Sunday, August 19, 2012


This week's topic concludes the 3-part series covering pet food concerns.  Helpful Buckeye has already discussed "How Safe Is Your Pet's Food?" and "What's For Dinner?", both of which you can access in our list of recent archives.
This final part of the food trilogy deals with the many items you should stay away from when it comes to feeding your pets.  Veterinarians are sometimes criticized for the frequency with which they say "No" in response to a client asking "Should I...?" or "Could I...?" do this or that in regard to something about their pet.  When pet food is the subject of all those questions, you should be able to learn as much from your veterinarian when they say "No" as when they say "Yes."

Dog Food Ingredients To Avoid
Many people do not know that dog food packaging contains ingredient lists just like human food does. What you see on that label is the key to knowing whether a food is appropriate for your dog. Before you choose a new food, I suggest becoming educated about some common ingredients so you can know what’s preferable and what’s not so good.
One quick note: the higher up on a list an ingredient is, the more it makes up that food. Most of your dog’s food will be composed of the first few ingredients on the list. This is important to keep in mind if you see any of the below undesirable ingredients.
The number one ingredient to avoid is something labeled “by-products” or “by-product meals.” These are ingredients created from waste parts in the butchering process. These parts contain no muscle tissue, and are classified as unfit for human consumption. Meat by-products are things like lungs, spleen, liver, stomach, and even bone. If a dog food lists any kind of by-product as one of the first ingredients, avoid it. Instead, look for dog food that lists actual meat as an ingredient. And don’t confuse an ingredient like plain “chicken meal” for the yucky stuff described above; it’s not the same thing as chicken by-product meal.
Anything artificial is best to avoid as well. Many dog foods use artificial colors and flavors. These synthetic additives are unnecessary, since color has little importance for your dog and there are many natural ways to improve flavor. Some artificial dyes, such as FD&C Red #40, can even impact you; they can be so strong that if vomited, they can stain carpets and fabrics.
Dog foods also often contain fillers ; that is, parts with little to no nutritional value that are added to food to increase volume or weight. Almost all dog food is sold by weight, so bulking up food with inexpensive ingredients can save companies a lot of money. The issue is that your dog gets absolutely nothing from these ingredients, and in most cases their body can’t even break them down. (It even makes more work for you, since what comes in must go out, if you know what I mean). Common fillers include soybean meal and flour, as well as wheat middlings, wheat gluten, and corn meal gluten.
Try to get a dog food that little to no sweeteners or sugar as well. Excess sugar in your dog’s diet can lead to health problems like obesity and diabetes. The sugar on the ingredients list can appear in a number of different ways including cane sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. “But my dog loves his food!” you might say. Dogs are like people: they like what tastes good. But as we all know, what tastes good isn’t always what’s good for us.
On the other hand there are some ingredients that it’s good to have in your dog’s food. Look for dog foods that name natural ingredients and boast no preservatives or by-products. Fruit such as apples, blueberries, carrots, and cranberries all have benefits for your dog - and they add a more natural flavor and sweetness than many other additives. Certain vegetables and tubers are great for your dog too, such as sweet potato, yucca, and spinach.
Some more ingredients that are good to have in dog food include:
* DHA - an Omega-3 fatty acid that boosts the development of your dog’s brain
* Flaxseed - promotes a healthy digestive system
* Kelp - provides fiber and iodine
* Probiotics - strengthen the digestive system and provide natural antibiotics to boost your dog’s immune system 

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The inclusion of raw products into the food web is becoming more popular with a segment of our population, even to the extent of pet food preparation.  Could this be a problem for your pets?

Raw Diet or Commercial Pet Food?
The three main feeding choices for pet owners: raw diet, cooked food, or commercial pet food. In this article we explore the raw diet.
The debate of what to feed pets is a touchy subject among pet lovers. Advocates for raw diets insist that it is the healthiest food, but veterinarians don't always agree.

Scientists who have made a life’s work of studying pet health and nutrition do have answers. Every type of diet has its pros and cons, and raw foods are no exception.

Advocates claim that raw foods are "natural" and are closer to a dog or cat’s natural diet. But our domesticated pets are far removed from wild animals. Wild animals do not live as long as our pets, and they get parasites and bacterial infections from eating raw meat. They suffer and many die when bones get stuck in their throats, intestines, or perforate their stomachs. “Natural” sounds healthy, but there's nothing healthy or good about feeding pets a diet that can cause parasites, bacteria infections and medical problems.

There are pets who cannot handle a raw diet and develop colitis.

