want to thin in down. Depending on the length of straining time, it will produce at least 4 cups of thick yogurt (right) and an equal portion of whey (left). Do not throw out the nutritious whey! There are numerous uses for whey, including baking with it (substituting any recipe that calls for buttermilk, such as muffins, pancakes and waffles). Good to pour a little on your dog’s food too.
* You can halve this recipe using only a quart of milk, but use the same amount of starter, 2 to 3 tbsps.
See here for more recipes and directions on different preparation methods including using a slow cooker or dehydrator.
Wellness: Health Care
Learn how to do at-home physical exams
To identify a problem or an abnormal situation, you must first be able to recognize what’s normal for your dog. Performing this exam in the comfort of your home when your dog’s in good shape is the best way to do this. Consult your veterinarian if you’re concerned about any exam finding; early recognition can save your dog’s life.
Before you start the exam, take a good look at your dog when she’s just hanging out; observe her posture and general demeanor. Getting a good picture of your dog’s “normal” in a relaxed environment will help you pick up any subtle changes that may occur.
1. Take her temperature. Using a digital rectal thermometer (the ear type is less reliable, and mercury thermometers can break), lubricate the end with petroleum jelly and gently insert it into the rectum, about 1 inch for small dogs and about 2 inches for larger ones. If it does not slide in easily, do not force it. A normal temperature is between 100º and 102.5º F.
2. Check her heart rate by taking her pulse at the femoral artery, which you’ll find on the inside of her thigh; feel for the roll of the artery and a pulsing sensation. Count the number of pulses in 15 seconds and multiply by four. A dog’s pulse rate is highly variable, but generally, normal is 80 to 120 beats per minute. Relaxed, large-breed or athletic dogs tend to have slower rates, while the rate for puppies and small dogs tends to be higher.
3. Start at her head. Nose: smooth, soft and clean, like supple leather (noses aren’t necessarily always cool or moist). Eyes: bright, moist and clear, with pupils equal in size; the whites should be white, with only a few visible blood vessels. Ears: clean and dry, almost odor-free; you should be able to gently massage them without complaint. Mouth: teeth clean and white, gums uniformly pink and moist to the touch.
4. Watch her chest as she breathes. The chest wall should move in and out easily and rhythmically in an effortless way; each breath should look the same as the last. (Unless she’s panting, you should not be able to hear your dog breathe.) A normal resting respiration rate is 15 to 30 breaths per minute; a sleeping or relaxed dog would be near the low end, while an active and engaged dog would be higher. As with heart rates, smaller dogs tend to have a faster resting breathing rate than larger dogs.
5. Examine her skin. One of the body’s major organs and an important indicator of overall health, the skin of a healthy dog is soft and unbroken, with minimal odor and—except for wirehaired breeds—the hair coat is shiny and smooth.
6. Check her hydration with the skin turgor test. Pull the skin over her neck or back into a “tent” and release; it should return quickly to its original position. If it returns slowly, or remains slightly tented, your dog may be dehydrated.
7. Finish up with the torso. Starting just behind the ribs, gently press your hands into your dog’s belly; if she’s just eaten, you may feel an enlargement in the left part of the belly just under the ribs (where the stomach lives), which can be normal. Proceed toward the rear of her body, passing your hands gently over the entire area. Lumps, bumps or masses; signs of discomfort; or distention of the belly warrant further investigation by your vet.
For a more detailed discussion of the in-home exam thebark.com/exam and see Dr. Shea Cox on bridgevs.com
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
How many calories does a dog need?
Keeping dogs healthy is important to us so we’ve created new calorie requirement estimator and food counter apps. We are hoping that these web-apps will come in handy for you to try your hand in cooking for your dogs. You can make all the meals for your dogs, or simply add home cooked meals as a supplement to the manufactured food.
