The Truth About the ‘Special Food Needs’ of Small Breeds

The Truth About the ‘Special Food Needs’ of Small Breeds

By Dr. Karen Becker comments by Diane Weinmann

Those of you with small dogs may have noticed that the pet food marketplace is exploding with diets created for the so-called “special needs” of small breeds. Clearly, the processed pet food industry has found another cash cow: dog food formulas marketed to owners of small breeds.

According to the PetfoodIndustry.com, “… as smaller dogs appealing to both millennial and baby boomer lifestyles increase in popularity, the pet food industry is taking note.”1

According to the article, millennials (now the largest demographic of pet owners) aren’t moving as quickly toward home ownership as previous generations, instead choosing to remain in apartments or condos as city dwellers. Baby boomers are becoming empty nesters, downsizing to smaller living spaces, and doing more traveling.

Neither of these lifestyles is conducive to owning a large dog (or so the theory goes), but since both groups still want to be pet parents, small dogs are the solution.

“Small dogs, which are more portable, more likely to meet apartment weight limits,” writes the author of the article, “and can in some cases even be trained to be completely indoor animals, with litter or puppy pads ensuring they don’t need to go down an elevator or several flights of stairs to find relief in the nearest patch of grass.”

As an important point of clarification, no dog should be a “completely indoor animal.” Walks outdoors, visits with friends and family with yards, adventures to the dog park, and other pet-friendly outings are essential in keeping dogs of all sizes and ages exercised, socialized, mentally stimulated, and grounded to the earth.

Big Pet Food Wants Us to Believe Small Dogs Need Special Diets Simply Because They’re Small

The processed pet food manufacturers would like to convince you that small dogs have unique health issues and nutritional requirements that only they can meet. This is a red flag for me, because processed pet food isn’t the answer for the health issues faced by small dogs (or any size dog), and it’s certainly not the answer to small dogs’ (or any dog’s) nutritional needs.

Processed pet food producers want to position small dogs as so different from “real” dogs that they need specialized diets. In fact, one “global director — nutrition and technical communications” for a pet food company goes so far as to say, “They’re not carnivores.” Actually, yes, they are. All dogs are.

Canines are scavenging carnivores, and need to be, in order to maintain health. Making dogs omnivores or vegetarians creates metabolic disease; however, it’s the stance the pet food industry must take to sell the biologically inappropriate products they produce.

If Big Pet Food’s pitch is successful, it opens up limitless opportunities to expand their product lines and develop marketing plans to sell diets specifically for small breed dogs. Now, these diets will be, for all intents and purposes, identical to diets for every other size dog — it’s really only the marketing, packaging and kibble size that will be different.

And you can bet there won’t be any independent (or even company-sponsored) pet food research substantiating the claim that toy and small breeds have a totally different set of nutritional requirements than other sized dogs. There also won’t be any long-term studies determining the safety or efficacy of feeding these fast-food diets for the lifetime of a pet.

From what I’ve been able to tell comparing formulas for small dogs and regular formulas, the differences are primarily in package sizes, product names and the way they’re marketed, and in some cases, kibble size.

Obviously, repackaging standard formulas and giving them cute names like “Wee Bits” and “Mighty Minis” does nothing to address the supposed “unique health issues and nutritional needs” of small dogs as advertised by pet food companies, but they don’t expect dog owners to connect the dots.

So that’s Big Pet Food’s play for the hearts and minds of small dog parents. Hopefully all of you reading here today won’t be fooled.

Your Dog’s Size Shouldn’t Dictate His Diet

In an ideal world, processed pet food manufacturers would put their significant resources toward getting the basics of canine (and feline) nutrition right and focus less on finding ways to re-engineer existing poor-quality formulas to expand their product lines.

Dry pet food with little or no high-quality animal protein and minimal moisture, but plenty of grains, carbs, starches, allergenic ingredients, non-nutritional fillers, synthetic amino acids, vitamins and minerals, additives and preservatives, is not species-appropriate nutrition for any dog, regardless of size. The fact is, when comparing a Great Dane to a Yorkie, they are all canine, specifically Canis lupus familiaris.

What is becoming apparent, through new canine DNA studies, is that a dog’s evolutionary lineage can play into expressed behavior traits and may dictate dietary preferences. For instance, dogs that evolved from northern parts of the world (Akitas, Huskies, Malamutes, etc.) may crave a diet higher in fish (or omega 3 fatty acids), which was a part of their evolutionary nutrition many moons ago.  Diane’s husky, Neko, loves all fish in his food.

In theory, customizing macronutrients and ingredients to a dog’s genetic lineage may prove to quite beneficial, but this isn’t what Big Pet Food is doing with their “breed specific” diets.

Sadly, humans have chosen to breed certain types of dogs down to sizes so small their organs often don’t function normally. And the AKC and other kennel clubs still condone (and paper) inbred animals. Since nature doesn’t design dogs to be that small, health problems are to be expected, including congenital organ problems which may require owners to feed a lower protein diet.

But assuming all small breeds require low protein diets is misguided. Certainly size, energy output and health problems are a consideration when determining any animal’s nutritional requirements, but a dog is still a dog — a carnivorous canine.

Those of you who have been readers for years know how I feel about this topic: unless breeders complete every possible genetic test for both parents and intentionally breed for “reparative conformation” (so the next litter may carry fewer genetic predispositions), they shouldn’t be breeding, and smaller isn’t better.

That being said, there are some small dogs who are born with poorly functioning livers or kidneys and must be on customized diets their whole lives: this is a result of bad breeding, not an evolutionary adaptation from being small.

Tips for Feeding Small Dogs

It’s very easy to overfeed and under-exercise any dog, and especially a small one, so it’s important to start out on the right foot and stay there.

Currently, AAFCO doesn’t link feeding instructions on dog food packaging to a dog’s energy requirements, so according to the bag or can, a super active 10-pound dog and a super lazy 10-pound dog should eat the same amount. Common sense says this can’t be true.

