All posts by dr. jane

Vitamin E for Stressed Pets

domestic-short-hair

As a holistic veterinarian, I feel it is incredibly important to take the whole animal into consideration when it comes to nutrition. And, whenever practical, my preference is to provide nutrients, minerals and vitamins in their natural forms. In this post, I’d like to talk to you specifically about vitamin E, to review both the strengths and weaknesses of natural and synthetic forms.

Vitamin E is an incredibly complex and important nutrient that, among other things, functions as an antioxidant. Antioxidants are naturally occurring nutrients that promote health by slowing the destructive aging process of cells (a breakdown called “peroxidation”). In peroxidation, damaged molecules known as free radicals steal pieces from other cells, like fat, protein or DNA. The damage can spread, damaging and killing entire groups of cells. While peroxidation can be useful to destroy old cells or germs and parasites, when left unchecked, free radicals produced by peroxidation also damages healthy cells. Antioxidants can help to stem the tide of peroxidation, thus stabilizing free radicals.

Antioxidants like vitamin E are crucial to the health of companion animals of any age. They can improve the quality of the immune response and the effectiveness of vaccines in young pets, and help maintain a vital immune system in seniors.

Vitamin E occurs in one of two forms, either natural or synthetic. Natural vitamin E is a collection of eight chemically unique compounds that are derived from plants, including four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. More commonly used and less expensive, synthetic vitamin E is one compound – alpha-tocopherol.

For me, the choice of using natural or synthetic vitamin E in my formulas couldn’t be clearer, and neither could the evidence. The synthetic form of vitamin E is not as active or easily absorbed as the natural form of vitamin E. The molecular structure of vitamin E determines how well the body can utilize it. In human trials, researchers found that proteins in the liver specifically select the natural form of vitamin E and largely ignore the synthetic form.

In a Japanese study, scientists found that it took three times the amount of synthetic vitamin E to equal the blood levels of natural vitamin E. In the U.S., researchers found that body tissues and blood retained far higher levels of natural vitamin E versus synthetic. In addition, synthetic alpha-tocopherol vitamin E has only half the vitamin activity of the natural alpha-tocopherol vitamin E.

Why is there such a difference between synthetic and natural forms of vitamin E? The key to understanding how the body absorbs these two types differently lies on the molecular level.

best-buds-napping

The cellular structure of mammals more easily recognizes natural forms of vitamins. And cellular proteins and blood plasma bind to natural forms more readily than their synthetic counterparts. Unfortunately, synthetic vitamins are cheaper and, therefore, are more prevalent in many products on the market today.

So, how can you determine if the products you are using contain the synthetic or natural form of vitamin E? Simply check out the ingredient labels! Natural vitamin E is listed as a-tocopherol acetate, d-alpha tocopherol, d-alpha tocopheryl acetate or d-alpha tocopheryl succinate. Alternately, synthetic forms of vitamin E are labeled with a “dl-“ prefix.

Thank you for all that you do to make the world a better place for companion animals!

Dr Jane Bicks  Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

REFERENCES:

Kiyose C, et al. Biodiscrimination of alpha-tocopherol stereoisomers in humans after oral administration. Am J Clin Nutr 1997 (Mar); 65 (3): 785-9

Burton GW, et al. Human plasma and tissue alpha-tocopherol concentrations in response to supplementation with deuterated natural and synthetic vitamin E Am J Clin Nutr 1998; 67: 669-84

Traber MG, et al. Synthetic as compared with natural vitamin E is preferentially excreted as a-CEHC in human urine: studies using deuterated a-tocopheryl acetate FEBS Letters 1998 (Oct 16); 437: 145-8

Yu W, Jia L, Wang P, et al. In vitro and in vivo evaluation of anticancer actions of natural and synthetic vitamin E forms. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2008;52:447-456.

Blatt DH, Pryor WA, Mata JE, et al. Re-evaluation of the relative potency of synthetic and natural a-tocopherol: experimental and clinical observations. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 2004;15:380-395.