Research has shown that commercially available "human grade" meats are often contaminated with bacteria like E. coli that can cause serious illness. Meat sold for pet food surely has the same risk, if not more. Dogs and cats are not immune to Salmonella or other bacteria.

The Delta Society, a non-profit organization that trains volunteers for animal-assisted therapy, issued a statement that they would reject pets fed a raw diet (proteins) because they're likely to shed dangerous levels of bacteria that humans might be exposed to through contact.

On the other hand, commercial pet food contains ingredients that pets are allergic to. There are dogs that cannot tolerate corn or grain in their food, for example.

And of course, the corn or grain-free commercial foods are more expensive. That's another issue in itself!

For more information about raw diets, check out the Food and Drug Administration’s website,, and search for “raw pet food.” For more information about the Delta Society’s position statement, see and search for “raw food.” For the American Veterinary Medical Association’s information links on food safety, go to

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Should You Supplement Your Dog's Diet?
As a general rule, before supplementing your dog's diet, you should discuss with your veterinarian the available evidence or recommendations supporting the use of nutriceuticals and dietary supplements. Be certain to avoid high levels of supplementation of any single nutrient unless you're certain that it's safe and won't interfere with any other medications your pet may be taking.
Supplements fall into two general and very large categories: vitamin and mineral supplements and nutriceuticals. Nutriceuticals are nutrient supplements given to obtain a pharmacologic (drug-like) effect or to prevent a specific disease. The overall benefit of vitamin and mineral supplements is hotly debated. According to most feeding studies of healthy dogs, dogs that eat an appropriate balanced diet do not need supplements. Nevertheless, many of us take dietary supplements ourselves and wish to provide our pets with the same potential benefits.

Of course, dietary supplements can also be dangerous. Excessive supplementation with calcium salts, for example, can lead to significant bone diseases in growing dogs. Vitamin D supplementation can lead to harmful elevations of the blood calcium and damage to the kidneys. Nutriceuticals fall into a different category since they are used to either prevent or treat specific diseases. Examples include: taurine (an amino acid essential to cats) and Cosequin (a protein complex of possible benefit in joint health). There are others, such as L-carnitine (sometimes used for heart
conditions), rutin (used for a serious condition called chylothorax) and co-enzyme Q10. Be aware that the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate supplements in the same way that drugs are regulated and controlled. The proof of effectiveness and safety demanded for pharmaceuticals is not required for nutriceuticals or vitamins.

As a general rule, before supplementing your dog's diet, you should discuss with your veterinarian the available evidence supporting the use of nutriceuticals and dietary supplements. Be certain to avoid high levels of supplementation of any single nutrient unless you're certain that it is safe and will not interfere with any other medications your pet may take.

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At this point, I can't help but recall the words of one of my nutrition professors back in veterinary medical school...he said, "If you are feeding your pet a properly balanced diet, the only thing you are accomplishing by supplementing that diet with vitamins and minerals is to make the pet's urine more valuable."  His reference was, of course, to the fact that water-soluble vitamins and minerals don't build up in the body, but rather are excreted in the urine.  In other words, if your pet is eating a properly balanced diet and does not suffer from any type of nutrient deficiency, then that properly balanced diet should be all that pet gets to eat.

Now, for some examples of specific items that should never be given to your pets as foods or treats:

6 Foods You Should Never Feed Your Pet
Keeping chewing gum in your purse is not the best idea if you have a pup with a sweet tooth. Many sugar-free candies, sweets and mints contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener that can be deadly for dogs. When ingested, xylitol causes a sudden release of insulin in a dog's body which leads to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Warning signs include vomiting, lethargy and trouble with coordination. If left untreated, xylitol toxicity can be fatal.
Chocolate, Coffee, and Caffeine
Chocolate contains both caffeine and a chemical called theobromine, both of which are toxic to dogs if eaten in large enough quantities. Your dog will probably be fine if he accidentally eats a chocolate chip cookie, but depending on his size, chowing down on dark chocolate or baker's chocolate could cause vomiting, diarrhea, rapid or irregular heartbeat, restlessness, muscle tremors, seizures or death.
Grapes and Raisins
Think grapes and raisins are healthy low-calorie snacks or treats for your dog? Think again. Whether they're plucked from a vine or sprinkled out of a box, grapes and raisins can cause acute (sudden) kidney failure in your canine. The signs of grape toxicity include vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy.
No matter how much he begs, don't let your pet lick the remnants of a bowl of guacamole dip -- the avocado is likely poisonous to dogs and cats and can cause vomiting and diarrhea.
Garlic and Onions
It doesn't matter if they're minced, chopped, sliced, diced, cooked or powdered -- garlic and onions (as well as leeks and shallots) contain chemicals that damage red blood cells in dogs and cats.