  1. Ignore pet food advertisements that suggest healthy small dogs need special diets.
  2. Calculate how much food your dog needs each day, then scale that amount up or down, depending on activity level.
  3. Feed an optimally balanced, species-appropriate, fresh food diet to your little one. Regardless of her size, your dog needs the right nutrition for her species, which means real food that is made from healthful ingredients (not feed-grade, rendered, slaughter house waste), high in human-grade animal protein and moisture, with low or no grain content or starches/carbohydrates.
  4. Practice portion control — typically a morning and evening meal, carefully measured. A high protein, low carb diet with the right number of calories, controlled through the portions you feed, will help your small dog remain at a healthy weight. And don’t forget to factor in any calories from treats.
  5. Use small training treats — Tiny dogs need only tiny training treats. Otherwise, you’ll have a not-so-tiny dog in no time. Anything more than, say, a treat the size of a quarter of a pea, is too big. You can buy or make treats to break into very small pieces; you can also use your dog’s regular food as treats.
  6. Regularly exercise your dog — Daily exercise, including at least 20 minutes of consistent aerobic activity, will help your pet burn fat and increase muscle tone.
  7. Evaluate your dog monthly — If she is losing weight, adjust calories. If she is gaining weight, adjust calories.
  8. Small and toy breeds are prone to dental disease because 42 teeth in one tiny mouth leads to crowding, and crowded teeth get dirtier faster. A raw diet and recreational raw bones or nontoxic dental chews will help keep plaque and tartar under control, but small breeds also need to have their teeth brushed daily, as well as routine veterinary dental exams.

The key to keeping your small dog healthy has nothing to do with offering “wee” or “mini” sizes of biologically inappropriate pet food. Help your little one stay at a healthy weight and nutritionally fit with a high animal protein, moisture rich diet fed in controlled portions, and augmented with plenty of physical activity.

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5 Questions to Ask Before Saying ‘Yes’ to Expensive Surgery

5 Questions to Ask Before Saying ‘Yes’ to Expensive Surgery

By Dr. Karen Becker and comments by Diane Weinmann

Some of the most difficult decisions we make as pet parents involve the treatment and ongoing care of an animal companion who is seriously ill or incapacitated.

Veterinary medicine is evolving in terms of new treatments, but just because a treatment is available doesn’t mean it’s appropriate in every situation. In fact, sometimes, refusing treatment is actually the best decision a person can make for their pet’s quality of life.

Asking the Right Questions

Receiving the news that a dog or cat is seriously ill or injured is extremely upsetting for most pet parents, but it’s important to keep your wits about you so that you can formulate the right questions to ask your veterinarian.

At a minimum, you need to know what’s wrong with your pet, the extent of the illness or injury, what treatment options are available and associated costs, and the best-case and worst-case scenarios for each type of treatment.

Armed with this information, I recommend you take a day or two to think things over and write down any additional questions or concerns that arise. This is also a good time to consider a second opinion, perhaps with a specialist such as a veterinary cardiologist, oncologist, or surgeon, depending on what’s wrong with your pet. Questions to ask yourself as you contemplate your pet’s treatment options:

  • What is in the overall best interests of my pet? This is a gut check to ensure it’s your pet’s interests and not your own that remain your primary focus.
  • How difficult will treatment be for my pet? If, for example, your cat is stressed out by car rides and veterinary visits, a course of treatment that requires lots of both will add to her discomfort and anxiety.
  • Will the recommended tests and treatments change my pet’s outcome? Unfortunately, sometimes “doing everything possible” in terms of diagnostic tests and treatments delivers no benefit whatsoever beyond helping pet parents feel they “did everything possible.”
  • Will the treatment offer my pet an improved quality of life? This is arguably the most important consideration.
  • What can I realistically afford in terms of financial and time commitments?

Planning Ahead

Preparation is priceless. I recommend establishing treatment boundaries before you find yourself in a situation in which your emotions are running high and you’re more apt to make decisions you may later regret. Some of the situations below are extremely difficult to contemplate, but whenever possible, it’s best to do so with a clear head. Things to consider:

  1. How will I pay for my pet’s treatment? You can find information on pet health insurance, other options to pay for pet care, and preventive care tips in my article One of the Most Neglected Aspects of Pet Ownership.
  2. How far will I go with treatment for my pet? Generally speaking, it makes little sense to put an elderly pet through a course of treatment (e.g., an amputation, back surgery, or removal of a major organ) that probably won’t improve and may even detract from his quality of life.
  3. How many invasive procedures will I allow my pet to undergo? Set an “invasiveness tolerance level” for your animal based on your own feelings and beliefs — your wise inner voice. For example, an ultrasound is a three-dimensional image taken with an external device that is entirely non-invasive but could be stressful for your pet.

Exploratory surgery, on the other hand, is the definition of invasive. Your pet will be put under general anesthesia, opened up, and her internal organs explored. If you’re unwilling to put your pet under the knife but you’re okay with an ultrasound, write it down so you know in advance how you feel about invasive procedures.

  1. How far will I let my pet be pushed? This involves assessing your pet’s individual stress tolerance level. If you must pack your elderly housecat off to an emergency clinic with dozens of barking dogs, bright lights, odd smells and strange people, it can be overwhelmingly stressful for her.

In such a case, you may decide not to put her through certain procedures — even if they’re warranted and you’d prefer they be done — because you know she’ll very likely have an emotional meltdown simply from the stress of the situation. Identify your pet’s stress threshold and make a decision ahead of time not to go beyond it.

  1. How do I feel about resuscitation and other end-stage issues? If your beloved pet slips into a coma at an emergency animal hospital, do you want the staff to perform CPR, or are you prepared let him go? If you want your pet saved at all costs, will you be able to manage a critically ill animal, perhaps on life support?
  2. How do I feel about euthanasia? Sort out your thoughts and feelings about euthanasia. Think about whether you agree in principle with it. If you must euthanize your pet, would you want it done at home? Which family members would be involved? How about your children, if you have any, and other pets?
  3. How do you want your pet’s remains handled upon death? Do you want to take her home for burial? Would you like her cremated and the ashes returned to you? Or would you prefer to leave the remains at the clinic for disposal? Try to give the situation some thought before the time arrives. Only you know what’s best for your pet, and for you and your family.

