Sunday, July 29, 2012


Helpful Buckeye thought that, by now, just about every dog owner was aware of the dangers of feeding chocolate to their dog.  Considering the events of the past couple of weeks, that feeling is apparently much too optimistic.  The actions of two of my good friends, one casual acquaintance, and one total stranger have reminded me that a much stronger warning about the dangers of chocolate for dogs is warranted.  My friends both asked me about how much chocolate their dogs could eat without getting sick, the acquaintance wanted to know what kind of chocolate was better for dogs, and the stranger was a hiker in my grocery store parking lot feeding a chocolate candy bar to his dog.  You really can't ask for a better testimonial about the dangers of chocolate when given to man's best friend...unless you could visit a pet emergency room and witness an emergency veterinary specialist trying to save a dog's life after being given chocolate by its ignorant and/or very careless owner.

And, of course, Charles Schultz (of Peanuts fame) didn't do any favor to dogs with his famous quote:  "All your dog needs is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt."

Enough preaching...let's get on with the lesson:

Why Dogs Can't Eat Chocolate
By: Dr. Dawn Ruben


The Hidden Dangers Of Chocolate

The worst a Hershey bar can do to you is add an inch to your hips. But that same candy – even in relatively small amounts – can make a dog very sick. Make no mistake: For them, chocolate is poison.

While most people have heard that chocolate is in fact a danger to dogs (and it is), the questions remain: Why? Exactly how dangerous is it? What do I do if my dog eats chocolate?

In addition to a high fat content, chocolate (cocoa) contains high amounts of methylxanthines, specifically one called theobromine, along with caffeine, two different types of stimulants that affect the central nervous system and the heart muscle, as well as increasing the frequency of urination.  As a general rule the darker the chocolate (higher percentage of cocoa), the more theobromine it will contain.

Why is it toxic?

Theobromine is found in products of the cocoa tree. It affects humans similarly to a light dose of caffeine and is metabolized by the body to half levels within 6-10 hours.

Dogs and other domestic animals are not able to metabolize theobromine as quickly as humans meaning it can put greater strain on the animal’s nervous system and kidneys.

Symptoms of Poisoning

If your 50-pound dog gets his paws on a single chocolate-chip cookie, it probably won't cause him serious problems. However, if he gobbles up more – a pan of brownies, say – he may develop vomiting or diarrhea.

Once toxic levels are reached, the stimulants kick in, and this is when you really have to worry. Symptoms include: restlessness, hyperactivity, muscle twitching, cardiac arrhythmias, increased urination and/or excessive panting. If your pet isn't treated, he could go into a seizure – possibly even die.

How Much Is Toxic?

Chocolate in any form is extremely dangerous for dogs and the results of eating it can be life threatening.

The size of your dog in combination with the type of chocolate (dark, milk, white) as well as the quality (amount/strength of cocoa) of chocolate consumed, can greatly affect how much your dog can eat without side effects. If you believe chocolate has been consumed in any amount, it is best to take action and get your dog medical attention as soon as possible.

The amount of chocolate that it takes to poison your pet depends on the type of chocolate he's eaten and his weight. White chocolate has the least amount of stimulants and baking chocolate or cocoa beans have the highest. Here is a list of the most common sources of chocolate and the amount that leads to toxicity:

White Chocolate. Mild signs of toxicity can occur when 45 ounces per pound of body weight is ingested. Severe toxicity occurs when 90 ounces per pound of body weight in ingested. This means that a 20-pound dog would need to ingest at least 55 pounds of white chocolate to cause nervous system signs. A 10-pound cat would need to ingest 27 pounds. Yes, that is twenty seven pounds! White chocolate has very little real chocolate in it. Therefore, the levels of caffeine and theobromine are very low. Tremendous amounts of white chocolate need to be ingested in order to cause toxic signs from chocolate. It is highly unlikely that white chocolate ingestion will result in the toxic neurologic signs but, the severe gastrointestinal effects from a high fat food develop with much less white chocolate ingestion.

Is white chocolate dangerous for my dog?

White chocolate is technically not “chocolate,” but can still be dangerous to your dog if consumed in large quantities. Made with cocoa butter rather than cocoa solids (like dark or milk chocolate) it does not contain the same dangerous levels of theobromine. It does contain a higher amount of sugar and fat than other types of chocolate however, making it detrimental to a dog’s pancreas.

Milk Chocolate. Mild signs of toxicity can occur when 0.7 ounces per pound of body weight is ingested. Severe signs occur when 2 ounces per pound of body weight is ingested. This means that a little less than one pound of milk chocolate can be toxic to the nervous system of a 20-pound dog. A 10-pound cat would need to ingest 1/2 pound.

Semi-Sweet Chocolate. Mild signs of toxicity can occur when 1/3 ounce per pound of body weight is ingested. Severe signs occur when 1 ounce per pound of body weight is ingested. This means that as little as 6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate can be toxic to the nervous system of a 20-pound dog. A 10-pound cat would need to ingest 3 ounces.

Baking Chocolate. Mild signs of toxicity can occur when 0.1 ounce per pound of body weight is ingested. Severe signs occur when 0.3 ounce per pound of body weight is ingested. Two small one-ounce squares of baking chocolate can be toxic to a 20-pound dog. A 10-pound cat would need to ingest 1 ounce of baking chocolate. This type of chocolate has the highest concentration of caffeine and theobromine and very little needs to be ingested before signs of illness become apparent.