The first thing to do is to confirm or calculate how many kilocalories your dog requires to be fed on a daily basis (Daily Energy Requirement or DER). The total calorie requirement should be divided by the number of meals (usually 2) fed to your dog daily. All treats and snacks also need to be accounted for and their calories should be subtracted from the total that will be provided in their meals. It is always recommended that before making changes to a dog’s current diet you discuss this plan with your veterinarian. Do keep in mind that there are a number of different approaches that are used to calculate a dog’s caloric needs so while our app calculates your dog’s DER, there are other formulas with slightly different results (we have included a chart that uses another popular measurement, the Maintenance Energy Requirement, that you can also follow.)
Screenshot of Bark's DER Calculator
Do keep in mind that these calculations are really only estimates. Also, it is important to note that every dog is truly an individual, and their current weight, activity level, age, intact or neuter, physiological condition and other factors must also be considered. No matter what formula you use, the best way to judge a feeding plan’s efficacy is by simply keeping track of any weight loss or gain, and adjusting accordingly. And again, it is good to consult with your vet before making any changes to a dog’s diet.
When calculating the calories for ingredients, there are a variety of sources that can be used. I decided to do compute calculations in ounces to make it simpler for myself, and others to use. The ingredients we have included in our chart are the most common ones found in home cooked meals. If there are ingredients missing you can use any of the online calorie sources that we have noted under the chart to add those to your list.
A digital kitchen scale is definitely the easiest when to know how much any ingredient weighs—you need to measure the actual weight, not the volume (such standard measuring cups measure).
When using the slow cooker approach to making dog meals, you will also need to factor in the weight of the water you use in cooking the meals. So if you use 6 cups of water, or 48 ounces, that weight will need to be added to the total weight of the ingredients, to get an accurate calculation how many calories there are in one ounce of the food. Most slow cooker meals are around 20 to 35 calories per ounce.
As Dr. Greg Martinez has noted in his slow cooker recipe, you will need to provide supplementation to most diets (especially those that do not incorporate any manufactured food). Common supplements include calcium (or bone meal) about 1 tsp per pound of food, Vitamin E (2 IU per pound of dog daily), and either sardines in water (one-quarter to one tin twice weekly) or one to three 1,200 mg fish oil capsules daily (Dose is based on 10 to 30 mg/pound of DHA and EPA).
In my investigations into home cooking for your pet I have used a variety of excellent sources that you might also like to consult. Here is a sampling of the books, websites, and services:
Starting with Dr. Richard Pitcairn’s classic Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats. His was one of the first guides to home cooking and the ingredient charts are extremely helpful, especially detailing the amount of water to use per dry ingredient, and the cooked yields.
Home-Prepared Dog & Cat Diets by Patricia Schenck, DVM, PhD contains many different diet plans, and the special medical conditions that they cover.
Monica Segal offers nutritional consultations and menu planning, that can also include supplementing a kibble based diet. She is the author of 9Kitchen and Your Dog’s Diet. monicasegal.com
Rebecca Remillard, DVM, Veterinary Nutritional Consultations. She as been providing consultations for 20 years. She provides customized recipes for healthy pets, and nutritional consultations for pets with medical conditions. She works directly with pet guardians and with their vets. petdiets.com
Sean Delaney’s Balance It is also a veterinarian nutritional consulting service. His site offers many interesting recipes and diet plans. Balanceit.com, go to the “free balanceit ez tab” to build your own recipes and to understand their nutrient composition. balanceit.com
Mary Straus’ website dogaware.com is a good resource for sample diets (both raw and cooked) and supplements for home prepared meals, as well as general health related topics. dogaware.com
For recipes books:
Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs & Cats by Beth Taylor and Karen Shaw Becker, DVM has an emphasis on ancestral diets, but a lot of valuable information. drkarenbecker.com
Dinner Pawsible by Cathy Alinovi, DVM and Susan Thixton. Has over 60 recipes that will inspire you and entice your pets. drcathyvet.com
Dr. Greg’s Dog Dish Diet by Greg Martinez, DVM will get you started on the slow cooking approach to cooking for your pets. Be sure to watch his youtube channel too, so you can get some great cooking pointers.