Taking Care of Yourself While You Care for Your Pet

Sharing your life with a pet brings immeasurable amounts of joy and unconditional love, but when your pet becomes ill, caring for him can take a toll on your mental health. Researchers assessed what they called “caregiver burden” in 238 owners of a dog or a cat.

It’s well known that caregivers of human patients facing a chronic or terminal illness experience heightened levels of stress, depression and anxiety, so the researchers set out to determine if the same held true for pet caregivers.

As you might suspect, the answer is yes. Compared to owners of healthy animals, the results showed greater burden, stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as poorer quality of life, in owners of pets with chronic or terminal disease.1 In turn, the feeling of higher burden was linked to reduced psychosocial functioning.

It’s important to remember that you can’t care for your pet unless you care for yourself first. Practice positive self-care, from eating right to getting enough sleep, and reach out for support when you need it.

For many, the emotional toll is the hardest part of caring for a sick pet, which is why expressing your thoughts and feelings is crucial.

You needn’t keep your emotions bottled up; what you’re feeling — perhaps failure, frustration, inadequacy or guilt — is valid and by sharing your thoughts — in a journal, with a friend or in a support group — you can ultimately move past them and let them go. The International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care (IAAHPC) states:2

“We encourage you to reach out to like-minded individuals in your community and online who have experienced similar situations, and ‘get it.’ Look to your local animal shelters, veterinary association, and pet funeral homes for pet loss support groups. Human hospice programs in your community offer grief and bereavement services to the public (interview them for their views on pet hospice first).”

In addition, if you’re feeling overwhelmed with decisions and information regarding your pet’s illness, ask for explanations from your veterinarian, and realize that you don’t have to shoulder the burden alone. If you need a moment to regroup, ask a close friend or family member to care for your pet so you can focus on stress relief.

“[T]he ability to think clearly will directly affect how effective you can be in your care for your animal companion,” IAAHPC notes. “Respite, or some time away from caregiving, can be important to your continued well-being.”

Despite the stress and, oftentimes, uncertainty, there can be great solace in being there for your pet when he needs you most. Sometimes, if you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed the best thing you can do is to simply sit and be with your pet in the present moment.

As an alternative, consulting with an animal communicator, like Diane Weinmann, to obtain the wishes of your pet, along with signs that they will display if they are ready to transition into spirit and if they want assistance with that journey can also take the uncertainty of the situation away.

Take some deep breaths, practice mindfulness or meditation, and your calmness will likely be felt by your pet as well.

 

Panic Attacks in Dogs

Panic Attacks in Dogs

As seen in PetMD and comments by Diane Weinmann

 

Anticipating a fearful or negative experience with certain people, objects, animals, or situations can lead to anxiety.

But when does anxiety veer into panic? Can dogs have panic attacks? Here’s everything you need to know about panic attacks in dogs.

Can Dogs Experience Panic Attacks?

Dogs can certainly experience panic attacks, similar to people. People who suffer from panic attacks report a sudden feeling of intense fear.

They may experience a physiological response, such as an elevated heart rate. They may also sweat, tremble, be nauseous, and have a headache.

Usually, there is no specific trigger, but the panic attack can occur during times of high stress.

How Can We Tell If a Dog Is Having a Panic Attack?

Of course we cannot ask a dog how they feel, but we can look for the signs of panic, such as:

  • Sudden panting
  • Pacing
  • Trembling
  • Excessive salivation
  • Looking for a place to hide
  • Seeking their owner’s attention in a frantic manner
  • Pawing or jumping up on their owner
  • Digging in the bed, closet, or bathroom
  • Vomiting
  • Gastrointestinal upset (immediate defecation or diarrhea, for example)
  • Urinating

One of my canine patients who was experiencing panic pulled out the drawer under the oven and tried to hide in the opening.

How to Tell the Difference Between Anxiety, Phobias, and Panic Attacks in Dogs

Is your dog having anxiety, suffering from a phobia, or having a panic attack?

Phobias vs. Panic Attacks in Dogs

How we distinguish a phobia from a panic attack is based on a presence of a trigger. If there is a specific trigger that elicits those intense reactions from your dog, then it may be classified as a phobia.

People with phobias have described it as experiencing an irrational fear of something. This feeling can be similar in dogs.

The trigger can be a sound, person, object, location, or situation. Many dogs experience phobias to thunderstorms and fireworks.

Usually there is no trigger that causes the panic attack in a dog.

Dog Anxiety vs. Panic Attacks

So what about anxiety?

Anxiety comes when your dog is dreading a specific event or situation. The anticipated threat can be real or perceived.

An example is a dog showing signs of anxiety before a vet trip. They have picked up on the cues that they are going to the vet, and become anxious about the encounter.  Another example is when Diane’s dog comes to get her, panting loudly, when no one is awake to let him out in the early morning to pee/eliminate.  He sleeps with my son but if he isn’t home then he relies on me to let him out—he just has to wake me!  Some signs of anxiety in dogs include:

  • Panting
  • Pacing
  • Vocalizing
  • Eliminating inappropriately or involuntarily
  • Soliciting attention from their owners
  • Pulling ears back against their head with the head lowered and tail hanging down or tucked under the abdomen

Tips For Helping Dogs Cope With Panic Attacks

Dogs that experience panic attacks should receive a thorough physical examination from their veterinarian. Diagnostic tests may be performed to rule out any medical causes for the reactions. Diane recommends the Bach flower essence “Rescue Remedy” 4-5 drops giving directly in your pet’s mouth to help them cope with stress.

Provide Plenty of Exercise and Mental Stimulation

Pet owners should also make sure they provide plenty of physical and mental exercise for their dogs—as long as their veterinarian approves the level of exercise.

A minimum of a 15-20 minute walk and/or 15-20 minutes of play every day can reduce a dog’s stress levels.

Providing your dogs with puzzle toys to work for their meals can also help stimulate and tire out their brain.