Even if your pet doesn't eat enough chocolate to induce toxicity, the candy's high fat content may cause him to vomit or have diarrhea at much smaller amounts than those shown. If that happens, watch him carefully. If his symptoms don't clear up within 4-8 hours, call your veterinarian; aside from toxicity issues, you don't want the animal to dehydrate. Try to be as precise as you can about the type of chocolate the animal ate, how much he took and approximately when he ate it.

What can I do if my dog eats chocolate?

If chocolate has been consumed, call your veterinarian immediately. It will probably be important to make your dog throw up to remove the toxins from the body as quickly as possible.

You can make your dog throw up by giving him a few teaspoons of hydrogen peroxide by mouth. Your veterinarian can provide further instructions regarding the correct amount for your dog. 

The sooner you get help, the better off your pet will be. If the animal is showing signs of toxicity, he has a good prognosis if he's treated within four to six hours of ingestion. The effects of the chocolate can linger for 12 to 36 hours, though, so your pet may require hospitalization.

I really want to share my love of chocolate with my dog- is there anything that is safe?

Carob is a safe alternative as it looks like chocolate, but does not contain any theobromine and is low in sugar and fat. Bakeries that specialize in dog goodies will often use this as an alternative.

There are also many “white chocolate” look-a-likes that do not contain any chocolate at all. Often known as “coatings,” these can be safe for dogs in small quantities.

If you are unsure about the ingredients or what will be safe to feed your dogs- it is always best to check with your veterinarian.

In conclusion

People love chocolate and if dogs ate chocolate – they would probably like it too. But until there is a new kind of chocolate that is safe for dogs – PAWS OFF!

and:  (The Hidden Dangers of Chocolate)

One other fact from Helpful Buckeye that needs to be mentioned at this point is that there isn't much in the way of chocolate poisoning seen in cats...The reason being that, as our regular readers already know, cats don't have well-developed taste buds for sweet things and, therefore, show very little interest in all things chocolate.  If any of you have an interesting "chocolate" story, send it to Helpful Buckeye at:  or submit a comment at the end of this issue.

The LA Dodgers had an up-and-down week...losing 3 games in St. Louis but then finishing the road trip with a 3-game sweep of the hated Giants in San Francisco, the last 2 games being shut-outs.  We return home to LA tomorrow tied with the Giants for 1st place in our division.  The pick-up of Hanley Ramirez this week has given our offense a really needed jump start.

The Pittsburgh Steelers opened training camp this week with a divisive hold-out involving our best wide receiver, Mike Wallace.  He's the fastest receiver in the NFL and losing him would leave a hole in our offense.

It's that time of the summer when the herbs are growing and growing and growing.  To be able to walk a few steps and harvest my very own basil, Italian parsley, chives, rosemary, and lavender is a treat for us as we put together various sandwiches, salads, etc.  Also, tomatoes are coming in to the markets in luscious condition!

Helpful Buckeye has this important suggestion for all of our readers:  If anybody means something really special to you, take a minute this week to tell them so...even if you do so frequently, say it some more.

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Helpful Buckeye is still feeling the thrill of this past week's climb up to and over Vail Pass in the Colorado Rockies.  The memories will stay with me forever!  More on that later....

About a month ago, we had an interesting discussion about the safety of your pet's food.  Not only was that one of our most-read issues, but also it prompted a bunch of questions from our readers.  As promised in that issue, Helpful Buckeye will now address what you should be feeding your pet and why.  As always, if you have any questions or have a comment to offer, please send it to:  and Helpful Buckeye will send you an answer.

Let's begin this discussion with a few basic facts and informational certainties:

Raw Diet or Commercial Pet Food?

The three main feeding choices for pet owners: raw diet, cooked food, or commercial pet food....

Adapted from:

The topics of raw diets and home-cooked pet food will be addressed in our next food-related'll understand why when we get to that issue.  This week's presentation deals solely with commercial pet food.  That includes pet food sold in the grocery store, department store, pet store, farm feed store, online via the Internet, and by your veterinarian.

FDA Sets New Priorities for Foods and Veterinary Medicine

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently released the Foods and Veterinary Medicine Program's Final Strategic Plan for 2012 to 2016.

The plan highlights seven strategic "program goals" to better orient the U.S. food supply toward science-based food safety and labeling standards. It also includes nearly 100 initiatives to help achieve those goals....

...The goals, as outlined in the plan, are to....:

...4. Provide accurate and useful information so consumers can choose a healthier diet for their pets and reduce the risk of chronic disease and obesity....

...The program hopes to work with industry and consumer groups to improve the nutritional information on not only human food products, but animal foods as well. The end goal is to allow consumers the ability to make healthier decisions about their diet (or their pet's).

Adapted from:

Pet Points: A pet's diet demands attention
…Consumers should try to purchase foods from name-brand companies that have quality control, and list the scientific formulation of their product. This is difficult, as even top-of-the-line products have had quality-control issues and subsequent recalls of both food and prescription products. This is distressing to both veterinarians and consumers who struggle to find substitutes….

…There are hundreds of different foods available to feed pets, but not all are scientifically formulated. They vary in price and quality. Many of the benefits people see in feeding a raw meat homemade diet could also be accomplished by feeding a better or different commercial diet, or by adding supplements or probiotics. Animals do have sensitivities and allergies to foods, and limited antigen diets can be successful to treat their problems. Trial and error is often needed to find a good diet for a specific problem or pet….

Adapted from:

With "hundreds of different foods available to feed pets," how do you, as the pet owner, make the right decision on what to feed your dog and/or cat?  Here are several well-thought out suggestions provided by veterinarians and pet nutritional specialists:

Pet Food Is Confusing, Help Me Dr. Watts!

