Pet Advice & Ideas

Five Ways to Make the Fourth Less Frightening

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In 2012, my husband and I took the kids down to the San Diego waterfront for the annual “Big Bay Boom” Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza. As we staked a spot on the grass, I was surprised to see a couple with an Australian Shepherd puppy. Surely they’re planning on leaving before the fireworks began, I thought to myself. But as the lights dimmed and the crowd hushed, it became clear the dog was staying for the show.

Unfortunately for all of us, someone had made a grave mistake. The entire stockpile went off simultaneously. Eighteen minutes worth of explosives detonated in 15 seconds. Even for those of us expecting a fireworks show, it was terrifying. With the blinding lights, resounding booms and the ground shaking, there was mass confusion. As the smoke cleared, I turned around and saw that poor little pup cowering as his shell-shocked owners packed up their belongings. Now, this was an extreme case, but I tell this story to make crystal clear, dogs do not belong at fireworks celebrations.

July 5th is one of the busiest days in both veterinary hospitals and shelters, for many reasons: panicked pups bolt over fences, leading some to become lost and others injured; unattended food gets scarfed down, causing gastric problems; overheated canines experience heat exhaustion; and the list goes on. The good news is we know what to anticipate, which means we have the opportunity now to plan ahead to help keep the Fourth fun and safe for everyone. Here are my top five tips for a great Independence Day.

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1. Watch out for “counter surfers”! Summer barbecues are delicious for us but full of hazards for pets. High-fat foods like burgers and hot dogs can cause pancreatitis, kebab skewers can wreak havoc in the stomach, corn cobs are a leading cause of GI surgery and ribs have bones that can splinter and pierce the intestines. Make sure all your people goodies are securely out of the way of nosy pets, and keep an eye out for party guests (especially kids) who accidentally leave plates in precarious locations.

2. Avoid glow-stick accessorizing. Resist the urge to put a glow stick around your pet’s neck. They really aren’t designed for pet use, chiefly because the liquid they contain can be quite irritating if ingested. Fortunately, there is another option! If you want your pup to look bright and patriotic, LED-lighted collars are designed to be both adorable and perfectly pet-safe.

3. Confirm your pet’s ID info. Is your pup’s tag and microchip up-to-date? If you’ve recently moved or your phone number has changed, getting a new dog tag and calling your vet to update a microchip are inexpensive forms of insurance for potentially scary problem. When fireworks go off, even well-behaved, mild-mannered pets can panic and bolt. One of the main reasons pets languish in shelters after the 4th is due to incorrect or missing identification.

4. Provide a happy distraction. If you must leave your companion animal home alone when fireworks are likely, take some precautions to help minimize anxiety. Some may even surprise you! For example, some dogs find classical music soothing (check out ‘Through a Dog’s Ear’ online), while others enjoy TV. There are non-drug calming options such as the Thundershirt or a pheromone collar. And, last but not least, try the tasty distraction offered by a treat-dispensing toy filled with Life’s Abundance kibble or treats!

5. Consult your vet before the 4th. If your doggo is prone to levels of anxiety that over-the-counter remedies can’t address, your veterinarian might prescribe medications to help him or her through the night. Here again, I can’t stress enough how important it is to plan ahead for this holiday! Vet’s offices are often slammed on July 3rd with pet parents in a panic asking for a new prescription, and it may not be available on short notice.

While the Fourth of July can be a source of stress for many canines, it doesn’t have to be! As you can see, just a little bit of planning can make a world of difference.

Be sure to check out the handy companion guide in our infographic post Fourth of July Safety Prep.

Dr V Dr. Jessica Vogelsang

Infographic: Fourth of July Safety Prep

We’re only one week away from the Fourth of July! And while we may be ready to celebrate our nation’s independence, it’s one of the hardest times of the year for our companion animals.

Every year, pet parents all across America deal with the emotional toll from fireworks. They’re loud, scary and unpredictable. Even dogs who typically have totally chill personalities can go a bit bonkers at the “bombs bursting in air.” The extreme fear felt by canines can be both traumatic and shocking.

And the patriotic displays aren’t just limited to a single evening. In the days running up to Independence Day, fuses will be lit everywhere from stadiums to cul-de-sacs. So, what can we do to protect our furry friends from explosions of anxiety?

Here’s a handy infographic to help you begin making preparations now to help make this year’s festivities safer, and thus much more pleasant, for everyone! To view the full-size PDF, simply click on the image below.

PDF Document

Antioxidants and Canine Wellness

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Many of us are familiar with the idea of antioxidants, and we know they are a good thing for both dogs and humans, but do you know why? There’s a reason we put so much thought and effort into our formulations at Life’s Abundance, and antioxidants are some of our favorite ingredients!

To understand why antioxidants are vital to health, you need to know about free radicals, a by-product of normal metabolism. When oxygen molecules are split into two oxygen atoms, they are missing one electron ... thus a free radical is born. These little guys are highly reactive, so they steal electrons from other molecules, which also become free radicals. Cellular components such as proteins, DNA and cell membranes can be negatively affected, further creating more free radicals. Why is this problematic for health? Well, the DNA damage causes cells to reproduce incorrectly, which can lead to abnormalities.