Short training sessions can be helpful to keep your dog mentally occupied as well.

Offer Comfort to Your Dog During a Panic Attack

If your dog is having a panic attack and he comes to you for attention, you can pet, hug, or hold him if that helps ease the signs of his panic. You can also diffuse lavender essential oil or pet on Calm-A-Mile oil from Dr. Melissa Shelton DVM. http://www.animaleo.info/order-animaleo.html

Depending on how intense the episode is, you can try to:

  • Distract and redirect your dog to play with toys
  • Take your dog for a walk
  • Practice basic dog obedience cues or tricks for high value-treats

Other dogs may enjoy being pet, brushed, or massaged by their owners.

You should also provide a place for your dog to hide. Play calming classical music and make sure the space is free of external stimulants (house traffic, other pets, etc.). You can also use dog pheromone sprays or plug-in diffusers to help reduce anxiety in that location.

Look Into Supplements or Medication to Help Manage Your Dog’s Panic Attacks

Some dogs may benefit from the use of natural supplements such as l-theanine or l-tryptophan. Both are ingredients that have a calming effect on animals.

However, if your dog experiences intense panic attacks, where they are hurting themselves by trying to jump through windows or chewing or digging through the walls, they need to see their veterinarian to have antianxiety medications prescribed for them.

Antianxiety medication can be used as needed. In some cases, a pet may benefit from a daily maintenance medication to keep them calmer overall.

If your dog is experiencing panic attacks on a regular basis, then the maintenance medication can help them cope with these episodes. It may also reduce the frequency and duration of the panic attacks.

Avoid Punishing Your Dog

Just like with humans, getting angry at someone who is experiencing panic will rarely resolve the issue. In most cases, it will only make it worse.

So, yelling at your dog, spraying them with water, forcing them to lie down, or using a shock collar is not going to help a dog that’s experiencing a panic attack.

These techniques will only increase fear and anxiety. Your dog cannot control their emotions or physiological responses in these scenarios. If they could control themselves and choose another option, they probably would.

No one who has experienced a panic attack reported that it was a pleasant experience and wanted to experience another. Your dog needs your love and support to help them through their time of need.

By: Dr. Wailani Sung, MS, PhD, DVM, DACVB

New Urinary Tract Infection Test Yields Results in Minutes

 

New Urinary Tract Infection Test Yields Results in Minutes

By Dr. Karen Becker

If you’re a regular visitor here and read my Healthy Pets newsletters, you’re probably aware that I have a major issue with the overuse of antibiotics in veterinary medicine. One reason is because like people, pets can develop allergies to medications that are overprescribed. In addition, antibiotics have side effects, many of which are long-term.

Another reason is antibiotic resistance, a rapidly expanding and deadly menace, which is the result of too frequent and unnecessary use of these drugs. In addition, antibiotic residues are passed up the food chain, so even if your veterinarian hasn’t over-prescribed them for your pet, there’s a good chance your animal companion is exposed to them regularly through the food he eats.

Dogs and cats ingest antibiotics when they eat food containing the meat of animals that were factory farmed, which includes about 99% of pet foods on the market today. The exception would be if you’re buying free-range, organic meats and making your own pet food, or if you’re purchasing one of a very small handful of pet foods that contain free-range, organic meats.

The Test You Should Insist on Before Giving Your Pet an Antibiotic

It’s important to understand that viral and fungal infections do not respond to antibiotics. Administering these drugs to treat a non-bacterial infection is a classic example of indiscriminate overuse, and I see it happen entirely too often in veterinary medicine. Veterinarians don’t know exactly what to do with a sneezing or coughing or itchy pet, so they send the owner home with an antibiotic.

That’s why I always urge every pet parent to insist on a bacterial culture and sensitivity test when your dog or cat is suspected of having or is diagnosed with an infection. Before you agree to a course of treatment, if your veterinarian doesn’t suggest it, insist on that test.

A culture is simply a sample from the affected area. It could be a sterile swab dipped in urine, or a swab of infected tissue, skin, or ear discharge. The sample is incubated and monitored for organism growth, which typically starts the following day. When colonies of organisms form, each one is tested to determine what type of bacteria is present.

The sensitivity portion of the test involves placing tiny amounts of different antibiotics on the organisms to see which ones the bacteria are the most sensitive (susceptible) to. The minimum inhibitory concentration, or MIC, is the lowest concentration of antibiotic that prevents visible growth of bacteria, allowing the veterinarian to choose the correct antibiotic and dose to successfully treat your pet’s infection.

The decision-making process must also involve choosing an antibiotic that can be administered by injection, orally or topically for optimum results in the specific area of the body where the infection is located.

If your veterinarian prescribes an antibiotic without a culture and sensitivity test, he or she is making a guess at what type of organism is present and the best antibiotic to treat it — a practice known as empirical prescribing. Although lots of vets are very good guessers, given the growing danger of antibiotic-resistant strains of disease-causing bacteria, in my opinion, there’s no longer any room for error.

Each time an unnecessary or inappropriate antibiotic is prescribed, the potential for resistance increases. A bacterial culture and sensitivity test gives your veterinarian two very important pieces of information: the precise organism causing the infection and the best antibiotic to treat it.

Only in an emergency situation should your veterinarian prescribe an antibiotic before the bacterial culture and sensitivity test can be performed. He or she can then switch medications if necessary when the test results arrive.

A culture and sensitivity test takes a little extra time, usually a minimum of 72 hours, so you should be prepared to leave your veterinarian’s office without a definitive diagnosis of exactly what type of bacteria is growing, and without a prescription. Rest assured the additional time it takes to identify the type of bacteria present and the medication needed will allow precise treatment of your pet’s infection rather than a risky hit-or-miss approach.