...Choosing a pet food is a difficult and confusing proposition.  The nutritional fact labels on the bags and cans make the task even harder.  You will usually only find minimum or maximum levels of a select few nutrients....

...The first thing I do is look for is the manufacturer's name.  Store brands and generics will usually have a distributor name or a statement that the food was manufactured for the store.  It will not have the manufacturer's name.  Store brands look the same every time, but may have very different formulas in each bag....

...The second thing to look for is the AAFCO statement.  The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) regulates pet foods.  This statement should be labeled for the appropriate life stage of your pet.  Categories include growth, maintenance, and pregnancy/lactation.  Some are evn labeled, "for all life stages."  Be sure to buy a food approved for the correct life stage.  The AAFCO label statement should also include the words, "animal feeding trials."  This means that after the food was formulated, it was actually fed to animals for a period of time to ensure it met their nutrient needs.  Since this method is expensive, it also mean manufacturers are unlikely to change formulations frequently.  If the words. "animal feeding trials" are not on the label, the company is likely to use "book value" formulation, which gives that food a lot less credibility....

...In recent years, small specialty pet food companies have grown in market share.  Some of these companies are just too small to run animal feeding trials on all of their diets.  While these companies may use high quality ingredients and have the best intentions, I still prefer diets that have gone through more rigorous testing.  Without a feeding trial, your pet may well be the first one to eat that particular formula. 

You should insist on purchasing food by a reputable manufacturer that has used animal feeding trials to ensure the food meets the needs of the appropriate life stage.  The manufacturer's name and AAFCO label will give you more information about the diet than everything else on the bag put together....

...Corn really does get a bad rap...Cooked ground corn is a highly digestible source of carbohydrates, protein, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids.  Unfortunately, the niche market pet foods have demonized it to a point that I don't even waste my breath with with clients anymore.  Either a client will take my educated recommendation or they will ignore me, while listening to "Dr. Google" or propaganda from specialty pet food manufacturers....

...The other thing to know about many niche diets is that your pet is literally the first one to eat it.  The diet might very well balance on paper, but most don't do animal feeding trials to measure actual nutrition performance.  A few organic brands have gone through animal feeding trials for some of their foods, but most have been presumed to be balanced based solely on book values....

...In addition, many veterinary therapeutic diets are actually superior for treating specific conditions than anything that can be found over the counter. However, the ingredients lists are formulated by board-certified veterinary nutritionists and other scientists...not by the marketing department of that company....

Question from a client:...OK, it goes something like this...After we adopted our first dog, I went to the pet supply store and wanted to get him the best food.  Yes, I asked some of the minimum wage workers what the "best" was.  They told me the "best" foods are priced higher and they claim "no corn, no soy, no wheat"...yada yada.  So one thinks, "hmmm, I guess corn, soy, and wheat is no good."  I had never heard this before, but read that wording on those packages and I was sold.

The thing is after I started feeding the dog the organic food, he started looking good.  Within the first few months or so, I had people on the street asking what I feed him because his coat is so shiny.  Then, I go back to the pet store and they happen to have the food rep there who tells me the feeding portions are smaller because it has less filler.  The dog did have smaller poop!

Now, the AAFCO statement...I thought because it was written on the package, we were good to go.  It's confusing to consumers!  How am I supposed to know there are two statements they can make?  I figured it passed that test, but I didn't look carefully enough.  I misunderstood.  It's annoying!

I do Internet searches on "best dog food," "high quality dog food" and yes, it's annoying because you get bombarded with all sorts of marketing and conspiracy theorists...But I figure if the food is mentioned on multiple sites, I might be alright....

Answer:...I also find the information on pet food bags frustrating.  I almost always need to consult other sources of information to get the data I need to analyze the details of a particular food. 

As for the size of the feces, that is directly related to the amount of fiber in the food.  It does not necessarily indicate better or worse nutrition for a particular pet.  In fact, some have problems with diets too low in fiber.  The shininess of the coat has to do with the fatty acid composition of the food.  You could feed your pet straight Crisco and they would have very shiny coats, but still poor nutrition.

My solution for you is to find a knowledgeable veterinarian that you trust.  If they can converse comfortably and knowledgeably about nutrition, listen to what they have to say and then ask questions.  If one of your pets needs a therapeutic diet, chances are the one that kind of veterinarian recommends is going to be superior for your particular pet than anything you will find at a pet store--no matter what the Internet, the store employees, the dog trainer, or the bag of food might tell you.  There is nothing wrong with seeking a second opinion, but be sure the person whose opinion you seek is well-educated in animal nutrition.

Adapted from: several articles by Dr. Michael Watts, a practicing veterinarian in Virginia, which can be read at:

If you're either still in doubt or just a bit confused about your pet food choices, here is some helpful information from a clinical specialist on pet nutrition:

Myths of Pet Nutrition

Dr. Lisa Freeman, a professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences at Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary medicine, speaks on optimal nutrition for pets. 

Freeman's lecture centered on exposing the myths of pet nutrition and educating pet owners on how to select an optimal diet for their pet.  "It's a really difficult area for people to deal with because there are so many mixed messages coming out for our own nutrition," she said.  "You look in the newspaper, on the Internet, in the magazines, every single day there is something on nutrition, and then usually the next week there is something contradictory."

According to Freeman, nutrition is an incredibly powerful area because it is one thing that pet owners can actually control.  The $17 billion pet food industry--and the advertising that goes with it--does not help in debunking those myths.  Freeman emphasized that one pervasive myth in particular--the belief that the pet food industry is not regulated, which exploded after the 2007 pet food recall--is not true.  The AAFCO serves two crucial purposes: the AAFCO has pet food regulations that set the standards for individual states, and it also establishes nutrient profiles.