Weiss WP, Hogan JS, and Wyatt DJ. Relative bioavailability of all-rac and RRR vitamin E based on neutrophil function and total a-tocopherol and isomer concentrations in periparturient dairy cows and their calves. J Dairy Sci. 2009;92:720-731.

Lauridsen C, Engel H, Jensen SK, et al. Lactating sows and suckling piglets preferentially incorporate RRR- over All-rac-a-tocopherol into milk, plasma and tissues. J Nutr. 2002;132:1258-1264.

Sen CK, Khanna S, and Roy S. Tocotrienols in health and disease: The other half of the natural vitamin E family. Molecular Aspects of Medicine. 2007;28-692-728.

Hayek MG, et al. Dietary vitamin E improves immune function in cats. In: Reinhart GA, Carey DP eds. Recent Advances in Canine and Feline Nutrition, Vol III: 2000 Iams Nutrition Symposium Proceedings. Wilmington, OH: Orange Frazer Press, 2000; 555-564.

Tips for Calming Stressed Cats

beautiful-whiskery-kitty

It’s a common belief that cats are highly susceptible to stress. How many memes have you seen referencing “neurotic kitty”? But the truth is, a cat’s normal state shouldn’t be stressed, she should be happy and relaxed! If our kitties are constantly showing signs of stress and anxiety, we owe it to them to identify solutions to help them feel better.

So how do you know if your cat is stressed versus just being naturally feisty? Well, the signs are subtle. Oftentimes, it’s a subtle change in behavior that doesn’t even seem to be related to anxiety. Some of the more common changes include …

  • Urinating or defecating outside the litter box
  • Isolating themselves from others in the household
  • Excessive grooming
  • Prolonged periods of sleep
  • Excessive vocalization beyond what is typical (remember, some kitties are naturally more talkative than others)
  • Increased scratching
  • Aggression

Over time, stress hormones can contribute to physical symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, changes in appetite or even the painful condition known as Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD). Be aware that these signs are symptomatic of other medical conditions, so don’t be too quick to assume you’re dealing with feline anxiety before discussing the symptoms with your veterinarian. One of the best ways to minimize the likelihood of chronic medical conditions is to feed your cat a high quality, appropriate diet. Since you’re reading the Life’s Abundance blog, I’m probably preaching to the choir on that topic!

peeking-kitty

Let’s say your cat is exhibiting one or more of these signs of anxiety. You’ve brought her in for a check-up and medically, everything checks out. What next?

First, try to pinpoint the source of the stress and eliminate it, if possible. We tend to view these issues through our human lens, so it’s important to remember that unexpected things can be at the root of your cat’s stress. Some of the more obvious reasons include changes in living conditions – from divorce, moves, a new companion animal in the house, or new babies – to the most obvious physical cause, which is pain. But little changes can also provoke anxiety: new furniture, a neighbor’s dog barking, a dirty litter box, being denied access to their favorite location, a neighborhood tomcat taunting them from the yard, even music they don’t like! As you can see, it’s a long list.

Environmental modifications can make a big difference. For indoor cats, boredom can be a near-constant stressor, so provide lots of vertical space for exploration (they love being elevated). Home-built or store-bought cat trees are a great solution. Puzzle feeders can be a good source of environmental enrichment, as they appeal to their hunting instinct. Pheromone diffusers or sprays can also have a calming effect for some.

blue-eyed-kitty

And lastly, make sure your kitty is getting daily interaction and enrichment with you. It’ll build their confidence and form deeper connections with their caregivers. Believe it or not, many behaviorists recommend clicker training as a great way to bond with your cat. This gives her a sense of control over her environment and also offers the promise of a yummy incentive like Gourmet Cat Treats for Healthy Skin & Coat. Cats can learn amazing tricks with clicker training and treats, but it’s also a great way to reward good behavior generally.

Try to set aside some one-on-one time for your cat in the space where she is most relaxed. Optimally, this is something you’ll do every day at the same time, because cats are true creatures of habit. No distractions, which means leave your phone in another room and turn off the TV. Brush, pet, sing … do whatever pleases your cat the most. It’ll be good for both of you!