A New In-House Culture and Sensitivity Test for Urinary Tract Infections

With all the above said, I was very encouraged to learn recently of a new urine test developed by a company called Test&Treat.1 It’s an in-house test (meaning it can be performed right in your veterinarian’s office) that identifies urinary tract infections (UTIs) in pets and the best antibiotics to treat them. Signs your dog or cat may have a urinary tract infection include:

Suddenly urinating in the house or outside the litterbox Constant licking of urinary openings
Visible blood in the urine or litterbox; dark or cloudy urine Loss of bladder control; urine dribbling
Frequent trips to the litterbox; inability to pass urine or passing very little Vomiting, lethargy, lack of appetite
Straining to urinate; hunched posture; crying out in pain Drinking more water than usual

The “U-treat” test results are produced in minutes, which means veterinarians don’t need to play a medication guessing game while they wait for the results of urine samples that had to be sent to an outside laboratory. It also means your pet can begin receiving the correct therapy right away. According to VetSurgeon.org:2

“In addition, the company says that the test will help support the responsible use of antibiotics, which is particularly important given that Enterococci strains identified in canine urinary infections have been found to be resistant to three or more antimicrobials.”3

The U-treat test has two steps. The first step detects the presence (or absence) of a bacterial urinary infection and takes 5 minutes. The second step tests antibiotic susceptibility, and the results show the best choice of antibiotic as well as those that won’t work due to antimicrobial resistance. Step two takes 45 minutes.

U-treat was evaluated in cats and dogs at the University of Tennessee. According to VetSurgeon.org, the test demonstrated high levels of sensitivity (97.1%) and specificity (92%), compared to lab tests. U-treat is currently validated for use in dogs and cats and is being looked at for use in horses as well. It may also at some point cross over for use in human medicine.

Be Sure to Give Your Pet Antibiotics Exactly as Prescribed

A bacterial culture and sensitivity test will ensure your dog or cat heals more quickly and thoroughly. In addition, giving the proper dose of the antibiotic at the proper intervals and using up the entire prescription is important, even if your pet seems to be fully recovered before the medication has run out.

This will ensure the infection is fully resolved and prevent your pet from having to take another full course of antibiotics because the first one wasn’t finished, and the infection wasn’t effectively cleared.

Also Be Sure to Replenish the Healthy Bacteria in Your Pet’s Gut

It’s important to recognize that antibiotics literally mean “anti-life.” They indiscriminately kill off all bacteria, both the good guys and the bad guys. If your dog or cat has been treated with antibiotics, the trillions of healthy bacteria in her digestive tract have also been destroyed, which can set the stage for additional health problems, such as digestive upsets, intermittent diarrhea, poor food absorption, and dysbiosis (leaky gut syndrome).

It’s important to reseed your pet’s gastrointestinal (GI) system with friendly microorganisms — probiotics — during and after antibiotic therapy to reestablish a healthy balance of gut bacteria. This will also help keep your dog or cat’s digestive system working optimally and her immune system strong.

 

How to Create Quality Pet Time, Even if You’re Crazy Busy

How to Create Quality Pet Time, Even if You’re Crazy Busy

By Dr. Karen Becker

 

In case you hadn’t noticed (and how could you not?), you are the center of your dog’s universe. You are the sun, the moon and the stars to your canine companion. Given their lifelong devotion to us, we often wonder how we can ever repay our dogs for their unconditional love — especially when, in terms of time and energy, we’re already stretched to the limit.

Most of us have experienced periods in life when the days, weeks, or even months are just one long, busy blur of work and other commitments. Eventually it occurs to us that we haven’t been paying much attention to our precious furry companion, and yet there he sits — accepting, patient, and ever hopeful.

Unlike a cat who tends to get right up in your face (literally!) when she wants some attention, your dog is more likely to lie quietly at your feet when he can see that you’re busy, or simply sit and wait till you acknowledge him. And let’s face it — there are few things more guilt-inducing than realizing you’ve been ignoring the one friend in your life who would happily follow you off a cliff.

The good news is you don’t need to carve huge chunks of time out of your already overscheduled day to give your dog the undivided attention he needs and deserves. Instead, consider making a few minor adjustments to your usual routine that allow you to include him. With a little imagination, you may be surprised how much quality time you can spend doing things with him that let him know he’s the best dog in the whole wide world.

12 Inventive Ways to Improve Your Dog’s Life in a Hurry

1. Greet the day together — Try waking up 5 or 10 minutes early each morning to cuddle or play with your dog before you get out of bed. Most dogs are wildly happy in the morning and getting a few minutes of cuddle time with you will get your pup’s day off to a delightful start.

2. Be present — This is really just about remaining aware of your dog’s presence and observing his actions, behaviors, and emotions. Your pup is always communicating with you, and he feels loved when he knows you’re tuned into him. When you have two minutes to focus on your pup, really focus.

3. Include her in daily rituals at home — No matter what you’re doing around the house, try to make your dog a part of it. Talk to her in soothing tones as she follows you around or plays with a favorite toy while you get ready for work. Invite her to sit on your lap or lie at your feet while you work, read or watch TV.

4. Take 5-minute play breaks — Look for opportunities to play a quick game of tug while you’re doing chores or getting ready for work. Play hide-and-seek with your dog while you’re doing housework. Roll a ball down the stairs and have him retrieve it. When you bring home a new toy, make it extra-special by spending a few minutes playing with it with your dog.

5. Break out the brush — Many dogs really love to have their coats gently brushed. Be sure to avoid the face and go easy on the tail and the tender skin across the belly.

6. Make like a masseuse — Try spending 30 to 60 seconds gently stroking and massaging alternating areas of your dog’s body, avoiding the paws, tail, and backside. You’ll know he’s digging it when his body relaxes and his eyes close.

7. Do 5-minute training sessions — This is a great way to reinforce or refresh your dog’s obedience or trick training and provide her with mental stimulation as well. It’s also an opportunity for you to give her praise, affection, and a few yummy treats.

8. Take speed walks — Dogs absolutely love walks, so even if you only have 5 or 10 minutes to spare, the more often you can take your dog out for a walk, the better. Of course, when you have more time, it’s important to take longer walks to allow him to sniff, pick up his pee-mail, and do some exploring.

9. Take him along — Whenever possible bring your dog with you — to work, when you’re running errands, on road trips, and in any situation where he’ll be safe and welcome. This will not only strengthen the bond you share, it’s also an excellent way to maintain your dog’s socialization skills.