But how is this useful for the average pet owner when it comes time to select food?  Freeman expressed her disbelief at the number of options in the grocery or pet store aisles, where each brand aims to convince owners that its food best for the animal.  "The key is that a pet food label is an advertisement as well, and it has to appeal to us as consumers," Freeman said.  "Unfortunately, when I talk to owners, what they base their decision on is the advertisement, not the legal part."

During the lecture, Freeman asked audience members which pieces of information on pet food labels were most important.  According to Freeman, the most common answer given is the list of ingredients, but this is yet another myth.  "The...most important thing is the manufacturer," she said.  "You would absolutely be shocked at the variability in the quality of different companies."  Freeman explained that at least one full-time, qualified nutritionist, a research and development department, self-operated plants and internal quality control standards are essential for any reliable manufacturer.

"You would be shocked at how many of these pet food companies do not have a nutritionist.  I also don't want them to be spending all of their money on marketing.  I want research and development so they continue to enhance their own foods, to enhance our knowledge collectively about nutrition."

The second-most important fact on the label, Freeman said, is the nutritional adequacy statement, which reveals three essential pieces of information: whether or not the pet food is complete and balanced, how the company knows that it is complete and balanced, and the intended life stage of the food.  "If you're feeding this to your pet, you want it to meet all the nutrient needs for that animal," Freeman said.  "The best way to decide that is with feeding trials.  AAFCO has regulations, and they make sure that animals fed these foods actually stay healthy on these foods.  And finally, the intended life stage--who it's marketed for can be really different from who it meets the requirements for.  That one little statement tells you a tremendous amount of information."

Freeman presented images of pet food labels representing various brands, reading the nutritional adequacy statements and testing her audience as to whether these statements were reasonable.  One particular label for cat food that Freeman showed listed flaxseed--which can be metabolized in humans and at low efficiency in dogs, but not at all in cats--as an ingredient.  According to Freeman, this is an indication that the company does not know a lot about nutrition.  "They used it for us, because we see flaxseed and think it's great.  That is marketing to us.  People get really deceived by the ingredient list.  But that's how I use it--to look for red flags that say they don't know very much."

According to Freeman, pet owners make the process more difficult than it needs to be.  She advises customers to be skeptical of marketing, as most of the "stuff" on the label is just advertisement and has little to do with quality.

By now, you should feel more comfortable about what to look for when considering the varieties of pet food.  Some final advice on the choices you have to make comes in the form of some questions and answers from a veterinarian, who is board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition:

Food Choices Are Tough To Swallow

By: Sharon L. Peters

The array is dizzying.  Visit any pet store (or any supermarket or Walmart, for that matter), and you'll find dozens and dozens of brands and varieties of dog and cat food.  Lots of individuals and companies are duking it out in the lucrative feeding-our-pets arena, some with brand-new products, some with "new and improved" offerings, most packaged and/or marketed with emotion-invoking verbiage, all knowing that never have so many been so willing to devote so much money and energy to making the right choice....

...But readers contact me with many questions about pet food.  So I found someone who doesn't pitch a particular brand and also has credentials that literally span continents.  Denise Elliot, the above-mentioned board-certified veterinarian and nutrition specialist, offers some interesting information by way of these questions and answers:

Wet or Dry?  "There's no one answer for every pet," she says.  It depends on the animal's "age, lifestyle matters and convenience."  She recommends going wet "if weight control is a problem," since it's easier for owners to cheat with dry food, measuring out heaping cups instead of flat-tops or tossing extra kibbles into the bowl.  Can size is can size, and giving more actually requires opening another, something few people with pets on weight-management programs will do, she says.  Also, she says, cats with urinary tract issues often better on wet food. 

Pluses for dry: It is more cost-effective and convenient, and you don't have to worry if it sits uneaten for a while. (Wet food is subject to spoilage and bacteria growth in fairly quick order, particularly in the heat.)  Contrary to popular belief, however, dry food doesn't necessarily reduce dental plaque, she says, unless it's one of the few specifically designed to do so (and even the special plaque-reducers accomplish little if your pet inhales the food rather than chewing it).

Is it necessary to buy premium brands or are some moderately priced foods from supermarkets OK?  "There are very good brands sold in supermarkets," she says.  "For the majority of animals, we can find something good that will provide complete nutrition at the lower price point."

How can you tell if your pet isn't eating the right food?  There are visual things such as dry, flaky skin or a coat that isn't glossy; there also may be gastrointestinal matters, such as excessive gas or stool that isn't normal, Elliot says.  All signal that the animal is "getting insufficient or the wrong food."

It's especially important, she says, that puppies get proper nutrition during their early months, when they're growing.  Larger breeds, in particular, can develop growth or bone disorders if they don't get food formulated for their extra needs.  Poor nutrition, in fact, can cause a variety of issues in all ages.  Your veterinarian is a good resource on that, she says.

What about much-maligned corn as an ingredient?  Elliot says there's a great deal of anecdotal chat about corn being problematic for many dogs, "but when we look to scientific studies, there's not one ingredient more likely to be implicated."  Some dogs may be sensitive to corn, but some may react poorly to chicken or other ingredients.  Moreover, "use of corn is variable, some may crack corn or extract nutrients," so some corn-containing products may be fine for a particular dog, and others may not.

Is homemade food best?  "I know the intent is good, but most recipes on the Internet aren't complete and balanced and, with time, can cause problems." 