A happy cat means a happy you! If you think your cat is suffering from stress or anxiety, try some of these suggestions to help them live the “purr-fect” life.

Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for companion animals,

Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

Is a Paleo Diet Right for Your Dog?

adorable-terrier

As pet parents ourselves, all of us here at Life’s Abundance know just how overwhelming it can be to choose the right food for your dog. There is so much conflicting information out there: you have to be grain free! Your canine needs to eat like a wolf! You should be putting antioxidants on everything! Home made food is better than commercial! How do you possibly make sense of all the conflicting information from so many different sources?

One of my goals when formulating a new food is to keep up with the most current thinking in nutrition while making sure our foods live up to the highest standards possible. Two of the most popular buzzwords right now are “paleo” and “limited ingredient.” But what do these mean? Are paleo or limited ingredient diets what your companion animal really needs?

Let’s take a look at the evidence.

Paleo diets have been all the rage in human nutrition for the past few years. While there isn’t any one strict definition, the general idea is that if a caveman didn’t eat it, neither should you (or in this case, your dog). In its most basic sense, the paleo diet avoids all processed foods such as cereals, pastas, and added sugars. The paleo diet also frowns on grains, keeping carbohydrate sources limited to those occurring naturally in vegetables and fruits.

Despite the fact there is no one true ‘paleo’ definition, we can certainly look at the overall concept and see something to like. A paleo diet is nutrient-dense, with every ingredient chosen for a purpose. The carbohydrates chosen are those that cause less peaks and valleys in blood glucose and energy levels throughout the course of the day. Given its reliance on unprocessed ingredients, a paleo food is going to avoid things like fillers and artificial colorings and flavorings. One of the major drawbacks to a classic paleo diet is the fact that it does not allow the use of legumes such as peas or lentils, which are an excellent source of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. 

border-collie-dashing

Limited ingredient diets came about due to a wave of pet parents being concerned their dogs had food allergies. The number of dogs who actually have food allergies is not as large as the number of dogs who have food allergy symptoms (there are complex reasons for this, which perhaps I’ll cover in a future post). Regardless, the idea for limited ingredient diets is to limit intake to novel proteins (meaning an unusual source that a pet has not eaten before), and novel carbohydrates, the diet is less likely to trigger a dog’s food allergy symptoms. This is how we ended up with diets like kangaroo and oats, or duck and peas. The most common food allergens in dogs are beef, chicken, lamb, wheat, corn, and egg. This correlates to the most commonly used ingredients in pet foods, which makes sense.

If your canine has a true food allergy, he or she is probably going to need to undergo an elimination trial and all sorts of testing to see what is going on, and then move onto a special diet for the rest of his or her life. But if he or she has some minor symptoms of food intolerance or if you are just trying to avoid the major allergens in dog foods, it can be cost prohibitive to put your pet on a novel protein diet; many are prescription-only or are not meant for all life stages. Some diets are based on hydrolyzed soy, which is as appetizing to dogs as it sounds! It just doesn’t make sense to seek out one of these diets if you don’t have to due to medical necessity.

dogue-de-bordeaux

For many pet parents, their dog may not have food allergies but they still want to avoid the common triggers by feeding high quality, novel proteins that taste delicious and support optimal health. And it’s with these needs in mind that we developed the newest addition to the Life’s Abundance family of foods: our Pork and Venison Grain Free Recipe Dog Food.

PVcans-blog-03-17

This formulation holds to the paleo ideas of being grain-free. The carbohydrate sources are peas and lentils, which are an excellent source of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. The protein sources are pork and venison, which are very rich, nutrient-dense protein sources that taste amazing. Canned foods are great for triggering the appetite because they have more potent smell. Trust me, we’ve all taken a whiff of the new formula and agree … the aroma is pretty yummy! Best of all, it’s formulated to be appropriate for all life stages, from weaning puppies to geriatric seniors, even if they’re missing some teeth.