How do antioxidants work? They can donate an electron to a free radical without becoming unstable themselves. In fact, many scientists now refer to antioxidants as ROS, or Reactive Oxygen Species. In essence, they neutralize damaging free radicals and break the replicating cycle.

Why do dogs need antioxidants? As pets age, the free radical damage accumulates and accelerates. It contributes to the natural declines due to aging, and can trigger some illnesses due to damaged cellular DNA. So, how are free radicals counteracted? Perhaps the best, most natural way is through antioxidants!

Why are antioxidants so often linked with brain health? With aging, many canines experience some degree of cognitive decline. This can manifest as changes in behaviors, lapses in house training, altered sleep cycles, disorientation and repetitive behaviors such as pacing or licking. Learning and memory deficits may begin in pets as young as six years of age, though many pet parents don’t notice until pets are quite a bit older. There’s good news, however. Senior dogs fed a diet high in antioxidants actually perform better on tests that assess their ability to problem solve!

Who should be taking antioxidants? Everyone, including your dogs! While the benefits are most obvious for seniors, all of us are exposed to free radicals on a regular basis. Early nutritional support with antioxidants is a great way to maintain vibrant health. Even though the body produces some antioxidants on its own, the most significant way to get antioxidants into the body is through nutrition. Fruits, vegetables and even some herbs are high in antioxidants such as lycopene, carotenoids, lutein, and vitamins E and C.

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Antioxidant Health Bars help maintain a healthy immune system

What’s an easy way to make sure my dog is getting guaranteed amounts of antioxidants? This month, I encourage you to try one of our premium baked treats, Antioxidant Health Bars. Featuring the great taste of apples, peanut butter and honey, dogs just can’t resist these delicious bars, which also include oatmeal, brown rice, ground flaxseed, dates, rolled oats, flaxseed oil, eggs, cranberries and carrots. Since antioxidants are so important to maintaining a healthy immune system, we’ve added a hefty helping of vitamin E, vitamin C and beta-carotene. And the amounts of these important nutrients are guaranteed, so you know exactly how much nutrition your dog is receiving on a daily basis.

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

Dr Jane Bicks  

Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

Pick The Right Pup: Infographic

There’s never a bad time of year to welcome a new pup into your home, but with kids now out of school, loads of folks are thinking about adopting or buying a dog right now.

What many don’t realize about picking the right pup, while it’s important to learn about a prospective companion animal, it’s just as vital to know yourself. By thinking about what you want and need in a canine companion, you’ll be better prepared when you try to find that perfect match. To help guide you, we created this handy infographic!

To view the full-size PDF, simply click on the image below. Be sure to print a copy to help inform your big decision!

PDF Document

Help Pets Stay Chill This Summer

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As summer approaches, we’re going through our closets pulling out our t-shirts and shorts in preparation for fun in the sun. But what about our four-legged friends stuck in a permanent fur coat? Are they as affected by the midday heat as we are? (Spoiler alert: yes.) And is there anything we can do about it? (Also, yes.) Here’s the good news: beating the heat is as easy as ABC!

A. Always Plan Ahead

Remember, our companion animals are at our mercy when it comes to being out in the sun. While we can choose whether or not to take a midday hike or sit out in the backyard for hours, they have to go along with the decisions we make, even if it is uncomfortable or potentially dangerous for them. Heat stroke illnesses and deaths spike in the summer, stemming from three main categories:

Prolonged exercise in full heat is dangerous. People who take their pet out to walk or run during the hottest time of the day and don’t realize their pet is overheating. Limit your exercise times to morning and evening during hot months.

Leaving pets in cars. It’s a myth that cracking the windows makes the car cooler ... it doesn’t! Another common misconception is that the outside temperature needs to be high for pets to suffer. On a sunny 70 degree day, the interior can reach 90 degrees in 30 minutes. In 85 degree weather, the temperature can reach 120 in the same period of time! If you can’t bring your dog or cat inside with you on your errands, let them stay home. It simply isn’t worth the risk.

Too much activity and not enough water. I’ve seen pets get heat stroke just from playing in the yard on a warm afternoon. If you’re planning on staying outside with your dog, make sure he or she has plenty of water to drink, a shady place to retreat to, and maybe even a sprinkler or wading pool to cool down in.

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B. Beware the Signs of Heat Stroke

Heat stroke symptoms can begin once the body temperature exceeds 103 degrees F. While most of us don’t carry a pet thermometer around, watch for these specific warning signs:

  • heavy panting
  • excessive drooling leading to very dry mouth
  • extra-red tongue or gums
  • weakness or collapse

Brachycephalic breeds like bulldogs and pugs are especially prone to overheating, as are dark-haired breeds. Dogs and cats can and do die every summer from heat exposure, so if you suspect your companion animal is suffering heat exhaustion or heat stroke, go to the veterinary ER as soon as possible! 