What about the matter of treats?  When I shifted to that topic, I made a confession: I don't buy them and don't see any point in them once a dog is trained, particularly inasmuch as more than half of the nation's pets are, by all measures, too fat.  She laughed and congratulated me.  She doesn't give treats to her three Labradors, either.  She rewards each with the special things each finds wonderful: belly rubs, ball chasing, or special toys.  "Interaction time with you is what they see as the best reward." she says.

The whole treat-giving thing is often driven by "guilt."  Owners would do better--especially owners who have pets "that don't need the extra calories"--to establish "what the pet likes or enjoys" and provide more of that.

Now, even with all those choices of pet foods, you should feel a lot more confident about making the right choice for your dog or cat.  Later on this summer, Helpful Buckeye will address the topic of "What SHOULDN'T be for dinner." 

The LA Dodgers have finally put together a nice, 4-game winning streak...including a 3-game sweep of the Mets in NYC.  We're right behind the Giants, with a lot of baseball yet to be played.  Our 2 big stars are back in the daily lineup and our pitching has been getting better.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the AZ Cardinals open training camp this coming Wednesday.  Helpful Buckeye will be at several of the Cardinals' practices here in Flagstaff, with Desperado coming along for a few of them...she really got into it last year.

My bike ride over Vail Pass surpassed any expectations I had prior to the event.  The long grind of 30 miles uphill, the culmination of reaching the high pass at 11,400 ft, and the long descent of 10 miles down to 8000 ft in Vail were more exhilarating than I could have imagined.

I bought a T-shirt in Vail that has this message on it:
"You don't stop riding because you get old; You get old because you stop riding."
If that's the case, then I should never get old.... 

Several friends have already asked about going with us if we ever decide to do this ride again...after they heard about our experiences...that would be fun to do.

My next challenge will require a different type of training.  I'll still be biking a lot of miles, but I also will be working on another way of getting from point A to point B.  That event will be the 3rd week of September.

"Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning."--Gloria Steinem

All the dreaming, planning, and realization gave me these photos:

Dodger1 in Monument Valley

Monument Valley

A possible bike for the ride?

How about this bike?

...or this one?

Nope, Helpful Buckeye has Dodger1 and the route goes over the mountains in the distance.... 

At the top of Vail Pass, Black Lake marks the downhill start. 

The east side of Vail and Interstate70 below the downhill trail....

Re-hydration and celebration at a bistro in the village of Vail.... 

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

Sunday, July 15, 2012


You're out for a pleasant walk in the neighborhood, in the park, or on the trail.  Before you know it, you step in...yep, that's right...a big pile of soft and messy dog poop.  In addition to probably messing up your shoes and possibly your clothing, it sets a lousy tone for the walk, right?

Well, the bad news is that you've not just inconvenienced've also possibly exposed yourself to any number of pathogens, some of which are also a problem for people.  Unless many dog owners become much more responsible about cleaning up after their dogs, those pathogens will be multiplying as they are spread to other dogs as well as people.

Dog Poop Poses Disease Risk: Scoop Fido's Feces While It's Still Fresh

Once a week, Dwight Farias-Rios visits Max's yard to clean up after him. The owner of Call of Doodie, a pet waste removal service in New Jersey, is typically welcomed by about 14 mounds of the American Bulldog's feces -- some droppings fresher than others.

"Poop is gross," Farios-Rios told The Huffington Post. "It's also not healthy."

That can go for both pets and their human companions.

In fact, Max had been suffering sequential bouts of giardia infections before his owners hired Farias-Rios to do his weekly dirty work. "A vet had fixed Max up," he told The Huffington Post, "but then he kept going back out into the yard and catching [giardia] again because the owner didn't clean up his waste."

A long list of potentially infectious agents are known to live in dog and cat feces -- from E. coli to tapeworms. But perhaps less well known is the fact that a lot of these parasites actually become more infectious as the poop ages.

"It takes many types of parasite eggs a while to ripen," said Dr. Emily Beeler, an animal disease surveillance veterinarian for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Toxoplasmosis, which is more common in cats than in dogs, typically takes more than 24 hours to become infectious, she explained. Roundworm can take up to three weeks, and then may remain infectious for years in contaminated soil and water. (A recent CDC study found 14 percent of Americans tested positive for roundworms.)

Of course, this is not to say that fresh is always best. Newly dropped doo-doo still contain tons of bacteria, noted Dr. Beeler, which may also pose a health risk.

"People just tend to think [old poop] is not as smelly, a little less disgusting," and therefore easier to scoop or simply ignore, added Dr. Beeler, who co-authored a report on the link between animal feces and infectious disease this summer.

In his song "Ordinary Average Guy", quoted by a HuffPost reader WarrenPease in the comments section of a July poop-scooping story, Joe Walsh reflects this common attitude:

"Every Saturday we work in the yard /
Pick up the dog doo /
Hope that it's hard (woof woof)"

While Farias-Rios noted that Max is back to being a happy and healthy hound, Emily and other experts warn that once-a-week poop-scooping -- which is also typical of other businesses in the arising industry such as The Grand Poobah, Entremanure -- is still not enough to ensure the safety of pets and people.

"We recommend daily pickup of stool, no matter who is doing it," Dr. Beeler told HuffPost.

Max actually does his "doodie" in the front yard, potentially exposing neighborhood dogs in addition to himself. Further, both he and the neighboring mutts could also share the parasites, viruses and bacteria with their owners. When HuffPost spoke with Farias-Rios, he had just returned from doing an estimate at another potential client's home. The family's dogs use the backyard as their bathroom and end up stepping in their own poop and tracking it inside.

"Now there's a possibility of E. coli poisoning for the kids and family," he said. Of course, not all pathogens affect humans, and not all pathogens that affect humans show symptoms in pets.