Rick Woodford has provided an invaluable service with both his Feed Your Best Friend Better and his new Chow recipe books. His recipes can be used to supplement a kibble or canned food diet or provide healthy menu choices on their own. dogfooddude.com
Other Sources and Textbooks:
Dog Food Logic: Making Smart Decisions for Your Dog in an Age of Too Many Choices (Dogwise) by Linda Case
Applied Veterinary Clinical Nutrition Edited by Andrea J. Fascetti and Sean J. Delaney
Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 4th Edition by Michael Hand, DVM, Craig Thatcher, DVM, Rebecca Remillard, DVM and Philip Roudebush, DVM.
Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats National Research Council.
Wellness: Health Care
E-cigarettes, the latest thing in nicotine delivery systems, pose a significant threat to dogs. These devices vaporize a liquid mix of glycerin, propylene glycol, nicotine, and flavorings; in states where marijuana is legal, THC may be among the ingredients. The liquid, often called e-juice, comes in flavors such as cinnamon gummy bear, cotton candy and cloudberry, and dogs are attracted to the sweetness.
The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center includes cigarettes and nicotine on its list of poisonous household products, and warns that e-juice used to recharge device cartridges contains enough nicotine to kill a dog. Symptoms of nicotine poisoning include severe vomiting, depression, an elevated heart rate, decrease in blood pressure, seizures and respiratory failure.
Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS, DABT, DABVT and associate director of veterinary services at Pet Poison Helpline, says, “We’ve handled cases for pets poisoned by eating traditional cigarettes or tobacco products containing nicotine for many years, but, as the use of e-cigarettes has become more widespread, our call volume for cases involving them has increased considerably.” According to the Pet Poison Helpline, not only are the ingredients dangerous (depending on the dog’s weight and metabolism, symptoms can occur between 15 and 60 minutes after ingestion) but also, the plastic e-cigarette casing and e-juice containers can injure the dog’s mouth.
If you suspect that your dog has consumed these or other poisonous substances, call your vet, local animal hospital or poison hotline immediately.
As the Pet Poison Helpline notes, “Home care is not generally possible with nicotine exposure due to the severity of poisoning, even in small doses.” Keeping these devices and refill containers out of dogs’ reach is always the best course of action.
Good Dog: Studies & Research
It’s a beautiful summer day. You and your dog are walking near a patch of grass when she stops dead, then sniffs … and sniffs … and sniffs. Gently, you tug on the leash, but—muzzle buried in the turf—she braces herself and continues her nosework.
Scent is extremely important to dogs, much more so than to humans. All dogs have smart noses. In fact, MRI studies show that when a dog recognizes the smell of a familiar human, the caudate nucleus in her brain lights up, signaling a happy event.
For the average dog, a small pile of foliage contains a world of information. Though the canine brain is about one-tenth the size of a human brain, its smell center is 40 times larger. We have roughly 5 to 6 million scent receptors, a fraction of the 125 to 300 million available to our canine companions.
Dog’s moist noses are cute, but there’s function behind that soft form. The mucus on a dog’s nose helps capture scent particles; when a dog’s nose is dry, she may lick it to improve reception. Dogs can also wiggle their nostrils independently, thereby detecting the direction of odors. Some, like the Bloodhound, use their ears to direct even more potential scent particles up to their noses.
Despite the fact that the olfactory system is an ancient neurological pathway, we still do not completely understand how it works, either in ourselves or in our dogs. New studies are under way, however; in September 2015, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded three interdisciplinary teams of scientists $15 million to “crack the olfactory code” as part of President Obama’s BRAIN initiative. As the NSF web page notes, “Olfaction is critical for the survival of species across the animal kingdom. Yet how the brain processes and identifies odors—and how this information influences behavior— remains, largely, an enigma.”
Though we may not understand it, most of us are aware that scent can influence behavior. In the realm of human holistic treatments, the use of essential oils and herbal fragrances has become increasingly trendy, and yoga teachers will sometimes use aromatic oils during classes.
Exposure to certain herbal or spice scents has been shown to have positive effects on humans. For example, Mark Moss and Lorraine Oliver, working at the Brain Performance and Nutrition Research Centre at Northumbria University in the UK, designed an experiment to investigate the pharmacology of 1,8-cineole, one of the main components of rosemary.