We are so proud of this new formula and we can’t wait for you all to try it. As soon as you do, post a comment here and let us know what you think. We hope your dogs love it as much as ours do!

Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for companion animals! And, happy feeding!

Dr Jane Bicks  Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

The Complexity of Canine Memory

Have you ever sat staring deeply into your dog’s eyes, wondering “I wonder what you’re thinking?” Sure, they give us clues here and there, but as whole, the workings of your dog’s mind remains a mystery.

But there’s mounting evidence that we may have underestimated their mental capacities. I know when I was going through school and we would use words describing the emotions the pets seemed to feeling - love, anxiety, fear - we were often shut down with a stern, “Don’t anthropomorphize!” It was assumed that only humans were capable of such human-like emotions.

As we’ve studied more the amazing bonds that exist between humans and dogs, we’ve gotten better insight into the inner workings of their doggie brains. And while it’s true that we can’t say with 100% certainty what a dog thinks and feels (because you’d actually need to be able to talk to a dog in order for him to tell you that), I can tell you that the more we learn about their inner workings, the gap between people and dogs is narrowing. Each new study offers amazing insight into how smart, individual, and yes – emotional – they really are.

One of the most common tropes we hear about dogs is, “They live in the moment,” which assumes they don’t spend too much time thinking about the past. But all of us who share our lives with dogs have seen them react to something in a way that indicates they sure do remember things, thank you very much! As a veterinarian, “white coat syndrome”, the fearful reaction of a dog to a veterinarian in a white lab coat, is so well-documented that many of us just stopped wearing the jackets entirely.

And now science is finally showing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that dogs remember much more than we previously thought possible.

A recent study of 17 dogs in Current Biology explored the idea of episodic memory in dogs. They began by training the dogs to “Do as I do”, i.e., to imitate their trainer’s behavior. In this case, the dogs were aware they were receiving a cue, a signal to say “pay attention to what I’m doing.”

Then the researchers repeated the experiment, but without giving the “Do as I do” cue beforehand. Regardless of what the person was doing, the dog was instructed to lie down. Afterwards, trainers gave the dogs the command to repeat what they had just observed. This forced the dogs to recall what they had observed using episodic memory. This form of memory centers around the ability to recall a specific event from the past, but you didn’t know you were supposed to remember it at the time it happened. Despite showing signs of surprise, the dogs were able to recall what they had seen and imitate the person’s actions.

By demonstrating this ability to mimic, the study designers showed that dogs are watching and storing what they see all around them. Like people, they appear to be dumping all of that input into a short term memory bank, and if the information isn’t needed, it gets tossed out. Much the same way I can tell you what I had for dinner last night but not last month, a dog’s brain is quite capable of assessing memories and storing those considered pertinent for survival. As a social species whose evolution is closely tied to ours, it makes sense that they actually think in many of the same ways.

So, the next time you do something embarrassing around your pup, don’t be so quick to think they won’t remember it. At least we know for certain they won’t be spilling our secrets via speech, right?

Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

Giving Rescues Reasons to be Thankful

A time of fellowship and enduring affections, this year’s holiday season has come. For many Americans, the chance to value and support friends, family and community offers a welcome change of pace, given a fractious election year. Many of us are already throwing ourselves headlong into preparations to spend quality time with family and friends. And while we may be fully invested in our immediate and upcoming holiday plans, this time of year finds us considering the plights of others … it is the season of giving and thanks, after all!

I’m so grateful to have helped establish a company that does so much to promote the welfare and health of companion animals. As I’m fond of saying, we’re a small company with a great big heart. Helping companion animals to lead healthier, longer and happier lives is not just an important company commitment … it’s our personal mission.