Janet Geer, spokesperson for Seattle-based Puget Sound Starts Here, a partnership of regional governments dedicated to improving local water quality, also urges more frequent clean-up to limit these risks. As HuffPost reported in July, her organization is leading a campaign, complete with a music video to the tune of "No Diggity," aimed to persuade people to pick up after their pets. The public service announcements instruct how to "bag it up" and toss it in the trash.

Since the launch of Dog Doogity, Geer said she continues to see increasing social awareness and decreasing evidence of fugitive feces. Some Puget Sound-area cities have recently instituted new laws, even going as far as to require the removal of pet waste from private property every 24 hours, on top of an all-out ban on leaving any poop in public.

The education campaign continues. "A lot of people around here still think of it as organic fertilizer," she added.

Like many parts of the country, local water pollution is a growing concern in the Seattle area. When it rains, feces left on sidewalks or yards can wash into storm drains and ditches, which then flow untreated to the nearest lake, stream or wetland and ultimately wind up in the Puget Sound. Even in small doses, E. coli can get into the water system and cause significant trouble.

In addition to releasing nutrients into the water that can feed on algae and kill marine life, excrement contamination can also send unlucky beach-goers home with bouts of diarrhea or hives.

As performer Martin Luther sings in the video, "Hey yo, you don't want to swim in poo."

The Washington State Department of Ecology has studied the local sources of pollutants and linked higher counts of fecal coliform -- an indicator for the potential presence of harmful pathogens -- to residential compared to commercial areas. "This spells out dogs," Geer told HuffPost.

So what can be done to protect the public from parasitic poop, and help them to enjoy only the health benefits of pet ownership?

Some communities are enlisting high-tech solutions such as DNA testing or video surveillance to track culprit dogs and their owners.

But Michael Brandow, author of "New York's Poop Scoop Law: Dogs, the Dirt, and Due Process," doesn't see these strategies catching on. Instead he suggested on Pet Life Radio that the answer is far more simple: peer pressure and the "policing of each other" that comes with increased awareness.And this peer pressure can be of the active variety, as described by another HuffPost reader. "I've gotten into the habit of always carrying extra bags with me when I take my dogs out," wrote NatureNerd in a comment on July's story. "When I see someone not picking up after their dogs, I will walk up to them and say, 'Oh, did you forget a bag to pick up after your dog? That happens to me too. Here, have one of mine.' So far, has worked every time."

In addition to regularly cleaning up after their dog -- or hiring help to do the task -- pet owners should also make sure that they get their animal regularly checked for parasites, advised Dr. Beeler.

"They should follow any treatment protocols that their vet recommends," she said. "This helps protect people too."

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One of the interesting human viruses that has recently been shown to be carried in dog feces is Norovirus:
Pet Dogs Can Carry Human Norovirus, Study Shows

While dogs may indeed be man's best friend, it turns out that they also have the ability to harbor one of man's most common enemies - norovirus.

A study out of Finland has shown that pet dogs can carry human strains of norovirus and pass them on to people in the household.  Researchers at the University of Helinski's Department of Food Hygiene and Environmental Health took 92 fecal samples from dogs living in households where either the dog or family members had recently experienced vomiting or diarrhea - the most common symptoms of norovirus infection. They found human strains of norovirus (HuNov) in 4 of these samples.

Norovirus is the leading cause of gastroenteritis, or what is commonly thought of as stomach flu symptoms, in the United States. It affects 23 million individuals in the country each year. While most cases resolve within a few days, some can be severe and in rare cases fatal.
Until recently, it was thought that animals did not carry human noroviruses, since "generally species barriers seem to be rather stong for viruses," explains Carl-Henrick von Bonsdorff, co-author of the study and member of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.  However, "with the great number and variability of human norovirus strains the idea of animal reservoirs has become more interesting," von Bonsdorff told Food Safety News in an e-mailed statement.

The results of this study - published this month in the Journal of Clinical Virology - show that it is indeed possible for animals to carry human strains of norovirus. In fact, 2 of the dogs whose stool tested positive for human norovirus had even displayed symptoms of infection themselves.  When asked whether this means that dogs might not only carry human noroviruses but actually be sickened by them as well, von Bonsdorff noted that this study cannot answer that question.
"Infection transmission will require more rigorous studies. The study just shows that it is possible," he said.

So where do these dogs come into contact with the virus? Von Bonsdorff says the most likely source is family members who have the disease, specifically small children. Norovirus is most highly concentrated in feces, he explains, but can also be transmitted through saliva and vomit.

This does not mean that dogs can't also pick up HuNoVs outside the home by sniffing, licking or eating contaminated materials, notes von Bonsdorff.

But before you lock up Fido and stop the children from playing with him, keep in mind that the most common path for norovirus transmission is still human to human.  "Viruses are in general rather species specific. It seems very unlikely that the transmission would be as easy between man and dog," says von Bonsdorff.

The next step for studying HuNoVs in animals is to look at whether the virus can multiply within a dog's intestines, or whether it simply passes through the animal.  For now, scientists have proof that dogs are capable of carrying the disease, and can pass it on to their owners.

While von Bonsdorff says it is possible that other animals, such as rodents, may also carry HuNoVs, as of yet there is no hard evidence that this occurs.

Adapted from:
Might there also be some concern about possible spread of infection through the air???
Dog Pollution? Study Finds Fecal Bacteria in Air

There’s a new reason to crack down harder on dog owners who don’t clean up after their pets. Samples in two cities found that in winter the most common bacteria in the air is from feces — probably that of dogs.