After exposing 20 human subjects to varying levels of 1,8-cineole, the investigators tested their cognitive performance. Speed and accuracy test results showed that the concentration of 1,8-cineole in the blood was related to an individual’s cognitive performance: higher concentrations resulted in increased speed and accuracy. If scent can have positive effects on olfactorychallenged humans, it might be expected to have an even more pronounced effect on dogs.
While research on canines is limited, a study done at the University of Belfast explored the influence of four types of olfactory stimulation (lavender, chamomile, rosemary and peppermint) on the behavior of 55 dogs housed in a rescue shelter. The control condition used no odors other than those arising naturally from the dogs’ environment (e.g., odors from disinfectants and other animals). Using diffusions of essential oils and allowing two days between stimulants, the dogs were exposed to the scents four hours a day for five days.
According to the study, dogs exposed to lavender and chamomile spent more time resting and less time moving than with other olfactory stimuli used in the experiment. These odorants also were found to reduce barking and vocalization in caged animals. On the other hand, fragrances such as rosemary and peppermint were found to encourage significantly more standing, moving and vocalizing.
Shelters are safe but sterile environments, and, recognizing that as an issue, some have looked for ways to enrich those environments for their animals; an increasing number are introducing scent. For example, on its web page, the Humane Society of Miami describes its scent enrichment program, which incorporates essential oils such as lavender, Valor (a blend) and vanilla as well as herbs and spices.
McKamey Animal Center located in Chattanooga, Tenn., is among the few that have been working with scent enrichment for several years, according to Morag Greaney, the center’s adoption and foster supervisor. “I’ve been working there since last August, and they started long before then,” she says. Greaney, who hails from Scotland, was a high school teacher and then worked in canine rescue for nine years before coming to McKamey.
According to Greaney, the scents— which include lavender, peppermint, vanilla and cinnamon—are changed every day. The essential oil is mixed with water, then sprayed on the ground outside each dog’s kennel using nonaerosol methods. While there isn’t an immediate reaction, staff observe that the animals tend to be calmer and more settled the following day. Greaney believes that it is not just a particular scent that makes a difference (although she does find that lavender has a calming effect), but the variety that helps stimulate the dogs’ brains.
The center, which handles upwards of 200 animals, hosts a number of different breeds—Huskies, Labradors, American Staffordshire Terriers and Shepherds among them. While the center hasn’t conducted any formal studies to determine if different breeds are affected differently by the scents, its behavior-assessment team uses lavender to help relax new animals prior to evaluation. Scented dog toys are also used.
Scent enrichment can work at home as well. Greaney remarked that she has used scents with her own dog for more than six years. Rather than using a spray, she says, she rubs her hands with an oil such as eucalyptus, lemon, lavender or geranium and then massages it into her dog’s coat. She says that her German Shepherd, who she describes as “high strung,” is better behaved as a result.
“I would absolutely recommend that dog owners use scents with their animals,” she concluded. However, she cautioned, people should first do some preliminary research and check with their veterinarian to avoid any possible detrimental effects.
Wellness: Healthy Living
Fats are the major source of energy for dogs, the energy they supply is a more concentrated source (2.5 times) than either protein or carbohydrates. Not only do they supply energy but they also help keep skin and coat healthy, and foot pads supple. Nutritionally, fatty acids aid in the absorption of vitamins because they transport fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, K and E) into the body from the intestine. They also play a role in cell structure and function, including vision and learning abilities. Plus, they make food, both manufactured or homemade, tastier and more palatable.
Fatty acids are a specific type of polyunsaturated fat and are classified into omega-3s or omega-6s. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are those that the body cannot make for itself, and needs to be supplied daily in the diet, hence they are considered to be essential (this essential status is species-specific). For dogs, the EFAs are omega-3 and omega-6 acids, which are required for them to thrive. In other words, if a body (animal or human) does not receive sufficient amounts of EFAs, critical body functions can be severely disrupted.