I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of our non-profit’s essential work. The Dr. Jane Foundation provides funding to an incredibly diverse array of small and medium-size animal rescue groups. Regardless of geography, all of these groups are united in common cause … doing whatever it takes to save neglected, abused and homeless animals. Over the last 10 years, it’s been my great honor to discover the hundreds of rescue organizations who invest so much time, energy and passion into forging a brighter future for these helpless creatures. Along with my fellow Board Directors, I have witnessed the amazing resilience of companion animals who have suffered any manner of trauma. Their journeys of healing and hope inspire us to do more for the legions of volunteers, foster parents and veterinarians who work so hard every single day.

Best of all, every time you purchase Life’s Abundance products, a small donation is made in honor of these groups. Simply by shopping with us, every one of our loyal customers helps to support the cause of animal rescue. So, while you're actively working towards wellness for yourself, your family and your companion animals, know that you're also giving a helping hand to the people who have dedicated their lives to making life better for homeless animals.

It seems only right this holiday season to share news of our most recent round of funding. And, seeing as how this IS Thanksgiving, I’d like to personally thank the following seven rescue groups, each of whom received financial backing from our non-profit. Please note that most, if not all, of the dogs depicted in the following photos are available for adoption.

New Kent Humane Society

Founded in 2009, this small-town animal rescue works to reduce the growing number of homeless animals. Run entirely by a dedicated team of volunteers, they strive to liberate dogs and cats from the county pound. Their greatest wish is "to reduce the number of animals being euthanized locally". Thanks to their tireless advocacy and a budding network of foster homes, more and more dogs and cats are finding forever homes. In addition to their adoption efforts, this group is also committed to helping lost pet kids be reunited with their families. We support the superheroes of this small community who strive to improve quality of life for so many, especially those who do not have a voice. To learn more, visit www.newkenthumane.org.

D.R.E.A.M. Dachshund Rescue

Serving Atlanta, North Georgia and the Savannah area, this breed-specific rescue is 100% volunteer operated. All of their dogs are temporarily homed in foster care, affording every volunteer ample opportunity to really get to know each foster pup. This hands-on approach can make a huge difference when it comes to matching their personalities with prospective adopters, as it helps to guarantee successful outcomes when their Dachshunds are ultimately placed in their forever homes. To learn more, visit www.dreamrescue.org.

Greyhound Pets of Greater Orlando

Originally founded in 1996 as a chapter of the National Greyhound Pets of America, this Orlando-based non-profit has two main goals: to locate loving homes for ex-racing Greyhounds and to educate the public on the merits of adopting this breed. Unlike most of our grant recipients this quarter, this group operates a physical facility, where right now nearly 50 of these elegant creatures are awaiting placement in their forever homes. Another fully volunteer enterprise, this group is proud that all donations go directly to the care of their rescued Greyhounds. The depth of their connection to the breed is evident in their commitment to never turn away a Greyhound due to injury, illness or old age. To learn more, visit www.greyhoundpetsorlando.org.

Southeast German Shepherd Rescue

Founded in 2010 to save German Shepherd Dogs from abuse, abandonment and high-kill shelters, this non-profit organization owes its existence to the compassion and dedication of its volunteers. Their efforts to rescue, rehabilitate and rehome this noble breed take place primarily in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland, but they provide assistance to rescue efforts throughout the Southeast. Everyone in the organization volunteers their service, doing their utmost to identify and place these social, intelligent and agile creatures in loving homes where they can thrive as loving and loyal family members. To learn more, visit www.southeastgermanshepherdrescue.com.

Lovebugs Rescue

This non-profit was founded by Heather Peterson in honor of Kaya, a special-needs Chihuahua who was rescued from a high-kill shelter. Located in Southern California, this foster-based rescue has made remarkable progress building relationships with overcrowded animal shelters in the area. Taking homeless pups into foster care not only saves their lives, it undercuts the reliance on euthanasia by other shelters as an acceptable response to overpopulation. Leading by example, their hope is to educate people about the gravity of the issue and how easy it is to make a difference that benefits everyone involved. To learn more, visit www.lovebugsrescue.org.