The affected red blood cells can rupture or lose their ability to carry oxygen effectively, which could lead to life-threatening anemia. Make sure you read labels carefully, as many foods, such as meat-variety baby food, contain these dangerous ingredients. And don't even think about using garlic as a cure for fleas -- it doesn't work and could be more harmful than helpful to your pet.
A less deadly threat of onions being included in pet food is that it frequently leads to increased flatulence and gas...
Macadamia Nuts
While they're an excellent source of vitamin E for humans, macadamia nuts can prove fatal for dogs. As few as 10 macadamia nuts can cause frightening symptoms in dogs, such as weakness, vomiting, tremors and joint pain.
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Dog owners beware: raw fish can be fatal to your
best friend
If you frequent the shores of Isabella Lake to walk and play with your dogs please take extra precaution. Two cases of Salmon Poisoning Disease (SPD) have been reported. Both dogs survived after treatment. Dogs eating dead fish or discarded fish entrails along the shore line could become ill if the fish is infected, and if the dog is not treated death usually occurs within 14 days. Particularly avoid fish cleaning stations where entrails may be discarded improperly. The Forest Service will be posting warning signs at fish cleaning stations around the lake.

Symptoms are vomiting, lack of appetite, fever, diarrhea, weakness, swollen lymph nodes and dehydration. Signs generally appear within six days. Canines (dogs, foxes coyotes) are the primary species susceptible to salmon poisoning. Salmon and other fish that swim upstream to breed can be infected. The disease does not affect, cats, raccoons, bears, skunks, etc. Humans are also not affected, but eating raw salmon or trout is not advised. Treatment can be relatively simple if diagnosed early by your veterinarian by administering antibiotics and a“wormer.”
The best treatment is prevention. Keep your pets on a leash and monitor their activities on the shorelines. It only takes a moment for a dog to nab and swallow fish remains left by irresponsible fishermen. The fish do not die and wash up on shore from this disease - they have to be caught and then discarded. A diseased fish does not display visible signs of SPD and once caught and cooked there is no risk to the person eating the fish.
The disease will not persist in Isabella Lake. As infected fish are caught or die off the disease will expire because it is non-transferable. The host of the disease, snails known as Oxytrema Siluca are not present in Isabella Lake and without the host the disease cannot persist. (See cycle graphic). The source of the infected fish into Isabella Lake is unknown. The historical endemic region for SPD is the extreme northern California north of the Feather River, the west slope of the Sierra Cascade range, reaching into Alaska.
The Department of Fish and Game (DFG) referenced the March fishing derby as a possible source as well as the possibility of fishermen coming from northern California with fish they cleaned at Isabella Lake cleaning stations. Derby fish were purchased from the Lassen Hatchery in November, raised in pens on Isabella Lake and released just prior to the derby. In addition three to five pound “trophy trout” were purchased and planted from Lassen in March.
DFG in response to Sun questions stated they do not know of every source in which fish can be introduced to our region. DFG states that it is their “policy to not plant fish from this SPD endemic region into areas south of the Feather River drainage due to the SPD issue.” The Sun questioned DFG as to why DFG would issue a permit and recommends a private hatchery from within the endemic region with no mention of SPD during the permit process. Public information Officer Janice Mackey’s response was, “Their policy does not apply to private hatcheries.”That policy seems in conflict with public safety and their effort to control the introduction of disease. The unanswered question remains, what qualifies a private hatchery to meet DFG permit approval?
Forest Service Resource Officer Steve Anderson stated in an email, “We cannot positively determine the source of the disease at Lake Isabella. The fishing derby used trout from sources approved by the California Department of Fish and Game through their permitting process.” He also said that according to Internet sources, there have been a few other central and southern California reports of this disease such as Lake Irwin in Orange County.
Please, if you fish, please be responsible for your fish and guts. Do not leave them accessible to wildlife or pets. Save your friends and neighbors the heartache of losing a cherished pet.
Tips on Bread Dough and Dogs
By: Dr. Debra Primovic
Don't feed your dog bread dough. When bread dough is ingested, it rises in a dog's stomach and as the dough ferments, alcohol is produced. After ingestion, dogs will act nauseated, vomit, act painful, lethargic or become disoriented.