10. Minimize her time alone — Even the easiest going, non-destructive dog will feel isolated if she’s left alone for long stretches several days a week (not to mention she needs the opportunity to relieve herself). If you can’t get home to walk and play with her for a few minutes during the day, I recommend enlisting a friend or neighbor to do it. Another option is to hire a dog walker or consider a few days a week at doggy daycare.

11. Exercise together — If you can’t make the time every day to get your own workout in, much less exercise your dog, consider becoming workout partners. Dogs today don’t get nearly the exercise they need, and like us, they require an incentive to be physically active.

The best way to make sure your dog gets moving is to provide her with the companionship and motivation she needs to stay active. Healthy dogs should be getting an absolute minimum of 20 minutes of sustained heart-thumping exercise three times a week. Thirty minutes or an hour is better than 20, and six or seven days a week is better than three.

12. Beat back boredom — Most dogs have a strong “work mentality,” but in today’s world, we don’t give them fun and engaging “jobs” to do. Boredom is especially a problem for dogs left alone for long periods of time (which as I mentioned earlier, isn’t recommended). Bored dogs can develop annoying or destructive behaviors, for example, gnawing on furniture or chewing holes in carpet.

The very best hedge against boredom is lots and lots of exercise. Dogs who are well-exercised every day typically don’t get bored. Some great activities to consider doing with your dog include hiking, jogging, swimming and fetching a ball or playing Frisbee. Obedience training, nose work and interactive toys are excellent ways to keep your dog challenged and mentally sharp.

Improving your dog’s quality of life today can pay both immediate and future dividends in terms of his health and well-being. As an added bonus, you can shed those feelings of guilt that you aren’t doing enough for your furry best friend.

 

Is your Dog Depressed?

By Dr. Karen Becker and comments by Diane Weinmann

Dogs may or may not suffer from depression in the same way humans do, but they definitely experience mood and behavior changes that are typically short-lived and the result of a recent event in a dog’s life.

Some dogs feel let down at the start of the school year when their playmates are no longer around. Often, an existing dog shows signs of sadness when a second dog is added to the family. Dogs who suffer the loss of a family member (human or pet) often go through a grieving period. And of course, many new canine residents at animal shelters suffer a period of sorrow and uncertainty.

The problem with diagnosing clinical depression (which is different from transient episodes of depressed behavior) is that even in humans, there’s no biological test to identify the condition. A physician makes note of symptoms and what the patient tells them about their feelings and arrives at an “educated guess” diagnosis.

Using our powers of observation you can determine if your animal companion is feeling blue. Generally speaking, when a vet or veterinary behaviorist describes a patient as depressed, the dog is displaying a change in normal behavior.  Dogs can talk with an animal communicator so please contact Diane at dianefortheloveofanimals@yahoo.com if you believe your dog is suffering from depression.

Possible Causes of Depression in Dogs

Lack of exercise — Some dogs actually become socially inhibited when they aren’t getting enough exercise and playtime. This can take the form of a decrease in interaction with other family members or choosing to isolate themselves in their crate or another room. If your normally happy dog suddenly isn’t, consider the possibility that she needs more exercise. A lot more daily exercise.

Most dogs need much more physical activity than their owners realize. Your dog should be getting an absolute minimum of 20 minutes of sustained heart-thumping exercise three times a week. Thirty minutes is better than 20, and six or seven days a week is better than three.

Minimum exercise requirements prevent muscle atrophy, but don’t necessarily build muscle mass, strengthen tendons and ligaments, hone balance and proprioception, or enhance cardiovascular fitness, which is why more is always better. If you can provide your dog daily walks as well as additional daily training sessions to meet your other exercise goals, even better!

Lots of long smell sessions, as a part of your dog’s “cool down” period after exercise, is a fantastic way to let your dog meet her daily outdoor sniffing requirements, another important behavior that can provide tremendous mental enrichment. I believe sniffing isn’t just enjoyable for dogs, it’s a requirement for healthy cognitive stimulation.

Lack of human interaction — A healthy dog who is feeling depressed may lose interest in eating or playing, become destructive, have accidents in the house, or stop running to greet you when you come through the door. Like a sleepy, sluggish dog, a depressed pooch often just needs more quality time with his human.

Get into the habit of spending an uninterrupted hour with your dog each day engaging in physical pursuits, grooming rituals, training exercises, and good old belly rubs. It will lighten both your moods!

Punishment — Dogs who are punished for undesirable behavior instead of being rewarded for positive behavior may stop interacting with their owners in an attempt to avoid mistreatment. They adopt a depressive state of mind called “learned helplessness” because they feel powerless to avoid negative situations.

I can’t stress strongly enough the importance of positive reinforcement behavior training, not only to help your dog become a good canine citizen, but also to preserve and protect the all-important bond you share with him.

Undiagnosed medical problem — If your dog’s behavior changes, even if you suspect you know why, it’s always a good idea to make an appointment with your veterinarian.

Many changes in behavior symptomatic of depression, including lack of appetite, potty accidents in the house, sleeping more than usual, reluctance to exercise and sudden aggressive behavior in a dog who has never shown aggression, can also be signs of any number of underlying medical conditions.

You’re depressed — Your dog is very sensitive to your emotional state, which she can detect by observing the tone of your voice, your body language and other subtle clues, including your pheromones (how you smell). The way you move, speak and behave all send subtle signals to your dog that indicate your mood.

For example, when you’re in a situation that’s stressful to your dog, such as at your veterinarian’s office, she’ll look to you to help her calm down. If she senses tension in you, she’ll likely become even more anxious. Your dog is extremely intuitive; so, if you’re feeling blue, don’t be surprised if she seems depressed as well.

Loss of a human family member or pet — It’s not unusual for dogs to grieve the loss of a person or animal friend they’re bonded with. Experts in animal behavior believe dogs feel the same basic emotions humans do, including grief, fear, anger, happiness, sadness, and even possessiveness.