While both are important to a diet, it is thought by many nutritionists that commercial pet food (similar to commercial human food) contains too many omega-6s and not enough of the “good fat”, omega-3s. Omega-6s can be found in meat products, egg yolks, whole grains and vegetable oils, while the best source for omega-3s for dogs is cold water fish. Fish oil provides the long-chain omega-3s (EPA and DHA), that are used for metabolism. Another complication is that fatty acids are very unstable and fragile, and tend to oxidize very quickly. They are easily destroyed by heat, light, and oxygen, thus they break down during processing and storage. It is important to note that the only way you can assure that your dog is getting sufficient amounts of EFAs is to either provide fish, such as mackerel, sardines, tuna, salmon, etc., in their diets or add an EFA supplement yourself. If using a supplement, ideally it should be guaranteed-fresh source packaged in an oxygen-free container, such as soft gel capsules that prohibit air from contacting the oil.
Composition and sources of Omega-3 fatty acids:
- EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) cold water fish and their oil.
- DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) cold water fish and their oil, eggs from chickens fed omega-3.
- ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid) found in flaxseed oil, canola, soy beans, navy or kidney beans and walnut oils, plus green leafy veggies.
It is important to note that, unlike humans, dogs cannot convert ALA to the all-important EPA and DHA, so plant oils are not an ideal source of omega-3s for them. ALA from plant foods are often the primary sources of omega-3 found in dog food. While they are still important, this does mean that your dog’s diet may be lacking in EPA and DHA, causing them to miss out on certain health benefits.
Composition and sources of Omega-6 fatty acids:
- LA (Linoleic acid) that can be found in corn, canola, safflower, sunflower oils, whole grain and body fat of poultry.
- GLA (Gamma linolenic acid) in black current seed oil, borage oil and evening primrose oil.
- AA (Arachidonice acid) found in the body fat of poultry, lean meat, egg yolks, some fish oils.
- DGLA (Dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid) found in organ meats.
Benefits of Omega-3s:
As many veterinarians, including Karen Becker, DVM, have noted, “omega-3s have tremendous potential to positively impact your pet’s health.” Here’s a list of what omega-3s contribute to a dog’s health and vitality:
- Support normal neural development, cardiovascular and immune systems, healthy reproduction, and skin and coat health.
- Therapeutic benefits and aid in managing chronic inflammatory disorders, like colitis, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, joint pain due to arthritis and allergic skin problems.
- DHA is important for development of a healthy nervous system and proper development of the retina and visual cortex in fetuses and newborn puppies.
- Manage stress and improvement of brain health and cognitive functioning, especially in senior dogs.
- Support skin and coat health and relieve dry and itchy skin.
- Omega-3s fatty acids have been shown to slow the development and metastasis of certain cancers, while omega-6s have been shown to stimulate tumor development.
- Fish oils have been shown to decrease the levels of triglycerides and cholesterol in the blood.Not All Fish Oil Is Created Equally
With the rising popularity of fish oil for both the human and canine health, there are many different manufacturers making a variety of claims. So when selecting which omega-3 oil to purchase you need to consider a few factors including, purity, freshness, potency, bio-availability and sustainability.
Purity: The oil must meet international standards for heavy metals, PCBs, dioxins and other contaminants. You need to check with the manufacturer’s Certificate of Analysis (CoA) to receive third-party verification. Many oils come from areas of the ocean that are heavily trafficked and/or polluted by deep sea oil rigs. Make sure you know what part of the world the fish was caught.
Freshness: EFAs are susceptible to oxidation, which turns them rancid. Look for verification about the freshness from the CoA, and for companies that use smaller vessels. Ask how the fish is kept fresh once it is caught, and how long does it take from the “catch” to the processing plant. The product should be available in an oxygen-free container, such as soft gel capsules that prohibit air from contacting the oil. Freshness is measured by oxidation as shown in the CoA’s anisidine and peroxide values, that should be less than 5 meq/kg.
Potency: The oil must contain DHA and EPA. DHA provides most benefits to dogs, so it should exceed the levels of EPA.