The problem with bread dough ingestion can be from the severe distention of the abdomen as the dough rises in the stomach or from the alcohol produced as the dough ferments causing alcohol toxicity.

If your dog accidentally ate some dough, call your veterinarian or local emergency clinic at once.
The incorporation of raw milk into diets both for humans and for pets has been getting some increased attention in the media lately.  Should you consider using raw milk in your pet's food or as something to drink?  Listen to this very informative podcast from the American Veterinary Medical Association and you'll learn the answer:
The last item for you to think about this week in terms of whether or not to feed something to one of your pets is if the pet might be allergic to a certain food or food ingredient.  Food allergies are becoming recognized much more frequently and can often be difficult to diagnose or pin down.
Food Allergies
Dr. Stephen White, a professor of dermatology at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, answers this week's questions about food allergies.
Question: What is the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance?
Answer: Food allergy denotes an immune response to a food; food intolerance presumes no immune response. In veterinary practice the difference is difficult to distinguish, and probably not clinically important in most cases, and the more general term cutaneous adverse food reaction (CAFR) is often used.
Question: How common are actual food allergies?
Answer: This is debatable, as many cases are probably noted by owners (particularly if there is vomiting or diarrhea involved with the feeding of a new food) and never reported to veterinarians. A rough estimate would be around 5 percent of dogs, probably the same in cats.
Question: How does a food allergy present itself?
Answer: The most common clinical sign of food allergy affecting the skin in dogs is nonseasonal scratching, which is usually generalized. This also may be primarily directed at the feet or ears.
The most common lesions that the owners see are a red rash, scaling, or an increase in skin pigmentation. In cats, small crusts or facial/head/neck scratching are common. Of course, there are other causes of all of these signs.
Food allergy may also cause gastrointestinal (GI) signs, such as diarrhea and vomiting. About 10 percent of dogs with skin lesions from food allergies also have GI signs. Perhaps a greater number may show mild signs, such as slightly softer stools.
Rare cases of seizures in dogs have been linked to food allergies.
Question: Are there specific symptoms that are different from the symptoms of an environmental allergy?
Answer: No, except that food allergies don't change with the seasons, whereas environmental allergies sometimes do, depending on the exposure to the allergen (pollens, house dust, etc.).
Question: How is a food allergy diagnosed? Patch test or by process of elimination?
Answer: Neither. Patch testing is for contact allergies and is difficult to do in pets as the patches have to stay on the animal for 48 hours.
Intradermal or serologic testing, as is done with environmental allergies, have been shown to be very inaccurate in diagnosing food allergies.
Eliminating various foods piecemeal from a pet's diet is also time-consuming, inaccurate and frustrating for the owner.
The ideal method of diagnosis is the feeding of an elimination ("hypoallergenic") diet. The elimination diet ideally contains one protein and one starch.
These must be based on previous exposure of the pet to various food stuffs. It is important to remember that dogs that live in households with cats tend to have been exposed to fish, through their consumption of either cat food or cat feces.
Other than fresh water, nothing else should be fed to the dog during the elimination-diet trial. This means that vitamins and chewing toys must be eliminated and that flavored medications (such as certain ecto/endoparasite preventatives) should be replaced by other, equally effective non-flavored preparations.
Protein-flavored toothpaste should be replaced by the malt-flavored variety. Because the elimination diet is not a balanced one, owners should be warned that the dog may lose weight, develop a 'dull' haircoat or scaling, or be hungrier than usual.
Cats need to be monitored to be sure they are eating the diet because cats that refuse a new diet for several days can become seriously ill.
Because many owners are unable or unwilling to cook for their pet for the time period needed, commercially prepared limited-antigen diets available through veterinarians may be used.
Usage of a commercially prepared diet will give an approximately 90 percent chance of determining a food allergy; however, none of these diets will work for all animals, and failure of an animal to improve on such a diet may warrant trying another one, or a home-cooked diet in another trial.
The length of the elimination diet is somewhat controversial; however, our observations have justified a dietary trial of eight weeks.
If some itchiness persists at 12 weeks into the diet trial, this may indicate the need for continuing the diet, but that may also indicate the presence of concurrent hypersensitivities.
In cases where antibiotics are given to treat secondary infections, or oral corticosteroids for severe itchiness, the diet must be continued for a minimum of two weeks past discontinuation of these treatments, in order to properly judge its efficacy.
Upon resolution of clinical signs with the feeding of an elimination diet, the animal should be challenged with its regular diet to confirm the diagnosis of a food allergy.