When a dog is mourning a loss, depression is common. Signs of depression in dogs mimic those in people, and include sleeping more than normal, moving more slowly, eating less, and showing a limited interest in playing.

If your dog seems depressed at the loss of a person or animal he was close to, engage him in daily activities he enjoys, such as a walk, a game of fetch, or a trip to the dog park. It’s really a matter of distracting him with things he enjoys until sufficient time has passed and he’s no longer looking around every corner for the one who is now absent from his life.

And it’s best not to expect a quick fix. It can take from a few weeks to a few months before your dog’s depressed mood begins to lift. Planning several engaging activities each day during this time is the best way to help him out of his funk.

5 Tips for Helping a Depressed Dog

  1. Keep daily routines as consistent as possible — Pets do best when they know what to expect from one day to the next. Try to keep mealtimes, exercise, walks, playtime, grooming, bedtime and other daily activities on a consistent schedule. Exercise is a powerful tool to help increase your pooch’s endorphins, or “feel good” hormones. Lots of walks (with plenty of opportunities to sniff) can be a powerful mood enhancer.
  2. Keep your dog’s diet and mealtimes the same and spice up the menu — It’s important to continue to offer him the same food he’s used to, at the same time each day, but if you find your dog isn’t interested in eating much, consider offering a yummy knucklebone for dessert, or make a tasty treat for training time that he hasn’t had before.

Store what he doesn’t eat in the fridge and offer it to him again at his next regularly scheduled mealtime. Use his hunger to help him get his appetite back by resisting the urge to entice him with unhealthy food toppers.

  1. Use natural remedies, if needed — There are some excellent homeopathic and Bach flower remedies that can be easily administered to your depressed dog until you see an emotional shift for the better. Some of my favorites include homeopathic Ignatia, several Bach flower remedies including Mustard and Honeysuckle, and Green Hope Farm Grief and Loss. Diane can make a special blend of Bach Flower essences for grief and loss if your pet has experienced these issues.
  2. Be careful not to inadvertently reward your dog’s depression — It’s only natural to want to comfort your sad pet, but unfortunately, giving attention to a dog who is displaying an undesirable behavior can reinforce the behavior. Obviously, the last thing you want to do is reward a lack of appetite, inactivity or other types of depressed behavior in your dog. Instead, you want to help her over the hump.

A better idea is to try to distract her with healthy, fun activities that provide opportunities for positive behavior reinforcement. This can be a walk, short training sessions, a game of fetch, nose work or offering her a food puzzle toy or recreational bone.

  1. Give it time — Your dog’s depression may take a few days or even weeks to blow over, but eventually most pets return to their normal lively selves. If at any point you feel your pet is suffering unnecessarily or there is something more going on than a case of the blues, I recommend discussing the situation with your animal communicator, vet or a veterinary behaviorist.

 

Additionally there are essential oils that can lift the spirits of both humans and pets that can be used daily.  Contact Diane for recommendations and links to purchase these oils. Dianefortheloveofanimals@yahoo.com

Cushing disease in Dogs

Cushing disease in Dogs

By Dr. Karen Becker

 

Cushing’s disease is most often seen in dogs — especially Terriers, Poodles, Dachshunds and the American Eskimo/Spitz. It rarely occurs in cats.

The medical term for this condition is hyperadrenocorticism. Hyper means too much, adreno refers to the adrenal glands, and corticism refers to a syndrome involving the hormone cortisol. Simply put, hyperadrenocorticism describes a condition in which too much cortisol is released by the adrenal glands.

Overproduction of This Powerful Hormone Can Trigger a Cascade of Health Problems

In a healthy dog’s body, cortisol, known as the fight-or-flight hormone, is released in small amounts by the adrenal glands in response to perceived stress, so the dog can prepare to battle or run for his life. A release of cortisol also triggers a release of glucose from the liver. Glucose provides energy to the cells of the muscles used to fight or take flight.

Cortisol also impacts a number of other important functions in your dog’s body, including blood pressure, electrolyte balance, bone and fat metabolism, and immune function. Cortisol is secreted in response to any type of stress in your pet’s body; physical or emotional, short-term or long-term.

If for some reason your dog’s body up-regulates its demand for cortisol, the adrenal glands begin overproducing the hormone, which can lead to a state of toxicity. In dogs who experience chronic stress in any form, the adrenals release more cortisol than their bodies need.

This situation can result in a number of serious disorders, including elevated blood sugar that can lead to diabetes, elevated blood pressure that can result in heart and kidney disease, extreme hunger in response to lots of excess glucose being burned, thinning of the skin and coat, decreased muscle and bone mass, and increased risk of infection.

If your dog’s body is continuously overproducing cortisol, his immune function is compromised, which opens the door for infections anywhere in the body — especially the gums, eyes, ears, skin and urinary tract. If your dog has recurrent infections or a persistent infection, it’s possible too much cortisol is the cause.

Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease

Most dogs have a few, but not all of the symptoms of the disorder unless diagnosis comes very late in the disease. Symptoms most commonly seen in dogs with early Cushing’s include:

Increased thirst and urination, which can lead to incontinence Bruising
Increased panting Hair loss
Abdominal weight gain (pot belly appearance), despite a reduction in calorie intake Irritability or restlessness
Thinning skin and change of skin color from pink to grey or black, symmetrical flank hair loss Much less commonly, rear limb weakness and blood clots

These symptoms are so diverse and can affect so many organs because every inch of a dog’s body contains cortisol receptors.

Typical or Atypical Cushing’s?

If your dog is diagnosed with hyperadrenocorticism, it’s important to know which type of Cushing’s she has. Typical Cushing’s is either adrenal dependent or, much more commonly, pituitary dependent. About 85% of affected dogs develop the latter form, in which the pituitary gland sends too much stimulating hormone to the adrenals. The adrenal glands respond by over-secreting cortisol.

The remaining 15% of cases are adrenal dependent, in which a tumor develops in an adrenal gland and triggers an up regulation of cortisol production. It’s not uncommon for veterinarians to unintentionally trigger typical Cushing’s by prescribing a too-high dose of oral prednisone (synthetic cortisone), or a course of prednisone therapy that is too long in duration. If your dog has taken prednisone for any length of time, she’s predisposed to Cushing’s disease.