"A significant percentage, anywhere from 10 to over 50 percent of the bacteria, seem to be derived from feces," Noah Fierer, an assistant professor of ecology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, told

"As best as we can tell, dog feces are the only explanation for these results," added Fierer. "But we do need to do more research."

Fierer and colleagues looked at air samples taken in winter from four cities in the Midwest — Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Mayville, Wis.

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Potentially a scary thought, huh?

Anyone who has had a dog and taken it to their veterinarian for an office visit and examination, has undoubtedly had to bring along a stool specimen from their dog or have one collected as part of the exam.  Why is that necessary?  What kind of information does it provide?

Poop as a diagnostic tool

Dr. Sandy Willis, a small animal internal-medicine consultant at Phoenix Central Laboratory in Mukilteo, Washington, answers this week's questions.

Question: Vets typically want to test a stool sample from our pets during an annual exam. It can be a smelly and messy collection, and many pet owners ignore the request. How valuable a diagnostic tool is poop?

Answer: The importance of a routine fecal examination and deworming has grown in recent years.

A fecal exam is very helpful in health and disease. It will identify most gastrointestinal parasites in a healthy pet and those that may be causing disease in a sick pet with a variety of signs, including diarrhea, vomiting, poor skin and hair coat, weight loss, etc.

Most pets acquire parasite infections from the environment because parasite eggs often can exist for long periods of time in the soil and grass. Fecal examinations in healthy pets will identify asymptomatic shedders, allowing us to treat them, eliminate shedding, serving to reduce overall contamination and exposure of other pets to infection.

Some parasites, such as toxocariasis (roundworm infections) and toxoplasmosis are zoonotic, meaning that if eggs are ingested by people, they can develop disease. This occurs rarely, but routine fecal examination and deworming of our pets is important to the health of our families.

Furthermore, restricting access of children to contaminated areas, such as sandboxes, pet-walk areas and other high-traffic areas, is important.

An important zoonotic parasite is the raccoon roundworm Baylisascaris. Raccoons defecate in areas called latrines, and surrounded soil can be contaminated with Baylisascaris eggs.

People should discourage raccoons from their yards but not feeding raccoons or other animals around their homes, carefully removing any raccoon fecal material, and not allowing children to play in areas where raccoons have been.

Question: What can a fecal sample tell you about a dog's health?

Answer: Fecal examination will identify internal parasites, such as worms, coccidia, giardia, and sometimes larvae such as lung worms.

In puppies, parasite infections often come from the mother, so the health of the puppy and bitch can be assessed by a fecal examination.

But the exams do not identify all infections, and, thus, routine deworming is important even if fecal tests are negative.

This is particularly important in the puppy and in recently infected older dogs. In these dogs, worms are present in the intestines but they are not yet shedding eggs, resulting in a negative fecal examination.

Our common antiparasiticals have become so much more advanced in recent years.

They are safer, easier to administer and kill and prevent more infections. However, the fecal examination remains important to make sure we are treating the dog or cat with the most appropriate antiparasitical.

Clients should seek advice from their veterinarian on which dewormers are best. There are many out there, some less effective than others, and the veterinarian's advice can save costs by making sure the right one is selected from the beginning. We also have to be careful with cats and make sure they receive dewormers appropriate for the feline.

Question: What can't a fecal sample tell you?

Answer: There are other causes of diarrhea, including pancreatic insufficiency, small intestinal disease, hormonal problems, even cancer. Routine fecal examination will not diagnose these.

Bacterial causes of diarrhea are rare in small animals. A fecal culture, looking for unusual bacteria in the stool, is needed to diagnose a bacterial diarrhea. Parvovirus diarrhea is not diagnosed on a routine fecal examination, but there is another fecal test for this viral diarrhea.

Question: What specifically are you looking for in fecal tests?

Answer: We are looking for worms, small, moving organisms such as trichomonas and eggs of common gastrointestinal parasites.

Question: Is one stool sample usually enough?

Answer: Generally, yes. Sometimes we prefer to check multiple fecal samples because shedding may be intermittent, which can be the case with a giardia infection. In a patient with diarrhea, we may end up treating for gastrointestinal parasites even though a fecal sample is negative because a negative result does not absolutely rule out all parasites.

Question: What kinds of common issues are typically found?

Answer: The worm eggs: roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, coccidia, and giardia in small animals. Stomach worms, tapeworms, some whipworms and hookworms are seen in large animals.

These must be distinguished from common contaminants in stool, including environmental yeasts and fungi, pollen and other plant material, grain mites and parasites of other species (such as rodents, amphibians, large animals and horses) that are acquired from eating the species (i.e. frogs) or their stool (sheep and cattle).

Parasites from other species are just passing through, cause no disease in the dog and cat and do not require treatment.

Question: What are some of the more unusual diseases detected?

Answer: We can occasionally find organisms that are not related to the gastrointestinal tract, such as skin parasites like demodex and sarcoptes. These are mites that are usually picked up in skin scrapings made of the skin, placed on a slide and examined under a microscope. Sometimes the itching dog or cat will ingest these mites, they will pass unchanged through the gastrointestinal tract, and we will find them in the stool. Pretty cool, but not indicative of an intestinal problem.

We have occasionally seen a huge load of worm eggs from a species other than the one being sampled, such as deer worm eggs seen in the feces of a dog that routinely ingests deer poop!

We occasionally also see eggs that might cause significant disease in a sheep, goat or llama -- in the stool of a dog. It is not necessary to treat the dog for the parasite, because these worms are generally species specific and only cause a problem in the natural host, but it is important to contact the owner of the pasture and have them do a routine deworming of their livestock.

Question: What is the worst thing it can reveal?