Recurrence of clinical signs is usually noted within two week. At that point the animal is given its elimination diet again, and the owner then may elect to challenge with suspected allergens, each allergen being given one to two weeks at a time.
The most common proven allergens in the dog are beef, chicken, milk, eggs, corn, wheat, and soy; in the cat, fish, beef, milk and milk products.
Allergies to more than two allergens are uncommon. Once the offending allergens are identified, commercially prepared dog foods that do not contain them may be fed to the pet.
In cases in which the owners refuse to do provocative testing, one of the limited antigen pet foods may be used as a maintenance diet.
Question: In addition to eliminating the food that is causing the problem, how else can a pet with a food allergy be treated?
Answer: Many will have secondary bacterial or yeast skin infections and the proper antimicrobial medications may be used. If severely itchy at the initiation of the diet, a short course of corticosteroids may be indicated.
Question: Are there some pet foods that are less likely to provoke an allergic response from a sensitive pet?
Answer: No
Question: What kinds of things should a pet owner look for when selecting a commercial pet food and/or treats?
Answer: Like many other things in life, you get what you pay for when you buy pet food. Make sure that the food lists the ingredients and that it is shipped across state lines (i.e., stick to major brands, or to foods that are not produced in your state). This insures that the food has met federal guidelines. State guidelines vary from state to state, and are usually not as strict as the federal ones.
In summary:
A Pet's Diet Demands Attention
…No owner wants to see a pet get sick from its food, and there is no excuse for food contamination or feeding something to your pet that you shouldn’t. The issue is magnified by pet owners who, in trying to avoid quality concerns of commercial pet food, make a homemade diet using raw ingredients. An alarming number of clients are choosing a raw meat diet, but many are unaware of the serious risks and dangers that the raw meat diet poses to human health.
Diseases such as E. coli, salmonella, listeria and toxoplasmosis can be carried in raw meat, milk, eggs or produce. Pets can often tolerate some contamination in foods, but people can get very ill. Humans can become sick by contact with the raw food either directly or indirectly by contact with food bowls, counters, fur, saliva or feces. Particular attention has to be given when children and the elderly are exposed to a pet eating a raw meat diet. We have heard other veterinarians discuss the value of raw diets but never heard a pediatrician, infectious disease physician or public health official advocate a raw meat diet for pets.
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 to their pet could also be accomplished by feeding a better or different commercial diet, or by adding necessary 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.
The use of commercial diets is a better choice than homemade pet food, in our opinion. With the options available, a quality diet with proper clinical trials and quality control is the better choice.
So, what can we as owners and veterinarians do to ensure the safety of our pets and families? Check the FDA website regularly for information. Read labels, make sure the company is reputable, and that scientists and veterinarians (rather than pet trainers, pet store employees, or pet breeders) are involved in the formulation of the diet you feed your pet. Quality control by the manufacturer and quality ingredients give you the best chance of avoiding contaminated, toxic, and/or improper ingredients.
This concludes our trilogy on what to feed or not to feed your pets and why or why not.  By now, you should understand that your veterinarian is still the best person with which to discuss what you should be feeding your dog or cat.  If they cannot answer your questions, they will know who to go
to for the information.
Any questions or comments should be sent to Helpful Buckeye at: or submitted at the "Comment" section at the end of this issue.
The LA Dodgers have picked up their intensity this past week, playing 7 games against 2 teams that are ahead of them in the overall standings for any wild card position in the playoffs.  We took 3 of 4 from the Pirates and 2 of 3 from the Braves, all of those on the road.  Now, we head home for a 3-game series against our hated rivals, the SF Giants.  It's like playoff baseball in mid-August!

Helpful Buckeye climbed Mt. Elden this past week, considered to be one of the toughest hikes in Arizona...mainly due to the rockiness of the trail and the steep incline of the upper portions of the trail.  This was more training for a specific part of my big September hike.  A good friend made up some of her special trail mix for me and it really came in handy during the climb.  She combined dried cranberries, pecans, and white chocolate kisses.  I like the mixture so much that I made up a batch to enjoy while preparing this issue today (Sunday).

When playing racquetball today, I actually felt like I was the whole way back from my torn calf muscle in September of last year.  I had pretty much regained the strength in the muscle and no longer walked with any limp...but I still wasn't moving quite as fast as I had before.  Today, I made several quick moves to the front of the court without any hesitation and it felt really good to do that without thinking about it.
Not a day goes by that I don't think about this quote:
"Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine."
--Anthony J. D'Angelo

~~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 relationshipblog 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.~~

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