The atypical form of hyperadrenocorticism occurs when the adrenals overproduce aldosterone, a hormone that balances electrolytes in the body. Atypical Cushing’s can also result from an overproduction of sex hormone (estrogen, progesterone, and rarely, testosterone) precursors.

Diagnosing Hyperadrenocorticism Can Be Challenging

The actual diagnosis of Cushing’s is often complicated. It’s typically done with blood tests like the ACTH stimulation (stim) test and the low-dose dexamethasone suppression test. Both these tests require at least two blood draws to compare cortisol levels for a definitive diagnosis of Cushing’s.

When Cushing’s is confirmed, your veterinarian will want to determine if it’s pituitary or adrenal dependent. In my opinion, the best way to rule out an adrenal gland tumor is with a non-invasive ultrasound test. However, some vets prefer to do a third blood test called a high-dose dexamethasone suppression test.

Whichever method is used, it’s important not only to establish a definitive diagnosis for Cushing’s, but also to determine whether the form of the disease is adrenal or pituitary dependent.

Unfortunately, in the majority of cases, the disease is diagnosed only after it is full-blown and there’s no holding it back. Once a dog has full-blown Cushing’s, she will live with the disease for the rest of her life. It’s a horrible illness that can be managed in many cases, but never cured.

Many veterinarians tend to ignore repeated and progressive elevations in serum Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP), one of the commonly elevated enzymes found on routine bloodwork, until several Cushing’s symptoms are present, or a pet parent becomes concerned that their dog is suddenly urinating in the house or losing her hair.

The better, proactive approach is to try to prevent the disease from taking hold. That’s why I recommend getting a copy of your pet’s yearly bloodwork results. Your pet should age with picture-perfect bloodwork, or there’s work to be done.

Never let a veterinarian tell you your pet’s abnormal bloodwork is “normal for their age,” as this means disease is taking place without anyone addressing it. If your dog’s ALP is two to three times higher than normal, ask your vet if your dog could be in the early stages hyperadrenocorticism.

The Importance of Catching This Disease Early

Most of the drugs currently available to treat Cushing’s disease have many undesirable side effects. It’s extremely important to discuss your concerns about possible side effects with your veterinarian. I recommend you do your own research as well.

I try to avoid using Lysodren and other potent Cushing’s drugs because in my opinion, the side effects are often worse than the symptoms the animal is dealing with. If Cushing’s drugs must be used, I prefer to use Trilostane, which has fewer side effects. Obviously, the goal is to catch the disease before high drug doses are required.

If, however, your dog requires drugs to manage full-blown Cushing’s, I recommend starting with the lowest possible effective dose, and using it in conjunction with a natural protocol to reduce potential side effects. Identifying pre-Cushing’s syndrome as early as possible and reducing your pet’s risk for full-blown disease is the approach I always recommend. Dogs don’t suddenly wake up with this disease — it happens over time.

Unfortunately, many conventional veterinarians ignore the early signs of adrenal dysfunction because they don’t know what to do about it until a dog fails the ACTH stim test. The problem with this approach is it takes months and sometimes years for an animal to be officially diagnosed with Cushing’s.

Waiting this long to take action often means waiting too long. I consider a dog to have pre-Cushing’s syndrome when he exhibits classic symptoms but is still able to pass the stim test. Often there are minor changes in bloodwork, for example, the UCC (urine cortisol:creatinine ratio) is slightly elevated, there are elevated cholesterol levels, and/or the elevation in ALP has been proven to be cortisol induced (your vet can check what fraction of ALP is coming from cortisol vs. other sources).

I’m able to reverse many pre-Cushing’s patients with nutraceuticals, Chinese herbs, homeopathics, nutritional therapy, and lifestyle management (reducing biologic and metabolic stress).

My advice is to be proactive by having your pet’s ALP level checked annually, which should be a part of a basic “wellness blood test,” along with a physical exam that evaluates muscle mass, coat condition, and an environmental stress assessment. Ask your veterinarian to establish baseline blood levels and address any elevation from the baseline through a screening test like the UCC or CiALP to determine if your dog’s body is over-secreting cortisol.

Never accept steroids prescribed for your pet unless they’re required to dramatically (and temporarily) improve quality of life (e.g., if your pet has acute head trauma and steroids are needed to control brain inflammation, etc.).

Having this information will help you better manage a pre-Cushing’s situation before it develops to full-blown disease. And don’t ignore symptoms. If your pet has consistent Cushing’s-type symptoms, no matter how minor, they are absolutely worth investigating for a possible endocrine or adrenal disorder.

It’s during the development of Cushing’s disease that many dogs are also over-prescribed aggressive traditional drug protocols for full-blown Cushing’s disease, often with disastrous results.

When these potent drugs are prescribed for mild adrenal dysfunction, the result is often an acute Addisonian crisis in which there are insufficient adrenal hormones necessary for normal physiologic function. A natural protocol to manage pre-Cushing’s is essential to avoid drug-induced hypoadrenocorticism (Addison’s).

Prevention Tips

There are some common-sense steps you can take to reduce your dog’s risk of developing hyperadrenocorticism, including:

Feed a moisture rich, nutritionally optimal, species-appropriate anti-inflammatory diet to reduce biologic stress; this means eliminating all grains and carbohydrates from the diet, since carbs trigger insulin release and insulin triggers cortisol release
Exercise your dog daily to help combat stress and promote the release of endorphins
Instead of spaying or neutering, consider a sterilization procedure that leaves your dog’s testicles or ovaries in place; if that’s not possible, wait until your pet has reached his or her full adult size, and in the case of females, after the first and preferably two estrus cycles
Minimize your pet’s exposure to xenoestrogens
Investigate adaptogenic herbs and adrenal-supportive natural substances like magnolia (rhodiola), ashwagandha, and phosphatidylserine
Address abnormal hormone levels early on with natural support, such as melatonin, DIM, glandular therapies and high lignan flax hulls