Answer: Sometimes we see such large infestations of parasites that the patient must be really ill. Overwhelming gastrointestinal parasitism can cause severe illness and death, particularly in young and immunocompromised patients.

In the Pacific Northwest, we also see a disease called salmon poisoning. Salmon poisoning occurs in domestic and wild dogs from northern California and Washington. This disease can be fatal if not identified and treated.

It is caused by a small microscopic organism called a rickettsia. Clinical signs include fever, not eating, weight loss, vomiting and diarrhea, which can sometimes be bloody. Signs are severe and dogs can become very ill, needing immediate veterinary care.

The interesting aspect of salmon poisoning is this: the rickettsia, called Rickettsia helminthoeca, is carried within a trematode or fluke. The fluke requires two other life-forms, the snail Oxytrema, which is only found in fresh and brackish stream waters in our coastal areas, and salmonid fish (salmon), certain nonsalmonid fish (such as trout) and the Pacific giant salamander. The dog becomes infected by eating or sometimes even licking a fish or salamander. We diagnose the infection by finding the fluke eggs in a stool sample. It is rare to find the rickettsia agents themselves.

Salmon poisoning only occurs from the ingestion of raw fish. Cooked fish do not present a problem. Thus owners should really discourage their dogs from eating any raw fish.

This disease is not seen in cats.

Question: Which diseases, parasites, etc., can only be detected in an analysis of poop?

Answer: We can only detect the presence of gastrointestinal parasites, such as worms, trichomonads, coccidia, etc., by a fecal examination. There are no blood tests for these organisms.

Question: Are there any situations in which diseases/problems can be caught early by examining poop, before more serious symptoms develop?

Answer: We can occasionally detect fecal parasites before we see signs of disease such as diarrhea, blood in the stool, weight loss, poor skin and hair coat and condition, etc.

In addition -- and more importantly -- some parasites are zoonotic, meaning they can cause an aberrant infection in man, such as roundworms and certain hookworms. Thus we do want to make sure our pets are parasite free by performing routine fecal examinations and deworming.

In salmon poisoning, if we find the fluke eggs on a routine fecal examination, we will generally treat to prevent the disease with a tetracycline antibiotic.

Question: Vets usually want the samples to be "fresh." Why?

Answer: Even the finding of one egg can be diagnostic, thus we want the samples to be fresh. With time, samples and eggs dry out and disintegrate.

Also, fecal samples in the environment can quickly become contaminated with fly eggs, free living larva or worms from the soil, and other contaminants that can be confused with real parasites.

Question: What is the best way to collect a sample? What do you suggest it be scooped up with?

Answer: The sample can be scooped up with anything clean and submitted in a special fecal vial provided by the veterinarian, a clean dry cup of any type with a lid, or even a plastic bag. The key is to not gather up too much of the environmental contamination, such as leaves and dirt and little box clay.

We usually only need one to six grams of a sample, thus the owner does not need to provide a huge amount. When there is diarrhea, the sample size should be larger. With firm stool, we need less.

Question: What is the best sanitary way to keep a sample if you can't get to the vet immediately?

Answer: Keep the sample in a container with a lid, or in a bag that is closed. I would keep it in a cool place.

As pets defecate at least one to two times a day, samples should be collected on the day they are submitted or the day before so they shouldn't need to be kept for long periods of time.

Question: How is a fecal sample prepared for examination?

Answer: Fecal samples are analyzed either at veterinary diagnostic laboratories or within the veterinary hospital/clinic. The basic technique of the fecal procedure is to first identify any large parasites within the sample.

We may take a small sample, mix it slightly with water and do a direct examination under the microscope for any moving parasites. Then, another small sample is prepared for a fecal flotation. A flotation technique uses a solution (can be sugar solution, zinc sulfate, sodium nitrate, etc) and either passive ( the sample sits on the counter for a given length of time) or active (centrifugation of the sample) flotation to separate parasite eggs from debris in the sample and allow them to be identified under a microscope by egg size and morphology.

Question: How much does an analysis usually cost?

Answer: This varies depending on the technique and whether the fecal sample in done in the veterinary clinic or sent out to a veterinary diagnostic laboratory. Costs can vary from roughly $25 to $45. Clients are urged not to shop tests based on cost alone because the cheapest fecal test may not be run the complete way with centrifugation. Also, a clinic is not going to simply run a fecal test without a physical examination, an interpretation of the results and appropriate therapy.

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The National League pounded the American League in the All-Star game this past week, which will give the NL the home-field advantage in the World Series this fall.  So, the LA Dodgers get back their 2 big stars, Kemp and Ethier, and what do we do???  We lost 2 of 3 games to the San Diego Padres, the last place team in our away late-game leads in both losses!

Desperado and Helpful Buckeye have found a new happy hour location in town that features $2 fish tacos and sliders, along with $2 Tecates...right in the heart of downtown Flagstaff!

Also, still strumming the culinary guitar, Desperado made up a batch of the pink lemonade with lavender recipe we picked up down at the Arizona Lavender Festival...and it's a bona fide winner!

We saw Woody Allen's new movie, To Rome With Love, on Thursday...enjoyed the scenes of the city, the music, and the story lines...but, compared to Midnight In Paris, this one was only average at best.

By the time you read this, we will be up in the central Rocky Mountains for my bike ride over Vail Pass...the 2nd highest point on I-70 as it crosses the Rockies.  I finished my training schedule on Friday and I'm as ready as I can be for the adventure.  John Denver had a little bit to say about this location...enjoy: 

Rocky Mountain High

I'll have more to say about it next week...after I try to touch the sun.

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~