Bio-Availability: The oil must be in a natural form not a synthetic triglyceride which many fish oils are.
Sustainability: Many fish oils are made from fish that are endangered. Choose products made from fish that are certified by organizations such as the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED).
It’s important to look for or request a Certificate of Analysis (CoA) from the maker before you buy a fish oil product and if you have any questions, the company should be available to address those in a timely manner.
Omega-3s and omega-6s are indeed essential fatty acids, not only because they need to be added to a diet, but because they are essential to overall health. However, as they also add calories, attention needs to be given to the overall caloric count that is provided to a dog in both their food and supplementation. Consultation with your veterinarian is also recommended.
Wellness: Health Care
As the mom of two young children, I’m always checking the weather forecast. Jacket or sweater? Rain boots or sneakers? As a veterinarian with the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), I rely on a different forecast, the Companion Animal Parasite Council findings published by my veterinary colleagues, which tracks the intensity of pet diseases from year to year. Here’s what to expect for the remainder of 2016.HEARTWORM DISEASE FORECAST: STORMY
Veterinarians anticipate a rise in heartworm disease because of the unusual weather pattern created by El Niño. The warmer temperatures and wetter conditions create an ideal breeding environment for mosquitoes. When an infected mosquito bites a dog, the larvae are injected into the dog’s skin. They migrate through the body, finding their way to the large blood vessels of the heart and lungs. There, they mature to the size of cooked spaghetti. These tangled masses of worms can cause heart failure, and even death, if not treated early.
Expect to see cases skyrocket in:
Heartworm disease is prevalent in the Lower Mississippi River region and this year it’s expected to spread to:
All dogs need to be protected from heartworms, even those who rarely venture outside. The one mosquito that flies through your open window and bites your dog just might be infected with heartworm larvae. Preventives are available in the form of pills, topical liquids and injections. All kill the larvae once they enter the bloodstream. The AAHA recommends year-round heartworm prevention.TICK-BORNE DISEASE FORECAST: PARTIALLY CLOUDY
An infected tick can spread a number of life-threatening diseases when it bites a dog. The most common are Lyme, anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis, and their prevalence varies by region. Some dogs with Lyme disease will run a high fever, experience painful joints and exhibit swollen lymph nodes. Others will present no signs at all. Untreated infections can lead to kidney failure and death.
In regions where Lyme has been living comfortably for years, the incidence is expected to rise. These regions include:
Recently, the disease has spread to:
These states may have a higher-than-average occurrence the rest of the year.
Historically, Lyme has thrived in New England, but, oddly enough, the incidence there is expected to fall below normal this year, perhaps because more owners are vaccinating their dogs.
If you live in an area where ticks are abundant, take precautions to keep your dogs safe. Your veterinarian will prescribe a tick preventive in the form of pills, topical liquids or collars. In areas where Lyme disease is prevalent, she may recommend vaccination.
Anaplasmosis causes disruptions in blood clotting, which results in bruising, internal bleeding and nosebleeds. Signs of Lyme disease also present in anaplasmosis.
Anaplasmosis shows moderate to high activity in:
Ehrlichiosis displays signs similar to both Lyme and anaplasmosis along with eye, liver and spleen infections. Above-normal incidence of ehrlichiosis is expected in:
Just like the human flu, canine influenza is spread by one infected dog sneezing or coughing on another. Two strains of canine influenza are present in the U.S. H3N8 has been here for years, but a vaccine has kept it at bay. A new Asian strain, H3N2, hit Chicago last spring, causing a local epidemic; dogs didn’t have a natural immunity to the strain and there was no vaccine. Since then, H3N2 has infected more than 1,000 dogs in more than 25 states. Fortunately, H3N2 vaccines were developed not long after the outbreak, which likely curbed the spread. It’s difficult to predict how the flu season will play out for the rest of the year. With so many dogs on the move with their owners, and not all of them protected by vaccines for the new strain, the disease could spread quickly. If you plan to travel with your dog, visit your veterinarian for a vaccine protocol.
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