Southwest Metro Animal Rescue & Adoption Society

Based in Chaska, MN, this all-volunteer organization has more than 35 years of combined experience in the animal rescue field. One of a growing number of shelter-free charitable groups, this foster home-based organization commits serious time and energy into rescuing abandoned, abused and stray domestic animals. They are passionate about their work, and their mission of caring is clearly born out in the good works they accomplish every day. They have seen firsthand how the bond humans and companion animals share is strengthened through education, whether it's on humane treatment, the vital need for spay/neuter programs or the legal protections afforded animals. To learn more, visit www.swmetroanimalrescue.org.

Southern California German Shepherd Rescue

Founded in August 2006, this amazingly dedicated team of volunteers rescues, rehabilitates and rehomes pet kids all across Southern California. Additionally, they provide veterinary care and spay/neuter surgeries. In the last decade, they have successfully located forever homes for over 900 companion animals. Despite what you might think based on their name, this foster-based rescue saves not just German Shepherd Dogs, but also Great Danes, Poodles, mixed breeds ... even a few cats! To learn more, visit http://socalrescue.org.

Including these awards, The Dr. Jane Foundation has awarded grants totaling nearly $24,000 to 18 worthwhile rescues this year! Soon we will reveal more details about what these non-profits are able to accomplish with our funding. But for now, we extend our hearty, holiday congratulations to all of these groups for their remarkable efforts to make the world a better place for companion animals!

Are you involved in an animal rescue, or know someone who is? We are currently accepting applications for 2017 funding. Our Board will be considering applications for the next round of funding in January, so try to have completed grant requests submitted by the end of the year to ensure your group’s consideration.

This holiday season, any contribution you make will help to ensure that deserving groups like these continue to receive much-needed financial support. We will be thrilled to receive your donation, in any amount. For all of you who have already supported our non-profit, we can’t thank you enough. Thanks to your personal donations and continued patronage, we are taking real steps to help animal rescue groups across America. With your help, we’re making a positive difference in the world, one animal at a time.

Wishing you the very best this holiday season, and always!

Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

Care & Feeding of Aging Dogs

Aging Dog

A lot of folks don’t realize it, but as companion animals grow older, their nutritional needs often change. As their caretakers, we owe it to them to provide the best we can, based on their current nutritional requirements. The truth is, when it comes to senior dogs, appropriate, targeted nourishment can make a real difference in terms of longevity and long-term happiness. More...

Pet Food Super Powers

Super girl and dog

Believe it or not, it wasn’t until nearly the 20th Century that pet food was something distinct from scraps derived from human diets. However, only in the past four decades has the emphasis on health-promotion entered the mix. Some of our readers will no doubt recall the “Gravy Train” commercials of the 70’s. Pet food certainly has changed dramatically since those days! More...

Do Dogs Suffer from Depression?

Sad Pug

Pet parents have asked me if dogs can experience depression. In almost every case, the question is prompted by troubling behavior and not just simple curiosity. Well, dogs can most certainly exhibit obvious signs of depression, such as loss of appetite or declining interest in previously enjoyed activities. And then there are symptoms not readily recognized as depressive: anxiety, fearfulness, aggression, various destructive behaviors and even hiding from people. Are these last signs indicative of depression, a complicated emotional disturbance, or do they point to something else altogether? More...

Does Coat Color Predict Feline Behavior?

Lovely Cat

Our companion animal’s coat colors, once only the concern of breeders, have now become the focus of research for other characteristics, including behavior. You may have heard reports that white coat color has been linked to deafness in both dogs and cats. Others have suggested a connection between coat color and aggressive behavior in some dog breeds. Now there’s some evidence of an association between feline behavior and coat color. But is there really anything substantial to this claim? More...

Happy Holidays from Dr. Jane

The holidays are very nearly upon us. As I sit here, writing this post, I can’t help but feel this year has flown past even faster than last year. Like many of you, I’m experiencing the flurry of activity that comes with the close of another year. Things certainly are hopping here at my farm, with all of my chickens, cats, my horse, even my new pygmy goat! As fleeting and precious as time is during the holidays, I consider your reading this holiday message right now an honor and a privilege. More...