C. Clipping: What About a Summer ‘Do?

Many people like to give their dog or cat a summer clip to help stay cool. If this is something you are considering, talk to your groomer to ensure it’s appropriate for your pet’s breed. Dogs whose fur grows continuously - such as poodles and Lhasas - do well with clips, while double-coated breeds such as Akitas and Chows do not. In some cases, a pet’s coat may actually help keep him or her cool, rendering a clip counterproductive. If you do opt for a trim, make sure there is at least one inch of fur remaining so your beloved pup or kitty doesn’t get a sunburn.

Although heat-related illnesses are scary and serious, the great news is that they are also entirely preventable. With just a little foresight and planning, our furry friends can enjoy the summer just as much as we do! Now get out there and soak up the rays!

Dr V Dr. Jessica Vogelsang

Effects of Aging on Canine Cognition

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In observation of National Pet Month, Dr. Jessica Vogelsang takes an in-depth look at how canine cognition changes as dogs age, and provides tips to help keep them healthy for many future National Pet Month celebrations!

I can’t tell you how often I ask pet parents about their senior dog and the response is “okay, but … I guess he’s just getting old.” I love this conversation opener, because it tells me two things. One, the pet parent is paying enough attention to know something has changed, even if they don’t think it’s anything to be concerned about. Two, there’s probably something I can do to help!

All living things grow old. The aging process is complicated and messy, encompassing a variety of genetic and environmental factors. Some we can control, others we can slow down, and the remainder we just manage the best we can. The good news is, there’s almost always something we can do to make a companion animal feel better.

When we think about what it means to be old, most of us jump to the most obvious complaint of age … aches and pains. The body stiffens, the joints dry out, the discs in our spines shrivel up, and we end up shuffling around like Carl from the movie Up. Almost all senior dogs develop symptoms of osteoarthritis, which is one of the reasons I recommend joint supplements for seniors. If a pet parent says, “He won’t climb the stairs anymore,” or, “He doesn’t want to go for long walks,” then I know we’re likely dealing with pain.

But what about cognitive dysfunction, the age-related decline in neurologic function? Referred to as “canine cognitive dysfunction” in veterinary medicine, some laypeople call it “doggie Alzheimer’s”. While the symptoms can be similar to what humans experience, it’s not exactly the same thing.

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Unfortunately, cognitive decline is quite common in senior dogs. More than half of all dogs over the age of 11 show at least one clinical sign. Since we don’t know for certain all the biological changes that occur in an aging brain, we describe canine cognitive dysfunction as a collection of symptoms:

  • Disorientation
  • Changes in activity level
  • Changes in sleep/wake cycle (e.g., wandering around in the middle of the night)
  • House-soiling
  • Anxiety
  • No longer adhering to an established routine

For many years, we simply accepted this condition as a price for living a long life. However, we’re learning that there are ways we can actually decelerate cognitive decline in dogs.

One way veterinarians manage cognitive dysfunction in dogs is through medications. Certain drugs that increase the amount of the neurotransmitter dopamine may improve brain function. In fact, the same drug used by dogs can also be used to treat Parkinson’s!

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The other way we manage cognitive decline is through the nutrition and personal attention we provide our dogs. New and exciting research is showing that certain types of antioxidants and dietary ingredients can positively impact the brain function of senior pets! I love this because these are safe, easy changes we can use to improve the aging process for all our senior friends:

1. Feed a diet rich in antioxidants. Free radicals in the body accelerate the aging process. Antioxidants, such as those found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, can be added to a dog’s diet to limit the free-radical damage. Several studies have shown that seniors who eat a diet rich in antioxidants exhibit clinical improvement in cognitive function within just a few weeks.

2. Exercise the brain. Keep your pet’s neurons working through lots of daily playtime, walks, and puzzles. We joke that the brain is a muscle; it’s not, of course, but like a muscle it does benefit from regular workouts!

3. Fatty acids. We all know essential fatty acids are good for the skin and coat, but there’s also increasing evidence that a subset of fatty acids called medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) serve as a preferred energy source for the brain and can actually improve mental sharpness.

If your dog is getting a little grey around the muzzle, don’t accept “he’s just getting old” as a fact of life. Yes, we all age, but we can do it better by taking steps to preserve health and quality of life.

All my best to you and your lovable, aging dogs!

Dr V Dr. Jessica Vogelsang

Vitamin E for Stressed Pets

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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.

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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

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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!

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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.

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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

Infographic: Soothing Doggie Stress

Unless you’re truly tuned in with your canine companion, you might be missing the “tail-tell” signs that your puppy’s got stress issues.

By learning to recognize the symptoms and gaining a clearer picture of the potential causes, you’ll be well on your way to helping your canine chill out on a regular basis. If that weren’t enough to perk up your ears, Dr. V also drops some helpful tips for alleviating dog stress. Definitely worthy of further investigation!

Take a page out of our pet-care book and save this handy infographic for future reference … it might just help your dog find his way back to bliss!

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Dr V Dr. Jessica Vogelsang

Happy National Puppy Day

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They're adorable and loving. They're hilarious and a bit clumsy. And they're so soft and cuddly. As much as they depend on you, we all really know who's really coming out on top in this relationship ... you! Whether you're celebrating National Puppy Day with fond memories of a past puppy, or you're living puppy day in the moment, these sweet creatures are special in every way!